There is a principle in evolution called neoteny.  Neoteny was widely revered in the 1800s, but an understanding of its dynamics disappeared.  Stephen J. Gould nudged them back into the limelight when he published Ontogeny and Phylogeny in 1971.  Long story short, neoteny describes the biological processes resulting in the prolongation of infant features into the adult members of their descendants.  For example, chimp-like human progenitors had babies with high foreheads, big brains relative to body size, big eyes, small chins, a playful nature, etc.  There are over 30 specific features associated with this transformation.  Humans today have many of the physical and personality features of chimp infants.  We call this effect neoteny.  Species evolution can drive infant features forward through to the adult over many generations.

Michael Behe is a much-vilified microbiologist who has concluded that many processes characteristic of molecular biology are so staggeringly complex that they could never have evolved.  Darwinists, those evolutionary biologists that believe that natural selection is the primary force in evolution, demand that all life evolves incrementally, step by step, with each step demanding an individual robust enough to survive to procreation age.  Behe says that there is stuff happening that requires leaps of molecular programming that could have had no intervening steps.  Stuff just happened.  Behe says that there are things happening in our bodies that are just so mind-bogglingly sophisticated that they had to be created with no in-between steps.  They had to be designed.

Well, the mythologist creationist Christians just love this guy.  Here’s a scientist that says we were designed, not just evolved.  God is in the details.  The devil is off somewhere else.

As a political activist feeling for the source, the spring waters of social change, I think Behe is onto something.  Just as Gould describes neoteny as the process that carries the features of ancestor infants into the adults of their descendants, Behe identifies an original source of the creative impulse–molecules and atoms.  It seems like the earlier you go, the more pure creativity emerges.  For example, how more creative can you get than the hidden processes characteristic of an egg or sperm?  Or the moment that preceded the big bang?

Profound social change comes from the level lowest, youngest or earliest in social ontogeny.  Nurturing or encouraging activity at this level has mind-altering, society-transforming results.  By focusing here, you are near the source of creativity in culture.  Identical in structure is the source of creativity on a molecular or species level.

Providing tools that let individuals experience their creativity and then influence their contemporaries is how you encourage social change.  Of course, this process is happening now at a speed that we are only beginning to understand as the new technologies are placed before our children and our teens.  As an activist, placing in the hands of individuals the ability to create a protest, a vigil, a petition, a forum or a mass boycott creates the opportunity for this creative impulse to reform culture.  You do so from the bottom up, from the grass roots, from the creative source, from a single person with an idea.

Interestingly enough, the power of the individual to contribute to social transformation is directly related to how connected that individual is to the web of relationships that makes up the society as a whole.  What is the connection between creativity and interdependent relationships?  Could they be the same thing?

Enhancing the creativity of the individual is about connecting that individual to her or his contemporaries.  So, as an evolutionary activist, I’m looking for ways to make connections.  Neoteny isn’t just about chimp infants becoming human or molecules designing themselves.  Neoteny is also about citizens doing something because it had never been done before and feeling like it could be done.  Activism occurs at every biological level.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008 at 7:09 am and is filed under Activism, Biology, Neoteny, Society, Web. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Carl Davidson on April 10, 2008 6:56 am

    Look for the net, more so than the node

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