Exaptation – copy & paste in the evolution of tech and culture

Just got a name for something I have grasped for a long time. I used to call it accidental by products of evolution, and had this idea when I was doing biology aged 15. EG the piano is a by product of the evolution of fingers. We as humans have gone beyond what was biologically fittest, accidental by-products just heaped upon themselves and interacted with each other to enable creativity and consciousness.

From What Technology wants by Kevin Kelly page 50: “These inadvertent anticipatory inventions are called exaptations in biology.”

“Exaptation is a term used in evolutionary biology to describe a trait that has been co-opted for a use other than the one for which natural selection has built it.”

“It is a relatively new term, proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba in 1982 to make the point that a trait’s current use does not necessarily explain its historical origin. They proposed exaptation as a counterpart to the concept of adaptation.

For example, the earliest feathers belonged to dinosaurs not capable of flight. So, they must have first evolved for something else. Researchers have speculated early feathers may have been used for attracting mates or keeping warm. But later on, feathers became essential for modern birds’ flight.

It is a relatively new term, proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba in 1982 to make the point that a trait’s current use does not necessarily explain its historical origin. They proposed exaptation as a counterpart to the concept of adaptation.

For example, the earliest feathers belonged to dinosaurs not capable of flight. So, they must have first evolved for something else. Researchers have speculated early feathers may have been used for attracting mates or keeping warm. But later on, feathers became essential for modern birds’ flight.

(Perry, 2013)

In the evolution of technology and culture it is all exaptation. The reason is that the basis of tech and cultural evolution are not genetic, the information is carried by social means. Thus nothing goes extinct, and all innovations can be resurrected. In other words we can cut and paste to make new things, that process is far faster and more efficient than evolution in the biological sphere. Sexual reproduction is a form of cut & paste, but still far more primitive than what we can do with our inventions.

For example: Id love to graft the Graffiti handwriting system from the dead Palm onto a current smartphone.

References

Parry, Wynne. (2013, September 16). Exaptation: How evolution uses what’s available. Retrieved February 8, 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/39688-exaptation.html

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