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I : I : I

Evolutionary Thought

Aviva Reed

What can we learn from billions of years of being part of an evolving ecosystem?


In telling stories of evolution we recognise our complicity, our context, our connectedness, our unity with everything as a writhing, chemical concoction. Evolution is a driving force, a verb of process that weaves chemical cocktails into material entities and simultaneously unravels known certainties into potential futures made up of our ancestral legacies. It helps us recognize that the very first living lifeform is still alive in each and everything that is metabolizing, from bacteria to human. Through a process of reflection and re-situating, an embrace of messy complexity becomes a beautiful unfolding emergence of possibility. Evolution is a unifying concept that reflects the multidisciplinary nature of science. It integrates information from the domains of biology, geology, chemistry, archeology, genetics and ecology. Evolution is driven by changes in the variation of genes due to mutations, sex, recombination and gene flow. The outcomes includes organisms and their ability to adapt, co- evolve, co- operate, speciate and to become extinct. The outcome is also a rich matrix of relationships.

Storying our lives with narratives has been a long time cultural practice for building scaffoldings of support and comfort, a way to know, and get to know ourselves, in our worlds for our times. Through a process of reflection and re-situating, an embrace of messy complexity becomes a beautiful unfolding emergence of possibility. The stories we tell shape who we are and who we become, which beckons the question, why do we not tell more stories of our evolutionary lives? Of our ancestral beginnings and becomings?  

Exploring the story of evolution can be scary. Filled with mystery and voids of deep time, it takes a giant leap into an eternal earthquake of change, a seismic tremor of existential awe.  But, it is in this space of wonder and mystery, that a gentle holding of all things, ourselves as all things, can seep into our being, a momentary appreciation of change as a beautiful sculpting force. Only through the expansion of our imagination attempting to grapple with these immense scales and processes, temporally and spatially, is it  possible to attempt the imagining of our own molecular memory: that “our bones were once stone, and our air cycled our eons, shared with our ancestors”. Through these grandiose projections of self into a unifying concept of evolution, can real re-situating of self into a present of interconnection and interrelated life become.

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The beauty of evolutionary stories is that they embrace the rigorous, robust science of ecology, whilst also placing every living being into a story.  The story that is our story. Where the very first living thing is still alive in each and everything alive. Evolutionary stories evoke patterns, recognitions and connections, a blueprint similar to a multi dimensional mapping tool for gaining perspective into interconnection, biological growth and decay as nutritious decay. Evolutionary stories help us embrace the unknowns of death, by providing the poetic analogy of the chemical matrix of cycling that situates us, as alive, in an eon long cycle of recycling. It reminds us that we are the ancestors of tomorrow.