Interesting Topics on Evolution

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cowpoke

climber
Jan 18, 2013 - 04:53pm PT
Another study that is indirectly relevant to the OP question on altruism was published recently in Psych Science, the field's top empirical journal. It doesn't speak directly to questions of the evolution of altruism, but I think some will find it interesting nonetheless because it deals with altruism following an extraordinary event: huge earthquake in China.

Here is a link to the American Psych Society (the org for which the journal is their flagship) coverage of the article: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/were-only-human/unshakable-humanity-altruism-and-disaster.html

the paper is still "in press" but I will update once published, if there is interest.

for those who don't like to click, a big part of the story is:
Altruism is considered a hallmark of the human species’ success, and it’s a well-documented developmental milestone. Kids start off highly selfish and remain that way through preschool, but at about age six they start to become a bit more generous. This pattern, however, has only been studied in relatively affluent kids living in relatively peaceful circumstances. It’s entirely unknown if children would continue to act altruistically in the face of adversity. Will the precocious altruism of childhood survive severe tribulation, or will kids revert back to their earlier self-centeredness? The Sichuan earthquake provided a natural “stress test” to examine the strength of youthful generosity.

Before the earthquake hit, the scientists had given 6- and 9-year-old a version of what’s called the Dictator Game—considered the gold standard for measuring altruism in the lab. Working individually with a researcher, each child is allowed to select stickers to keep. But then afterward, they are asked if they would like to give some of their own stickers to an anonymous classmate who is not playing the game—and therefore has no stickers. The children make their donations in a sealed envelope, so they believe that nobody knows how much, if anything, they are giving away.

But the scientists do know, and this group of kids fit the normal pattern. That is, 6- and 9-year-olds were not significantly different in their altruistic giving in the time before the earthquake. Then, one month after the earthquake, the scientists gave the same test to another, similar group of 6- and 9-year-olds. (They couldn’t follow up with the same children, because they could not locate many of them.) They wanted to see if the normal development of altruism was affected by the disaster experience, in either age group.

And it was, in an interesting way. The 9-year-olds actually gave much more—they were more generous—after the earthquake than before. The experience appeared to solidify and indeed enhance their altruism. But the younger kids gave significantly less than before the quake. The immediate effect of the disaster was to make the 6-year-olds more selfish. Put another way, their new-found altruism did not survive the earthquake.
...
Three years after the earthquake, the kids’ altruistic giving returned to pre-quake levels, suggesting that the earlier changes were an acute response to the immediate aftermath of the disaster. In other words, the younger children opted for self-preservation in a crisis, suggesting that their emerging generosity is still fragile—but this reaction was not long-lasting. The altruism of the older children was apparently robust enough to withstand the challenge of adversity. Importantly, empathy for other victims was the pathway to generous action.
MH2

climber
Jan 18, 2013 - 05:58pm PT
So then I got to thinking, I wonder how many children Ghengis Khan had after the age of, say, 55?



Yeah, there is that idea that he had a lot of descendants. I was pretty sure that a couple of my Polish work colleagues had some of his genes but wondered where the scientists got hold of the Ghengis Khan DNA. Apparently the evidence is less direct but still compelling.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Jan 19, 2013 - 01:21am PT
Algae with behavior (cheating, cooperation)...

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 19, 2013 - 08:10am PT
Interesting topic?

In the pleistocene, cheaters were banished from the group. Alone, facing the wild, this often meant a pretty quick death. Sometimes the cheater's offspring were banished too.

Harsh, yes, but it was an effective gene-trait honing mechanism - selecting against lying, for instance, and selecting for truthfulness.

In comparison, in this user-friendly, incl cheater-friendly, liar-friendly, modern environment (and wide-open civilization) that we've created for ourselves, there are no serious checks relatively speaking on what evolutionary game theory calls defectors (aka, cheaters, liars, deceivers).

In short, the cheating genes of cheaters are permitted (by our civilized nature) to multiply unchecked.

Is this a concern?

.....

Is this yet another example where it seems... We are damned if we do and damned if we don't?

And if so, how do we work this idea or principle into a narrative, esp an inspiring, empowering narrative - for our playbook of living in the modern age?

Or, is there just no escape: You can put something of a civilizing cover over it for awhile (cf: lipstick on a pig) but below, underneath, the "born to lose" entropy runs strong as ever.

.....

Life strategy: Don't concern yourself with the next millenium. Don't concern yourself with the next continent over. It's all just way too complicated, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. So just enjoy the power of now. :)
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 19, 2013 - 10:05am PT
it's weird to read this thread, in particular given the time scale of evolution which is very long, not something done in a generation.

For instance, the thought that the chimpanzees' and humans' common ancestor dates back roughly 10 million years, representing perhaps 100,000 generations of which we commonly experience 3 or maybe 4... and that our current social situation, large populations living in large groups, has happened only very recently, perhaps in the last 10,000 years (of order 1000 generations?) would seem to put in context the action of an individual in a group, that is, evolution takes place over long time periods.

How you reconcile that with individual behavior and come up with some "reasonable story" of the effects of evolution is beyond me. How to discern the fitness landscape, separate from our own cultural dispositions, is truly a difficult task.

As an aside, a funny thing happened on Friday when I was reviewing "negative binomial distributions" see, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_binomial_distribution for entirely different, work related issues.

see the section there on Polygyny in African societies

convergent evolved thoughts?
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 19, 2013 - 10:14am PT
Ed, have you read The Selfish Gene or The Extended Phenotype? If so, what was your impression of these? Any thoughts? e.g., Thumbs up or thumbs down?

.....


Aside, will Wikivoyage (just launched)...

http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Main_Page

...eventually cover rock climbing sites and routes? and eventually compete with supertopo.com? Oh, my. :)

Rick Steves, Europe Through the Back Door, better watch out, lol.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 19, 2013 - 10:18am PT
HFCS - no I haven't, probably should... I'm sure Debbie has some good popular books hanging 'round here from/for her classes...

healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Jan 19, 2013 - 10:22am PT
Altruistic slime molds

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 19, 2013 - 12:55pm PT
Part of the disconnect - that's always been some of my interest - is that most people, even probably most self-defined evolutionists (believers or supporters of evolution) don't see (1) evolution as mechanistic and causal deterministic through and through and (2) impulses or inclinations (like altruism, or competitivity or tendency to cheat) as evolutionary products evolved over a long evolutionary history.

What does being an evolutionist mean?

Imo, being a full-on evolutionist means (a) understanding that evolution is fully mechanistic, (b) understanding that all mental faculties and tendencies (and not just sexual orientation or sexual drive, ie., lust), and not just spleens and hearts and eye and skin color, are evolutionary output.

Unfortunately, I don't see a voting majority in America coming around to this full-on standing, or stance in belief, for a long long time if ever.

But on a positive note I do see a lot more young people coming around to basic evolutionary theory - even if they haven't worked out most of its implications for a brand new view of life and the world.

.....

re: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

I could've mentioned this book, too, as helping to pull together my basic thinking in an evolutionary naturalistic framework.

From wiki...

"Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a thrilling saga that starts with the origin of the Earth. It shows with humor and drama that many of our key traits — self-awareness, technology, family ties, submission to authority, hatred for those a little different from ourselves, reason, and ethics — are rooted in the deep past, and illuminated by our kinship with other animals.

"Sagan and Druyan conduct a breathtaking journey through space and time, zeroing in on critical turning points in evolutionary history, and tracing the origins of sex, altruism, violence, rape, and dominance. Their book culminates in a stunningly original examination of the connection between primate and human traits. Astonishing in scope, brilliant in its insights, and an absolutely compelling read, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a triumph of popular science."



SoFA certainly contributed to my own tectonic shift in thinking in my 20s and 30s, my later formative years.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 19, 2013 - 01:24pm PT
...at least we can conclude that slime molds are probably not Republican.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 19, 2013 - 03:55pm PT
Ed's reference from Wiki on binomials and African polygyny is interesting to me because of the different vocabulary used to describe a familiar subject. What strikes me most about it however, is that it is descriptive but not explanatory.

Here's from a popular anthropology tutorial on kinship and marriage.
http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/marriage/polygyny.html

Demographic theory suggests that polygyny may occur because of a surplus of women that results from a high incidence of male warfare. However, polygyny occurs in many situations of relatively balanced gender ratios or even, as in the case of the Yanomamo, where males outnumber females. Accordingly, some men accumulate two or more wives only at the expense of others who never marry, or, much more usually, marry at a later age than women do. As such, the society becomes divided between young bachelors, who may remain single into their thirties and older polygynists. This arrangement may occur informally or may become a marked feature of the social structure. For example, in some South African societies, such as the Zulu, all young men in their twenties were organized into military “age regiments” and were not allowed to marry until their term of service ended. As we have already suggested, differences in marital age are also created by bride wealth requirements.

The social division between polygynists and bachelors points to another prevalent theory of polygyny, which is based on social stratification. In societies where men are not distinguished by differences in access to productive resources, such as land and capital, status distinctions are mainly attained and expressed through direct control over people. This goal is most obviously acheived through incorporating many women into one’s domestic group and expanding it by fathering a large number of children. A stratificational theory of polygyny also accounts for its greater incidence in comparison to polyandry, since men tend to occupy higher statuses than women in the majority of societies.


From a strictly biological interpretation, I believe one would argue that dominant men who also happen to be lucky and survive warfare early in life, seek to maximize their genes through polygyny, status being only secondary?

Then again, it seems from the woman's point of view that while the smart old boy's club invented these institutions, subsequent generations of men got so entangled in maintaining status, the original point was lost on all of the participants.

And couldn't this be said for any human institution including religion?
cowpoke

climber
Jan 20, 2013 - 01:00pm PT
OK, here is a silly thing bugging me about the algae news release. I find it strange that in the science daily press release for the "cheating" algae the authors use a comparison to group behaviors like schools of fish. This is a poor analogy, IMO, because unlike the authors suggest in the release, it is not necessary that all algae in the group release the toxin (such as they say is required of schools of fish...side question: is it true that there are no individual fish who benefit from the school by swimming close enough, without fully participating in the school?). For these algae to be successful, as a group, it is only necessary that there is a critical mass of participants. Indeed, isn't the critical mass notion precisely why they observe "free riders?" My opinion on this sales strategy is not critiquing the study, per se; I'm just thrown (and being nitpicky) by the authors' interpretations of why they think the study is important. (Another side note: I am totally in favor of scientists publicizing their work. And, to do so well, you have to have a good story to sell the consumer. In this case, I would think a better story would have been to focus on the fact that in many group behaviors it is critical mass that is important, not 100% buy in.)
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 22, 2013 - 12:33pm PT
Interesting topics? How about this one...

A Harvard geneticist has raised eyebrows by declaring that scientists could make a Neanderthal clone baby if they had an "extremely adventurous female human" as a surrogate.

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/harvard-prof-neanderthal-clones-experts-doubt/story?id=18275611

But experts say that safety and ethical hang-ups mean the first Neanderthal birth in 30,000 years is probably fiction, too.

What ethical hang-ups?
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jan 22, 2013 - 12:53pm PT
Carl Woese, evolutionary biologist of note, has died at 84.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 22, 2013 - 01:07pm PT
What ethical hangups ?

Bringing back one Neanderthal? What are you going to do, make a pet out of the poor thing?

They survived several ice ages, kept handicapped people alive and buried their children with flowers, so we know they were intelligent and sensitive. No doubt one neanderthal would feel lonely and probably have an inferiority complex because it was different than others and may or may not have the capacity to communicate with language. While keeping Washoe, the last Indian of his tribe at the U of California anthropology museum was interesting for western scientists, he led a very lonely life and he was a homo sapiens.
moosedrool

Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Jan 22, 2013 - 01:09pm PT
How about this one:

New Life-Forms, No DNA Required Artificial

organisms based on man-made molecules could thrive and evolve

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2961024/posts
Donald Thompson

Trad climber
Los Angeles,CA
Jan 22, 2013 - 03:19pm PT
The Neanderthal clone possibility is fascinating, and those of us following Neanderthal developments have known about the consideration of this possibility for several years now, especially since the launching of the Neanderthal Genome Project:

Founded in July 2006, the project published their results in the May 2010 journal Science detailing an initial draft of the Neanderthal genome based on the analysis of four billion base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. The study determined that some mixture of genes occurred between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans and presented evidence that elements of their genome remain in that of non-African modern humans.[1][2]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_genome_project

The recent media hysteria circulating around the comments by George Church has predictably morphed into a bonafide circus .For instance, it was soon reported that a surrogate was already being actively sought , which is probably a fabrication, designed by media hacks to give this story "legs".
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we might learn that a female surrogate , or perhaps several candidates , were being secretly screened and lined up for this scientific adventure.

Once the technological problems have been ironed out , and certain of the safety issues- such as the hypothetical Neanderthal's exposure to modern diseases - then there could be a strong possibility that this could be a fait accompli, in the not too distant future.
Of course there then remains the ethical and moral dimensions...

Credit: Donald Thompson

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 22, 2013 - 05:25pm PT
Bringing back one Neanderthal? What are you going to do, make a pet out of the poor thing?

What, Jan, don't you think the benefits would far, far, far outweigh the risks?
moosedrool

Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Jan 22, 2013 - 05:55pm PT
As far as I know, nobody cloned a human yet. Most people see it either too risky or unethical. It will probably happen in the future, but I don't think a neanderthal will ever be cloned. That would be something similar to Nazis' experiments on humans. Neanderthals are our ancestors but would they be able to adapt to our modern world? What if not? Would you keep him/her in a cage? Scientific curiosity can't justify it.

Donald Thompson

Trad climber
Los Angeles,CA
Jan 22, 2013 - 06:15pm PT
Most people see it either too risky or unethical

But that is not why a human has not been successfully cloned yet. There was an attempt in 2004 but it failed:

Dr. Panayiotis Zavos, a Greek-American fertility doctor, revealed on 17 January 2004 at a London press conference that he had transferred a freshly cloned embryo into a 35-year-old woman. On 4 February 2004, it emerged that the attempt had not worked and the woman did not become pregnant.[4][5]
[edit]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_cloning

Reproductive cloning of humans will succeed technologically one day relatively soon.

but I don't think a neanderthal will ever be cloned. That would be something similar to Nazis' experiments on humans.

On what do you base the first assertion?

The Nazi comparison is absurd on the face of it.

Neanderthals are our ancestors

That is only partially true.:

Nonetheless, and according to recent genetic studies on genomic DNA, modern humans seem to have mated with "at least two groups" of ancient humans: Neanderthals and Denisovans.[12] However, modern humans do not share any mitochondrial DNA with the Neanderthals,[13] an observation that puts constraints on the possible types of successful mating patterns,[14] since mitochondrial DNA in primates is exclusively maternally transmitted.

Furthermore:

An estimated 1—4% of the DNA in Europeans and Asians (e.g. French, Chinese and Papua probands) is non-modern and shared with ancient Neanderthal DNA rather than with Sub-Saharan Africans (e.g. Yoruba and San probands). Though less parsimonious than gene flow, ancient sub-structure in Africa, could account for the higher levels of Neanderthal lineages detected in Eurasians. [17]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaic_human_admixture_with_modern_Homo_sapiens

Neanderthals are better thought of as our cousins rather than our ancestors ; cousins that became extinct.

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