Saturday, July 24, 2010


The emergence of some feature
Through selection of mutations
Doesn’t happen in one creature,
But across the populations!

Permutations, combinations,
Both additions and omissions,
Lead to phenotype creations
And their rapid acquisitions

Sometimes networks are redundant
And the extras act to buffer—
When mutations are abundant
We don’t always have to suffer!

And environmental factors
May give rise to phenocopy
Where the genes are not the actors
(Yes, it’s all a little sloppy).

So it seems that the initial
View of evolution’s liable
To be somewhat superficial
(Not as much, though, as the bible)

When the pressures of selection
Shape the feature’s distribution,
This determines the direction
Of the change called “evolution”.

PZ writes a very nice post, outlining one of my pet peeves (ok, that's not his point, but it happens to be a pet peeve of mine), a common misunderstanding about evolution, and (to my thinking) about the broader functional contextualist view, of which Evolution is the most visible example (radical behaviorism is a distant second, but is misunderstood in precisely the same manner that PZ points out for evolution). The misunderstanding is most easily seen in the search for "firsts"--the first human, the first cuttlefish, the first anything. Tony the Fish. Gakky Two-Feet. The firsts. There were no firsts. There were populations.


Jim Campbell said...

"There were no firsts." Yes there was always a first, but there was no method of recording it, or the recording was not archived properly. Hopefully this is not now the case, and future creatures will know who the first poetical cuttlefish was.

Cuttlefish said...

The recent "chicken/egg" kerfuffle is a good case in point. There is no meaningful "first" to be found; I'm gonna have to disagree with your disagreement!

And... just for fun... I am called Cuttlefish because a friend told me that poets, and others who hide in their ink, are called "cuttlefish" in her culture. So I am clearly not the first...

Anonymous said...

A great poem! As a first time visitor of this blog, I enjoyed reading it very much. Keep up the great work, I'll be coming back for more :)

Coelecanth said...

This inability to point out firsts is the bane of paleontologists. Dawkins goes on at length, and with some frustration it must be noted, about this in "The Greatest Show on Earth". He points out that the ongoing classification and re-classification and re-re-classification of fossils demonstrates the fluid nature of evolution. If you find a fossil that's exactly midway between homo habilis and homo egaster is it the first egaster or the last habilis? The whole notion of "first" in evolution is fraught with difficulties.

Cuttlefish said...

I agree, oh legged fish!

The tricky thing about calling any one individual "first" is that that individual differed from his/her/its parent(s) only roughly the amount that you differ from yours!

The best description I've seen of the concept is Dawkins' chapter "the salamander's tale" (iirc) and the discussion of ring species.

Coelecanth said...

That's lobbed fish to you, oh tenticular one. Couldn't be bothered with the whole legs and land thing, too much effort.

jmartin said...

Terse and brilliant, in the manner of the Guardian's Digested Read.

I work with kids hindered by poor teachers and religion-addled parents, and will certainly share. But all of us would benefit if a Cuttlefish verse led off each chapter of evo-devo books.

Cuttlefish said...

If only the publishers agreed with you, JMartin!

OgreMkV said...

When are you writing a book? I'll actually have to buy poetry.

The collected works of The Cuttlefish, I can't wait.

OgreMkV (hiding shame) said...

OK, I'm an idiot. I never look at the side bars.


baileythebookworm said...

I want to hug your poem. That was such a great read -totally brightened up my morning. :)