Personification of Plants and Animals

I recently listened again to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and A Walk in the Woods and I am now listening to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. One thing I have intended to write about ages ago with regard to Bryson and now Pollan’s book brings it to mind again.

In discussing the development of plant and animal species both authors insist on personifying them and giving them motives. It is all a result of their explanations of evolutionary development. So, for the most recent example, (and remember, I am listening to the audio book so this is a paraphrase) Pollan says that it is really corn that has harnessed humans. For their own purposes of preservation and propagation the plant developed such that it was edible and nutritious for the one species that could best ensure its dissemination throughout the world.

Now I have no beef with evolutionary theory yada yada yada. But why is it that every evolutionary biologist I know talks this way and thus such journalists as Bryson and Pollan mimic them. Do they really think that the corn willfully adapted itself to be more appealing to us. I imagine it this way.

*grunt* *oof* *urrrgh* Says one corn plant.
“What’s wrong?” says the other. “You sound constipated.”
*ooof* “What’s that?”
“I don’t know, but you are making horrible noises.”
“Oh, that. I am just trying to make my niblets bigger so that the hairless apes will find me yummy enough to eat.”

I am sure this is not how they envision it, but why describe it this way then? I realize it is a handy way to create a word picture of what they believe took place, yet I think it really leaves a very wrong impression of what evolution says occurs.

Anyway, it is not a big deal, but it was on my mind. Now to finish the cat and put out the dishes.

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