Archives for posts with tag: selfish genes

Zigzags on a Shell From Java Are the Oldest Human Engravings“The early human Homo erectus also made the oldest known shell tools half a million years ago.” — see also: The art of Homo erectus“What we can say is that these artifacts carry information about the capabilities of their makers. The few non-perishable marked objects also speak to the likely presence of design in perishable elements of material culture. Clothing, however rudimentary, was likely to have been decorated in some way. Wooden tools were also probably notched and zigzagged — as the occasional bone and ivory implements suggest. They lived for the first time in a world that they could change.” – from john hawks.

Genetic diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa revealed[T]he researchers also found that there were more genetic similarities across Africa than they had thought. Dr Sandhu said: ‘The diversity among populations is not as diverse as we expected it to be….’ The researchers found that many Africans have some Eurasian DNA within their genetic ancestry, which suggests that Eurasians migrated back into Africa many thousands of years after they first left. And several of the populations were descended from the Bantu, a group that spread across Africa about 5,000 years ago.” — see also: The African Genome Variation Project shapes medical genetics in Africa.

and here is dienekes on the above study: African Genome Variation project paper“In too many papers to count, decreasing genetic diversity from East Africa was taken as evidence of an origin of H. sapiens in that locality and its expansion from there to Eurasia. This ‘East Africa=cradle of mankind’ theory has, as far as I can tell, nothing really to stand on. Granted, the oldest anatomically modern human remains have been found in East Africa 200-150 thousand years ago. But, the fact that old sapiens have been found in East Africa and not elsewhere is easily explained by the excellent conditions for preservation (as opposed, e.g., deserts or rainforests of Africa or elsewhere), and by the extraordinary effort by palaeoanthropologists in that area. One also needs to overlook a century of physical anthropology that concluded that East Africa was a contact zone between Caucasoids and Sub-Saharan Africans. We now know that there is no deep lineage of humans in modern east Africans. Take out the Eurasian ancestry and only a paltry Fst=0.027 remains with other Sub-Saharan Africans, a fraction of the Fst between, say, Europeans and East Asians.”

Living African group discovered to be the most populous humans over the last 150,000 years“New genetic research reveals that a small group of hunter-gatherers now living in Southern Africa once was so large that it comprised the majority of living humans during most of the past 150,000 years. Only during the last 22,000 years have the other African ethnicities, including the ones giving rise to Europeans and Asians, become vastly most numerous…. ‘This and previous studies show that the Khoisan peoples and the rest of modern humanity shared their most recent common ancestor approximately 150,000 years ago, so it was entirely unexpected to find that this group apparently did not intermarry with non-Khoisan neighbors for many thousand years….'” — see also The Least Bottlenecked Humans of All from razib.

Ants, altruism and self sacrifice“It’s the selfishness of genes that makes us unselfish…. ‘Group selection’ has always been portrayed as a more politically correct idea, implying that there is an evolutionary tendency to general altruism in people. Gene selection has generally seemed to be more of a right-wing idea, in which individuals are at the mercy of the harsh calculus of the genes. Actually, this folk understanding is about as misleading as it can be. Society is not built on one-sided altruism but on mutually beneficial co-operation. Nearly all the kind things people do in the world are done in the name of enlightened self-interest. Think of the people who sold you coffee, drove your train, even wrote your newspaper today. They were paid to do so but they did things for you (and you for them). Likewise, gene selection clearly drives the evolution of a co-operative instinct in the human breast, and not just towards close kin.” – from matt ridley. — see also: E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth from jason collins. h/t billare!

Genetic Variation in Human DNA Replication Timing“Replication timing, a driver of locus-specific mutation rates, varies among humans…. Replication timing associates with common polymorphisms near replication origins….” – whoa.

Genetic and environmental exposures constrain epigenetic drift over the human life course – h/t casey brown! who tweeted: “Worth repeating: DNA methylation is more genetic than epigenetic.”

IQ is in the genes“How parents raise us has no impact on how smart we become, a new study finds.”

Link discovered between fathers’ criminal history and sons’ intelligence“Sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history, data from over 1 million Swedish men show. The research, conducted by scientists in Sweden and Finland, indicates that the link is not directly caused by fathers’ behavior but is instead explained by genetic factors that are shared by father and son.”

Are bright people normal?“‘We found no support for the genetic Discontinuity Hypothesis that nonadditive genetic variance is greater for high intelligence….'” – from dr. james thompson.

Booze culture may date back 10 million years say scientists“A new study suggests that primates may have begun drinking alchol 10 million years ago, as fermented fruit on the forest floor…. Experts at Santa Fe College in the US studied the gene ADH4 which produces an enzyme to break down alcohol in the body. It was hypothesised that the enzyme would not appear until the first alcohol was produced by early farmers. But scientists were amazed to find it 10 million years earlier, at the end of the Miocene epoch.” – (them’s *my* ancestors right there! (~_^) )

Psychiatry: End of the Road for “Endophenotypes”?“In a nutshell, the researchers ran seven different genetic studies to try to find the genetic basis of a total of seventeen neurobehavioural traits, also known as ‘endophenotypes’…. Essentially an endophenotype is some trait, which could be almost anything, which is supposed to be related to (or part of) a psychiatric disorder or symptom, but which is ‘closer to genetics’ or ‘more biologica’ than the disorder itself. Rather than thousands of genes all mixed together to determine the risk of a psychiatric disorder, each endophenotype might be controlled by only a handful of genes – which would thus be easier to find…. Over 89% of the searches came up null in this way; for eight of the seventeen traits, the researchers found no associated genes using *any* strategy.” – from neuroskeptic.

Unequal fates for maths superstars“The fates of US child prodigies of the 1970s reveal great accomplishments but strong gender differences…. [B]oth genders reported unusually high levels of satisfaction with their lives and careers. ‘It seems that both sexes got what they wanted from life, even if those things were somewhat different….'” – h/t charles! – see also: Sometimes men and women want different things from ben southwood.

Are Chinese babies more docile? – peter frost on the freedman studies.

Inferior Faunas – from greg cochran.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 released this week.

Domestication and Human Evolution Symposium @getCARTA sessions now available to watch online.

Does evolution need a revolution? – from jerry coyne.

Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds – birds have culture.

A Magisterial Synthesis Of Apes And Human Evolution“[Russell H.] Tuttle’s tome is a grand synthesis of all the latest research and data about apes and their relation to us…. He believes that bipedalism preceded the development of the brain in early humans –and was likely something inherited from smaller apes already used to using their feet to move laterally along branches in trees. Although chimpanzees and bonobos are our closest relatives on the evolutionary tree, they do not represent in their own locomotion good proto-models of what led to human upright posture and walking.”

‘Superbugs’ Kill India’s Babies and Pose an Overseas Threat“A growing chorus of researchers say the evidence is now overwhelming that a significant share of the bacteria present in India — in its water, sewage, animals, soil and even its mothers — are immune to nearly all antibiotics.” – h/t razib!

The RNA World: molecular cooperation at the origins of life“The RNA World concept posits that there was a period of time in primitive Earth’s history — about 4 billion years ago — when the primary living substance was RNA or something chemically similar. In the past 50 years, this idea has gone from speculation to a prevailing idea. In this Review, we summarize the key logic behind the RNA World and describe some of the most important recent advances that have been made to support and expand this logic. We also discuss the ways in which molecular cooperation involving RNAs would facilitate the emergence and early evolution of life.”

Tool to edit DNA revolutionizing research in Boston area – CRISPR.

Thomas Docherty on academic freedom“Managerial fundamentalism has taken hold in universities, with scholars viewed as resources that must be controlled…. A creeping incremental assault on academic freedom threatens not just what can be spoken aloud, but also what it is permissible to think: thought itself is to be subjected to management, so that its critical power is neutered or constrained….”

The Dark Enlightenment for Newbies“So what is dark about the Dark Enlightenment? Absolutely nothing. The Dark Enlightenment only looks dark in contrast to the blinding (as in, it blinds you) optimism of flash in the pan of blank slate equalism. The things that the DE contend about human nature — that parents naturally favor their children, that sexual attraction is a biological phenomenon, that some people are naturally smarter than others — were all accepted as common sense for most or all of human history. It is the unrealistic utopianism of modern liberalism which is ridiculously absurd. The Dark Enlightenment might be better termed The Return to Normalcy. So the phrase “Dark Enlightenment” might not be the best, but it has received enough attention that I don’t think we should abandon it.” – very nice post from empedocles.

Tanzania evicting 40,000 people from homeland to make room for Dubai royal family“It will become a private hunting reserve” – =/ (i’m linking to salon!) – h/t john durant!

bonus: Why Some Mosquitoes Spread Malaria and Others Don’t“Sequencing the genomes of numerous Anopheles mosquito species from locations around the world has shown why some can carry and spread the deadly disease malaria while others don’t.” – h/t srikant mantri!

bonus bonus: Humpback Whales in the Arabian Sea Have Been Isolated for 70,000 Years

bonus bonus bonus: A diet to die for“One bird feasts on food that would leave most other animals stone dead.”

bonus bonus bonus bonus: Insect Swarms Go Critical“Scientists have found tantalizing evidence that diverse biological systems, including the human brain, gene expression networks, bird flocks, and fish schools, behave as though they are near the ‘critical point’ of a phase transition, like correlated spins in a magnet on the verge of ordering.” – h/t jayman!

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: Weird Physics Can Make an Invisible Cat Visible“These cat pictures are brought to you by quantum entanglement as discussed by Einstein and Schrödinger.”

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Now Completely Online

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: Tette per la Scienza – boobies! (it really IS this time! (~_^) )

(note: comments do not require an email. quantum cats!)


Life on Earth may have developed below rather than above ground, reveal scientists“Scientists have now discovered microbes living and reproducing as deep as 5km (3.1 miles) below ground and studies have shown that they are likely to have survived in complete isolation from the surface biosphere for millions and perhaps even billions of years. One of the latest studies into the deep biosphere has found that these microbes form a distinct subsurface community of genetically similar individuals despite living on opposite sides of the world. This global similarity of such an isolated life-form suggests that they may have evolved directly from a common ancestor that lived as long ago at the period when life on earth originated, some 3.5 billion years ago.”

First ever animals were made of jelly, not sponge

Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code“[G]enomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.”duons. – see also Exonic Transcription Factor Binding Directs Codon Choice and Affects Protein Evolution.

Environment drives genetic changes in Evolution Canyon“[R]esearchers with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech studying fruit flies that live on opposite slopes of a unique natural environment known as ‘Evolution Canyon’ show that even with migration, cross-breeding, and sometimes the obliteration of the populations, the driving force in the gene pool is largely the environment.” – see also Genome differentiation of Drosophila melanogaster from a microclimate contrast in Evolution Canyon, Israel.

Big brains are all in the genes“Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding genetic changes that permitted humans and other mammals to develop such big brains…. Dr Humberto Gutierrez, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, led research which examined the genomes of 39 species of mammals with the aim of better understanding how brains became larger and more complex in mammals…. The researchers found a clear link between increased brain size and the expansion of gene families related to certain biological functions.”

Not all species deteriorate with age“Researchers claim that some buck trend in mortality and fertility, challenging evolutionary theory.” – see also Diversity of ageing across the tree of life – h/t anatoly! – see also Aging from greg cochran.

there was a kerfluffle over the selfish gene concept this past week or two: Die, selfish gene, die by david dobbs. – see also Adversarial Journalism and The Selfish Gene by richard dawkins – see also David Dobbs mucks up evolution, part I and David Dobbs mucks up evolution, part II by jerry coyne – see also There is no revolution in genetics and Evolutionary orthodoxy may be boring, but it is probably true by razib – see also Science vs. Ideology in Genetics, in which Richard Dawkins and Professor Ceiling Cat Admonish David Dobbs by helian.

Western scrub-jays allocate longer observation time to more valuable information“When humans mentally reconstruct past events and imagine future scenarios, their subjective experience of mentally time travelling is accompanied by the awareness of doing so. Despite recent popularity of studying episodic memory in animals, such phenomenological consciousness has been extremely difficult to demonstrate…. Thus, the jays can collect information to solve a future problem. Moreover, they can differentiate sources of information according to their potential value and modify behaviour to efficiently collect important, usable information. This is the first evidence of metacognition in a species that passes the behavioural criteria for both retrospective and prospective mental time travel.”

Like humans, dogs have general intelligence – @dr. james thompson’s blog.

H. Heidelbergensis Preferred Island Life“[B]etween 500,000 and 200,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis preferred to live on islands in the flood plains of major rivers, where they would have had access to big herbivores that grazed on the rich grasses, water birds and plants with edible roots, and leafy vegetables. The island itself offered protection from other hungry predators, and raw materials such as wood and stone for fashioning tools would have been abundant.”

No evidence for selection since admixture in sample of 29,141 African Americans – @dienekes’.

Older Dads: Possible Links to Autism, Schizophrenia in Offspring – inherited epigenetic effects? – “Maria Milekic, PhD, reported today, at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting in Hollywood, Florida, that old mice have an epigenetic change ‒ a loss of DNA methylation at the locations where the genetic code starts being transcribed. DNA methylation is a biochemical process that plays an important regulatory role in development and disease. The work was done by a research team in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. Offspring of old fathers showed the same deficit in DNA methylation, and they differed in their behavior from the offspring of the young fathers.”

Inherited memories – greg cochran on inherited epigenetics (note: re. a different mouse epigenetics study from the one above).

Genetics accounts for more than half of variation in exam results @the guardian – “[T]he authors point out that genetics emerges as such a strong influence on exam scores because the schooling system aims to give all children the same education. The more school and other factors are made equal, the more genetic differences come to the fore in children’s performance. The same situation would happen if everyone had a healthy diet: differences in bodyweight would be more down to genetic variation, instead of being dominated by lifestyle.” – see also Nature more than nurture determines exam success @newscientist – “Overall, across the three core subjects of English, mathematics and science, achievement was 58 per cent determined by genetics. Individually, achievement was 52 per cent down to genetics for English, 55 per cent for maths and 58 per cent for science. The figure for humanities was lower at 42 per cent. This was a surprise to Plomin because, traditionally, excellence in humanities subjects such as art or music is considered to be ‘handed down’ from parents, whereas science is considered a product of the teaching environment.” – see also The genetics route could spell a new direction for education @the independent – “[I]t may be that the innate differences in children’s abilities because of their genes could argue the case for a more tailor-made individual curriculum to offset the disadvantages of birth.” – no sh*t! – see also New twin study by Plomin, Shakeshaft et al from steve sailer – see also Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16.

Genetic influence on family socioeconomic status and children’s intelligence“[U]sing a new technique applied to DNA from 3000 unrelated children, we show significant genetic influence on family SES, and on its association with children’s IQ at ages 7 and 12. In addition to demonstrating the ability to investigate genetic influence on between-family environmental measures, our results emphasize the need to consider genetics in research and policy on family SES and its association with children’s IQ.” – can somebody just give plomin a nobel already? or at least a hearty pat on the back? (^_^)

Climatic Variability, Group Selection and Dysgenics: Testing a Multi-Level Selection Model – from woodley, fernandes, and figueredo. @dr. james thompson’s blog.

ISIR – What do intelligence researchers really think about intelligence?“Asked: ‘Is there sufficient evidence to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the heritability of intelligence in populations of developed countries?’ 73% said Yes.” – from dr. james thompson. also ISIR – Genetics.

‘Poverty impedes cognitive function’ shown to be BS – from mr. mangan, esq.

Survey of psychometricians finds iSteve one of 3 best journalistic outlets in the world for intelligence coverage – and anatoly karlin! (^_^)

Human brain hard-wired for rural tranquillity“Humans may be hard-wired to feel at peace in the countryside and confused in cities – even if they were born and raised in an urban area…. Dr Ian Frampton, an Exeter University psychologist, stressed the researchers still had more work to do, but said they may have hit upon something significant…. Professor Michael Depledge of Exeter University, a former Environment Agency chief scientist, said urban dwellers could be suffering in the same way as animals kept in captivity. He said the move to the cities had been accompanied by an ‘incredible rise in depression and behavioural abnormalities’.” – h/t ed west!

Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome“[S]hort-term consumption of diets composed entirely of animal or plant products alters microbial community structure and overwhelms inter-individual differences in microbial gene expression. The animal-based diet increased the abundance of bile-tolerant microorganisms (Alistipes, Bilophila and Bacteroides) and decreased the levels of Firmicutes that metabolize dietary plant polysaccharides (Roseburia, Eubacterium rectale and Ruminococcus bromii). Microbial activity mirrored differences between herbivorous and carnivorous mammals, reflecting trade-offs between carbohydrate and protein fermentation. Foodborne microbes from both diets transiently colonized the gut, including bacteria, fungi and even viruses. Finally, increases in the abundance and activity of Bilophila wadsworthia on the animal-based diet support a link between dietary fat, bile acids and the outgrowth of microorganisms capable of triggering inflammatory bowel disease. In concert, these results demonstrate that the gut microbiome can rapidly respond to altered diet, potentially facilitating the diversity of human dietary lifestyles.”

Wheat Threatens All Humans, New Research Shows“New research reveals that proteins in wheat may be detrimental to all humans.” – h/t ray sawhill!

The origins of Northwest European guilt culture and Origins of Northwest European guilt culture. Part II – from peter frost. and my response to part i (in case you missed it – shame on you if you did! you should feel soooo guilty. (~_^) ).

The EU is corrupt because southern Europe is corrupt“Nigeria is riddled with corruption and theft because enough people are corrupt (and it doesn’t have to be that many) that it makes no sense to be an honest person. For societies to avert this situation free-riders need to be punished (shamed, ostracised, prosecuted) by other individuals acting with the support of the rest of society, and almost as importantly, for those punishers not to be punished in turn, as happens in clannish societies where people care more about their family than the well-being of the wider society. Destroying the power of the clans can take a very, very long time; around the North Sea it began a good millennium ago.” – from ed west.

Why a Good Story Must Be Archetypal and Why Modern Storytellers Must Lie About It – from staffan.

White flight from the white robe? – from the awesome epigone. – h/t jayman!

‘Boy/ girl differences are genetically programmed’“Twinwag: As research shows the brains of men and women are wired differently, mother of two Anna White says she saw it in her own twins, Agatha and Benjamin, from as young as 14 months old.” – h/t holtz!

Holding a guitar case increases the odds women will give a man their phone number – (~_^)

Your Genes Tell You How to Vote – in mother jones! – see also The Difference Between Republican and Democratic Brains – h/t avi tuschman! – see also Study on twins suggests our political beliefs may be hard-wired @pew.

Did Brain Scans Just Save a Convicted Murderer From the Death Penalty? – see also How Brain Scans Can Lighten Sentences In Murder Cases“An increasing trend of defendants using neuroscience to argue for lesser sentences.” – h/t neuroskeptic!

We Really Have no Idea Why Political Attitudes Change (or Not). A Guest Blog by Bernard Winograd – *cough*herding*cough* – @peter turchin’s social evolution forum. h/t t.greer!

How much do we really know about sleep?“We spend a third of our lives doing it, and yet we still don’t fully understand the reasons why we sleep.”

Eastern and Western Europe divided over gay marriage, homosexuality“92% of Dutch & 25% of Russians say gay people should be free to live lives as they wish (via European Social Survey).” – from pew.

Late Stone Age settlement unearthed on Cyprus“Excavations at Ayia Varvara-Asprokremnos (AVA) by archaeologists from the University of Toronto, Cornell University and the University of Cyprus have uncovered, among other objects, the earliest complete human figurine on the island. The site has been carbon-dated to between 8800-8600 BC, near the beginning of the Neolithic Period – also known as the Late Stone Age – when the transition from hunting to farming economies was occurring throughout the Middle East.”

What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario – h/t razib!

Terracotta Warriors Inspired by Ancient Greek Art“Nickel’s evidence includes newly translated ancient records that tell a fantastic tale of giant statues that ‘appeared’ in the far west, inspiring the first emperor of China to duplicate them in front of his palace. This story offers evidence of early contact between China and the West, contacts that Nickel says inspired the First Emperor (which is what Qin Shi Huangdi called himself) to not only duplicate the 12 giant statues but to build the massive Terracotta Army along with other life-size sculptures.” – see also The First Emperor and sculpture in China.

Phallic objects an ancient PNG status symbol?“The cache of elaborately crafted tools was discovered at a construction site on New Britain Island, north-eastern PNG, in late 2010. Between 6000 and 3000 years old, the tools are made of a type of volcanic glass called obsidian and, remarkably, several of them are shaped as phalluses.”

Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals“Randy Schekman says his lab will no longer send papers to Nature, Cell and Science as they distort scientific process.” – h/t hbd bibliography!

Can you guess which states swear the most, least?

bonus: There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’ << read this!

bonus bonus: How widespread is Islamic fundamentalism in Western Europe? – h/t michael story!

bonus bonus bonus: Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots – google buys boston dynamics. google really IS going to take over the world! =/

bonus bonus bonus bonus: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet“I don’t think most people yet realize just how fast the arc of technological innovation is bending skyward right now, and what that’s really going to mean. I hang around with the people who are making this stuff happen, and *they* don’t know what it’s going to mean. *Nobody* does.” – from malcolm pollack. (google really IS going to take over the world! =/ )

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: Freakishly realistic telemarketing robots are denying they’re robots – the future (i.e tomorrow) is either going to be terrifying or really, really irritating. – h/t mike anissimov (wearer of track suits (~_^) )!

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: First water plume seen firing from Jupiter moon Europa

(note: comments do not require an email. penguin selfie!)

happy father’s day to all you dads out there! (^_^)

Genetic switches play big role in human evolution“A Cornell Univ. study offers further proof that the divergence of humans from chimpanzees some 4 million to 6 million years ago was profoundly influenced by mutations to DNA sequences that play roles in turning genes on and off. The study, published in Nature Genetics, provides evidence for a 40-year-old hypothesis that regulation of genes must play an important role in evolution since there is little difference between humans and chimps in the proteins produced by genes.”

The lost cousins of Homo sapiens in Asia and the South Pacific – on Homo denisova and Homo floresiensis.

The Causes of Group Differences in Intelligence Studied Using the Method of Correlated Vectors and Psychometric Meta-Analysis“It is concluded that these findings are strongly in line with a substantial genetic component in group differences in intelligence. This suggest that the large group differences in school achievement and work achievement are stable and that I/O psychologists should find ways to deal with them instead of ways of trying to change them.” – @meng hu’s blog! via hbd bibliography.

Researchers conclude that what causes menopause is — wait for it — men“[M]enopause is actually an unintended outcome of natural selection – the result of its effects having become relaxed in older women. Over time, human males have shown a preference for younger women in selecting mates, stacking the Darwinian deck against continued fertility in older women, the researchers have found.”

Why Extroverts Like Parties and Introverts Avoid Crowds“[E]xtroverts are more likely to associate the rush of a feel-good brain chemical with the environment they are in at the time.” – see also: Are You an Introvert or Extrovert? Here’s How to Tell (true x 20 (^_^) ).

Your Hormones Tell You How to Vote“The scientific search is on for the chemical cocktail that makes you vote Republican (or Democrat).”

Mind-reading monkey brains look similar to ours“Macaques and humans share similarities in a brain structure involved in theory of mind – the ability to infer what others are thinking or feeling.”

How the pacification of Europe came to an end – from peter frost.

Gay Germ Fallout? – from jayman.

Darwin’s Dangerous Clan? A Response to the Critics – @habitable worlds.

Yale researchers unravel genetics of dyslexia and language impairment

DNA tests estimate that Prince William is 0.3 to 0.8 percent Indian – cool!

Is distinctive DNA marker proof of ancient genocide?“A controversial theory holds invaders from Iberia may have massacred much of Ireland’s male population” – h/t ed west.

Pathological Altruism“An understanding that altruism can produce great evil as well as good is crucial to the defense of human freedom and dignity.”

Moral Molecules, Modern Selves, and Our “Inner Tribe” – h/t mark weiner!

Does Geography Influence How a Language Sounds?“A linguist finds a correlation between ‘ejective consonants’ and high altitude…. Everett speculated that ejectives are easier to produce at high altitudes because air pressure decreases with altitude, and it takes less effort to compress less-dense air.”

Laughter and the Brain

Sociopaths are coming out of the closet. Here are five reasons to embrace your inner psycho. see also: Why Social Psychology Sucks from staffan.

The Laws of the Cathedral. Obey or Perish!“This is a rough draft and work in progress. It is also a group project, which potentially includes you.” – @occam’s razor.

America 3.0 – with todd’s family types even! – from t.greer!

When the Lamps Went On“Did intellectual progress truly only begin when thinkers began to question religious authority? Kenneth Minogue reviews Anthony Pagden’s ‘The Enlightenment.'”

The First Vikings“Two remarkable ships may show that the Viking storm was brewing long before their assault on England and the continent.” – via mr. mangan, esq.

Revealed: a lost city and a holy temple“Mahendraparvata, a lost mediaeval city where people existed on a mist-shrouded mountain called Phnom Kulen 350 years before the building of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex in north-western Cambodia.”

The new racial classification (I) – tl;dr for me, but some of you out there might be interested in this. (thnx to the person who pointed it out to me!)

bonus: America’s tipping point: Whites to be minority in children under age 5 by next year – demographics is destinty. see also: The Joy of Ethnomasochism from the derb.

bonus bonus: Study: Blacks, Hispanics say Zimmerman arrested earlier if victim White“Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to believe that George Zimmerman would have been arrested immediately had he shot a white person, according to a newly published study. Blacks are more likely than both Hispanics and whites to believe race was a factor in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager. And blacks also are more likely than whites to follow the court case closely. Hispanics are less likely than all groups to follow the case closely.”

bonus bonus bonus: Trayvon Affair à la française – m.g.’s back! (^_^) @thosewhocansee.

bonus bonus bonus bonus: Snowflake the Albino Gorilla Was Inbred, Study Finds“Spanish researchers have sequenced the gorilla’s entire genome, revealing that Snowflake was probably the offspring of a pairing between an uncle and a niece.”

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: India’s Poorest Women Coerced Into Sterilization – eugenics in india. h/t chris! also: Belgian Parliament Posed To Approve Child Euthanasia Law. (posed?)

(note: comments do not require an email. snowflake! (^_^) )

on the one hand we’ve got the westermarck effect, presumably coded for by some gene/s that have been selected for ’cause too much close inbreeding is maybe not a good idea. at the very least, it kinda defeats the purpose of sex (whatever that might be — apart from fun, that is).

on the other hand, we’ve got genetic sexual attraction, presumably coded for by some other gene/s that have been selected for ’cause, well, genes just “wanna” reproduce themselves, and if you mate with someone like yourself you wind up with little ‘uns who have LOTS of those genes.

sounds like an example of intragenomic conflict to me.

(note: comments do not require an email. cute bundle o’ genes!)

(<< good title for a horror movie!)

chapter 2 of “The Selfish Gene” — all about how (we imagine that) genes, i.e. replicators, first got going in the primordial soup (or wherever). good stuff! (of course, we humans — meaning craig venter — are now making replicators from scratch! cool.)

but, i really liked this. something on which to meditate [pg. 12]:

“Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ is really a special case of a more general law of survival of the stable. The universe is populated by stable things. A stable thing is a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough to deserve a name. It may be a uniqe collection of atoms, such as the Matterhorn, that lasts long enough to be worth naming. Or it may be a class of entities, such a rain drops, that come into existence at a sufficiently high rate to deserve a collective name, even if any one of them is short-lived. The things that we see around us, and which we think of as needing explanation — rocks, galaxies, ocean waves — are all, to a greater or lesser extent, stable patterns of atoms.”

“survival of the fittest” just a subset of “survival of the stable.” neat!

previously: “the selfish gene”

(note: comments do not require an email. eeek! replicators!)

i recently persuaded someone of my acquaintance to read dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene,” and as i’m guessing — or, rather, hoping — that they’ll prolly want to discuss it, i’ve started re-reading it — refresh the ol’ memory (i read it several years ago now).

i also decided that i may as well babble about it here, too, since it’s right on topic! (^_^) i’m sure most or many of you have already read it, but if you haven’t, i suggest you run out (or log on to amazon) and buy it asap! (or check it out of the library!) it’s a marvelous book, even tho it has its faults (mostly because dawkins has his faults. heh — don’t we all?).

so, chapter one (i’ve got the 1989 edition, reissued in 1999): “Why are people?” i think the three most interesting points he introduces in this chapter are the individual vs. group selection debate, inclusive fitness being the reason for many altruistic behaviors, and how much genes “control” our altruistic (or not) behaviors.

the individual vs. group selection debate? i dunno — i’m about as familiar with it as, i think, a non-specialist layperson can be, but i’m really in no position to come to a conclusion about who’s right or who’s wrong here. i know that most evolutionary biologists have concluded that natural selection operates only on individuals (or, really, on genes) and not groups, but that there is a minority group (messrs. wilson, et. al.) who object.

i’m staying agnostic on the issue for now because i’m neurotic i just don’t have the knowledge base to conclude one way or another. individual selection sure makes logical sense to me, like i say, as a layperson. and i haven’t given much thought to group selection, really. but i will note that both william hamilton and george price seemed persuaded by it — or, at least, didn’t rule it out. from hamilton’s “Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Vol. 1” (this is as quoted by david sloan wilson, btw):

“A manuscript did eventually come from him [price] but what I [hamilton] found set out was not any sort of new derivation or correction of my ‘kin selection’ but rather a strange new formalism that was applicable to every kind of natural selection…. His voice was squeaky and condescending, rather guarded on the phone…. He spoke of his formula as ‘surprising for me too — quite a miracle’ … ‘Have you seen how my formula works for group selection?’ I told him, of course, no, and may have added something like: ‘So you actually believe in that do you?’ Up to this contact with Price, and indeed for some time after, I had regarded group selection as so ill-defined, so woolly in the uses made by its proponents, and so generally powerless against selection at the individual and genic levels, that the idea might as well be omitted from the toolkit of a working evolutionist….

“I am pleased to say that, amidst all else that I ought to have done and did not do, some months before he died I was on the phone telling him enthusiastically that through a ‘group-level’ extension of his formula I now had a far better understanding of group selection acting at one level or at many than I had ever had before.”

well, if it was good enough for william hamilton….

now — inclusive fitness and how that leads to altruistic or selfish behaviors. this from dawkins relates to individuals vs. groups again [pg. 8]:

“The individual-selectionist would admit that groups do indeed die out, and that whether or not a group goes extinct may be influenced by the behavior of the individuals in that groups. He might even admit that if only the individuals in a group had the gift of foresight they could see that in the long run their own best interests lay in restraining their selfish greed, to prevent the destruction of the whole group…. But group extinction is a slow process compared with the rapid cut and thrust of individual competition. Even while the group is going slowly and inexorably downhill, selfish individuals prosper in the short term at the expense of altruists…. [E]volution is blind to the future.”

well, this is related to what i was complaining about the other day — that people have no foresight! at least not when it comes to thinking about the fate of humanity a hundred or hundreds of years into the future. but i understand — how on earth would that ever be selected for when you’ve got individuals vs. individuals in everyday life?


my big complaint about dawkins is that his opinion on the nature vs. nurture debate leans too far towards the nuture side for my tastes. thus his crusade against religion (good luck with that!) — and his belief that we might be able to fight our altruism/non-altruism genes. well, yeah, maybe a bit — but dawkins really thinks such a thing would be possible [pg. 3]:

“As a corollary to these remarks about teaching, it is a fallacy — incidentally a very common one — to suppose that genetically inherited traits are by definition fixed and unmodifiable. Our genes may instruct us to be selfish, but we are not necessarily compelled to obey them all our lives. It may just be more difficult to learn altruism than it would be if we were genetically programmed to be altruistic.”


rushton, et. al., found that the heritability of altruistic behavior was something like 50% (in modern britons in the 1980s). seems like altruistic behaviors, then, like many of our personality traits and behaviors, are pretty strongly heritable. no one’s gonna change that fact that much by edumacation or culture or anything like that. if anything, the more environmental circumstances for individuals were to be equalized (either make society wonderful and easy for everybody, or make it an absolute dog-fight for everybody) the more the genetics would come into play — ironic but true.

also, whether or not individuals behave altruistically shifts (on average) depending upon with whom they are interacting — that’s the whole point of inclusive fitness! interact with a family member and an individual is likely to be pretty altruistic — interact with a stranger and eh … not so much altruism.

therefore, make a society multi-cultural and you just have to expect altruism to drop. especially in bad economic times. people can afford to be pretty altruistic when times are good. when times are bad — look out. you’re just never going to get everyone to be altruistic under such circumstances. not without some futuristic genetic engineering or something! teaching people to be altruistic ain’t gonna cut it. (of course, there’s reciprocal altruism, too, but since that’s based even more directly on “what’s in it for me?” sort-of thinking, i would think that’ll be the first to go in dire economic times.)

btw, one of the best parts of “The Selfish Gene” is the cover! at least on the edition that i have. look! LOWERCASE letters only in the title! (~_^)

update 10/04: see also “the replicators”

(note: comments do not require an email. altruism — workin’ for this guy!)

ok. so here’s how i picture the levels (if that’s the right|best word) in which the battle(s) for replication takes place wherein the players (genes, individuals, clans, whatever) compete against each other as well as co-operate (for their own benefit, of course — none of the players gives anything away for free). when a player does help out another altruistically, it’s very often a situation where inclusive fitness is in play.

the flipside of altruism is a whole collection of acts from simply growing more roots to soak up more of the water and other nutrients in the soil before your unrelated neighboring plants do, to out-and-out killing and war.

these levels (which have fuzzy borders) seem to me to be present in all the higher animals. i think they’re kinda different when you start to look at micro-organisms — bacteria and viruses (they’re not even organisms, are they?) and the like — but i’m not sure. there’s some weird, but extremely cool, sh*t going on there anyway!

so, like i said here, i don’t think everything comes down to genetics; but i do think that everything comes down to biology (or chemistry, or physics). not all of our behaviors have to do with competing to reproduce (i don’t think…), but a h*lluva lot do. most people most of the time are not consciously aware of why they do what they do. they give all sorts of other reasons for the things that they do (religious, philosophical, political, etc.) — but those are not the ultimate reasons for why they behave in whatever way that they do. and i’m really only interested in the ultimate reasons.

so, without further ado, here’s my little chart (don’t laugh — i s*ck at photoshop!):

yes, intergenomic conflict does, indeed, occur (my “genes” level up there). i’m guessing that conflict also occurs at the “things smaller than genes” level, but i’m not familiar with any examples. parent-offspring conflict (as most parents can testify to!) definitely occurs, as does conflict between siblings — these are on the “immediate family” level.

westerners might not be all that familiar with extended family conflicts since we don’t bother much with our extended families, but you just have to look at the middle east or asia or even just sicily to start understanding THAT level.

the rest of the levels are pretty self-explanatory, i think. we’ve seen the war between tribes in libya, for example; we know about the french vs. the germans in just about every significant war in europe eveh; the race “wars” are ongoing right here in the u.s.; and, if and when the little green men from mars turn up, humans might just pull together for the “good of the species.”

the natures of group-level conflicts (anything above individual) also depend upon the degree and type of inbreeding (or out-breeding) within the populations in question.

again, i’m not saying that conflicts on any of these levels is (easily) predictable — or guaranteed. most of the competition seems to be over resources of some sort or another (water, sunlight, land, gold, ivy league scholarships), so you’re not going to see conflict unless there is some sort of crisis over some sort of resource (that aids in reproduction).

but, when you do see conflict, it’s a safe bet that it’s got something to do with all this.

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via ferdinand, al** says (in a post about sexual age of consent):

“Modern societies are extremely hung up on sex for many reasons. Part of it comes from conservative religious values, but another part of the problem comes from leftist feminist constipative tendencies. Wherever you look, there are always those who want to force their way into your bedroom or hotel room.”

i got news for ya, al. ALL societies are extremely hung up on sex — including even non-human animal societies. and we’re not all hung up on sex “for many reasons” — we’re all hung up on sex for just one reason: because the whole point of life is to reproduce one’s genes (i.e. we’re just “machines for our genes“).

THIS is the reason — and the ONLY reason — why so many people want to “force their way into your bedroom or hotel room.” not because they ultimately care WHAT you do in your bedroom or hotel room (although they might say that, most people don’t know what they’re really about). no. they ultimately care WHO you’re doing in your bedroom or hotel room.

people are concerned about who their kids (most often their female kids) mate with because they’re concerned about how their genes are getting passed on.

they’re concerned that the people their kids (i.e. their genes) are mating with have “good” genes. they’re concerned that the people their kids (i.e. their genes) are mating with will take good care of any offspring (i.e. more of their genes). they’re concerned that all the time and effort and money they spent on raising their kids (i.e. their genes) won’t go to waste.

it’s just social control of reproduction (of genes), that’s all. and it happens in all sorts of societies in all sorts of ways.

**yes. i know that’s not al’s name. (~_^)

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