Radical shifts in environment produce a proliferation of new species. Darwin noted vast gaps in the fossil record. (Evangelicals jump on this observation as proof that theories of evolution are fatally flawed.) Gould & Eldredge provided a name and explanation for this phenomenon: punctuated equilibrium. Theorists now conclude evolution often unfolds in sprints and spurts. Another way to understand it is that evolution rolls in and out, in waves.

Survival-of-the-fittest theorists would have us believe that some of the randomly produced progeny created during cataclysmic times, progeny exhibiting random features that are appropriate for the new environment, would survive to procreation, creating progeny like themselves. This view is fading.

Individually, ontogenetically, we as individuals reproduce a cellular march of a half billion years, improvising unique and interesting endings with every lifetime.

Two strong tides inform how this history unfolds. In one direction, individual modifications are embraced and stored–ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny–as innovations are transformed into history, becoming part of the ontological unfolding of descendants.

In the other direction, we have neoteny. With humans as an example, biological currents draw features of fetuses into adulthood, characteristics of infants into grown-ups, the creativity of creation into minds that invent, create and are inspired.

The tide of neoteny pulls from the opposite direction from those forces seeking to store what has been phylogenetically invented by flourishing adults. Neoteny grabs new and installs it in the old. The other tide takes the old and draws it back into the new.

This is the inhalation and exhalation of life, performed in single lifetimes and half a billion years. Imagine the inhalations and exhalations of vocalists performing improvisational choral jazz. Breathing and singing modify depending on the behavior of the others in the room. Environment influences individual and individual influences environment. Imagine your genes engaged in this process from before conception on.

We are encouraged to grow in response to the song that surrounds us, with the music/environment telling us the options. In utero, information comes in, ontogeny modifies. Not random variation but deliberate proliferation. How did an embryonic stage learn to listen? Perhaps from ancestors when that embryonic stage was phylogenetically adult, though maybe more salamander-like than human.

Could we as embryos not only be reproducing ancestors, but also be reproducing our ancestors’ history of choices responding to an ancient environment? Are choices we made millions of generations ago choices we now make in the womb, providing an ability to respond to the present environment? Perhaps we don’t just carry the forms of our ancestors in our genes. It is possible we also carry their process.

Songs change with every singing, and they evolve with time. As individuals, we learn, we change. Some of that change is stored inside our genes. As species, we learn and store it ontogenetically so that descendants can adapt. Influenced by a distant moon, ancient environments inform present decisions as tides recede, while the other tide with origins in creation is paradoxically also that which is ever present and most new.


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