Natural selection as arising from eros

Plato makes the authorship of texts and the production of art a stage in erotic development, i.e. something that we human beings have in place of immortality, and which is therefore an approximation of immortality. We couldn’t write anything apart from a concomitant desire that it should at least deserve to survive, and so far as this is true we design anything with an eye that it should be adapted to survive in future conditions, at least so far as these are agreeable to the sort of beauty we are trying to bring forth.

This aspect of authorship or artistic production might serve as an analogue to an intention in universal nature within the process of natural selection. The authorship of any of the parts arises from a sort of eros – a seeking of immortality – that seeks to make something that will survive, but only so far as its survival is agreeable to the particular beauty that nature sought to bring forth. Selection negates whatever is no longer adapted to the environment – but the artist too would want his work to disappear when it could no longer speak to the environment. Just as we desire immortality through children, but not so far as the children would ruin our name, so too we want immortality through authorship and art, but not so far as it no longer has anything to say to the environment.

Natural selection is a purely instrumental or mediating mechanism: given something alive and reproducing, selection can do its work. biology will no doubt someday hit on some other process to account for the living thing as such. But at such a point, and at any other such point in the unfolding where something new arises, we can overlay a Platonic eros in universal nature analogous to the sort we experience in authorship and artistic production.



  1. Kristor said,

    May 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Excellent. But really it wouldn’t be natural selection that thus arises from Eros, but rather speciation. Selection operates upon already active forms, while speciation introduces novel forms as grist for the mill of natural selection.

    • May 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      I think we’re saying the same thing. When I said selection arises from eros I meant it came after the erotic event that either gave rise to life or to something ontologically new – which is presumably what you mean by “speciation” (though there is a controversy over what counts as such: e.g. Dekoninck thought that the only ontological newness in evolution was the arising of animals from plants and humans from animals.)

      • Kristor said,

        May 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm

        Yes. I didn’t understand my comment as a disputation. You say the same thing in different words in the last paragraph of the post.

        It is interesting to consider that the production of art involves the artist in numerous selections from among various options arrayed before his mental eye as conceptual potentialities. This is so even in the performance of compositions such as plays or canticles.

        When a singer prepares for a performance, she is certainly motivated by love. Even the prima donna’s interest in self-aggrandizement supervenes upon a deep feeling that the performance is Good and Beautiful, and a desire to (be seen to) participate therein. The prima donna seeks to appropriate for herself some of the glory of the art she produces, and this she would never think to do except under the influence of a profound love of the beauty of that art, and of its intrinsic value.

        Does the singer’s selection from among certain really available options then amount to a sort of natural selection? I.e., is origination also an instance of natural selection? Or, in other words, is all origination composition?

      • Kristor said,

        May 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm

        PS: Editing and selecting being steps in the procedure of composing.

      • Kristor said,

        May 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm

        PPS So that even speciation would be the outcome of a process (proceeding in some conceptual space or other, pre-actually) of composition. Dekoninck’s human speciation, for example, took place in a certain way, and might have taken place in another; more Neanderthal, less Cro-Magnon, or something.

  2. May 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Interesting. Would “a Platonic eros in universal nature” require some sort of world-soul? Can universal nature have eros without psyche?

    • Kristor said,

      May 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Alfred North Whitehead, call your office.

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