Re: Survival of the Fittest

Matthew Hill (mhhill@WATARTS.UWATERLOO.CA)
Thu, 14 Sep 1995 09:48:35 -0400

On Thu, 14 Sep 1995, Assoc Prof Chris Healey wrote:

> I've come to this debate late in the piece, and my comments may have
> been disposed of already by previous respondents, so I will be brief.
> Have I missed something important? I thought our Culture Hero Darwin
> wrote about Survival of the Sufficiently Adequate, which is a long
> way from being Fittest. When it comes to adaptation and evolution,

A lot deleted here, most of which I agree fully with.

I was about to make the same point, refering to my firm belief that
Darwin had actually spoken of 'survival of the fit' and that the
'fittest' was a distortion of his phrase.. when I decided to check my
sources and discovered that it is his phrase. Indeed it appears in the
title of chapter iv (6th edition) of Origin of Species.

I note in that chapter an passage interesting in its similarity to
some contributions to the current discussion.

"No country can be named in which all the native inhabitants are now so
perfectly adapted to each other and to the physical conditions under
which they live, that nonbe of them could be still better adapted or
improved: for in all counties, the natives have been so far conquered by
naturalised productions, that they have allowed some foreigners to take
firm possession of the land. And as foreigners have thus in every
country beaten some of the natives, we may safely conclude that the
natives might have been modified with advantage, so as to have better
resisted the intruders."

It seems to me clear from the context that the 'natives' and 'foreigners'
to which Darwin refers here are plants and animals, not humans or cultures
(except insofar as plants and animals are part of culture.) What seems
to be missing here, as in the current discussion, is recognition that adaptation
is to pre-existing environment and the introduction of 'foreigners',
cultural or natural is a modification of environment. The adaptation of,
for example, the Tasmanians to a Tasmania which lacked europeans may well
have more successful than the adaptation of europeans who were isolated
in Tasmania, e.g. a shipwrecked crew, might have been. It was the
adaptation of the Tasmanians to a Tasmania containing europeans with
access to the resources of the european world which failed.

Matthew Hill (