(aka Bike, est. 2007)
Copyright© 2017 Angharad
This is a work of fiction any mention of real people, places or institutions is purely coincidental and does not imply that they are as suggested in the story.
“So what is evolution?” I asked the class of first year students who should be able to breeze this lecture. I wasn’t too happy as one of my staff had got herself pregnant and was apparently suffering from morning sickness and hence wasn’t here to do the first lecture of the day—sort of rubbing salt in the wound so to speak.
“It’s about natural selection, innit?” came back from the floor from a spotty youth who looked as if it had by passed his whole family sometime before we split from the reptiles.
“And that is?” I addressed back to croc features.
“Survival of the fittest.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“If you’re fit you survive, don’cha.”
I wondered if all his conversations were in clichés. “So nature goes down the gym twice a week does it?”
“Nah, it’s about adaption, innit?”
“So things are adapted?”
“Yeah.” His expression seemed to convey that if I wasn’t so stupid I’d have realised this hours ago.
“So who or what does the adapting?”
“Nature,” came back an answer from another half wit.
“So that presupposes that nature can see the future and changes things?”
“I dunno do I?”
“Obviously,” I muttered to myself. “Look, evolution is all about the past not the future.” I sea of blank looks gazed on as if I was talking a foreign language. I tried to clarify, “If an individual of some species mutates in some way which favours it over the other individuals of the same species, enabling it to have more offspring that survive over the next umpteen generations there will be proportionately more of its descendants than the others—that is natural selection.”
In one or two faces it appeared the lights came on, perhaps if they have lots of children we may eventually have a class load of slightly brighter students.
“Evolution is about the past,” I repeated myself and am sure I heard the word ‘fossils’ being hissed by someone, whether that related to the subject or to me, I wasn’t sure. “We are all captives of our ancestors, any changes they made are passed down to us, because those who made different changes which didn’t enable some sort of advantage, did less well and natural selection would mean they eventually ceased. So it isn’t about adapted things it’s about things being abapted by the environments of their ancestors. The characteristics which their ancestor had have been carried on to the present generation which tends to appear as if they are adapted but they aren’t in reality because it all happened in the past and if they are thriving tends to suggest the environment is similar to that of their ancestors.”
Goodness it was hard work and when I asked someone the difference between analogous and homologous features they spluttered for several seconds.
“Homologous means they derived from an equivalent structure in a common ancestor: analogous means that structures are similar in superficial form or function. So the fact that most vertebrates have two fore-limbs...”
“What eight?” gasped someone near the front.
“No ya dummy, front limbs.”
“Ah,” said the dummy and I was close to halting the lecture and sending them out to read about evolution because they clearly had no grasp of its mechanisms, which they should have by now.
“That most vertebrates have two fore-limbs, or for those unfamiliar with the term, front limbs,” the dummy was blushing and his friends were smirking, “shows that a common ancestor also had the same arrangement. This is said to be an homologous feature. That some have evolved to form wings, as in the birds which have the same purpose as the wings in butterflies shows what?”
“Birds evolved from butterflies?” came a tentative response and I felt like banging my head on the wall—it would have been more fun than teaching this rabble.
“No, it shows analogous development.”
I finished the lecture there instructing them to read a chapter in one of the course texts about the basics of evolution. I went back to my office and slumped in the chair. Diane appeared three minutes later with a cuppa—I might just survive the morning.
“Tough, was it?”
“Tough? I’ve seen more brain cells functioning in a sea slug.”
She snorted and nearly tipped my tea over me. “You have a lovely turn of phrase, though my favourite is still, nutty as a dormouse dinner.”
I smiled, that was definitely one of my better ones, except they probably eat as many insects as they do nuts.
“I have just spent ninety minutes of my life trying to get a bunch of brain dead adolescents to understand the basics of evolution. They’d never heard the term abapted.”
“Neither have I, what’s it mean?”
I sipped my tea, the day wasn’t getting any better, except for the tea. “It means that the suitability of an organism for its environment is due entirely to inherited characteristics it got from its ancestors.”
“I thought that was adaptation.”
“No that would mean something happening now, in the present or the future, because it’s from the past it’s called abaptation.”
“I think I know why they were struggling.”
“It isn’t difficult.” I got up from my desk picked up a text book and handed it to her. “Read the first ten pages, it will explain it all.”
“Why didn’t you tell your students to do that?”
“I did, but they should have done it months ago, Helen should have taught them all of this in the first term.”
“Second term,” she passed me a copy of Helen’s timetable.
“In which case it should all still be fresh in their minds.”
“I’m sure it will be after today.”
“Well it’s not every day they get chewed up by their professor.”
“Perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong?”
Diane excused herself and I heard voices outside which became hushed and I went to see who she was talking with. As I reached the door I saw Helen walking out through Diane’s door. I was about to say something when Diane pushed me back into the room.
“Let it go, she looks like death warmed up.”
“I was only going to ask her about evolution.”
“I suspect you know more about it than she does.” With that, she turned on her heel and shut the door behind her as she exited my office.
I sat at my desk and wondered what on earth I was doing there. It felt as if I was an alien who’d just landed in a parallel universe where knowledge is of no value because no one has any curiosity to know anything, so learning doesn’t happen. It appeared that evolution was something that didn’t happen here so the standard of ignorance would last, as it had for many generations, for many more and this was supposed to be a university—top thirty per cent and all that—but of what? That was the question.
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