Tag Archives: Darwin

Collaboration and competition

Close-up picture Californian Redwood trees showing some fallen trunks and branches amonst living treesCompetition has become a characteristic of many activities in life, whether it is teams vying to win a trophy, universities attempting to be top of a league table, retailers trying to persuade you to buy from them, or politicians seeking power. Natural selection is often cited to demonstrate that competition is ubiquitous in nature and therefore something to be embraced and celebrated as a route to success. However, Suzanne Simard has highlighted that competition is only part of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It was popularised following the publication of his book ‘The Origin of Species’ in 1859; however, Darwin also wrote about the ways in which plants co-operate and collaborate and Simard believes that collaboration is ‘as important, if not more important’ than competition in the development of ecosystems. Trees may have a better chance of adapting to climate change because they are adapting faster than us.  A number of mass movements of plants are in progress – the fastest appears to be the northwards migration of white spruce trees in the eastern US which have moved 100 km every decade for the last thirty years. Perhaps it is time to apply some more comprehensive biomimetics to the organisation of society at all levels and consider how greater levels of collaboration rather than competition would help us tackle the challenges facing civilisation.

Sources:

Henry Mance, Lunch with the FT: Suzanne Simard ‘I say to the trees, “I hope I’m helping”‘, FT Weekend, 26 March / 27 March 2022.

James Bridle, The speed of a dandelion, FT Weekend, 2 April / 3 April 2022.

Hands-in-pockets

I often have the opportunity to take a ‘hands-in-pockets’ tour of a laboratory or facility during the course of visits to world-class research institutions.  ‘Hands-in-pockets’ means that you can look must but you must not touch anything or take photographs.  Some of these tours are more exciting than others; one very fast computer looks very much like another and one very expensive microscope looks very much like another.  However, a couple of weeks ago, we visited the library of Christ Church Oxford for five minutes and there, to my amazement and delight, lying almost casually on a table were first editions of two of the books that form the foundation of modern science.  Isaac Newton’s ‘Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica’ published in 1687 and Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of the Species’ published in 1859.  Now, we understood why the librarian had been reluctant to let us take a peek.  My hands stayed firmly in my pockets but the temptation to turn the page of the Origin of Species, which was open, or to open Newton’s great work was huge.  Instead, we walked slowly around the room, which besides us and a skeleton of a horse was empty, soaking up the atmosphere.  We left quietly, thanking the librarian at the bottom of the stairs for letting us take a peek.  I didn’t discover why they have a skeleton of horse in the library with their great collection of books – I didn’t feel I could ask the librarian as we left!