cosmic quibble

The next episode of Cosmos will come in in a few hours and I wanted to post this before that.  Last week was another great one as Neil deGrasse Tyson challenged all of us to embrace a scientific view of life.  

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He acknowledged that some people worry about being related to monkeys and then asked wryly, “How do you feel about being related to an oak tree?”  I loved it and my Celtic forebears with their Druidic ways certainly approved.  But one quibble:  he said several times that the environment “shaped” or “molded” the forms of life and I think it is important (more than a quibble really) to understand the complexity of the relationship between an evolving organism and its environment.  Susanne Langer said the environment determines what is given, the organism what is taken.  An organism is the agent shaping its ecological niche.  The agency of evolution, DNA mutation, changes the animal to maybe exploit the environment more successfully, more probably to reduce the the organism’s internal viability or to hinder its adaptation to the environment.  The environment, however important a constraint it may be, is not an agent ( at least in my grammatical sense of things).  That said, be there or be square.

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