Evolution is a controversial yet magnificent theory which begins to analyse the living world in which we live and view it for what it once was and what it has the potential to become. Evolution is of course a theory developed by arguably the most “complex” species currently inhabiting the planet, the “Homo sapiens”. We as humans do of course owe our very existence to a set of coincidences and chance occurrences propelling us to become more and more complex, both physically and mentally and so surely it is our duty to explore the ins and outs of the subject.
Evolution as we view it is a definite motive Mother Nature holds dear to her heart, making her creations strive to become better suited to the environment in which they live. Evolution is generally perceived to make organisms more complex, beginning at the most primitive forms of life billions of years ago, bacteria and other single-celled organisms believed to inhabit the “primordial soup” that has now become our oceans. Knowledge of solitary cells in the sea becoming advanced, complex, multi-cellular organisms gives us the definite impression that evolution is a process deemed to increase the complexity of organism unconditionally as time progresses.
However evolution is not a set of rules programmed into our world, it is merely a fortunate consequence of the genetic code on which life as we know it is based. Mutations over time may give a species an advantage over another, commonly used examples being the long neck of a giraffe allowing it to reach leaves or even the ability for big cats to hunt together as packs to give them a tactical advantage over prey. Very simplistically evolution is based upon the whether or not a mutation increases the chance of a species surviving to have offspring. This causes a gradual change in the genetic make-up of a species over time.
Back to the question at hand then, whether or not evolution can make organisms less complex. With even a basic understanding of the theory of evolution it is easy to assume that the key to answering this question lies in whether or not a decrease in complexity can give an organism an increased chance of survival. In my opinion there are several instances in which a decrease of complexity may offer an advantage.
Many people when thinking of an organism’s complexity will imagine that an increase in size denotes an increase in an organism’s complexity. This is certainly a flawed argument as it does not take into account mental capacity or efficiency of internal systems as well as many other factors which would otherwise be vital indicators of an organism’s complexity. However if we are to take it on face value for arguments sake the size of an organism would be an interesting indicator to answer our question.
There are many times in biological history in which size has been everything when survival comes to mind; one such famous instance being the apparent “extinction” of the dinosaurs. Due to modern methods of taxonomy using DNA analysis we have been able to trace the genetic origins of birds placing them to be closely related with reptiles and lizards, indicating that they were descendants of the dinosaurs (there has also been fossil evidence to indicate this). It goes without saying that birds are not as large as many of the dinosaurs, and have evolved over time often to become smaller and more petite as time goes on. This was no doubt in response to shortage in food supplies which succeeded the mass extinction event millions of years ago. This is just one instance of complexity decreasing as time does in order to provide an advantage to a species.
As a thought-provoking finish to this article we should perhaps consider ourselves in the grand scheme of complexity and evolution. Humans are by far the most mentally capable, aware species that exists on the planet; pointing very much towards a high level of complexity. Despite the fact that human intelligence is one of the leading factors in humans advancing so rapidly it may also be one that leads to the eventual downfall of the species. With our industrialisation and modernisation may come serious threats such as global warming, the threats of tampering with DNA and other such threats posed by modern science and society. This would perhaps mean that our complex design will eventually be society’s downfall, perhaps leading to evolution to recede or allow another, less complex species to take the crown as the most advanced. Over 99% of the species that have ever lived are now extinct, which is perhaps a thought not lingered on too long.