Posted: Aug 07, 2013 6:53 pm
by Arthur Methoxy
Despite its ever-burgeoning technical complexity modern evolution theory still needs to play catch up with Empedocles. Darwin pays tribute to Empedocles for his theory of natural selection. Empedocles argues for reproductive fitness, random chance, and survival of the fittest. His ideas may have been helped by his contemporary (circa 450 B.C.) Xenophanes, who first announced the existence of the fossil record in ancient, terrestrial sea-beds.

However, unlike Empedocles, modern theory is still attached to the idea of successful adaptations. Empedocles rejects this odd conceptual blip. It ought not to be hard for we moderns to see why:

Modern evolution theory still regards successful parts (or adaptations), like the polar bears' foot for example, as aids to survival or "specialized for the environment in which an organism evolved, the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA" (see, for example, Gaulin, Steven J. C. and Donald H. McBurney, Evolutionary Psychology. Prentice Hall. 2003, p.25-56)

Not so, for Empedocles: despite his idea of homologous functions (e.g. olive and egg) there are no innately successful adaptations in an environment. After all, we may note, a polar bears' foot would not be a successful adaptation for a bacterium growing on it despite the environment being the same. Empedocles has this to say "most of these fortuitous organisms [assemblies of parts] were fragile or sterile, only the fittest structures survived...their fitness to reproduce was a matter of chance, not design" (quoted by Aristotle, Ph. 2 8.198b29). Here, Empedocles rejects the animistic (modern) idea of innate successfulness in physical forms or parts.

Despite this advantage that Empedocles' theory has over modern animistic theories of natural selection he, and others in his school, are still patronised and referred to (in terms of the lesser member of a privileged binary) as, for example, "anticipators" of modern theory.