I have recently been reading Richard Dawkins’ fantastic book ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ and was struck by the following passage as regards the work I’ve been doing over the past few years:
“We have seen that living things are too improbable and too beautifully ‘designed’ to have come into existence by chance. How, then, did they come into existence? The answer, Darwin’s answer, is by gradual, step by-step transformations from simple beginnings, from primordial entities sufficiently simple to have come into existence by chance. Each successive change in the gradual evolutionary process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor, to have arisen by chance. But the whole sequence of cumulative steps constitutes anything but a chance process, when you consider the complexity of the final end-product relative to the original starting point. The cumulative process is directed by nonrandom survival. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the power of this cumulative selection as a fundamentally nonrandom process.”
The first sentence in this passage struck a chord with me as regards thoughts I’ve had on the sheer unlikelihood of my ever being born – my entire existence. When one considers that in order for us as the individuals we are to be born as we were, everything every one of our ancestors did had to be done exactly as it was, the mind implodes beneath the weight of our sheer improbability. Indeed as individuals we are teetering on the cusp of impossiblity; it’s almost as if we have been designed to be who we are (which of course is not the case). In many respects this problem of coming to terms with our individual existences in light of what amounts to seemingly random acts on the part of our forebears mirrors what Richard Dawkins discusses in his book; the idea that we as human beings are a product of chance.
As he writes: “Each successive change in the gradual evolutionary process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor, to have arisen by chance. But the whole sequence of cumulative steps constitutes anything but a chance process, when you consider the complexity of the final end-product relative to the original starting point.”
Every step our ancestors took in the process of our eventual being was also simple enough. They were more often than not steps taken quite by chance. But the ‘whole sequence of cumulative steps,’ as Richard Dawkins writes regarding Evolution ‘constitutes anything but a chance process’. I’m not – at present – trying to come up with any conclusions to this line of thinking save to say there is something there, a link between the process of Evolution and our individual arrival in the world: the subtle changes which allow flora and fauna to evolve and the subtle actions of ancestors which cause us to be born. That link exists in the individual’s (animal, plant… or ancestor) progression through life – a progression which is a constant (battle might be too strong a word) will to survive.
We journey through life with intentions of doing things, going places and so on, always considering our own safety (survival) even if that consideration resides somewhere within our subconscious minds, rising to the surface every now and then when danger become more manifest. And along the way chance plays a part, altering our movements, delaying our progression, speeding it up, slowing it down and so on. Traffic Jams, the weather, forgetting keys… the list of things which impact upon us is endless; chance encounters with people we’ve never met or know very well etc.. If in retropsect we could map or list everything that happened to every one of our ancestors, such a map would appear to us (not only very big!) to have been designed (indeed, anything seen in hindsight appears to be so). It would seem utterly impossible for chance to be such a draughtsman; to create a specific individual from such an enormous number of utterly unlikely events in the course of what we call history.
But that is what chance did. As I said, I’m not looking at this moment to come up with any great conclusions, save to say that thanks to Richard Dawkins I’m looking at my work in a slighty new light…