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Science

Recent Human Evolution May Have Been Driven By Self-Selection 448

Posted by Zonk
from the masters-of-our-domain dept.
Slur writes "The New York Times reports an insightful theory of Human evolution that gives credit for our accelerated evolution to the evolving brain. By virtue of our aesthetic and utilitarian preferences we ourselves have been responsible for molding the present human form and consciousness. Applied to other species we call it 'artificial selection,' but the new theory implies we did it all quite naturally, unconsciously, and that the exponential evolutionary acceleration we have achieved as a species in recent time is just what you'd expect. It also suggests that the current lull in our physical evolution is by 'choice' as well."
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Recent Human Evolution May Have Been Driven By Self-Selection

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    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by creimer (824291)
      Yeah, dumb luck usually works most of the time.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2007 @06:15PM (#21690380)
      *Taken from the Best of Craig'slist*

      Whenever I get a package of plain M&Ms, I make it my duty to continue the strength and robustness of the candy as a species. To this end, I hold M&M duels.

      Taking two candies between my thumb and forefinger, I apply pressure, squeezing them together until one of them cracks and splinters. That is the "loser," and I eat the inferior one immediately. The winner gets to go another round.

      I have found that, in general, the brown and red M&Ms are tougher, and the newer blue ones are genetically inferior. I have hypothesized that the blue M&Ms as a race cannot survive long in the intense theater of competition that is the modern candy and snack-food world.

      Occasionally I will get a mutation, a candy that is misshapen, or pointier, or flatter than the rest. Almost invariably this proves to be a weakness, but on very rare occasions it gives the candy extra strength. In this way, the species continues to adapt to its environment.

      When I reach the end of the pack, I am left with one M&M, the strongest of the herd. Since it would make no sense to eat this one as well, I pack it neatly in an envelope and send it to M&M Mars, A Division of Mars, Inc., Hackettstown, NJ 17840-1503 U.S.A., along with a 3x5 card reading, "Please use this M&M for breeding purposes."

      This week they wrote back to thank me, and sent me a coupon for a free 1/2 pound bag of plain M&Ms. I consider this "grant money." I have set aside the weekend for a grand tournament. From a field of hundreds, we will discover the True Champion.

      There can be only one.
    • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:34PM (#21692070) Journal
      Well, that's insightful, and probably how that evolution _really_ worked.

      See, selection based on beauty, niceness, etc, are shiny-happy feel-good theories. They make us feel better about us as a species.

      They also utterly fail to explain stuff like the ultra-fast evolution of, say, intelligence related alleles.

      Now let's think about it for a bit. What's one situation which drives evolution like _hell_? What drove the early evolution of hominids? Having to survive in the face of a nasty predator. That's one _hell_ of an evolutionary pressure.

      The early hominids, for example, faced the pressure of having to move out of the trees and compete with nasty carnivores for food. It was a monkey (ok, ape) too unfit to hunt (as late as the Neanderthals, they still couldn't do ballistics: Neanderthals were survival-spec melee hunters;), so it had to steal the food some carnivore had hunted. And it was even less fit to fight tigers barehanded. That's what drove the fast evolution of the brain. Stealth and cunning were the only things that worked.

      Now move to the last 20,000 years or so, and humans faced an even nastier predator: other humans.

      The history of mankind is, sadly, one of constant warfare, atrocities, etc. Tribes raided each other constantly, and then states fought each other like crazy. And let's remember that this was:

      A) millenia before the Geneva convention. If you couldn't take a fortress, it was considered perfectly acceptable to kill or enslave the peasants instead.

      B) millenia before logistics. As a peasant in those times, you'd get looted by both the enemy (whole campaigns got slowed down by waiting for the villages in their path to harvest the grain, so the army can loot it) and your own side (as levies.)

      So, yeah, humans selected themselves all right. At spear point. Being able to, say, hide and hide your harvest when the next raid came, was already a hell of an evolutionary advantage.

      Also let's remember that mortality was disproportionately higher among the lower classes until very very recently. As in, until 2 centuries ago or so. Famine, plagues, war atrocities, etc, took their toll starting from the bottom.

      Even if you look at the renaissance era, let's just say we're almost all the descendants of the rich folks back then. The poor mostly died out over enough generations. Or IIRC in China they actually did some study and IIRC some 80% of a province's population carried the genes of one imperial family. That's how disproportionate a survival advantage that was.

      So that's your other natural selection factor: those who figured out some way or another to claw their way up the social pyramid, had more chances to pass their genes on.

      Some did that by just being smart and hard working. Learning enough of the alphabet would automatically qualify one for a scribe job in a lot of places, from ancient Egypt to China. That already made it a lot less likely that they'll starve during the next famine, plus ensured that they can afford to educate their children too.

      Some did it by a lot less nice means.

      But at any rate, that's another case of humans selecting themselves.

      Etc.

      Basically, yes, the ones who survived were the ones who went "And I pick... me!" And proceeded to gain some kind of advantage over the others.

      Not a nice thought, but history or humanity weren't nice until the 20'th century. Stuff that we all now get horrified about, when we read about the Third Reich or Stalin, were the stuff human civilization was built upon.

      So, yeah, let's instead believe bogus shiny-happy fairy-tales where surely the biggest advantage was being sexy. Heh.

      Here's another not-nice thought: mortality among women was disproportionately higher than mortality among men. In the Old Kingdom period, for example, the peak of the mortality gauss curve was in the 20's for women, and in the 30's for men. (Of course, again, the rich tended to live longer.) And even primitive tribes raided each other to s
      • by Iron Condor (964856) on Friday December 14, 2007 @01:40AM (#21694454)

        Also let's remember that mortality was disproportionately higher among the lower classes until very very recently. As in, until 2 centuries ago or so.

        Uh, what? Mortality is still disproportionately higher in the lower classes. Everywhere on the globe. And that shows not the slightest sign of changing. As a matter of fact I'd be willing to define "classes" along the lines of life expectancy. How else would you do that? Even the lowest hobo can own a DVD player these days. But he can't afford health insurance...

        Not a nice thought, but history or humanity weren't nice until the 20'th century. Stuff that we all now get horrified about, when we read about the Third Reich or Stalin, were the stuff human civilization was built upon.

        Absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed since the 20th century. The same atrocities are committed right this moment by the same power-hungry tyrants all over the planet for the same reasons.

        I do not know where you get the delusion that today is somehow different from the rest of history, but to the people 100 years from now you will just be one of these folks back there in the past and they will not perceive any more of a change in conditions at the turn of the 21st century than we perceive one today at the turn of the 20th.

        • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday December 14, 2007 @04:36AM (#21695326) Journal

          Uh, what? Mortality is still disproportionately higher in the lower classes. Everywhere on the globe. And that shows not the slightest sign of changing. As a matter of fact I'd be willing to define "classes" along the lines of life expectancy. How else would you do that? Even the lowest hobo can own a DVD player these days. But he can't afford health insurance...


          Ah, right, the USA. In Europe everyone gets healthcare, so sometimes I forget that somewhere an advanced society would leave its less fortunate members just die, out of no other reason than greed. Thanks for the correction.

          Absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed since the 20th century. The same atrocities are committed right this moment by the same power-hungry tyrants all over the planet for the same reasons.


          A) Not on the same scale, buddy. And,

          If you look some 2000-3000 years back, going and enslaving your neighbours and treating them like in the nazi slave-labour camps was a lot more common. Some greek city states had slaves as a third of their population.

          And while again we remember the nicer parts -- e.g., the clerk or home servant slaves that were freed later by the rich Romans in Rome itself -- the same Roman society used slaves elsewhere as just a long death sentence. The cost of keeping buying new slaves to replace the dead ones, was an integral part of the cost of business for, say, mines. Or the same rich Romans let slaves starve in Sicily so they could export more grain to Rome. There was at least one slave revolt motivated literally by hunger.

          So basically wake me up when you have 100,000,000 people in Guantanamo. That's when you'll have the same extent of the problem.

          B) Now at least the common people tend to be horrified about it. In times past they actually were part of the problem. The very fact that you seem pissed off and disillusioned about it, is actually a sign of how much we progressed.

          If you look as little as, say, 1000 years back in time, the medieval communes (towns whose citizens swore to stand together for their rights against the noble of the land) found it perfectly ok that, when they were wronged grievously by a noble, they'd go kill the noble's peasants. Or burn his crops so, again, then some peasants would starve.

          We're not talking about power hungry tyrants. We're talking about ordinary citizens who found it perfectly normal to go kill some peasants to get their point across.

          Or if you look farther back in time, you see such examples as Sparta. A relatively small city held a much larger population of hellots in line by sheer terror. Kids' graduation to adult consisted of being sent to terrorize and kill a few hellots for sport and training.

          Basically, nowadays it may be the sport of kings, but back then it was a mass sport. That's already some progress.
      • by jandersen (462034) on Friday December 14, 2007 @08:10AM (#21696280)
        So, yeah, let's instead believe bogus shiny-happy fairy-tales where surely the biggest advantage was being sexy

        Hmm, something seems to have touched a nerve there. So, you don't like the thought about being nice as a selective force? No problem.

        Your reasoning isn't entirely wrong; but then again it isn't entirely true either. You seem to want to make evolution something that only favours violence and selfishness, which is a rather one-sided view of the world. I haven't read this particular article, but I am familiar with this topic - it isn't as if this is an entirely new idea.

        What is evolution really, when you think about it? One component is the fact that in each generation of organisms, some will survive and have descendants and some won't. It is worth remembering that you don't have to be particularly 'fit' in any way in order to produce desendants, you may just be lucky. The thing about 'fitness' only comes in when you look at it statistically - over time, and over a large population, it makes sense to say that the ones that kept surviving and reproducing had traits that made them more 'fit for survival'. This also means is that at any given point in time there is likely to be a proportion of traits in the population that are not advantageous, just to make that point clear.

        Another factor that is worth keeping in mind is that the environment is not something seperate from the population. In the case of human evolution this becomes especially important as our numbers grow; it is not surprising to see that genes that influence our social abilities seem to have evolved rapidly since we began to live in larger communities than the typical family groups we see with other primates. Another area where our sheer force in numbers has been important is in diseases; the more people and the close they live together, the more they will contaminate their environment and the more they will pass on infections etc, so we are under a large pressure when it comes to evolving resistence against infections.

        The examples you mention, on the other hand, don't seem to make too much sense. Humans are apes; our great advantage has been adaptability; our teeth and gut are general purpose, we are able to both walk and climb, and we have learned to work together - and it is that cooperative ability that has been our greatest asset, and it is probably also the single greatest factor contributing to the evolution of our intelligence. It has also made us the most efficient hunters on the planet - quite well done for a species that is not a predator.

        As for what you call 'bogus shiny-happy fairy-tales' - I assume you mean the idea that things like beauty and altruism play a role in evolution. Well, I'm sorry to upset your view on the world, but they do. Altruism is still one of the things we don't entirely understand from an evolutionary point of view, but we can see it happen, even amongst chimpanzees; ie. it is a FACT. Beauty, on the other hand is not difficult to understand - beautiful people are people who look healthy (ie. likelier to produce good offspring), whose facial expressions are mostly kind (probably better at bringing up succesful offspring) etc etc. Our ide of beauty is a result of evolution and therefore important in evolution. The same goes for our morals - our moral rules are the ones that have been valuable for our survival as species.

        You refer to some historical facts or factoids about the Romans etc. However, our written history doesn't stretch much more than about 5000 years, and large scale evolution doesn't happen quite as fast as that, which tends to invalidate your arguments. You may not like the idea that physical beauty is important, so you try paint an ugly picture of mankind; yes, even an ugly man or woman can have sex and thus offspring, but looks are after all only one factor in this - an ugly person may have other traits that make him/her very attractive, such as a caring personality, or high social intelligence. But physical beauty is an important factor f
        • No, you misunderstand my point. Probably I didn't explain it well enough.

          I'm _not_ saying that altruism and arts are useless. God forbid.

          I'm saying only that evolution was most often a matter of predator and prey trying to out-evolve each other. In this case, the humans were both predator and prey. That's really all I'm saying.

          Maybe altruism played some role in being able to survive. Could be. Sticking together certainly did. But that's already a bit of a tangent. And I never intended to say that altruism w
  • Eugenics works, but is of course worse than the disease. I guess all you can do is buy some new clothes and get a car with a pussy magnet.
    • Re:Eugenics (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@MOSCOWgmail.com minus city> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:57PM (#21690082) Journal
      I'd call into question whether or not it works...Far as I know we've had no solid scientific trials among human-type animals.

      The root of the problem is that someone really has to know what traits are going to be best for the entire species, otherwise they're just extinguishing genetic diversity in pursuit of a goal which may turn out to be a stupid goal.

      There is an economic equivalent to eugenics; communism. The idea there is that the government is smart enough to be able to decide what everyone should be producing and what everything should cost. It's an utter disaster...Whenever you add free market reforms to a communist country you can watch their economies go nuts.

      The reason for this is simple. Having a few thousand people making decisions about what will benefit millions doesn't work as well as all those millions making those decisions about what will benefit themselves...No matter how smart or well informed that minority is, they can't be reliably informed about the minutiae of every member of the majorities' positive and negative qualities.

      What is dating but a process by which you weed out people whom you believe to be inferior to share your genes with? It's a long term research project carried out by literally billions of people, and you really think that a few people with an idea of what the "perfect" person will be like can do it better? That's some serious arrogance.
      • I'm always perplexed when people blame eugenics on evolution. It's not as if no one had thought to wipe out a particular group of people before Darwin came along. Obviously if you kill all the blind people, there won't be blind people. If you kill the Jews, there won't be Jews.

        After Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, people just took what they were doing before and rephrased it as pseudoscience. Now you have Hovind and other creationists saying that the eugenics crowd were motivated by evolutionary t

  • by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:38PM (#21688774)
    In my next incarnation, I want six digits on both hands, a tail, and four nipples. So just grin and bear it, people!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:38PM (#21688784)
    It doesn't matter if we evolve, because we change the environment around us as opposed to adapting to it. Therefore evolution has been irrelevant as a factor of survival since humans learned to use tools.
    • by Toonol (1057698) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:48PM (#21688952)
      Unless we are evolving to get better at using tools.
      • by Starteck81 (917280) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @06:17PM (#21690406)

        Unless we are evolving to get better at using tools.

        Unfortunately my experiences in computer support do not seem to support that theory. :-/
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TempeTerra (83076)
        Not quite what you're talking about, but look at The Baldwin Effect [wikipedia.org]. It's basically the idea that general learning ability can be selected for as a survival trait - sure seemed to work for us.

        You might also be interested in the idea of the 'extended phenotype', a term apparently coined by Richard Dawkins during one of his more useful phases. The extended phenotype considers factors beyond simply the body plan of an organism; for instance beavers' dams are part of the extended phenotype of beavers, and techn
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Iron Condor (964856)

          'extended phenotype'

          Calling it "phenotype" does injustice to the fact that it isn't just an expression of genetic information, but carries information itself. Humans are currently three different parallel lines of communication information generationally: genetic, cultural and technological. We're using technology to transmit cultural information, we use culture to propagate technology, we use both to pass on genetic information. We're about to start modifying that genetic information at will (by means of technology - possib

    • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:04PM (#21689304)
      Mod that fellow up! That is exactly right

      . "evolution" is a response to external conditons. Its cold, I grow fur, water means webbed feet etc. With humans cold means another log on the fire and wet means fix the roof. The roof evolves. I do not...
      • by Andrew Kismet (955764) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:24PM (#21689616)
        Biological evolution has ceased, according to yourself.
        However, mental and social evolution continues.
        Any further biological evolution of humans will only be on the "resistance to disease" level, and that which we do ourselves. Transhumanists are gonna love this news. Augmentation's always getting closer.
      • Actually...No. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@MOSCOWgmail.com minus city> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @06:05PM (#21690240) Journal
        If you really think evolution is limited to gross physical changes, you've got a really poor understanding. We may not be evolving hooves or fur, but resistance to diseases, resistance to certain types of chemicals that are now more abundant in our environments, ability to withstand a lifestyle that would have been utterly alien to our cave-dwelling ancestors...All these things represent tremendous environmental pressures.

        Couple that with a vastly increased species population, representing a staggering amount of genetic diversity, I have no problem believing that we're still evolving, and indeed, that the rate may very well have increased.
    • So what if we change the environment? That doesn't stop evolution. There are always traits that will give an advantage, and those that will give a disadvantage, and there are always novel ways of combining previous traits that can lead to something new. Evolution has never been about survival, it is about passing on genes. And every organism out there changes the environment. Organisms define the environment: prey to some, predator to others, host to still others. To stop evolution in humanity, one would need to ensure that every human on the planet had exactly the same chance to pass on their genes as every other.
    • It doesn't matter if we evolve, because we change the environment around us as opposed to adapting to it.

      Well that's partly right, but that's assuming that we can control our environment. Our man-made environment does harm us in ways we can't seem to do a lot about. Think about the high availability of high energy foods leading to disease, inactivity and pollution, a high rate and fast transmission of infectious diseases. None of these things will change soon. We might start to lose the genes that evolved to store energy in places with

      We are sexually attracted to people who look to be thriving (health

    • Some of us are evolving to better tolerate artificial estrogens in our environment.
      Some of us are evolving to better use genetically modified food.
      Some of us are evolving to better tolerate a starch centric diet.

      etc.

      If some aspect of our environment affects our ability to reproduce (and the artificial estrogens are a huge issue) then we will either go extinct or some random group of humans will get a mutation that can ignore that factor and they will reproduce better.

      For now, I think meme's have a lot more
    • Humans are no different, other than perhaps on the scale they operate. There is no real difference between birds building a nest and us building a house.

      Nor is our use of tools any more perfect than (other) animals, we do not have mastery over everything (eg HIV, anti-biotic resistant bacteria) and until we do (ie forever) evolution will still have a role.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:35PM (#21689780)
      Natural selection tries to weed out a huge % of the population, but medical science overrides it.

      Nature determines that weak and premature infants should die, yet they are kept alive and become adults. Nature determines that some adults should not be breeding, yet fertility drugs override this. Nature determines that various people should die by heart failure etc, but drugs keep them alive.

      Sure, these are all good from the emotional point of view of keeping people alive and making childless couples happy etc, but does it really help the human gene pool? Perhaps Mother Nature had a good reason to kill off a weak child or prevent that infertile couple from breeding. The long term impacts can only be known in a few generations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cairnarvon (901868)
        Good to see the type of ignorance that led to the eugenics movement is still alive and well in the world today.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gwait (179005)
        Odd how people think humans have stopped evolving.

        A huge evolution experiment is sadly taking place in Africa, with the Aids epidemic.

        The flu pandemic of 1918 was a significant evolutionary event, estimated deaths of up to 40 million people worldwide. http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/ [stanford.edu]

        The next big flu pandemic will also cause evolutionary change. Read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond for many examples of pandemics in recent history - including the 95% wipeout of North and South American natives who had never been pr
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:38PM (#21688786)
    ...advanced to the point where really stupid people can safely breed with other really stupid people, the predicions of "The Marching Morons" [wikipedia.org] and "Idiocracy" [wikipedia.org] will come to pass.
    • by Selfbain (624722) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:42PM (#21688846)
      I think thats highly unlikely as we are on the verge of obtaining the ability to write our own DNA as we see fit.
      • by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:53PM (#21689082) Journal
        that is if copyrights don't get applied to genes like they do anything else. we may have the ability to alter our genes at will technologically but politically we are absolutely screwed. companies are already filing patents on plant and animal genes, even breeds that contain these genes- I shudder to think of what would happen if any of this were applied to people.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by orclevegam (940336)
          And if the corporations don't screw us, the religious right will.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mdielmann (514750)
            Don't worry about the religious right. It's the nut-jobs you'll have to worry about. Imagine a world with lots of people tagged with similar retroviruses that are demographically selected. I read a book once about an advance in genetics where the Koran could be imprinted in people's DNA through a retrovirus. This gave those who wanted to kill all Muslims a targeted vector for doing it. So they released a virus that gave everyone a flu (or whatever, it was just an infection vector) and if you had that s
      • Well, it's a race to a photo finish, then. Gattaca or Idiocracy? Which force will overwhelm the other?
    • but... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DisownedSky (905171) *

      Fertility rates are coming down everywhere, even in the developed world, where the exigencies of daily survival still tend to apply some selection pressure on intelligence.

      Since H.G. Wells, there has been some speculation that the human species will split into two distinct gene pools (I wouldn;t say "species," since interbreeding remains a possibility). However, if one gene pool should find itself supporting the other, larger pool, the burden would eventually become too great and the two pools would eit

  • sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spleen_blender (949762) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:41PM (#21688824)
    We just have to feel special, don't we...

    As if all of the sudden when you gain intelligence, the rules of evolution change to a new set. Perhaps the term evolution should always be prefaced with a qualifier, such as "biological" or "human" where the qualifier has distinct meaning, and can make it a subset of other qualifiers. It just seems to me that the increase in our intellectual evolution is no different than biological evolution. Not to say we shouldn't put our effort into researching cognitive science, it is a remarkable field. But I think looking at it in this way makes us feel special for no good reason and can muddy the waters more than clear them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      TFA's not saying that evolved by conscious choice to evolve -- rather that we evolved based on the choices we made as a species. We chose to move to environments in which we had to adapt. We came out of Africa, but moved to Europe and Asia -- considerably colder climates with a wider variety of different and harsher conditions. And that when we changed our environment through our culture, we adapted to that new environment as well...in essence, we caused our own evolution, even though that's not what we
    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:02PM (#21689262) Journal
      Your inference that there has been intellectual evolution is rather disturbing, one look at US politics should tell you that not much intelligence evolution has really occurred. It might do to remind you that after the invention of the modern day food can, it took almost 50 years to invent the fscking can-opener.

      There are a million things I could give as an example, but think about this, if you did not have modern tools, eating would still be a big part of your daily activity, or trying to eat. I think that early man was probably very intelligent also, just didn't have all the mod-cons that we enjoy today. Without electricity, there is little reason to invent a sit-com, and without petroleum, little reason to invent NASCAR. Technology is a progressive linear-like process, it did not simply happen one day. Intelligence, laboring under the burden of little technology, will seem as though it is less than what we have today. All that we really have today is more KNOWLEDGE, not more intelligence.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by merreborn (853723)

        Your inference that there has been intellectual evolution is rather disturbing, one look at US politics should tell you that not much intelligence evolution has really occurred

        The fact that college students spend years studying the scientific discoveries of men who have been dead for centuries is something of a testament to that. Much of what we know about math, physics, chemistry, and philosophy was explained by the likes of Euler, Newton, and Descartes.

        Not to say we haven't come a long way since then, bu

  • Broken circularity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Empiric (675968) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:44PM (#21688886)
    So, we're talking about teleological choices, made by teleological beings, driving a non-teleological process?
    • by mrpeebles (853978)
      I thought teleology was a metaphysical subject about which natural selection had to be agnostic. In any case, I know that most of the time my actions don't produce the result I had in mind for them!
  • who comes from that classic heartless eugenics-oriented pov that we as a species are getting physically unfit as we allow the autistic, the downs symdrome, the epileptic, etc., to survive and breed. in classic trollish fashion, he insisted the cavemen had it right when they just left the old, infirm, etc. to die outside in the snow

    my response was to question the supremacy of physical fitness. for example, the rise of humans in larger groups, cities, drives the emphasis on new genes: human empathy, for example, being a highly desirable survival advantage in large groups. and the less physically fit in large groups can still contribute to the survival of the group. such that a well-organized group of less physically fit humans can outcompete very fit physical specimens that unfortunately aren't as well wired for human empathy, and therefore are out there, loners, failng to coordinate with othwer humans for the successful passing on of their genes. the rise of cities changing the emphasis onto new genes for survival

    which, ironically, given his utter lack of empathy for the less physically fit, put him on the lower end of the "fit" gene pool, where "fit" now means more empathetic, not bigger biceps

    perhaps we should leave him out in the snow i wondered? ;-)
    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:56PM (#21689130)
      he insisted the cavemen had it right when they just left the old, infirm, etc. to die outside in the snow

      AFAIK even very early cavemen didn't do that, there's evidence of cavemen taking care of the crippled and elderly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by plague3106 (71849)
      who comes from that classic heartless eugenics-oriented pov that we as a species are getting physically unfit as we allow the autistic, the downs symdrome, the epileptic, etc., to survive and breed. in classic trollish fashion, he insisted the cavemen had it right when they just left the old, infirm, etc. to die outside in the snow

      You do realize this is how evolution works right? That's EXACTLY what every other complex organism does.

      Honestly, what is the benefit to our species as a whole to continue to cre
      • by Raffaello (230287) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:17PM (#21689506)
        This is an oversimplified view of how evolution works. In fact, it's so oversimplified as to be grossly misleading.

        Evolution works by *differential* reproductive success. This does not require in any way that we leave the "unfit" out in the snow. Their own genetic disadvantages will see to it that they simply leave fewer offspring.

        By intervening directly (the "leave them out in the snow" school) you run the very significant risk that you mistakenly identify as "unfit" individuals whose genomes contain significant survival advantages that would otherwise be passed on in the gene pool.

        IOW, not being omniscient, people are likely to identify as "unfit" individuals who they simply don't like, feel threatened by, etc., and prevent from reproducing people who are, in fact, carriers of genes with significant survival value.

        It's called "natural selection" for a reason: the inevitable expression of each individual's genome will of necessity result in some individuals leaving more offspring than others. These individuals are, *by definition* the fittest. No need to intervene - it's already taken care of.

        Note that in artificial selection, breeders can only select for heritable traits that they observe. In the process they often end up with breeds that carry significant deleterious traits because the breeders were not aware that they were inadvertently selecting for these as well.

        It all comes down to humility about our lack of omniscience. Anything short of a complete understanding of all the complexity of the human genome, epigenetics, and how these interact with various past, present and yes, even future environments, will lead to the unintended, but potentially disastrous reduction of variation and loss of genes of significant fitness.

        The system (natural selection) works well precisely because there is nothing driving it except the objective reality of navigating the myriad vagaries of life successfully to the goal (from evolution's standpoint) of reproducing. Let's not pretend that we understand all of it fully and interfere with it.
      • by 2nd Post! (213333) <.gundbear. .at. .pacbell.net.> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:18PM (#21689514) Homepage
        What is the benefit to our species as a whole to create genetically wrong humans?

        Excuse me?

        How about the geniuses with perfectly sound minds but unsound bodies? Like Stephen Hawking?

        Are you saying the only value humans have is their ability to survive independently of each other? That children who cannot hunt down a buffalo without the help of a parent, or even a peer, is useless? Yet what is cooperation to achieve things greater than an individual (the space shuttle, the pyramids, the aqueducts of Rome, raising a single child) except "depending on society for the rest of their life"?

        Perfectly FIT people depend on society their whole lives! Can you generate your own electricity, recycle your own trash, smelt your own steel, craft your own furniture, etc?

        So even genetically wrong people can offer things, such as their minds, their voices, their arts, etc, to humanity. On top of that, their survival broadens our genepool; what if the AIDs resistance virus lies in a mildly autistic child? Or the resistance to the next bird flu pandemic lies in a mildly retarded child?
      • therefore, you are on the lower end of the "fit" gene pool

        where "fit" now means larger empathy, not larger biceps

        therefore, we should leave you out in the snow ;-)
        • by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @06:01PM (#21690166) Homepage
          Altruistic tendency is considered "fit" when dealing with social animals (anything with packs, herds, or tribes). Empathy helps with altruism. It means we make personal sacrifices in order to help the group as a whole (because the group shares many common genes with us).

          Empathy so extreme that it hurts society, such as allocating resources away from growing our numbers to extending the lifespans of the severely disabled is NOT evolutionary altruistic.
          • agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

            too much empathy is a bad thing

            witness modern city dwellers who do not breed, but devote massive resources to the pampering of small yapping ratdogs

            gene failure right there... for the humans, not the ratdogs

            for the ratdogs, it's the genetic jackpot: what started with a virile wolf who decided to follow the humans around for scraps rather than hunt on its own, many moons ago, has now warped into a small retarded spastic defenseless ratdog. and yet it has a survival advantage like no wolf in the history of wo
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by 2nd Post! (213333)
            It IS evolutionary beneficial, however, if it means it broadens the diversity of our genepool.

            What if the severely disabled (with the ability and the inclination to reproduce) have the genes for AIDs resistance? Bird-flu resistance?

            You don't know a priori which genes are important until a selective pressure makes them important. Early optimization is a bad choice in that case. It is a question of degree; how disabled is too disabled?
      • compassion (Score:3, Interesting)

        It could be that the compassion we show to the old and infirm is just a by-product of the compassion we have for our own kids and even ourselves. In other words, a recognition that this, too, is our lot in time. That compassion, that working together to protect each other, just might improve the survivability of the set of genes that make up the individuals we're talking about. The evolution of compassion and altruism is a very hot topic. I wouldn't dismiss it, or the significance of compassion to our s
    • Next time, point out to him that since people with Down's Syndrome can't breed for purely biological reasons, he's clearly too ignorant to be allowed to breed himself.

      "fit" has never meant bigger biceps. There's a reason the average man has smaller biceps than the average gorilla.
      • what "fit" means is constantly changing. fat people are now seen as unfit. well, we live in an age where the food supply is rock solid dependable. there's no need for a biological reserve, and all of the cardiovascular and other health related deficicts associated with a a lot of adipose tissue

        but in previous ages of man, ages of sporadic starvation, the fat were most fit. and that was what, a century or two ago all around the world? still real today in some parts of africa?
  • Homo Superior (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SMACX guy (1003684) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:52PM (#21689042) Homepage
    Companions the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks -- those who write new values on new tablets. Companions the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:56PM (#21689134) Homepage Journal
    hot asian and hispanic chicks around.

    Oh.

    Wait.

    Never mind.

    Yay, evolution!
  • Just watch how quickly the genes for HIV resistance will spread in Africa.
    I'll bet if we look closely we will be able to find mutations for plague resistance in European populations. Talk about selection pressure if 30% of the population died.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CFTM (513264)
      Uh I think this might possibly sort of be what you're talking about but I don't really understand it :)

      I love the internet.

      A mutant allele of the chemokine receptor CCR5 gene (CCR5-Delta32), which confers resistance to HIV-1 infection, is believed to have originated from a single mutation event in historic times, and rapidly expanded in Caucasian populations, owing to an unknown selective advantage. Among other candidates, the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis was implicated as a potential source of strong selective pressure on European populations during medieval times. Here, we report amplifications of the CCR5-Delta32 DNA sequence from up to 2900-year-old skeletal remains from different burial sites in central Germany and southern Italy. Furthermore, the allele frequency of CCR5-Delta32 in victims of the 14th century plague pandemic in Lubeck/northern Germany was not different from a historic control group. Our findings indicate that this mutation was prevalent already among prehistoric Europeans. The results also argue against the possibility of plague representing a major selective force that caused rapid increase in CCR5-Delta32 gene frequencies within these populations.

      Linked here [nih.gov]

  • by Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:01PM (#21689240)

    I read the first article and discussion; the impression I got was that by "accelerated evolution" the author meant "more diversity", typified by this comment [slashdot.org]:

    Mutations that in earlier times were fatal are now viable. They may now lead to offspring. So these mutations will live on more than before. We have more mutations surviving and spreading, we have more diversity, not less.

    The idea being that everyone gets to reproduce these days and that there is no longer a heavy selection process weeding out "unfit" characteristics. Now this article seems to indicate that selection is more intense than ever. I don't see how you can have, at the same time, a more intense selection process and higher than usual diversity.

  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:05PM (#21689312)
    ... to tell us that to some degree, we are... intelligently designed.
  • That's not a new theory at all; I first read about that in the book "The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature" by Geoffrey Miller - good book, worth a read.
  • The summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by ucblockhead (63650) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:11PM (#21689426) Homepage Journal
    The summary seems to have little relationship to the article. The article doesn't say a damn thing about choice, nor does it at all imply that humans intentionally directed their own evolution (as the summary implies.)

    Prior to this, evolutionary scientists assumed that the power of culture was so strong that it swamped evolutionary effects by essentially keeping people alive where they otherwise couldn't have. What this says is that no, that is not true, and that the human race evolved to adapt to new environments just like every other species. Essentially what this means is that our brains let us survive in new environments (for example, the arctic, which without knowledge of clothing and shelter would kill a human quick) and then those that did so evolved to adapt to the environment (for example, the way the Inuit tend to deal better with high fat diets like you'd expect living on seals.) This wasn't by any sort of choice. This was because the ancient Inuit who had cholesterol problems all died off.

    This is, of course, all something that happened in the past. We aren't entering any new environments, but even if we were, the death rate has become so amazingly low, that any sort of evolution is hard to imagine. Evolutionary works fastest when lots of people are dying.

    The name for selection that depends on choice is "sexual selection" and it is found in many, many species and was recognized from the beginning. The extent this happened in humans is unknown. This article says nothing about that.
  • The Ascent of Man (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sakusha (441986) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:18PM (#21689520)
    This is a pretty old theory. It's the basis of the 1970's book and TV show "The Ascent of Man" by Jacob Bronowski. His final chapter (as I recall it, it's been years since I read it) says that human evolution accelerated because of "cultural evolution." In other words, Man is the only species that can pass its knowledge to future generations by means of words. This allows each generation to evolve beyond the previous, without having to create everything from scratch. But Bronowski also said that alongside Cultural Evolution, there was also real biological evolution, because people tend to fall in love with people like themselves, and intelligent people marry intelligent people, a form of natural selection for intelligence.
  • I don't think intelligence came from self-selection breding. Look at it this way: we don't go after the smart chick. We go after the hot chick. Sometimes the smart chick is the hot chick, but stereotypes suggest this is the exception rather than the rule.
    • by burndive (855848)
      The set of hot chicks is not disjoint from the set of hot chicks (nor is that union disjoint from the set of chicks who want to have a family).
  • By virtue of our aesthetic and utilitarian preferences we ourselves have been responsible for molding the present human form and consciousness.

    Uh, doesn't that apply to all other animals too? There's a reason, say, flying squirrels don't run around humping anything at random, or humping sick and dying flying squirrels. I suppose we have the probably somewhat special ability to reason who the mate best able to care for young, as simply understanding what people need to do to do well in human society requires a certain amount of reason.

    But last I heard, there were some pretty awesome lizards with three different types of males in a complicated comp

  • Here's the take away (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wytcld (179112) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @05:59PM (#21690116) Homepage
    It's long been claimed that the development of human culture freed us from evolutionary pressures, by separating us from our prior, "natural" niches. Thus we may be "evolved from monkeys," but that's enough evolution, thank you. We've stopped doing that nasty stuff!

    The current Ah ha!, backed up by analysis of genetic clues, is that of course evolution applies to creatures in any niche, and the rapid change of available niches forces relatively rapid evolution. Since a niche largely comprised of human culture will actually often change faster than an "merely natural" one, instead of "saving us" from biological evolution, it forces biological evolution to run faster - with the increased populations our cultures support providing more raw material to work the evolutionary process across.

    So our cultures are part of the loop that forces biological evolution - both by defining many of the biases of "sexual selection," and also by defining the niches our fitness is for.

    It also, of course, can work backwards: the "least evolved" of us work for their own benefit by trying to revert the culture to prior states, in which they used to have some genetic advantage. This is known as the "conservative" strategy.
  • by ignavus (213578) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @06:03PM (#21690198)
    Doofus: "I wonder if sticking my head in the fire would improve the human race?"

    Smart person: "I wonder if sticking Doofus's head in the fire would improve the human race?"

    The Doofuses selected themselves out. Evolution. The smart people helped them. Accelerated evolution.

    Try it. Put your head into the fire and watch the results. Go on - it's for science.
  • by schweini (607711) on Friday December 14, 2007 @01:55AM (#21694534)
    I don't like it when people see evolution as something that can be measured, or something that only happens genetically, etc. Isn't evolution simply a synonym for "things change, and some things change in a way that sucks for them"? What i mean to say is that yes, we are at a special moment in history, starting to have the power of genetics, and thus the basis of (a part of) biological evolution in reach of having it under our control. But genes are just the means to an end. So is the fashion-du-jour of what is sexually attractive, or what way of thinking is 'better' than others. In a certain way, evolution doesn't even have to be limited to biology (maybe it is by definition, but IMHO shouldn't be), since every physical and chemical reaction also strifes to equilibrium points, in accordance with their environment - just as animals and therefore humans do. Whether this happens because genes change, or because we decide consciously what we want our offspring to be like, is kind of irrelevant, since transhumanism (which i am a big fan of) wouldn't be the end of evolution, but just another form of it. Just as when fishes first started crawling on the land, it just changed some of the rules of the game, but the game is still the same.

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