3. “Survival” may be mostly about niche maintenance, not natural selection.

Another way to explain the survival, versus survival of the fittest, misunderstanding, is in terms of the biological concept of niches. If an individual or species is well adapted to their niche, then significant biological evolution is unlikely to occur. From the individual’s, and the species, perspective this is a good thing. It means success. It means the scythe of natural selection is far less likely to weed you and most of your reproductive cohorts out of the gene pool. From the definition of life, it means that you have the ability to avoid the dissolution of the metabolic process that moves through you, via your genetic descendants, into the future. 

To understand niches in another way, consider that within yourself and your cells there is homeostasis. That is to say, your internal chemistry is organized such that there are physical conditions that can maintain the thermodynamic dissipation, or metabolic process, that moves through you.  Homeostasis is the equivalent of you (or your cells) doing what’s necessary to keep one of the most obvious of non living dissipative structures, a campfire, “alive” (one must provide fresh air, the right temperature, fuel, avoid letting too much rain hit the fire, etc). But that homeostasis is within cells and organisms. . . and, a niche is where an organism or species can maintain external homeostasis.

Organism’s may also continuously alter and/or maintain their niches into “homeostasis”. They typically need to exert substantial control over their external environments that, if ignored, may also put out the metabolic process:

Trees grow towards the sun. Animals go where the food is. Many fish species swim in schools to minimize the chances of being eaten.  Mammals create wombs for their youngest offspring, milk for their slightly older offspring, and train and nurture their growing young. Bees, termites, ants, and beavers alter/maintain their niches profoundly with hives, dams and lodges, etc.. Humans are perhaps the first species to have now created a globe spanning niche. It’s called modern civilization.

Human civilization is obviously potentially powerful and resilient (though, thus far, in many ways it’s also precarious and self destructive). Still, surely it has the potential to be the most beneficial niche of all time for life as a whole in this solar system. For example, with civilization, the metabolic process that moves though us and our fellow species could avoid dissolution, even when the sun has entered its red giant phase which will encompass our mother earth. With our civilization we, and such millions of other earth species as we choose, could move off planet and out into the solar system, and hopefully perhaps even to other star systems. Successful life (for almost all individuals and species) is almost always more about surviving by being well adapted to, and maintaining, a niche, then it is about “surviving” “red in tooth and claw” via competition and natural selection. Why? Simply because most individual’s and specie’s metabolic processes live on via the former, but die out via the latter. 

Post Darwin, and to an extent even post Hobbes (with his belief that nature is “red in tooth and claw”), survival has generally mistakenly been taken to mean survival of the fittest. Now however, humans will hopefully act in accord with a scientifically correct definition/Meaning of life. And we will learn simply that the survival of the metabolic process that moves through us (hopefully into the distant future) is most likely assured collectively and individually if we choose to play civilized positive sum games with one another – rather than uncivilized zero sum (conscious or by default) natural selection games. 

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