Survival of the Smartest?

fruitfly.jpgThis reports that dumb flies out perform smart flies (from New Scientist 24/Sept/03).

The quick summary. Breed up a population of smart fruit flies. Insert smart flies into general population. Make food scarce. Smart flies don’t do so well. What’s smart? Smart was defined as 1) the skill to taste a poison, and 2) the skill to avoid laying your eggs in and around that poison. Why didn’t they do so well? “They are slower at feeding.”

Do with it what you will.

Different environments reward different portfolios of skills. I assume that evolution has found a way to keep the library of skills highly diverse so that as the environments shift from one generation to the next a species can survive.

For example lets say that the environment rewards risk taking (i.e. the environment is rich and full of opportunities). For a few generations the risk takers thrive. Suddenly the environment shifts so that the careful and risk adverse win. If a species evolves too quickly to fit the first environment it’s going to be in big trouble when the environment shifts.

In Jane Jacob’s book “A Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle of Sovereignty” she suggests that Toronto succeeded Montreal as the #1 city of Canada because Montreal’s entrepenures were more cautious; a strategy that had served them well for a century but a strategy that turned out to be inappropriate during the boom years following the second world war. I feel that something similar happened between Rt. 128 in Massachusetts and Silicon Valley in high tech during the last 25 years.

I remain hopeful that we are in the last generation that rewards people who can spell.

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