It is easy to associate the word evolution with the name of Charles Darwin. The English gentleman, father of the theory of natural selection, has revolutionised the idea of evolution pointing out how the existence of a rational design behind all the perfect mechanism of nature could be simply a wrong belief.
His suggestion, supported by observations (a truly scientific attitude!), is that there is not such a thing as a designed evolving path of creatures, directed to reach a hypothetical best potential.
Nature, using enormous amounts of time, opted for an approach of trials and errors, putting every possibility under the test of existence and letting things just happen. What manages to survive and replicate will perpetuate over time. What does not manage to survive and replicate will perish and disappear forever. This is the basis of Darwin’s natural selection.
Looking at this process in a modern point of view, we can interpret it as a free market of possibilities: no predetermined rules are given to sustain or scuttle a specific option of evolution. Everything has the right to exist, but nothing has the ought to exist.
A revolutionary aspect of the evolution theory of Darwin is the shift from the “survival of the best” to the “survival of the fittest”. In this perspective, the chances to survive of every creature are strictly dependent on the environment, counting not only other leaving creatures, but all the natural phenomenon, from the local weather to the radiation coming from distant stars, all playing a role in determining the context in which the test of existence takes place. A consequence of this is that the same characteristic can help the survival of a creature in a specific context, while disturbing it in another. A classic example is the white bear, which has little possibilities to go unnoticed in a forest and catch his preys off guards, while it can nicely blend in the surrounding whiteness of an ice field, increasing the success rate of its hunting.
A surprising consequence arises from this observation: there is no a universally fittest attribute that guarantees survival. Instead, every single feature has to be in harmony with the surroundings to be valuable. The only pass partout to persistence is the ability to adapt to the environment. What is also true is that every single creature contributes in the definition of what the environment is.
What Darwin’s theory suggests is that a single individual of every species, from humans to subaqueous plants and nano-metric viruses, has a partial power in defining its own destiny, by adapting to the environment. At the same time, it has a partial power in defining everyone else’s destiny, by contributing in defining their environment.
Thanks to Darwin, we shed new light on the mechanisms by which nature evolves through time. Time itself is a key player in natural selection. Specific features or behaviours emerge as fitter only after many iteration of the test of existence of these and others possible behaviours and features. So, time is an essential ingredient of the process. Further, time is the paper on which past events unrolled to create the environment in which you, everyone you know, and all that surrounds you are living; the environment that will determine what fits and what does not fit.
In this perspective, we can reinterpret Darwin’s natural selection not just as a theory of evolution, but also as a story of evolution.
In this story, everyone has played, is playing or will play a part.