BY MEGHAN LAWSON '23
Imagine you’re exploring the Amazon Rainforest. Passing through the colorful scene, you discover a variety of plants and animals, like tiny blue frogs, spider monkeys, and giant water lilies. But how is it possible that all of these unique species exist? Evolution holds the answer. According to Merriam Webster, evolution is “the process by which new species or populations of living things develop from preexisting forms through successive generations.” This fascinating process exists all around us—its most obvious examples being those in the animal kingdom. Interestingly, our lives follow a similar pattern: humans adapt to face new challenges the world throws at us.
The first, and perhaps the most famous, example of evolution is Darwin’s finches. Collecting samples throughout the 19th century, Charles Darwin found evidence for his theory of evolution on the Galapagos Islands where unique finches inhabited each island. He realized that these finch species had evolved from one common ancestor, but their traits changed as they flew to other islands to best suit their environment. But mutations, like all science, are trial and error; some stuck while others didn’t. Similar to these finches, sometimes human opportunities and experiences don’t always work out. Maybe you’re taking a brand-new class, and you study hard for your first test. However, you don’t do as well as you would have liked. Although you’re initially disappointed, this is the perfect moment for growth! Next time, you’ll try watching some videos online or learning from different sources. Once you finally overcome that obstacle and ace that test, you’ll continue using those strategies the next time around. The more we take on, the more we have to adapt. But that’s okay! Adapting is what drives success.
Along with expanding our ideas to grow, adaptation is finding what works best for us considering our environment. Divergent evolution occurs when two species sharing a common ancestor separately develop traits best suited for their environments. For instance, dogs and wolves are relatives, but while dogs’ floppy ears show their adapted reliance on humans, wolves’ pointy ears portray their independence. Divergent evolution in humans is a bit harder to imagine, but think about it in the context of shared growth. Maybe a literary message in English resonated with you, but the rest of the class interpreted it differently. Shared and impactful experiences can bring people closer together and define the human experience. Nonetheless, the way we individualize our shared experiences makes us all unique. We’ve all learned so much together within our community, so when we leave to fill different roles in the world, we’ll take our uniquely gained knowledge to keep growing wherever we go.
Finally, let’s explore convergent evolution, which occurs when two separate, unrelated species inherit similar traits. Dolphins and sharks share similar features, like a streamlined body, but surprisingly, they’re not related! Both species independently developed features that allowed them to swim more efficiently, and those features happened to be the same. Convergent evolution is like navigating a new school or job with a bunch of new students or coworkers. You all come from different backgrounds, but everyone contributes to the same job. Our environment also controls, to some degree, how successful we are. While it may sound a bit cynical at first, it gives us a chance to have a more positive perspective on life. For example, college is made up of people from many different places. Your roommate might be from Southern California, and they may have no idea what snow gear they need to buy. Luckily for them, you have extensive knowledge about New England’s climate. That’s what’s so special about human nature. We’re able to learn from each other and apply our different experiences to our new environments.
Evolution and change drive life. Humans are animals too, and we undergo evolution all the time. Wherever you go, you take the experiences that you learned to become a better person. The fascinating thing about evolution and life is that you can discover someone from an entirely different background who enjoys doing the same things. Further, throwing stuff on the wall and figuring out what sticks is both scientific as it is perfectly human. Maybe purple dart frogs don’t survive, but blue ones do. Maybe joining the tennis team doesn’t work, but joining a fun sculpture class does. Random changes, or “mutations,” to your schedule can end up resulting in something that you love. Even though change is a common worry in humans, it can be something to look forward to. You may develop a new love for something that you never even knew existed.