LITERATURE, IN EVOLUTIONARY TERMS, BEGINS and ends with the idea. Even if the idea is unconsciously expressed, it is behind the conveyance of all forms of information. Because of this, the idea is behind the edifice of standardized language. Language is a recent development; the end product of intermediate stages that have been changed throughout history. To show the developmental stages of narrative is necessary when looking to the future. Before we look at variations between languages, I’d like to present a more natural way of looking at language and what language represents.
Human beings aren’t the only animals that use language, nor are they the only animals to use language to describe objects and other individuals within their species and environments. Dolphins are well known for their intelligence and have names for one another; they have names for objects and places. It was recently discovered that crows pass information and habits to offspring through language, and, as it is with humans, these animals have different, colloquial accents; and, when conditioned to respond negatively to certain masks and faces, crows will not only continue to respond negatively and attack the same mask years after their conditioning, their offspring will inherit these prejudices. That’s right; racism is hereditary.
Literature is not only the chronicle of life or ideas; a book is a haunted house, a haunted house that scares the shit out of complacent, naïve people. To start with the first organized story using structured language would be to exclude 97% of our history. So, we have to use the 3% of our history we have to account for the rest. The best way to do this is to look at literature in biological and genetic terms. What follows this is a eukaryotic idea: when new information becomes available, this idea will have to be revised. Dismissing reality to keep an idea alive is more often than not what kills it.
Based on the information we have available, what we know as life began in more basic and simple terms and remained that way for the greater majority of biological history. The birth of conveying ideas began in prokaryotic fashion, as life began as prokaryotic in nature. To say that ideas were originally prokaryotic is to say that the replica was idealistically without variation from the replicator. This is the stage in literary evolution when the idea and the representation were the same: images of cows, fish, and people, were what they conveyed; cows, fish, and people. This was the first form of idea, the prokaryotic idea.
The eukaryotic idea became possible with the disconnect between idea and representation. Without abstraction we would be without the majority of literary devices we so often use such as analogy, simile, metaphor, parody, satire, equivocation. At this stage, a cow can be an obese person; taken further, the obese person can be gluttony; gluttony can be insatiable desire, a sin, and a hobby. At the deepest level of meaning, meaning becomes a choice on behalf of the reader.
One of the most famous works of English literature, The Old Man and the Sea, which won Ernest Hemingway the Nobel Prize for literature, was about a man going fishing. The reason it won is not because the board of voters is particularly good in judging English literature. There was a mystical, archetypal sense about the famous short story. I think something with that kind of simplicity and clarity in storytelling is startling. It is presented as idea without equivocation. What makes good literature resonate is literature that doesn’t think for the reader. It presents a story without obvious answers and this is what compels us to project onto it our own ideas and theories.
The Old Man and the Sea is not specifically about how we are defined by our struggles; the kind of struggle which always demands one more effort, one more pull, forever and ever. It’s not about climbing to the top of a mountain to discover it’s a sand-dune. It’s not about how even when we achieve our goal it comes to nothing, as only the bones of the great fish remain when the man returns to port. It is not about the fight between two aspects of nature. It’s about an old man and the sea, an old man who dreams of lions when he sleeps. What is the fish and what is the man? They are the same thing: organisms fighting for their continued survival. The struggle portrayed in literary terms resonates in biological terms. The reason the book is so meaningful is because it is not intended to be meaningful.
The most important difference in the prokaryotic cell and the eukaryotic cell is that the eukaryotic cells has a nucleus bound membrane which allows for the passing of genetic information from one generation to another. In eukaryotic ideas, information is being passed and replicated imperfectly. The imperfection is its greatest attribute because it allows for improvement. The only reason evolution is possible is because DNA is not always perfectly copied, and sometimes variations have better chances of surviving than a genetic replica would have.
Change happens during replication, during chromosomal encoding as each gene, in competition with an alternate gene, an allele, takes place along each slot, each locus, at each of the mother’s 23 chromosomes and the father’s 23 chromosomes. Adaptation, on the genetic level, doesn’t happen within an organism’s lifetime. Its ability to adapt is dependent on its genetic endowment. There are selection pressures amongst varying ideas, and it is most often cultural, subjected to changing intellectual climates and competition with other competing philosophies. Eukaryotic ideas are different than prokaryotic ideas because there is deviation in replication that allows for difference to enter into the dreampool. The difference between the biological and literary eukaryote is that an idea can change and adapt after birth. This is what makes the evolution of ideas and information possible and this is how knowledge can be improved upon.
As we’ve seen, ideas are inherited. The success of an idea is largely dependent on the environment in which it emerges. Its success among competing ideas within that culture. Genes operate under the same principle and those which allow the organism to survive aren’t selected in the human sense, and perhaps ideas aren’t either.
The cave paintings in Chauvet, France can be considered the archetypal prokaryotic idea: it is both idea and representation and does not deviate in replications.
Considering fire in biological terms can illustrate this point. Fire breathes; it excretes; it consumes and produces energy; it gives birth to daughter fires; you can smother it by cutting off its oxygen, drown it in water, but fire doesn’t pass on genetic information, even though it makes copies of itself, even though there are different varieties of fire. Some spit, some crackle, some hiss; but they are biologically not alive, although they share these traits with living organisms. The difference between fire and eukaryotic organisms is the passing of genetic information through DNA.
Tone is the gateway to understanding modern language, as domesticated animals can usually understand commands given based on their tone, volume, and rapidity. The point of tone is to convey the idea, but tone is predated by pictorial literature wherein symbols are used to represent something they aren’t, the combination of different symbols to reference other ideas.
The way we begin to understand language in our native environment is not through form and definition. We begin to understand words by the tone and volume of the sound, in concert with posturing, facial expression, and other such things that children understand more thoroughly than adults. Parents, or more precisely, mothers, will tell you that a child can mean a lot without using descriptive language. A mother can differentiate happiness, grumpiness, anger, and contentment (silence) in terms of tone. Even when a tone is no different to the ear of a casual listener, a child crying because of hunger and a child crying because of being sleepy can be understood biologically by mothers. This is found in other species as well, as tone can extend and manipulate the genes of other animals at a distance.
There are two examples I can use to illustrate this principle. Cuckoos never raise their own children. Female cuckoos parasitize the nests of other birds, such as the common reed warbler. When it becomes obvious to the diminutive reed warbler that what she’s feeding may not be, in fact, a reed warbler, considering that it is larger than the rest of the chicks, and her, the cuckoo is capable of making a noise that mitigates this factor.
The noise produced by a cuckoo chick is an expression of its genes, an extended phenotype; it can be said to control the way the reed warbler thinks, as the sound a cuckoo makes acts on the mind of the reed warbler. The sound made by the obviously fraudulent cuckoo is enough to change the reed warbler’s ability to realize that whatever is making that sound probably isn’t a reed warbler, or any other kind of warbler. This is not the only instance in which a phenotype is extended.
There is a species of cricket in which the male uses very specific and intentional sounds to manipulate the ovulation of female crickets at a distance. The general concept is synonymous to that of the reed warbler; as a part of our natural inheritance, we can use sound and tone to convey basic needs.
As animals born into environments in which their immediate ancestors were, genetic information that gives the resultant organism its tenacity and survival probability comes from an organism that relied on its genetic information to survive in the same environment. To illustrate this in terms that apply to ideas, an idea which allows for an organism to maximize its utility within its environment is, although not always consciously, selected.
The information carried in DNA makes up the chromosome of every animal on Earth, all of which have phenotypic traits encoded by four letters: T, U, G, and A. Every animal you see in the wild is just a different assemblage of those four letters of DNA, collectively representing an animal’s genome. Similarly, each book is a different animal. In English, each of those animals are just different arrangements of twenty-six letters. Different languages, obviously, have different letters and alphabets. Considering the English alphabet only, all of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the collected works of Dickens and Shakespeare—all being different only in its arrangement of the same twenty-six letters.
The most common selection pressures are the environment (culture) predators (competing, contrary ideas,) and, in the idea’s case, adaptability. A rigid idea, which does not adapt, is prokaryotic; this means that while there may be individuals who try to adapt it, the adaptation process is an unnatural one: when the terms we use to evaluate nature are altered to adapt the idea to new cultures, this is the reversal of ideal evolution. It is preservation, but it is stasis. Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation has been modified to more accurately describe nature and it took 300 years for it to become a closer representation of what nature reveals to us.
The interpretation of nature hasn’t been changed to give more authority to Newton’s theory of gravitation. When someone distorts information provided by nature to fit an idea, this is the death of the idea as a viable, adaptable organism, and this process is what assigns prokaryotic attributes to the idea, because once an idea is no longer subject to revision based on better understandings of nature, and objective data provided by observations of nature, it can only survive through prokaryotic replication. The conceit that an imperfect being can have a perfect idea, an idea that overreaches future, contradictory discoveries, is unhealthy, and leads to stagnation.
These ideas may be dead on a biological level, but survive as the literary equivalent of a living fossil. Living fossils are extremely successful species that can survive without significant change for millions of years. They are perfectly adapted to their environment, are either without predation or the apex predator, and lack competition for food and mates within its species and among cohabiting species.
Prokaryotic living fossils in literature aren’t successful because they are perfectly adapted to the environment. Adaptation to an environment means, in literary terms, that the preserved product was molded and shaped by the culture. This is how more vibrant and adaptable eukaryotic ideas survive; they are updated to fit the environment as it changes. Prokaryotic, living fossil ideas are so successful because they were created for the environment, and then the environment was adapted to the idea.
These ideas are successful enough without the intellectual sculpting and cultural evaluation and revision that makes eukaryotic ideas successful, viable organisms. Even though they compete through people, by proxy, only the ideas are at war. Through people, ideas make war with other ideas, which happen to be in other people. An idea is what wins a war, never a person. The winner of a war is never a person, it is the idea. People never survive a war, they die—for what survives is no longer a person.
With few exceptions, such as humans, other primates, and dolphins, when an animal kills another animal there is no need for justification. Need is the justification. In natural conditions, animals kill other animals to survive, for food, to prolong their lives. Animals such as the big cats (tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars) teach their offspring how to kill, admittedly, but it is not about philosophy. Cheetahs don’t chase down antelopes and kill them because they disagree. In more intelligent animals, where there is killing for sport, for thrills, for ideas, the idea itself is, to some degree, symbiotic; it is using the organism to transmit itself to other hosts. It is a virus, a disease—Marco Polio.
Prokaryotic ideas survive at the expense of people; eukaryotic ideas survive because people, culturally and collectively, keep them alive to better the culture and the collective.
Methodology and evolutionary history has shown how harmful it can be to introduce a foreign species to an isolated, stable ecosystem. A prominent example is the dodo, a flightless bird not unlike the common pigeon, which once inhabited the island of Mauritius. The species’ that inhabit an island are a snapshot of a different evolutionary era and have selection pressures that are favored only there, pressures which haven’t yet prepared them for something like a dog, a cat, or a drunk sailor.
Importing living fossil ideas and introducing them to indigenous ideas is the first symptom that hints at the real relationship between idea and host: this is a symbiotic relationship with the carrier species, podochus ennoia; from the Greek for ‘idea holder,’ and a prokaryotic idea that can only make replicas. It’s a perfect word: a dying idea uses a host to escape, to survive, to maximize the survivability of its genes.
The success of the prokaryotic idea is dependent on p. ennoia to propagate and survive, since it has lost its ability to change to suit environments, environments are changed by p. ennoia to accommodate the idea. Superficial changes are made to make it successful for different potential carriers. In this case, the language of the prokaryotic idea behaves like DNA, as it rewrites an organism’s thought, and inoculates them against attempts at further cultural and intellectual adaptation.
The analogy can be extended, biologically, because when an idea requires a host organism, a carrier species, to survive, it doesn’t simplify and adapt itself; it simplifies and degrades the carrier.
The ennoia begin as objective idea evaluators, where ideas are given value based on accuracy in description and economy of explanation. To become a pod, an idea host, it is usually the mistake made by someone mistaking a virus as the cure for a deeper sickness. When a superficial, mass-market idea kicks into gear, hosts are immunized by the symbiotic life-form against attempts at objective evaluation and become permanently prokaryotic, ideas whose survival is dependent on the ennoia’s success in adapting new environments, which includes new carriers, for the idea.
This type of reverse-engineering takes place within the dreampool with disturbing regularity. Eukaryotic ideas, ideas which evolve to best represent nature in natural philosophy, are rarely changed by individuals, but by collections of individuals within scholastic traditions. Einstein’s gravitational constant was phased out, because it was incorrect. As it was eukaryotic in nature, it allowed for after-birth evolution to take place, and when errors were found within the idea, an attempt to revise it to keep it alive was made. When revision couldn’t save it, and nothing but opinion could support it, it was phased out of the dreampool. A prokaryotic idea resists adjustment. Before Charles Darwin and Watson and Crick and Mendel, different versions of these ideas were in the dreampool.
Lamarcke was a French biologist who had an epigenetic centered view that revolved around the error in supposing that if you learned to speak other languages during your lifetime, your genetic code would be rewritten and your children would inherit the ability to speak these languages. Lamarcke’s idea of evolution was phased out because it was wrong. Objective idea-evaluators know what can prove them wrong, and in most cases, are not extremely keen in putting forth the effort required to be considered right.