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Studying the Roots of Individuality 42

An anonymous reader sends an article from Quanta Magazine about research into individuality — how behavior varies (or doesn't) when genetics and environment are as similar as possible. Scientists are taking various strains of fruit fly that are genetically almost identical (the result of extreme inbreeding) and raising them alone in environments that are exact copies of each other. Then they run the fruit flies through a series of decision-making tests to see how varied their responses are. Some fruit fly strains show a high degree of variance for tasks like navigating a maze. Other strains show almost no variance, suggesting there's a genetic component to individuality. The scientists also found that manipulating a certain set of neurons in the fruit flies's brains could increase the variation in choices they make. One theory suggests that evolution tends to select for genes that increase individuality by making it more difficult for predators to predict what the prey will do next.
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Studying the Roots of Individuality

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2015 @06:42PM (#49677363)
    they dissect the DNA. Good Luck!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    and then tell me the simulation theory [] isn't a perfectly valid possibility.


  • by ZippyTheChicken ( 3134311 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2015 @06:54PM (#49677431)
    Many people believe that the use of drugs whether legal or illegal have no effect on your thoughts and decisions. This is a common belief among people who use marijuana but consider the millions of children who are on prescribed drugs like Ritalin. Anything that alters the way your mind functions will have an effect on your thought processes. Whether its a glass of wine, crack cocaine or a pharmaceutical. All you have to do is watch the disclosures on almost any pharmaceutical commercial and you will see warnings that are very dramatic but true. One product used to help people quit smoking is known to cause suicides. While it is interesting to watch studies on fruit flies .. we should all understand its application in our lives. Anything that alters your perception of reality whether prescribed or self applied will cause changes in your thought patterns. Most often those changes are negative in promotion of a health and well being but that is not to say that small numbers of people can't be helped by products like anti psychotics.. keep this in mind the next time you have a drink to combat the harsh world out there.. or pop a pill to substitute one addiction for another... or smoke some weed because you just don't want to give a ##### for a while.. because its changing you for the worse.
    • Is it reality that alters perceptions or perceptions that alter reality? Are we lost in the mix or are we a non-sequitur? Do elements sharing outer valence shells determine reality or is it God? :bubbling noise:

      • Perceptions do not alter reality, otherwise a person hallucinating would affect the reality of others. And if you fall back onto the argument that the others are seeing the person hallucinate, you're stretching the meaning of your query into nonsense.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          But perceptions DO alter reality, just not that overtly. We tend to see what we expect to see and our actions based on what we see affect the state of the world and what other people see.

          Consider how the perception that only an R or a D can win the election keeps people voting for an R or a D making sure that only Rs and Ds win the elections.

      • Are we lost in the mix or are we a non-sequitur?

        I'm pretty sure that I'm not an it does not follow.

    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2015 @08:43PM (#49678025)

      Seriously? Perhaps you meant lingering *long term* effects? I mean the whole point of taking Ritalin, caffeine, marijuana, alcohol, or any other mind-altering substance is to alter your thoughts and decisions. Though of course your brain is a self-reinforcing system, and as such anything that alters it's patterns short-term will tend to cause lingering long-term effects, especially with chronic usage.

      But what makes you so sure those changes will be for the worse? It's not like we're some sort of divine beings created in an initially perfect form - we're animals with extensive symbolic reasoning systems bolted on at the last minute. Our basic natures are as brutish and shortsighted as any other animal.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Changing you, certainly. But I see no argument for why it would necessarily be for the worse in all cases.

      Also keep in mind the other things that may be changing your thinking for the worse, such as watching the news, looking at advertising, worrying about the bills, slavish adherence to a work schedule that offers little time off and subtly penalizes actually using even the little that is offered, etc.

    • Basically everything does have an effect on you, but defining it as better or worse is not anywhere near as clear as you try to make it. We barely have any kind of a grasp on mental health. Oddly enough, we seem to be stuck on the idea that anything that makes us happy is bad for us, despite happiness being clearly important to our mental well being.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is really annoying how PNAS is trying to get everyone to use their Beta Eyeball viewer so you can't get a pdf from the article page. I tried it, didn't care much for the split screen and suspected it would somehow be modified to stop me from downloading and saving for myself. Bring back the pdfs.

    Also, I like this paper. They correctly use p-values in figure 1, there is a real null hypothesis.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2015 @07:29PM (#49677637)

    What I observe with the majority of people: they are fully capable of being free-thinking individuals, but the main way they use this capability is to follow the crowd.

    With herd animals that are prey creatures (i.e. cattle, sheep) this makes sense in terms of survival. There is safety in numbers. Stray from the herd, and you get targeted by ever-present predators.

    With humans, who are at the top of the food chain and generally have no natural predators, it's just a form of cowardice. I'm not sure the DNA of fruit flies is going to provide a satisfying explanation here, at least not one that can be extrapolated to include people, fascinating though it may be.

    • Re:On Individuality (Score:5, Interesting)

      by slew ( 2918 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2015 @08:12PM (#49677863)

      I don't know if simply following the crowd is a form of cowardice, more often an expression of human make as social beings.

      You may argue that humans are at the top of the food chain, but more often than not, it takes a village to assure long term survival and being social beings is one behavior designed to gain acceptance in a village.

      On the other hand, we tend to detest what is too similar to ourselves, so in a sense humans are like skyrmion (bosons that sometimes exhibit fermion exclusion statistics). At least that's one way to look at it if you extrapolate things from the behavior of sub-atomic particles ;^)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      With herd animals that are prey creatures (i.e. cattle, sheep) this makes sense in terms of survival. There is safety in numbers. Stray from the herd, and you get targeted by ever-present predators.

      That may have something to do with this work. They saw that while on average a group of flies is equally likely to turn right or left, different individuals were biased to turn one way more often than the other (eg right 75% of the time). So in a large group of flies there would be ~50% turning one way or the oth

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Immerman ( 2627577 )

      You forget though that humans spent most of our evolutionary history as prey animals. It's only in the last few hundred millenia that we've begun to ascend to "dominant predator" status, and much of that ascension has been due directly to our much enhanced ability to cooperate and share knowledge within our tribal groups. We are very much a herd animal, and as such a predilection to herd-animal instincts is entirely reasonable.

  • Where is he when you need him?
  • Harvard law of animal behavior:

    When stimulations are repeatedly applied under precisely controlled conditions the animal reacts as it damn well pleases

    See here: []

  • Probably just the first stage of some mad scientist's research after watching the Boys from Brazil. []
  • Please don't attempt to extrapolate human behaviour from the actions of tiny, tiny insects. That is all.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll