Over the years of working in the science of ecology, I have learned some basic rules. I find that many people are unaware of them, yet have firm convictions about what we should do about the environment. So I would like to share these rules with you. They are easy to understand, helpful, and even fun. I will post one of these at a time, adding to them frequently. These are going to be in a new book I am working on. And I will note the appearance of new rules on Twitter @DanielBotkin.
Here is the first.
- Evolution is a game in which the only rule is to stay in the game.
- Being rare is different from going extinct, as the whooping crane said to the passenger pigeon.
- The evolutionary goal is simply to stay around, not necessarily in great numbers.
- You can win at Darwin's game of evolution by having more offspring than your neighbor, but that doesn't mean you both have to have lots and lots and lots of offspring.
- Being rare has some advantages: Predators have a harder time finding you, and it isn't worth as much of their effort to seek you out.
Lucy Weir says
I’m sure I’m not the only one puzzled by this single ‘rule’ when you promise us ‘rules’. Natural laws (or ‘rules’, as you have it) are probabilities, of course (though the carrier pigeon might disagree). You refer to the ‘game’ of evolution but I’m not sure this extended metaphor works. I’m interested in what Andrew Chitty calls ‘human condition imaginaries’, that is, the imagined extended metaphors we use to help us describe our circumstances to ourselves. Game theory is very interesting and very useful for understanding human relationships but when you’re talking about evolution, Scott Sampson’s metaphors work better: the idea of a game implies awareness, action-based agency, and other anthropomorphic categories. Sampson’s whirlpools of life, on the other hand, give a much broader context to what is happening that make it easier to imagine how mathematical data and modelling would allow us to better understand the interrelationships between species and systems.
Daniel Botkin says
Lucy, I’m in the midst of writing a book about these rules, and right now am developing the best order. Once I settle on the order, I will be adding more “rules” here. And in the book, each of the “rules” has a description, which will include discussion of the kind of think you point out.