Here we will introduce the literature on the evolutionary biology of aging, starting with formal theory.
Are imbeciles, the feeble-minded, criminals, humans? Darwin may have laid the framework for that thinking, but other eugenicists such as Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel, brought the argument to a head.
This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of advancing civilisation.
The social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; and this association is riveted more and more, as mankind are further removed from the state of savage independence.
Of course we assume in our argument, that it is the province of the state, acting from considerations of the highest political economy, to care by systematized and organized effort, for such of the unfortunate as cannot care for themselves, or whose wants friends cannot supply.
The insane can, not unfrequently be rendered happy and useful, but even sane. The idiotic can, by skillful treatment of the educator be developed into the self-reliant, self-sustaining human being. The orthopedic surgeon can bring beauty out of deformity, and can so change those flexures that deform and weaken the physical anatomy, as to bring nature to her true and original lines, and impart a new strength and vitality.
But the prosecution of all these lines of experiment and modes of rendering the combined skill of the civilized world available, require large outlays of time and money.
And is it not vastly better that the state, acting in her organic capacity as the agent of human society, should encourage and aid by her own means, the foundation of institutions for such purposes, rather than to leave the large numbers of these unfortunate people to the ill-directed and uncertain efforts of poor, and often unintelligent families, to get along with their herculean difficulties as best they may?
Is it not better, therefore, that the state should tax herself a little to help the blind to become an intelligent, self-sustaining member of society, or to cure a child of some dwarfing deformity or some smiting paralytic stroke, rather than tax herself much by and by in maintaining these victims of relentless misfortune in poor-houses in the long years of their future.
Such a question can, I apprehend, have but one answer. But above and beyond all this, the state has another and more important duty to perform to society, than that of merely taking care of such as have come into the world under the blight of some terrible misfortune.
This other and higher duty is to modify its legislation as to prevent the propagation of congenital idiocy, deforming insanity and organic disease.
Oxford at the Clarendon Press, In the first place, in regulating duration of life, the advantage to the species, and not to the individual, is alone of any importance. This must be obvious to any one who has once thoroughly thought out the process of natural selection. It is of no importance to the species whether the individual lives longer or shorter, but it is of importance that the individual should be enabled to do its work towards the maintenance of the species.
This work of reproduction, or the formation of a sufficient number of new individuals to compensate the species for those which die. As soon as the individual has performed its share in this work of compensation, it ceases to be of any value to the species, it has fulfilled its duty and may die.
If one believes in the eternal Becoming, in the flow of evolution, and holds struggle for the father of all things, then one can only see the moral task of humanity as seeking ever new, higher forms of morality.
Society, they say, is an organism, which like all others, has its stages of infancy, youth, maturity, old age, and final dissolution, and we now, as a people, find ourselves in the stage of senile decay.
This view seems to have support in the history of earlier civilizations, as of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; but that such a fate is inevitable may well be questioned. It has been contended, of late years, by Weismann that the lowest of animals, the protozoa, are potentially immortal; that they have no inherent tendency toward natural death, but that if unmolested by extrinsic or accidental agents of destruction they will live forever.
That in this matter Weismann is right, appears very probable. In like manner, as we may believe, a social organism may be potentially immortal; but it must be adequately self-regulative.
It must have the intelligence to recognize, and the courage to prune away, all the outgrowths which are very weak or morbid. Had the empires of antiquity possessed this enlightenment, it is probable that they would not have perished.
Until social customs became comparatively highly developed, individual physical prowess was as necessary to existence as among the lower animals. This was in the stage of individualism. With specialization, as particular classes in a community took up certain special tasks, and especially as armies were formed not including the total population, physical selection became relaxed for some of the individuals.
These conditions have become more pronounced until modern philanthropy and medical science are bringing them to a point where they can no longer be ignored.
Neither the greater diligence in seeking them out nor the fact that they remain in institutions for longer periods will account for the disproportionately increasing number of defectives and criminals in our population.
This fact seems demonstrated and one does not merit the epithet of alarmist for pointing it out. And if true, must we not give thought to its remedy?Abstract. For a very long time, ageing has been an insurmountable problem in biology. The collection of age-dependent changes that render ageing individuals progressively more likely to die seemed to be an intractable labyrinth of alterations and associations whose direct mechanisms and ultimate explanations were too complex and difficult to understand.
Digital Sex: Causes and Consequences.
Weisman n A. Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological. The evolution of sexual reproduction has long been a major problem in biology. Annealing using Genetic Crossover. Proceedings of the IASTED International Conference Nov , , In Essays Upon Heredity and Kindred Biological.
Problems. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, United Kingdom. Weismann, A. (). The Germ-Plasm: A Theory of Heredity. August Weismann Essays Upon Heredity. Clarendon Press, Oxford, "Review of Essays upon Heredity and kindred Biological Problems by August Weismann".
The Quarterly Review. – April Götte is quoted here in August Weismann, Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems, ed. Edward Poulton, trans. Arthur Shipley et al. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ), p. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.
Excerpt from Essays on Evolution It will, I think, be realized that, although the separate essays were delivered as addresses or published on various occasions and at very different dates, they are the expres sion of a continuous line of thought, and therefore fall together as naturally as if they had been written at one time, for the purposes of the present volume.