As I am reading David Sloan Wilson’s book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time,” I find it useful to have 70 years behind me. Initially I did not like Sloan comparing life, his and all life, to the randomness of a metal pinball bouncing into or off of something else. But the more I thought about it the more I understood and even liked his metaphor. I see how it fits with his definition that evolution is about randomness, differences and change.
Looking back over my life I understand how my actions, and the actions of many others had the pinball effect, changing the direction of my life. It ends the idea of control. It shines a light on the wise counsel to accept whatever is as a foregone conclusion while also defining the starting point for change and growth. It all sounds so simple now. It wasn’t. But I am still here.
I am early into Wilson's book. He is setting the stage for what is to come through story. First there is the story of the paternalistic George F. Johnson, a shoemaker from humble roots who cared for his employees through good wages and working conditions, providing health care, and starting a savings account for every child born to an employee. He gave the community parks, recreational facilities, and carousels for the children. I saw in Johnson’s story the difference between the patriarchal versus the caring paternal. It also reminded me that I really want to see Robert Reich’s (former U.S. Labor Secretary) movie “Inequality for All.” Then Sloan tells the stories of the remarkable water strider’s adaptation to walk on water, but their less than successful group interactions’, compared to the highly successful interactions of wasp colonies.
The author really wants us to understand his profession as a scientist and evolutionary biologist. He writes, “I rankle at the way science is understood by the general public, especially when it is portrayed as a sacred body of knowledge presided over by a priestly caste.” And we are back in the pinball machine again with his statement: “Every movement made by an organism is based on a physical environmental input, which initiates a physical chain of events inside the organism, which results in the physical movement of the organism—its behavioral output.” I look forward to reading more about how we adapt, change and grow.
What if we all bumped into the more paternal and maternal among us more often?