Monday, March 20, 2006

Reproduction takes precedence over survival

In the previous entry (see below), I noted that the clitoris performs no function necessary to sustain life. That's true of our entire reproductive system. The whole thing can be removed (as we often do to our pets), and life goes on.

Why is that startling? When one thinks about how we work, one is impressed with how clever evolution has been in designing functioning organisms. We are very well designed to sustain life.

There should be very little waste. After, all any organism that is burdened with waste is at an evolutionary disadvantage. So evolution should have discarded all waste. Yet our entire reproductive system involves waste—at least from the perspective of what it takes to stay alive. We don't need any of it.

Yet it's foolish to ask why it wasn't discarded. Without a reproductive system, an organism would not be able to pass on its slimmed-down and waste-free design to its offspring.

In other words, our reproductive systems are primary. Without them, there would be nothing else. From an evolutionary perspective, it's more important to be able to reproduce than to survive. (Just ask the male praying mantis, who is eaten by the female—but only after he fertilizes her eggs.) It sounds strange to say so, but that's the message of the fact that we have reproduction systems that don't contribute to our being alive. That's also the explanation, of course, for extraordinarily wasteful developments like the peacock's tail. Even though they burden the peacock, they enhance reproduction. Hence they develop and persist.

None of this is a new thought. But it seems like a nice way to make the point about how primary reproduction is when we understand how evolution really works. This is the message of the selfish gene. A chicken is an egg's way to produce more eggs. From an evolutionary perspective, our lives are nothing more than a way to generate offspring. We are designed to survive only to the point where we can complete that task. Everything else we do, everything else about us, is an accidental by-product. It's quite amazing to stop and think about things this way.

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