An interesting graphic in the NY Times this morning shows the fastest Olympic sprinters since 1896:
There’s a steady evolution of speed resulting in about 3 seconds over the period, but the pattern is very curious indeed. If we discount the very earliest timings as either inaccurate or more likely not representative of the fastest people in their day – perhaps for political reasons some countries couldn’t compete – there is an undulating movement of progression followed by dropping back, followed by surprising leaps beyond all previous levels. The spread between 1st, 2nd and 3rd each year hardly varies, indicating each year’s speeds are genuinely representative.
The first thought which will occur to everyone is that if speed is increasing, there is no theoretical limit: even if the winner in the year 2412 is only marginally faster than the one 4 years prior, it means there can always be progress, and the same logic applies to the human mind as well. Divinity, therefore, can be a gym – a process and target both – for the mind every bit as much as the track is one for runners! But, as usual, I digress.
Now, if evolution was a continuous, steady process resulting from the capability of individuals you’d expect the trend to follow the individuals. But it doesn’t: after 1956 a big jump takes place in 1960, and again in 1968. But in 1972 the fastest guy is much slower, and although there is more progress in 1976, there is a fall-off again in 1980. Note that in many places, such as back in 1928, there was a huge drop in performance, but 4 years later, the trend picks up exactly where it would have been if the lesser performing year had fulfilled expectations. How can a trend have its own course, independent of the supposed cause: the gifted individuals? Where is the missing link? It isn’t there.
So here’s the interesting part: despite horrific wars and upheavals and the best genetics being decimated by massacres, the overall progress is continuous across the century only when taken as a whole; the individual performances, which acording to Darwinism should create the trend, are sporadic and often disappointing compared to those which came four years before. This means the rate of evolution is not the rate of the individual at all and nor is it an effect of the individual – it is a different rate to which an individual only occasionally matches, and is consistently improving across spans of three or four generations even when the individuals themselves are not.
If it were possible for individuals to beat the racial trend, that is, if the rate depended only on individuals, you would see fluctuations and curves rather than flat progression. Because the racers are never related, the variations would be completely unpredictable. Competitivity doesn’t come into it: all the racers felt as eager to win in 1896 as in 2012 but we all know that the most competitive minds are not always the most talented. Conversely, though we also admit that not all talent makes it to the front, we can be sure that the fastest man alive at any one time is very likely the fastest possible level for the human race at that time, and that the fastest man alive now is indeed faster than 100 years ago, just as the trend shows. It is not a vertical inheritance, and if all the racers were related there would be no pattern at all, because many winning athletes either had no children or had children who were disinterested in athletics altogether!
All of this implies that evolution has its own pace working horizontally across the entire species, and though it might well be thwarted or held back – perhaps by reasons of war, or nutrition for example – it catches up as soon as conditions permit, making what appears to be a radical leap not due to the previous generation’s success, but in spite of it!
The same conclusion can be drawn if we look at fresco painting, my current obsession: every civilisation on Earth independently developed this complicated mechanism. The surviving frescos of Egypt, Knossos, Italy and even Paleolithic versions in Lascaux and elsewhere show that intellectual knowledge is expressed not vertically but horizontally, emerging from brains sensitive to some universal pool of knowledge.
Other spheres such as agriculture, medicinal plants, language and religions also arise almost spontaneously at a certain stage of evolution. None of this can be explained unless physical and mental attributes emerge naturally in a timely response to evolutionary needs, and not pressed inwards from the outside. None of these ideas could catch on unless other brains in that society were already receptive; in evolutionary terms we could say they are already angled, more or less, in the same direction.
This persistence of biology reminds me of a friend of my daughter, who due to circumstance trained as a gymnast in China from the age of 9. The stress was so great that she actually stopped growing for three years. But when she returned to a normal life in the UK, her body grew at an accelerated rate until at the age of 15 she is the average height in her class. This remarkable situation means the human body has a pattern to which it tries to conform at each stage of growth, and is not merely a sum of its previous parts, showing that the schedule is independent of the body itself. If held back, it will not take up again at a fixed rate but work to a pre-set pattern, catching up if need be by marshalling extra resources. It is not the rate which is fixed, but the target itself, and this has profound implications. The same pattern is evident in the evolutionary development of the race, somethng which has been completely overlooked by the thinkers of our day.
In the Olympics we can see a steady progress which the individuals may or may not reflect, and falling short should slow down all future generations, since they emerge from identical conditions. The conclusion is that evolution is not the result of a fixed formula applied to conditions existing a certain time. Like the body, it is actually an overall pattern to which the individual subscribes irrespective of local conditions, and this implies an overall target as well, of which the individual can never be aware. The world conditions at the moment, which show planet-wide social disturbances, must mean that at this stage in evolution the rate of progress is increased – and being blocked by social forms which the mind has already outgrown. The result is widespread revolt.
This explains why human evolution has progressed in a fixed direction; as Charles Darwin said, it is unscientific to postulate chance as a cause, as chance never moves in a fixed direction. All along, evolution has not been random, but a result of some other layer of life we do not yet understand, and its target which we cannot yet see. All the halting progress, all the stops and starts, the bloody wars and repressions, revolutionaries and freedom movements – result from the human race at times complying, at times rebelling against whatever genetic laws govern its destiny.
This also explains why those individuals who have somehow intuitively grasped the nature of this destiny and aligned themselves with it exerted a magnetism which swayed the crowds, and which no amount of hype or money could emulate; it lasted long after the fads of charismatic nobodies and miffed critics vanished completely from the scene. The nature of man’s future can be detected in his longest lasting institutions and his deepest sentiments, which they too reflect: starting with the will to live, the urge to procreate, and no less, the instinct to make ourselves understood through language, arts, and religion.
As far as religion goes, the difficulty facing the atheist is that armed with the intellect alone, these subtle influences and the cues which make them tangible, remain undetectable. The claims of atheism are correct inasmuch as they publicly define the perceptive limits and attendant frustration of the intellect facing a multi dimensional world. The intellect can never make sense of the Universe unaided by intuition; there are religious fanatics too, whose proselytizing is a sign of insecurity; lacking an intuitive grasp of reality they hope the confidence of others will bolster their own doubts. Motivating such personalities can only be done through reasoning, and even then, only by personalities which their fearful natures already trust, wearing as they do the same reassuring insignia.
Words which inspire us take on a quality related to destiny, without which there would be no need for inspiration at all, since every sense reacts to some valid quality in the world. Even the reflective nature of study means that knowledge comes from within. Just as the same gravitational influences which move colossal galaxies also affect our own bodies, whatever forces evolve the tiny human race are in some way hard at work within each of us too. What is religion, but an imperfectly expressed, dimly realised recognition of this cosmic surface of mankind, extending back right through the ages in varying forms, right to the very beginning?
If evolution cannot be stopped, it is a supremely encouraging concept. Certainly, we will get there; whether cheerful and energetic or ruefully with skinned knees, we will reach the summit one day. It is only a question of how.