Biology is Destiny?

My daughter and her friends are playing “house” and one child complains, “I don’t WANT to be the brother.” Another retorts, “Well, you have to.  You have short hair.” In the game of “house”, at least, identity is simple, and it is determined by the strongest will.  “Sorry,” the child says.  “You have to.”

You have to, you have to.  If you are a plant or animal you do have to.  You must inexorably be what you were meant to be.  A duck cannot grow up to become an opossum.  DNA controls the whole thing and there is no getting out of it.  Whether or not there are ducks out there who feel (as some humans do) that they are stuck in the wrong body, I don’t know. But I hope not.  No living thing should endure the kind of imprisonment  that can happen when genetics go wrong.  I suspect that natural selection would winnow the problem out in the wild, and I fear that may be true in a sense among humans, too.  It’s rough if you are much different from your own kind, and not enough like another.

But by and large if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.  As so it is with animals and plants the world over.  We even have math to prove the inevitability of destiny. It’s called the Fibonacci sequence  and while its’ application isn’t perfect, it surely gets you thinking.  The sequence is this:  add together (starting from the number 1) the number, and the number immediately preceding it.  Here goes: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 and so on.  If you draw this out in a picture rather than a series of numbers you get a pretty collection of spirals. And here is where the odd part begins.  These spirals are the same that are found in the arrangements of pine cones, sunflower seeds, branching plants, seashells, bee family trees and a host of other living things. Admittedly, some of these examples are a bit of a stretch-Fibonnacci was a math expert, not a biologist, but the essence is that there is some plan to the arrangement of nature, and that the arrangement is similar across a range of species.  In art, we prove our similarity to others by teasing out our emotional reactions. In math and science we are reminded of it in a formula.

Is an individual’s life predestined by biology?  Are accountants born and not made?  Theodate Pope, the designer and inhabitant of Hill-Stead would I think, tell you no.  The word iconoclast was made for her, a girl born to tea dances and quiescent wifedom who instead became a pioneering architect and lady farmer. Unlike so many who lose their way as they grow up, succumbing to the vises of financial imperative and the opinions of others, she grew into herself.  As a girl, she declared she wanted a farm.  She wanted to make an impression on the world as a leader and thinker.  If ever there was an argument against predestination, Theodate is it.

Miss Pope became what she wanted to be. She was able to follow the path of her choosing and not necessarily the one society of her day understood. She was freed by an indulgent Papa and plenty of money. But her willpower did the rest. For those of us without it, as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.


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6 Responses to “Biology is Destiny?”

  1. Bridget Willard Says:

    Well done! Great examples. She sounds like an amazing person!

  2. Bill Godwin Says:

    This was a great post and thanks to Bridget for tweeting it. I encountered the Fibonnaci sequence just this week in an episode of Criminal Minds. It’s funny how tidbits of knowledge come your way in multiples so that they make a bigger impression. Was it destiny or serindipity?

    • Diane Tucker Says:

      Thank you for reading, Bill! I am a little stupid about tweeting, but Bridget is a genius and I am grateful she passed it on. I know what you mean about “multiples of information” I hope you look in on our blog again! Cheers, Diane

  3. Patsy Says:

    I love this one. Great Job. Destiny is only what one allows it to be. Theodate was a lucky lady in her time.

  4. Diane Tucker Says:

    Thank you, Patsy. I agree wholeheartedly-it is all up to us. Cheers, Diane

  5. Bill Says:

    A longtime fan of the Fibonacci series, I find it to be one of the universal patterns of life, at least in the three dimensions that humans experience. I am fascinated as to why and where it occurs in nature. As an ecologist I am at a complete loss for an explanation, although I’ve read that it represents numerical efficiency and so is more likely to occur than other sequences.

    Thanks. Great Post. Really great read.

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