Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

—J.B.S. Haldane
Follow Up

See this interesting article and the difficulty the ranching industry has with gay sheep. Oh, and this summary of recent advances in evolutionary thought.

More Fodder

Keep in mind that "man" became the spear-wielding hunter quite late in his evolution. For it appears that social skills and tribal bonding started earlier for defense against a host of predators… including tree-climbing cats. So, compassion and "goodness" are built into our genes … but only for the immediate family or tribe … you know, the pack. You want goodness to reign, then you include those people. Only outsiders are perps. This idea was first advocated by Peter Kropotkin, an early Darwinian and Marxist:

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense -- not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

From Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution

The Genetics of Altruism

I've just had the week from hell. It started with getting slammed by some flu mutation that found me deliriously walking into walls. Fever, aches, etc. I slept on the floor in the other room to make sure my wife got some good sleep (and didn't want to expose her too much). I woke up with a stiff and sore back.

I didn't feel like doing my morning yoga routine, but wish I had when a coughing fit threw out my back. I then spent the next couple of days in bed, and moping around the house like Frankenstein's monster.

It is weeks like this that really demonstrate evolution.

Why? Well, first of all, I've had the flu before… couple of times, for sure. Why do I keep getting it? It evolves and mutates its chemical signature so that my antibodies don't register it as the same thing I got last year.

Second, sprained backs. Think about it. The first adaptation from our common-chimpanzee-ancestor was our knees. We stood upright before our heads swelled to hold our bulbous brains. The back adapted, but not very well. It connects to the pelvis at the wrong angle, and so our muscles compensate. This is why we have this curve at the bottom of our backs.

This works well enough until our thirties, for when we are young, our muscles are typically strong enough to hold everything together, but then they wear out and give out. But by then, the evolutionary damage has been done… we've already passed these faulty back genes on to the next generation.

So if I had lived to forty, I probably wouldn't have lasted much longer, for it is difficult to outrun a smilodon with a sprained back.
So, while flat on my back reading Stephen Jay Gould's Bully For Brontosaurus, I've tried to find solace in my misery… and tried not to think of the smilodons in my closet.

I've also been thinking about the altruism gene. For you know, if natural selection is true, then we must have some gene in us that makes behave nicely to each other. Of course, this gene must be recessive next to the mean and cruel gene.

Of course, while biologists are looking for this gene, Gould explains it very well in the last chapter of his first book, Ever Since Darwin. Let me briefly explain the concept that essentially started when J.B.S. Haldane famously said in a pub one time that, "I'd lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins".

What he meant was that since we get half of our genes from our mother and the other half from our father, each of our siblings would statistically share half of our genes. So, if you are walking through the woods with your three brothers and a bear steps out, you can sacrifice yourself to save your three brothers, since all of your genes will flee with them. (see this article for more on the concept of Kin Selection).

Once we start changing our thinking from "survival of the fittest" to the more accurate idea of "propagation of genes" (that's right, it's all about the sex), we clearly understand how and why one can pass on one's genes without direct reproduction. Think of a wolf pack. Only the dominate pair actually mate and have puppies. The other adult wolves help to raise them, since being in a family, the puppies are probably cousins, and so a collection of eight puppies will contain each of the adult's genes.

I've heard people talk about how homosexuality doesn't make evolutionary sense, since someone who prefers the same gender wouldn't have offspring, and therefore, wouldn't pass on their genes, and therefore those genes would die off relatively quickly.

But humans, like wolves, are pack animals, and our survival for thousands and thousands of years have been based on small, closely-related tribes… packs. And having homosexuals around to help raise children because they contain their genes may have helped to maintain early human social structures. That's right, it may have been homosexuals that strengthened the family.

My point to all of this rambling? Nothing really, other than I'm just really fascinated by how well evolution predicts and explains the world.

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