Interesting Topics on Evolution


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Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Jan 1, 2013 - 08:45pm PT
As for subject #3, it probably depends for how long and how fast organisms evolve. It took on Earth 500,000 years(?) to produce intelligence. Maybe intelligence is not inevitable but highly probable if given enough time?

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 1, 2013 - 08:57pm PT
I too would like to hear more about epigenetics and altruism genes.

Certainly the question of whether altruism is genetic or cultural is an interesting one. Considering the densely populated cooperative societies of East Asia and the individualistic and fragmented nature of America gives food for thought. We know that Chinese looking at a group photo scan everyone in the photo and surmise their relationship to each other while Americans tend to focus on one or two individuals with unusual characteristics (perceived interest or dominance) instead. In the social sciences we assume that is the result of culture.

I would love to hear an argument from the gene point of view. Or perhaps they are symbiotic? Individuals who stood out in dense agricultural populations had a greater chance of being rejected, persecuted, or annihilated in these societies by the power structures, and their genes over 6,000 years of history were gradually eliminated? An epigenetics example?

We know from DNA studies that in southern China (south of the Yangtze River), most of the men are northern Han Chinese while most of the women are southern, non Han Chinese. Therefore competitive pressures (and no doubt outright annihilation) altered the gene pool of a large population of non Han males. Human males in most places of the world must have been subjected to this type of selection many times over. Another case of epigenetics?

And what does this say of the relative fitness of men and women? The surviving males should be stronger, able to run faster, and smarter than the women? Or more likely this has contributed to men having more flight or fight reactions and women more accomodation oriented survival strategies with intelligence exhibeted in different ways?


Social climber
the Wastelands
Jan 1, 2013 - 09:11pm PT
As for subject #3, it probably depends for how long and how fast organisms evolve. It took on Earth 500,000 years(?) to produce intelligence. Maybe intelligence is not inevitable but highly probable if given enough time?

moose, what do you mean by 500,000 years?

that our primate ancestors exhibited a higher intelligence about that many years ago?

or that from the beginning of the earth to some point and 500K to what?

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jan 1, 2013 - 09:17pm PT
Life on Earth began at least 3.5 billion years ago.

Depending on how you define intelligence, our lineage began about 2 million years ago and really got going about 50,000 years ago.

So it took almost 3.5 billion years to achieve intelligence if you define it as the first microwave oven or first species in space or whatever wha wha you want to use.

Yes, we are still evolving. Modern medicine does affect this, and would make a good discussion topic on its own.

The real kicker here is that very soon we will be genetically engineering ourselves. We can do it with corn, we can do it with mice, and there is no reason that we can't do it with people.

It is inevitable that we will jump beyond slow natural selection and engineer ourselves. If there is a shortcut, it will be used. The potential advantage of engineering ourselves is actually a conscious and deliberate way to control our evolutoun. Mice with tinkered DNA are being used in all sorts of experiments and drug trial experiments.
The benefits of genetic engineering will be fast and efficient. I leave the moral implications up to the reader.

A paper just came out that showed a genetic predisposition for some of the things that we call "morals," such as altruism. Altruism surprised me.

I think that it is very difficult for an intelligent creature like ourselves to evolve. It doesn't really provide a reproductive advantage for the long haul. Man is facing all sorts of self inflicted environmental and population problems already. If we don't make it, bacteria certainly will.

As far as the beginning of life, from my discussions with others who work in the field of evolution, life appears to have only begun once on this planet. That begs the question of why life hasn't begun many times, given that it happened early on the Earth and the planet is ideal for life of our chemistry.

Their is the universal genome which implies that all life comes from a single common ancestor.

Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Jan 1, 2013 - 09:23pm PT
Jan, I am not sure how advanced the epigenetics research is. It is relatively new. You are looking for DNA modifications and then interpretation.

DNA mutations, on the other hand are easy to track these days.

When it comes to cultural differences, they seem to arise from traditions rather than from epigenetics. If you raise a Chinese baby in the USA, would she/he retain some of the Chinese cultural traces?

Epigenetics is implied in intelligence and emotions, but cultural behavior? I would say no.

Edit: Sorry for that 500,000 blunder. 3,500,000,000 it is :) I blame oxycodone.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 1, 2013 - 09:29pm PT
Good question and neat experiment that could easily be performed on Chinese Americans by showing them group photos at different ages.

Eye movement can be easily measured, no matter what the person perceives they are doing. If genetic, very young Chinese children would look all around the photo and then focus on individuals as they grew up and were more acculturated to American ways.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Jan 1, 2013 - 09:46pm PT

Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Jan 1, 2013 - 10:05pm PT
Very good article Healyje. I think we need to start testing DNA of our political candidates. Half joking.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 1, 2013 - 10:29pm PT
It's cool to see this thread developing.

I'll try to contribute when I've got something to "tweet." No particular rush, right? It's nice that eeyonkee started it so we have it now - for when the interest or inspiration comes.

Ken, that's neat! You probably know, RD is living it up in Antartica now.

P.S. Eeyonkee, I think your questions and descriptions were well posed, I think you hit many of the ongoing issues very well and expressed them validly and accurately. How refreshing around here! :)

P.SS. Ken, I must've unconsciously confabulated, lol, regarding Wilson - when I should've said Hitchens, eh? Lucky dog! :)
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Jan 1, 2013 - 11:10pm PT
I think this altruism instinct is an interesting concept. I don't mean to hijack your thread but I'd say that altruism or the limits to altruism is at the root of our continued success, and I assume that evolution will have something to do with it. I wonder if our physical influence upon the world is outpacing our ability to care. Seeing how it probably won't effect us as much as our kids, that caring requires an effort of altruism on our part to change our behavior for their benefit. Even if we "want to" you really have to mean it to make sacrifices or take risks that would only help some future generation.

So - If there is a selfish gene that for various reason gets "switched on" resulting in altruism for the purpose of self preservation or species perpetuation, presumably it does so against an army of other forces, cultural or otherwise. Has the Altruist/selfish gene evolved to this point and will it evolve more in the face of greater need?

Global warming for instance. Assuming that AGW really becomes overwhelmingly factually undeniable at some point (stifling a laugh) one would assume that a great majority of first worlders would belly up and accept sacrifices and take risk for the benefit of their future generations, even if the plight of those bloody third worlders don't quite rate. Sounds like more than just a thrown altruism switch is required, especially when our altruism tends to run out of gas at the notion of extending it to other tribes. I'd say the prevailing attitude is to circle the wagons and watch the less fortunate go the way of the dodo.

I tend to think that if there is an altruistic switch that gets triggered by a selfish gene, its got an uphill battle in our not so gloriously evolved intellect, which is probably why they had to invent religion in the first place.

Jan 1, 2013 - 11:50pm PT
There's no selfish gene.

You guys are dreaming and stuck in body consciousness.

Selfishness is rooted in body consciousness.

This is body mine, the extension of the body is mine, family, country, all extensions from the bodily concept.

But we are not the body but humanity as one whole and simultaneously with difference and individuality.

My country, your country, mine, mine this, and mine that, my religion, your religion, all create selfishness.

All due to poor consciousness of oneness, materialism, and body consciousness.

Such a simple thing to understand and see .......


Social climber
An Oil Field
Jan 1, 2013 - 11:57pm PT
The paper I read said that this gene was also found in primates other than humans. Many animals work together as groups. Some animals mate for life, and somehow most animals know not to have sex with their brood or offspring.

I'm serious with the genetic engineering aspect. It isn't a part of my field, but I read a paper that was in the PNAS that included mice who were engineered without H1 hystamine receptors.

I'll do a little googling on the matter, but if you think about it, since we are still tribal and war with each other for no good reason. A genetic improvement in strength, intelligence, absence of hereditary disease and the like, and then kept it to yourself, within a generation you would be ruling the rest of the human race who were just a tiny bit slower in acquiring these methods.

The first group to do this will dominate. Go watch the idea in the movie Gattica. That film covers much of this, including actual genetic descrimination.

The time is rapidly approaching when we will be able to create our own evolutionary fate.


Social climber
An Oil Field
Jan 2, 2013 - 12:05am PT
Hold the door. Read these two articles. Kind of mind blowing.

The second, about Synthia, is where a totally artificial genome was inserted into a bacteria with all normal DNA removed.

This science is kind of like the Atomic Bomb. If we don't do it, somebody else will, and if they do, they are gonna kick our ass.

Not the best of intentions, but so are many ideas of what to do with raw science.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Jan 2, 2013 - 12:27am PT
There's no selfish gene.

OK, just for the sake of argument I'll grant you that one. There is no selfish gene.

Do you (in your humble opinion that is) believe that there are such things as genes at all?

If so what purpose do they serve? Do they ever cause a person to grow freckles for instance?

an innate artistic ability? How did the Grinch acquire such lovely green skin and yellow eyes?

why exactly do some birds kick thier siblings out of the nest? Are they obsessively body conscious and incapable of looking beyond the confines of the material?

I mean, you seem to know a lot. Whats the deal?

How about this - If just for the sake of argument I were to provide to you conclusive proof that such a gene existed and was wholly responsible for selfish behavior would you in light of this new information be able to reevaluate your understanding of the situation?

Yes, I realize my construct is purely material but I assume you spend at least some of your time there.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 2, 2013 - 12:37am PT
Our future as a species is being determined in Asia, home of over 50% of us.

The peoples of Africa are more genetically diverse than those of the rest of the world, combined. This suggests that they may be better able to adapt to whatever environmental challenges we create for ourselves.

As for the questions, I'm not a geneticist, but will make some guesses.

1. Are humans still evolving?

No reason they shouldn't be, and hybrid vigour from interbreeding of previously separated populations may lead to interesting results. I don't know that we can evolve to have larger brains, or that that would be an advantage. Can human females give birth to children with larger brains, and survive? Alternatively, if the brains grow further after birth, would an additionally prolonged adolescence be beneficial? Perhaps the brain can evolve in other ways, of course.. Anyway, we're surely still evolving, it's just a quesion of how.

2. Is group selection, as advocated most notably by the evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, a viable process for explaining things like altruism or can this be explained entirely by selection at the organism or gene level?

If we can select some people out of SuperTopo, or at least just ignore them, that may demonstrate this hypothesis.

3. What is the likelihood that the emergence of life on a planet will lead to intelligent life given 100s of millions or billions of years of evolution to work with.

I'm not sure that humans are intelligent or civilized yet. After 4.53 billion years, give or take, we like to believe we are. My guess is that unicellular life is fairly common in the universe, but that it rarely evolves to more complex forms, let alone intelligence.

On a related note:

Eventually the US government will feel pressured into a rover/return mission to Mars, perhaps followed by a human flight. It will be a response to a possible Chinese manned Moon flight, and if the current series of increasingly sophisticated probes (and a rover/return) lead to the conclusion that Mars once had a real atmosphere and surface liquids for any length of time (almost certain), and that there is sufficient liquid water in the interior that life might still exist there.

If we get to the point of detecting oxygen atmospheres in planets orbiting other stars, we'll have a real challenge figuring out what to do.

Jan 2, 2013 - 12:53am PT
//The first group to do this will dominate. Go watch the idea in the movie Gattica. That film covers much of this, including actual genetic descrimination.

The time is rapidly approaching when we will be able to create our own evolutionary fate.

Science fiction can be viewed as a form of contingency planning. Robert Heinlein is one among several authors to speculate on our evolutionary future, for example in Beyond This Horizon (serialized in 1942) and Assignment in Eternity (1941-49).

It's hard enough to come up with a zombie plan, never mind a superman plan.

Jan 2, 2013 - 01:08am PT

Genes DNA etc etc are all there.

I don't discount gross material nature at all.

That's impossible to do.

It's a bonafide fact.

For hypothesis and theoretical sakes you can make any argument, assertion or whatever.

You can spend innumerable life times searching after the answers to those and continually suffer birth death disease and old age in an endless cycle.

Although western materialistic science and western Christianity discounts reincarnation the fact remains that it is factual truth.

If you study material nature you can easily see it.

But the goal is not to reincarnate ........

Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Jan 2, 2013 - 01:16am PT
I'm not saying what you say is untrue because I can't, however if it is true why don't we see it?

unless genetics is a form of reincarnation, but I think that would be at odds with the classic understanding

Jan 2, 2013 - 01:23am PT
why don't we see it

We ...

It should be you don't see it.

Just as the average tourist can not see the route on El Cap but you can.

In the same way one must train up to get the knowledge to "see".

One doesn't become knowledgeable even on the material platform without extensive training in education in schools and Universities.

Even a mechanic needs to train up.

You get the idea.

One problem is there are many cheaters.

And we've all been cheated, some of us for many life times ......

Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Jan 2, 2013 - 01:27am PT
I hate to be the cynic in the room but I get the feeling you're about to sell me something.....

about the we.... by we I meant myself but also a gazillion others, many of which spend a life of studious study looking for just such phenomena. Again, call me a cynic but I'll easily admit to being a tourist in this case which is why I look for a guide to show me. You're the one who said I / we can see it (evidence of reincarnation) easily in the material but it appears it is only easy to a sellect few.

Perhaps I've been cheated once too many but show me the money

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