The sovereign uncertainty of evolution

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.2, 2017


The sovereign uncertainty of evolution



Telmo Pievani


It is in the uncertainty of evolution that the creative force of unexpected and undirected change is located. In this paper we examine the focal notion of “contingence”, by choosing as our starting point the most recent scientific discoveries in the field of natural history. Contingence differs from the notion of “coincidence” and is not incompatible with the presence, in biological evolution, of patterns akin to laws. The undirected evolution without inherent inevitability is not necessarily obedient to “blind coincidence”.  Evolution reveals the correlation between contingent and historical elements, and between functional and structural ones. The correlation may generate multiple histories, not infinite, but possible. Of course, they have no same possibilities to realize. It is essential that the history happened is not the only one possible. The history of life is intelligible, yet it is intrinsically uncertain: a fascinating exploration of possibilities.