Ducks, Evolution and Spiritual Revelation

10 02 2009


Something occurred to me.

I do not suppose that it is anything that would surprise you. But it felt like a revelation to me, so I suppose that is nice.

This classification is evidently not arbitrary like the grouping of the stars in constellations.

I have been bothered by concerns about my own spiritual affinities. And I will admit at the outset at being quite embarrassed by this admission and by the admission at all that I have spiritual affinities at all.

This itch I have to explore that something (for want of a better word) is not satisfied by any “top-down” approach to religious observance. I cannot enter a church, synagogue, temple or read a sacred text or hear a speaker or religious representative without seriously questioning and doubting.

And it was, the other night, the image of a lone duck on dark water that brought me some sort of clarity. I had an emotional reaction to that duck–first to the beauty and the silence of the ducks on the water. Then to the solitude of the single duck as its neighbors floated apart from it. I had a snap experience of ecstasy–that sort of sense of light and unity. (You’ve had it I’m sure).

Descent being on my view the hidden bond of connexion

And I though about the idea of the unity of being called forth in various approaches to spirituality–and certain interpretations suggesting that each living entity is actually part to a whole.

But this, I realized, as I looked at the duck, is not it. And I finally came up with the danger of this view, if taken lightly–the way much New Age spirituality takes religious ideas. This view of unity can come to mean to a person that “All Is Me” and just as an infant looks at its mother, the adopter of such a view would see in the duck a reflection of itself. (And, I might add, for an adult human, this “all is me” has the potential for damaging all in it’s bearers path and burning itself out–but enough on that).

The duck is itself a separate entity.

I, in seeing only the silhouette of the duck, saw it as beautiful and quiet and lonely. But the duck itself was bedding down for the night and its experience, undoubtedly, was very different–and in some way is an experience beyond my potential for complete comprehension.

This to me is beautiful.

But I also felt a beauty in alliance. What is this. And I finally realized, and I am sure you think me slow and ungainly in my thinking for taking so long, that my spirituality really is evolution. The beautiful and precise connection I have with that duck and everything living on this planet. The common ancestor that likely came to be more than 3 billion years ago is what is that connectivity I sense with the duck.


That alone, for me, is a powerful and beautiful enough connectivity to provide a spiritual foundation. I do not need anything else–we have ridden out that evolutionary journey together and here we are, on dark cold winter night, waiting out our lives.

{Of course, it is not entirely true I need nothing else–I need art and music and most of all literature, and I need my loves–my attachments you might say, that bind me rigorously to earth].

I wonder whether my realization of this, which to me feels so important, is to you on the same level as a pot-induced revelation about the meaning of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. At the time it seems really deep but actually its boring and meaningless. Probably. But to me it feels important. Understanding why I’ve always bridled somewhat at the idea of Unity of All Being that gets tossed about–in the same way I’ve bridled at the arrogance of spiritual leaders and the clear relationship between organized religious practices and power–clarifies for me my own relationship to the earth. And what sort of worship I need–one of commonality of descent. That is all. But isn’t it lovely?


There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

It is to me also intriguing that this little revelation comes to me just ahead of Darwin’s 200th birthday, this Thursday. I do not worship Darwin, but in a way, the clarity of his vision enables my understanding of my own spiritual life. His approach to studying life was vast and synthetic and he provided biologists with such a robust framework that it still provides an aid to thought and interpretation. We do not need to live inside his hypotheses as scientists but he was remarkably prescient in a pre-genetic era and we can still look at his work as a foundation.


Happy Happy Happy Birthday.

Quotes are, of course, from Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.




4 responses

12 02 2009

You said:
“This classification is evidently not arbitrary like the grouping of the stars in constellations.”

Ironically, this is un-Darwinian. The classification is arbitrary. Of course it is. How could it not be?

What you perceive is only a result of evolution. Even our brain almost surely operates on a sort of Darwinian selectionist principle. Tell me I’m wrong.

You absolutely *must* read evolutionary epistemology by Donald T Campbell. I can send you a copy of Philosophical Darwinism by Peter Munz if you contact me: dio at shadowofiris. Also, anything by Karl Popper.

13 02 2009

Actually, the statement is indeed Darwinian. Because evolutionary theory suggests that all living organisms are descended from a common ancestor, similarities among organisms observed by taxonomists working prior to and during Darwin’s time, were not arbitrarily the result of design but rather the result of relationship–of the coalescent.

I should have said “enstatic” rather than “ecstatic” experience; or perhaps biophilia (to use E. O. Wilson’s term). Indeed aspects of our brain have been shaped by natural selection; but this does not mean hardwired–it means a relationship between our genetic inheritance and our cultural mileau. Also, aspects of the brain surely have “come along” to the present as the result of pleiotropy, chance and constraint rather than selection.

I appreciate the reading suggestions–I have read some of Popper and will look at the other books, many thanks. I think it is important, as a scientist, to be versed on theories regarding the creation of “knowledge” within the scientific paradigm. Unfortunately, I tend to prefer to think about the critters rather than people.

16 02 2009

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comments! Campbell’s piece is not that long, and Munz is a beautiful writer.

16 06 2012

From one critter to another: Ducks FTW! 谢谢你

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