Covfefe, Chortle and Darwin

As time passes, my skepticism about the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution via genetic mutation producing new species (which was imparted to me as gospel truth in my younger days) is growing. My skepticism is evolving, so to speak.

That there is some variation within a species, and that even the unintentional selective breeding of blind nature might bring forth new breeds, I doubt not. Different breeds of dogs are still dogs, and have the same number of dog-genes.

What I doubt is the ‘just-so’ story I was told in my youth that cosmic rays (or something) would damage genes and produce mutations, and from these damages genes new species would spring forth, so that a fish mother would produce an amphibian child and a saurian grandchild, etc.

Now, my regular readers know that I hardly can produce a paragraph of text without a typo in it. Let us consider these as natural mutations. My question is this: how often does a naturally-occurring typo improve the sentence? How often is the mutation beneficial?

I can honestly report that it has never happened in my decade upon decade of writing columns, stories, papers and novels that I meant to write one word, but by mistake misspelled it, and wrote a different word that scanned better, or was more clear or more apt.

I am not saying such things do not happen. The word ‘covfefe’ was a typo in a tweet from Donald Trump, and it received so much attention, that gleeful rightwing commentators use it regularly as an adjective for ‘Trumpian’. It is itself a covfefe word.

But the nonsense words like ‘chortle’ or ‘jabberwocky’ were not typos, but deliberate inventions, meant at first to be silly or meaningless words, but which since have been adopted, at least by me, which were seemingly produced at random, but were actually selected by a writer to have a certain amusing sound and sense. These days, both have passed into common use, and are perfectly cromulent words.

Could an observer from Mars tell the difference between ‘covfefe’ and ‘chortle’? One is a true mutation, accidentally typed by Trump, but the other was deliberately selected by Lewis Carroll. One is evolution through mutation. The other is evolution through design. But both entered my vocabulary in the same way.

I doubt that even the most acute Martian observer could detect the difference between intentional and unintentional changes, simply because the Martian knows too little about the intentions of English speakers in general, or of Trump and Carroll in particular. He can measure and count the frequency of word use, and deduce semi-fictional etymologies, but he cannot detect intention.

Our world may indeed be being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own. But even the superior Martians cannot detect intention in any inspection of a word, or a tool, or an organism, if that intention is not in it. The intention is in the maker of it, the designer.

Neo-Darwinism and the mutation theory fails to overcome my skepticism not on account of the unlikeliness of mutations being beneficial. I am indeed skeptical of that, but my skepticism could be overcome by evidence of a properly controlled experiment that proved the point. No, my skepticism is because even if the experiment proved that beneficial mutations, like benevolent typos, do from time to time occur, there is no empirical way, no scientific test, to distinguish covfefe from chortle.

An unintentional act and an intentional act whose intent is unknown to the observer look the same, if the observer only observes the act, and ignores the actor.

Empirical observation by definition only looks are empirical facts. Observers only observe the observable. When a man sees what looks, at first, like an an unintended act and realizes, based on his wisdom and experience, including experiences of many things in life that cannot be reduced to mere matter in motion, he is using far more than mere empirical observation to justify his conclusion. For he also knows himself and knows his fellow man, and has at least some knowledge of their works and their ways.

If, for example, you come across a man dead in the street, and you cannot tell at first if he slipped or he was pushed, you are better off asking a cop, whose methods of deduction are not limited to empirical science, than asking a Martian, no matter how vast his intellect. The Martian has a knowledge of human behavior is limited to what he can measure from a point of view outside our sphere.

So if you come across a typo, and you cannot tell if it is accidental or deliberate, you are better off asking a writer than an evolutionary biologist. Except in the case of James Joyce. There you are on your own.

Please read and support my work on Patreon!