I was walking with Heather and Jungmin today and we were talking about this and that, and in the context of our conversation, Heather asked, “Why do we die?” She meant it in a biological sense — why do organisms die, rather than just live forever?
I said “I don’t know, but let’s think about this a bit… one hint might be that most species engage in sexual reproduction, which allows for a variety of different genetic possibilities to be tried. Dying is part of this, because the species can only explore different genetic possibilities if previous generations die out to make room for the newer generations. But then the question arises — how would this evolve?” I paused for a second to think about this a bit more deeply. “Consider two species, one which had individuals which never died of old age, and another which explored different genetic possibilities through sexual reproduction and death. Clearly, the second species would explore a lot more possibilities, genetically, than the first, over the same time period, giving the second species a huge adaptive advantage over the first.” We talked about this idea some more and Heather pointed out that, in some sense, while we all are often assholes to each other, and are often selfish, we are also all engaged in a highly cooperative activity, as well; by living, reproducing, and dying to make room for future generations, we’re collectively helping our species adapt and evolve.
The most dramatic and meaningful stories and events always seem to have to do with the boundaries of life: reproduction (love and sex), and death. Somehow we’re all subconsciously aware of this.permalink |