An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of April 13, 2003
Written in the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

ON THE BEAUTY OF
CONVERGENT EVOLUTION

Back to the vultures' convergent evolution, which I find very satisfying to think about. {Eurasian vultures are related to hawks and falcons; similar looking American vultures are related to herons and cranes}

Again and again in nature you find very unrelated species evolving to look like one another. The reason is always the same: There's an optimum appearance and behavior for a species exploiting any specific ecological niche, so whatever ancestry you have, if you as a species decide to occupy that niche, your appearance and behavior will gradually evolve to the "optimum appearance and behavior" for that niche.

For me, the pretty part of this process is the confirmation that abstract ideals exist in nature and that, existing, they manifest themselves in the "real world." These abstract ideals are like ghosts suspended in eternity, beckoning parts of the changing world around them to come closer, to assume the character of the ideal's essence -- to become a material manifestation of their spiritual ideal.

Thus the Ghost of Carrion-eating Birds for millions of years called toward the bird world, and out of the mists stepped Old-World members of the hawk order, and New-World members of the stork order. After millennia of walking toward the Ghost of Carrion-eating Birds, the Old-World hawk volunteers and our New-World stork volunteers now look almost the same. What they look like is the ideal of the Ghost of Carrion-eating Birds, the ideal we know as the vulture.

What ghost beckons us humans forward as we evolve? What is the abstract ideal toward which we humans are walking out of the mists? What will be our final appearance and behavior?

For me, the search to an answer to those questions almost defines what it means to be a spiritual (not a religious) person. One's spiritual quest must be to glimpse the thing toward which humankind walks, and to keep consciously approaching that Holy Ghost, metamorphosing appropriately during the process.

My own journey is at an infantile stage, and I see the Ghost only at a very great distance and through profoundly disorienting mists. Yet already I can tell you two or three things I'm sure this Ghost favors.

She favors vitality over inertness. She favors evolution over inaction. She favors diversity over monotony.

These insights at first glance seem pretty general and unsexy. However, at this time when the flow of history is getting stuck in mindless conservatism, when fundamentalists deny the existence of biological evolution, and homogenizing "globalization" is the catchphrase of the times, maybe these insights are enough. Facebook Icon.