The Great Chain of Life
by Joseph Wood Krutch

Natural history and evolution from an elevated perspective that scientists mired in details cannot see. The simplicity of the single-celled life forms is not simple: it is largely a mystery. They can propagate themselves, which machines cannot do. Sex and death entered the evolutionary chain together in a creature called volvox. Agriculture was invented by insects long before it was invented by man. The "blind foresight" of wasps is more efficient than the nervous care of a mother hen, but the wasp does not engage our sympathies, because its actions are virtually unconscious, there is no motive for us to sympathize with.

Reincarnation is a fact, witness the butterfly. Psyche or butterfly was the Greek word for soul. As far as social behavior is concerned, mammals are barbarians compared to many insects such as ants. Why do we regard mammals as higher than insects? Bighorn rams as Homeric heroes. Flowers smell good and have bright colors to attract insects. Birds have colorful feathers to attract mates. All mammals except the primates are color blind and less romantic than the birds. "Higher" can only mean "more human." It doesn't make sense to say it means fitness for survival (else the older and more numerous insect species would have to be regarded as higher than man. Awareness seems to be a major unspoken criterion for ranking animals as higher or lower, yet this is not a biologically measured trait.

Krutch gets too teleological, but it is a welcome counterbalance to scientism. He says nature prefers the living to the lifeless and consciousness to unconsciousness (page 109). He thinks natural selection is not the only factor working in evolution.

Year Read: 1986

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