Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The giraffe’s long neck (2)

Another problem with the usual sort of fitness theorizing becomes evident when you consider the unity of the organism and the multifunctionality of its parts. Holdrege remarks of the elephant that it “stands sometimes on its back legs and extends its trunk to reach high limbs — but no one thinks that the elephant developed its trunk as a result of selection pressures to reach higher food.” The trunk develops within a complex, multifaceted, interwoven unity. It “belongs” to that unity, not to a single, isolated function. The effort to analyze out of this unity a particular trait and assign it a separate causal fitness is always artificial. This is certainly true of the giraffe, whose long neck not only allows feeding from high branches, but also raises the head to where the animal has the protection of a large field of view (the giraffe’s vision is much more developed than its sense of smell); serves as an “arm” for the use of the head as a “club” in battles between males; and plays a vital role as a kind of pendulum enabling the animal’s graceful galloping movement across the African plain.

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