Selection is an important part of evolution, where a population adapts to its environment. In his book "Selection" Graham Bell comments: "It is the successive selection of slight improvements that makes it possible for apparently improbably transformations to occur so rapidly." He also describes a game which illustrates this concept very well. It is a word game where the word "WORD" is changed, one letter at a time, into the word "GENE". If each move, a letter is changed at random, assuming that we can change one letter a second and have an average amount of luck, it will take between two and three days to get the word "GENE". In the next version of the game two new rules are added - only meaningful English words are allowed and any variants that are more like the word GENE (have more letters in the right place) replace any that are less similar. This means that the selection element of evolution has been added. Using these rules means that there are only a few steps of words taking "WORD" to "GENE" and this should be completed in a couple of minutes.

(A technical term intended to get round the problems with classical sexual selection)


Asked to 'explain' the large ears, say, of some animal, Darwinism gives us a choice of three (not a packet of three - that's something else) explanation categories:
  1. The size of the ears is a consequence of natural selection.
  2. The size of the ears is a consequence of sexual selection.
  3. The size of the ears is a consequence of descent.  The animal is descended from something with large ears.  This is the reason given for a bat's wing being a distorted hand, for example.  It cannot be the best way to make a wing from a 'let us design the most efficient possible wing' natural selection point of view.
We are given no clue as to which - 1, 2, or 3 - we should use.

Maud is looking particularly attractive this morning, so use sexual selection:

Sexual Selection:

Darwin asked us to imagine visiting a farmyard and seeing a particularly attractive, and spectacular turkey cock.  We are impressed by this creature, remarking among ourselves upon its beauty.

Might not a turkey hen take the same attitude, share our inner lives, regarding the cock, asked Darwin, might she not choose to mate preferentially with him, forsaking the others?   If so, he would leave more offspring (other hens have no dislike for him) and future populations would bare his weighted resemblance.

Again, Darwin gave the example of an African tribe who line their women up in a rank and then squint along the rank in order to decide which woman sticks out the furthest behind (he put this last bit in Latin to serve Victorian sensibility).  This accounts for women's callipygousness.

As to the animal's ears, perhaps females like big ears or perhaps the ears are a 'visual rank-dominance symbol' (advanced  typically in the context of antlers) occasioning deference among other males.

Some of the Problems With Sexual Selection:

We must count this proposition true:  'Liking something implies mating preferentially with it.'  (Sporus's take on this is not to deny, or to affirm, its truth but to claim it is not 'scientific'.  This is because no 'algebra' has been specified, no 'logic', which supplies the implies.  This is frequently a feature of Social Scientific theories.)  Many evolutionists feel this and related aspects of sexual selection, such as an apparent capacity for reading the mind of a Brussels sprout, require the re-jigging suplied by run away sexual selection.

Run-Away Sexual Selection:

  1. By chance a turkey hen is born which mates preferentially with males having extravagant plumage.
  2. Future populations bare a weighted resemblance to him.
  3. Their female offspring probably share their mother's appetite.  So the process is reinforced.
  4. Their male offspring have extravagant plumage.  So they get mated preferentially - since the female component of the population resembles the mother.
In short the process runs-away with itself and the population comes to consist in decorated males and in females lusting after decoration.

Sporus's halfpenny:

The simplest line to take is that the process can go in either direction.  You could equally get Puritan males with short feathers and naked areas.

With the large ears example, the process could give large ears - bigger than optimum hearing would require and natural selection would wish - or it could give undesirably, from a natural selection point of view, small ears.

If we look at the population at random times we will see large ears half, say, of the times and small ears the other half of the times.  Neither condition is optimal for natural selection.  The same will prevail for most of the animals' other attributes.

If run-away selection is real we are living in a world where almost all the characters of life show random deviations from what natural selection would lead us to expect.  These deviations may well be large with a 'size' presumably in inverse proportion to the selective pressure acting on the attribute.  This is not the world we are normally told we inhabit.

Se*lec"tion (?), n. [L. selectio: cf. F. s'election.] .

The act of selecting, or the state of being selected; choice, by preference.


That which is selected; a collection of things chosen; as, a choice selection of books.

Natural selection. Biol. See under Natural.


© Webster 1913.

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