The Evolution Of Socks

There’s an evolutionary process occuring in my wardrobe.

I have an approximately equal number of dark-coloured and light-coloured socks, but since we moved to The Cottage in the summer of 2006, I’ve been keeping my socks not in drawers but in a compartment in my unlit wardrobe. As a result, I can only really see the light-coloured ones when getting dressed on a morning (and turning on the light would wake The Morning Beast). I seem to get through clothes generally, and socks in particular, at quite a rate, and as a result I wear holes in and have to dispose of light-coloured socks far more frequently than dark-coloured ones.

But when I buy new socks, they often come in mixed packs of light and dark colours. So the dark ones become more numerous, while the light population fluctuates. Okay, so it’s not really like evolution, because the creation of new socks is not based on parentage, but there’s a real survival-of-the-fittest thing going on there, with those that are less-able to be seen in the dark outliving their more-visible brethren, like those studies on peppered moths.

Getting dressed this morning, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lovelock‘s Daisyworld:

In the early 1980s, James Lovelock built a computer simulation known as Daisyworld which was designed to demonstrate the feasability of his Gaia hypothesis, a controversial theory that suggests that planetary life, through it’s interaction with it’s environment, unconciously attempts to create an environmental equilibrium that is particularly suitable for the continuation of life. The theory has been more recently undermined by hippy-types taking it on board as if it were some kind of neo-Pagan religion (contributed to, perhaps, by the unfortunate choice of name).

In any case; I mention Daisyworld because of the great recreation of the simulation that I am most familiar with – the one that came packaged with SimEarth in 1990. Daisyworld is an Earth-like planet orbiting a star which is slowly expanding into a red giant. The dominant life form on Daisyworld is a variety of flower which comes in a variety of lighter and darker shades (like socks – see; I can make a point eventually). Early on in the star’s development, when the planet is cool, dark-coloured daisies are most common, and lighter-coloured ones are rarer. As the star expands and throws more radiation at the planet, being able to reflect light becomes a desirable trait, and the genes for lighter-coloured petals lead to a greater survival rate, shaping the evolution of the daisies. Early in the simulation, almost all daisies are dark, and towards the end – right before the star engulfs the planet and kills all of the daisies, anyway – virtually all of the daisies are light.

Lovelock expands on this to demonstrate that the colour change also helps to keep the overall planetary atmospheric temperature down as evidence for his “living earth” theories, but that’s not the bit that interests me. I’m pretty sure that my socks aren’t trying – even accidentally – to maintain “wardrobe homeostasis.”

In any case, I was probably a little too young when I first played SimEarth to really appreciate the simplistic beauty of the models it demonstrated. I understood evolution and why it worked, sure, but it still only took so long before I decided to see what would happen if I introduced dinosaurs to Daisyworld or something. As it happens, they over-populate, eat all the daisies, and then die out from lack of food. Stupid dinosaurs. But they did do a good job of demonstrating how a particularly successful species can really fuck over the biodiversity of a planet: they always seemed to prefer to eat the lighter-coloured ones.

Maybe that’s where all my socks keep disappearing to.