Thursday, June 30, 2011


My current preoccupation with evolution makes me feel a bit like Don Quixote tilting at windmills: the egregious eccentric fretting about debates on the unknowable.

So far as ecology is concerned David Deutsch (2011) summed up one of my own feelings when he wrote “if you fill a kettle with water and switch it on, all the supercomputers on Earth working for the age of the universe could not solve the equations that predict what all those water molecules will do – even if we could somehow determine their initial state and that of all the outside influences on them, which is itself an intractable task.” Substitute the molecules in Emthree for those in the kettle and the task becomes even more intractable.  I cannot predict what Emthree will do.  And even if I knew all the biological and physical variables, I cannot predict what I will do.

I also liked Gordon Rattray Taylor’s remark in 1983: “within one square metre of ground, a score of species of snail may be found. What advantage can any one of them have?” (Emthree has so far produced 15 species of mollusc, but I expect it would have been 20 if it was on calcareous soil).

Maybe each species of snail evolved long ago when there was significant competition with a neighbouring species, but once one had died out, the survivor could live with less closely related relatives because they were not directly competing. Explanations can, of course, be thought up for anything, but they are not necessarily correct.