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Lateral Evolution

by Melanie Anne Phillips

"Lateral Evolution" proposes that the branch tree theory of evolution adapted from Darwin is not complete in simply addressing the linear influences of diversity vs. uniformity through randomness and natural selection. In fact, we must also consider the "range" a species inhabits in the environmental spectrum.

In other words, a species of chimpanzee may be classified as having a certain interaction with the environment that is essentially a bell-curve. Some members of the species respond in different ways that move the overall environmental interaction range to either side of the average center. Where one species leaves off, another is just coming into interaction. And this sister species need not share any physical characteristics or lineage. In fact, next to the chimps in the interaction spectrum we might find macaws, and next to them some sort of plant! They all form the "circle of life" much as if they were holding hands around the environmental campfire.

The drawback of this view by itself is that it leads to the conclusion that there would be areas of unused environmental potential where the rare individuals at the farthest ends of their respective bell curves connect between species. But, the concept of Lateral Evolution goes on to predict that there are multiple layers of environmental circles, more like a helix, or the coils on a slinky. I would suspect there would be four coils, each representing a major consideration such as animal, vegetable, mineral, and whatever. And each would blend into the other as it makes its way around the helix so that we find at some point in the spectrum bacteria and viruses, which are hard to classify.

In any event, that is incidental to the theory. The key point is that several species overlap in the circle so that the areas of minor representation where species connect is filled in by the center of the bell curves of species on the other coils. A simple concept that can explain great complexity!

Now, what about the evolution part of this theory? Well, think of the coil or helix and see it from the top of the stack looking down. From here it seems more like a simple circle. Now, imagine if the environmental conditions change by becoming richer. In this case, the circle's diameter increases, indicating more circumference and by analogy, a wider bandwidth in the spectrum available to life. Primary colors, as it were, would expand to present more shading and tonalities - more bands. If the environment became more harsh, the circle would contract, indicating a less varied spectrum for life. In fact, this kind of expansion and contraction of the helix is much like looking at a modulated wave from the end. The cross section of such a wave in a three-dimensional matrix would appear as a circle that expanded and contracted in time to the frequency (or complex synthesis of frequencies) of the wave.

This, in fact, is what leads to periods of the proliferation of new species and alternate periods of extinction. How? Like this...

A species can adapt linearly, by keeping the same bandwidth it occupies on the coil, and simply slipping up or down the helix to a part less densely populated. It can also adapt by narrowing its bandwidth and crowding in to a smaller environmental niche. In fact, there are no intrinsic niches, but niches are only defined by the limits of a single species' ability to adapt, either in magnitude, or laterally.

Now, when environmental conditions change too suddenly for the species to shift its position, it is going to get trampled by other species that move to adapt more quickly. The environment, more precisely, passes them by and they continue to inhabit a niche which no longer exists in reality. Hence, extinctions, and NOT extinctions brought about by the end of a line, but by other species, unrelated in the physical sense, who are most closely associated in the interaction/response sense. This sideways impact of one species on another is MUCH more potent than simple symbiosis or parasitic kinds. It is the "pressure" of one species on another that, in a manner not unlike musical chairs, squeezes the less adaptive out.

Similarly, if the environment changes slowly, rapidly adaptive species may be at a disadvantage, for their slower moving competitors have a better chance to sink deeper roots into the niche.

Of course, the reverse is true as well. When the circle (or helix) expands, there new environmental opportunities open up. Some of these opportunities may be outside the range of a species as a whole, for the niche created by that species physical structure may now extend on the average far enough to embrace the new potentials. In other words, to most members of that species, the opportunities have no meaning, for they have no value.

As we have already explored, however, the "range" of environmental response in a species is a bell curve. In addition, what we have not explored, is that each individual's response is also a range. This means that although a single individual in order to be a member of a species, must at least have a range that extends to the center of the bell curve for the species as a whole. That still leaves a big opportunity for diversity within the species. Some individuals may straddle the center of the species bell curve with their range, but others may barely touch the center and extend way to the side of the niche. In other words, the individuals niche may extend into areas not shared by the majority of the species as a whole. As long as the two ends can overlap and "hold hands" they remain part of the species.

Now, if the environment changes in such as way as to create new potential toward one end of the species bell curve, there may be several individuals who are aware of and drawn by that potential, even while it is ignored by the bulk of the species. In fact, these individuals may be so strongly attracted to the richer environment that coupled with the extra resources and lack of competition, a second hump develops on the bell curve. Eventually this hump "migrates" farther away from the center of the original hump as the members of this "sub-species" are more successful in the new potential area of the environment than in the over-crowded realms of the existing species. More members are born into the new environmental richness and a new species breaks away from the original as it establishes a new niche.

Then, of course, the evolutionary wave-form contracts once more and the less adaptive species are again squeezed out.

Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips

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