On Evolution

I don’t get the Theory of Evolution. It makes no sense to me. And don’t think I haven’t tried. I read books and articles, spoke to people who do get it.

And yet, the monkey objection (if there was evolution, then how come there are still monkeys around?) makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not trying to be facetious. I really feel this way.

However, I’m lucid enough to recognize that the reason why I don’t get evolution is my own intellectual limitation. If people who have dedicated their lives to the study of evolution say that there is no better explanation available to us right now, then I have no reason to believe that my monkey objection makes more sense than their years of research and scholarship.

I know that if started to bring up the monkey objection in conversations with evolutionary biologists I would sound just like the ignoramuses who triumphantly announce to me that literary criticism is “not real scholarship because anybody can just argue whatever they feel like.”

If only more people were prepared to recognize that there is a slight possibility that their “monkey objections” to a variety of fields of research are only based on their profound ignorance of the fields of study in question.

210 thoughts on “On Evolution”

  1. This, I couldn’t agree more. Where I disagree with evolutionary biologists is there assertion that they are ‘right’. Period. End of story. Don’t be such a jackass for asking. Which I find condescending and insulting.

    I have more respect for archeologists & astronomers. At least when they find evidence that moves their theory (like the age of the universe growing from 6 Billion yrs to 14 Billion over the last 30 years) they admit their still learning.

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    1. Yeah but it’s unlikely you’re going to find an astronomer worth his or her salt would would dispute that the universe began about 14 billion years ago. What exactly happened at the very moment the universe came into being is still quite a bit in the air, but not the fact that it happened back then.

      I’m sorry if all the evolutionary biologists you’ve met came off so hostile, but I bet you’d get the same reaction from an astronomer if you tried to convince them that the universe began 6,000 years ago in a garden in the Middle East.

      Paging voxcorvegis to the thread. Resident science expert type person to the thread.

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      1. And very likely, in another 50 yrs, we’ll find that the universe needs to be 30 billion yrs old to make the math work. To the average folk, it sounds a lot like ‘cooking the books’.

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      2. Patrick :And very likely, in another 50 yrs, we’ll find that the universe needs to be 30 billion yrs old to make the math work. To the average folk, it sounds a lot like ‘cooking the books’.

        Hm well better to change the cookbook when you find out it’s wrong than keep using the same old one for two thousand years.

        Yeah, if evidence 50 years from now suggests the universe is 30 billion years old, and any given team of scientists can vet that evidence independently, we’ll play that into models of the universe.

        The point of science is to always continue expanding our body of knowledge about the world. What is anti-intellectual is when people try to challenge scientific knowledge with a belief system that is thousands of years behind the present models, or that is dependent on political interests. [Dare you to show me how evolution and global warming are politically motivated scientific theories.]

        If the scientific evidence starts pointing away from evolution and global warming – and it’s not from, say, the Discovery Institute – to the point that the majority of the scientific community agrees with said evidence, then I will change my mind. Until then, I’ll keep on assuming that hard-working, highly-trained field researchers and theoreticians – whose stated career objective is not to let personal ideology get in the way of empirical evidence, btw – are not in together on some kind of left-wing cabal to tell everyone that dinosaurs aren’t Satan’s children, or whatever the fuck it is that people who think evolution is “just a theory” think about dinosaurs.

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        1. “Until then, I’ll keep on assuming that hard-working, highly-trained field researchers and theoreticians – whose stated career objective is not to let personal ideology get in the way of empirical evidence, btw – are not in together on some kind of left-wing cabal to tell everyone that dinosaurs aren’t Satan’s children, or whatever the fuck it is that people who think evolution is “just a theory” think about dinosaurs.”

          – That’s my position, too. I don’t understand how radio waves work either. It just boggles my mind that they do, indeed, work. However, I’m happy enough to leave that entire area of human existence to people who are trained in the field.

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      3. You think ‘global warming’ isn’t politically motivated? Then I can only say that you have been brainwashed into the newest religion on earth.

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  2. The thing about the “monkey objection” is that it assumes that we evolved from monkeys and that they should have gone away as we grew from them. That’s not it at all. The deal is that monkeys and humans share a common genetic ancestor, way way back when millions of years ago, and some point along the line different offspring of that ancestor ended up evolving in wildly different ways. All creatures that exist today are the endpoints of their own evolutionary line.

    I highly recommend The Ancestor’s Tale, which traces human evolution back through genetic ancestors shared in common with other living things. It’s very very long, so you might like it just for that, but it’s also quite thorough for the layperson and is written in a very engaging style. The part about the cichlid fish is especially enlightening, as it essentially describes a microcosm of the entire evolutionary process within a very limited time and geography.

    [Please please nobody ad hominem this book just because it’s Dawkins. I’ve got a lot of issues with Dawkins but this is a very good and enlightening book that changed the way I think about nature on a profound level.]

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    1. Thanks, P. rhoeas, I just got to this thread, and as a paleobiologist (I spend my academic life studying evolution), the “monkey objection” drives me insane, too. Sure, there were monkeys and fish and other mammals around before humans. But not the same monkeys and fish and mammals that we see today. It’s not “first came orangutangs, then came great apes, then came humans”.

      It’s: first came an ancestor that was perfectly evolved for the environment that it lived in. It was probably somewhat like modern-day primates. It had hair, and limbs and a lot of similar behaviors we see in primates today. Maybe it was a little different, maybe it did things we (primates) don’t. As time passed, the environment changed (or other evolutionary pressures grew), causing a split of populations of this ancestor. The 2 populations lived in different conditions, and grew apart. Eventually, over many generations, they stopped looking like each other and stopped being able to interbreed. One group became more like orangutangs. One group became more like apes. But they weren’t the orangutangs and apes of today yet. That didn’t happen for many many more generations… enough to get to modern. We didn’t descend from apes. We shared a common ancestor.

      I might also suggest some books by Stephen Jay Gould – he was a fantastic paleobiologist (and a contemporary of E.O. Wilson, and he happens to be my academic grandfather, which is kind of amazing), and he writes extremely well about deep time, and the history of life. I haven’t read nearly enough of his books, so I can’t recommend one off the top of my head, but give me a couple of days and I’ll get back to you on that.

      And Clarissa, “Gravity” is a “Theory”. The word “Theory” in science means that it has been proven so many times, and there is no convincing evidence that says it is wrong. There are very few “Theories” in science. The word we scientists use for the usual English usage of “theory” is “Hypothesis” – educated guess.

      I love this thread, sorry I didn’t get here sooner! Also I will happily discuss this sort of thing (especially evolutionary theory and history of life) ad nauseum. I LOVE this topic and it’s really important and interesting to me.

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      1. “And Clarissa, “Gravity” is a “Theory”. The word “Theory” in science means that it has been proven so many times, and there is no convincing evidence that says it is wrong. There are very few “Theories” in science. The word we scientists use for the usual English usage of “theory” is “Hypothesis” – educated guess.”

        – Erm. . . thank you, I’m aware. There is absolutely no need to condescend.

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        1. bloggerclarissa – Erm. . . thank you, I’m aware. There is absolutely no need to condescend.

          Not meant to, sorry – I’m just used to people saying things like “well it’s only a theory!” – I get defensive, so I usually just state that when I start discussing scientific “theories” versus colloquial “theories”. Pet peeve of mine of the English vs. Scientific languages.

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          1. ” I’m just used to people saying things like “well it’s only a theory!” – I get defensive, so I usually just state that when I start discussing scientific “theories” versus colloquial “theories””

            – But I’m really not one of those people and it’s sad that anybody would suspect me of being one.

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      2. How do you get the average person to wrap their mind around the concepts and magnitude of time that is required for this to happen. Remember, most of humanity thinks the Greeks are ‘ancient’ history – that’s under 10,000 years. How do you get them to understand what can happen when the time involved is 100,000,000 yrs? That’s where I lose my friends & relatives.

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      3. E (The Third Glance) :

        bloggerclarissa – Erm. . . thank you, I’m aware. There is absolutely no need to condescend.

        Not meant to, sorry – I’m just used to people saying things like “well it’s only a theory!” – I get defensive, so I usually just state that when I start discussing scientific “theories” versus colloquial “theories”. Pet peeve of mine of the English vs. Scientific languages.

        Just FYI, “theory” in literary studies also does not mean the colloquial, i.e. “hypothesis” for any old thing. It’s shorthand for “theory of interpretation”, and what it means is a cognitive framework for how to approach problems of how and why texts* are produced and understood. While it’s not a “theory” in the scientific sense of that term, any good theory of interpretation does seek to “close the circle” of hermeneusis [the practice of interpretation], i.e., to account for sociohistorical and anthropological factors contemporary to, influencing, and following a given text, including aesthetics, linguistics, psychology, philosophy, scientific understanding, and any other factors that go into artistic expression. This is why – despite the vitriol of its detractors and the excess of some of its practitioners – I happen to be a big fan of poststructuralist theory, which imho does a more than decent job of accounting for the relationships between what people of diverse backgrounds can know and what they are able to do at any given cultural moment.

        That’s a very elliptical way of putting it but the point is that we’re not just flying off half cocked on this stuff, either. 🙂

        *Generally, “text” can be taken to mean any expression of culture, but traditionally refers to the printed word in particular.

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  3. I take the theory to mean that humans share common ancestors with monkeys, and that at some point “monkey” and “human” became separate entities. We split into two branches of the evolutionary tree. It’s kind of like saying that we didn’t come from monkeys, but we do have a lot of things in common with them. That’s why we’re here, and the monkeys are here, but the common ancestor has disappeared.

    And you’re not an ignoramus. Our whole reality is based on conjecture and subjective labels and measurements. So if literary research is subjective, so is science. (I’ve been reading a lot about quantum mechanics lately; hence the counter-intuitive conclusion.) Some things just seem like they’re more subjective than others because they deal with a human element that isn’t really dealt with in science. Kind of like the quote “I think fish is good, but then I think rain is wet, so who am I to know?” In a way, science is the most subjective, because it involves assigning labels to completely arbitrary things, like time and distance. I think that last sentence needs to be attributed to Einstein–I read it in one of his papers.

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  4. There was a point when modern day homo sapiens (humans) diverged from the evolutionary trajectory of other primates. I think wikipedia does a decent job : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution (there is a paragraph about this divergence). I am not an evolutionary biologist, so I don’t think I am really equipped to provide a more detailed explanation but what I do acknowledge is that at some point in the evolutionary process there was a divergence with home erectus slowly evolving to home sapiens and all other species in between became extinct. The other line with chimpanzees (closest living relative) continued relatively unaltered. I could not find “a” compelling argument to understand why there was just a huge gap in the two trajectories. This seems to be an active area of research and I found a scholarly article on the subject (although published in 1990). I am sure there are others here who could elaborate on this.

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    1. Gosh! Too many spelling errors: home erectus = homo erectus and home sapiens = homo sapiens. This is embarrassing! Apparently I can’t spell!

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  5. The monkey objection. I like that. Not, y’know, the objection per se, (because it really isn’t a good one) but it encapsulates a certain kind of thinking. Once again I am bemused by the seeming synchronicity of online conversations – I was just trying to explain this in a seminar today although in a different context: that the ick principle is not a good way to establish lawfulness.

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    1. “The monkey objection. I like that. Not, y’know, the objection per se, (because it really isn’t a good one) but it encapsulates a certain kind of thinking.”

      – I think that most people are prone to entertaining monkey objections every once in a while. There is so much knowledge that even an encyclopedically educated person cannot keep track. However, recognizing the instances when one engages in monkey objections is what distinguishes a human being from, well, a monkey.

      Wow, I think I just said something profound.

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      1. “However, recognizing the instances when one engages in monkey objections is what distinguishes a human being from, well, a monkey. ”

        I would call that profound, yes. At the heart of it, this is what I think education is for – there being a difference between being educated, and being knowledgeable.

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  6. //And yet, the monkey objection (if there was evolution, then how come there are still monkeys around?) makes a lot of sense to me.//

    I don’t understand evolution either, but on “feeling level” I don’t understand how the monkeys’ (apes are closer to us, so I guess apes’) existence is connected. How is it different than asking why didn’t *everybody* develop into humans? Or, at least, not every other mammal? I “feel” that evolution is not what works best, but what works well enough to survive (or your species dies off). Sometimes features appear by chance and sometimes because of inner-species competition. Could it be that human brains developed as a result of competition with other people?

    On the contrary, when I see apes using tools, a grey parrot Alex showing intelligence on level formerly thought appearing only in mammals
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot)
    (I read Pepperberg’s book about her work. An easy and fascinating read)
    and more… it gives the opposite feeling.

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  7. Biology student here.

    The monkey objection is like saying that beause Europeans colonized the Americas, Europe should no longer exist. The two statements are wrong for exactly the same reason.

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    1. I don’t want to offend the sensibilities of biology students with this ignorant line of argument (ignorant, ignorant, I recognize that this is very stupid), but the “monkey objection” is that we are not seeing anybody in the intermediary stages of evolution, i.e. there are no monkeys who are almost human, 70% human, 20% human, etc.

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      1. According to wikipedia (apologies for not looking up better sources) “human DNA is approximately 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees when comparing single nucleotide polymorphisms”. So there is a connection. Perhaps FellBeast can elaborate.

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      2. Well the deal is that there are intermediate stages, in a very loose sense. But because evolution takes so very very long to show differences as profound as that between a monkey and a human, either the intermediate stages have completely died out in the interim, or they have evolved along their own branches into animals we see alive today – but again, because they had millions of years to undergo further genetic mutation, they’re not going to look very much like people. The early hominids are examples of such intermediate stages.

        And, btw, you’re not an ignoramus. This is one of those nuance thingies that took me a long time to wrap my head around – and most of what I got of it came from my very, very logical and Socratic partner. 🙂 Also you’re specifically refusing to throw out evolutionary science just because you personally don’t understand certain things about it. I really like your comparison to that sort of practice when it comes to literary studies. Not much gets my bra in a knot more than someone without any literary background claiming that poststructuralist theory is complete nonsense because of the Sokal Affair.

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        1. ” Not much gets my bra in a knot more than someone without any literary background claiming that poststructuralist theory is complete nonsense because of the Sokal Affair.”

          – Oh, I know! I can’t tell you how tired I am of that one. It’s the favorite punching bag of people who are terrified of the very idea of critical theory. The long words scare them and they start feeling existential anxieties.

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      3. SB :According to wikipedia (apologies for not looking up better sources) “human DNA is approximately 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees when comparing single nucleotide polymorphisms”. So there is a connection.

        Yeah that’s another thing. There doesn’t need to be a huge percentage difference in DNA structures to account for huge macro-level distinctions between species. I saw on Nova or somewhere that mice have something like 90% identical DNA to humans.

        Perhaps FellBeast can elaborate.

        Please do, FellBeast.

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      4. That’s exactly what a monkey is. A monkey is an animal that’s more human than most, because we split up more recently.

        We don’t have a sliding scale of “humanity” from monkey to human, however, because at some point the two niches of human and monkey were more fit for the environment at the time than something in the middle. I think. I don’t know all that much about speciation

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    1. The cumulative Lagrangian for the Standard Model still has to account for gravity but that’s a hell of a lot further along than “garden in the Middle East”. 🙂

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      1. Now this is my field! Yaaay for talking about the Standard Model! But it does a beautiful job of bringing the other three forces together and it is remarkably successful.

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      2. SB :Now this is my field! Yaaay for talking about the Standard Model! But it does a beautiful job of bringing the other three forces together and it is remarkably successful.

        I love looking at stuff like this anytime I think I should have gone into quantum physics.

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  8. I don’t want to offend the sensibilities of biology students with this ignorant line of argument (ignorant, ignorant, I recognize that this is very stupid),(Clarissa)

    Ah an educated, ignorant. 😉
    Kind of like the that educated citizenry you were talking about earlier. 🙂

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    1. Erm, what?

      I don’t know the Mendeleev table by heart either. And my knowledge of Chinese literature is for shit. Does that make me uneducated?

      An educated person is not a walking encyclopedia. It is somebody who has analytical tools and can apply them to their understanding of reality. Which is what I do when I say that I’m incapable of understanding evolution and prefer to leave the matter in the hands of people who do actual scholarship on the matter.

      Uneducated and stupid people differ from me in that they have no analytical tools that would allow them to realize how stupid it is to pontificate on subjects where they have no training.

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  9. I agree wholeheartedly, that is why it wasnt mostly educated people who were aware of the shenaniggans in regards to the silly wars you americans get yourselves into. BOTH educated and uneducated people can be ignorant as you so clearly indicated. 🙂

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    1. It’s like you aren’t reading my comments at all. I very clearly indicated the exact opposite, but if you need to keep thinking that there is some similarity between the ignorance of the intellectuals and that of the congenitally stupid, I can offer no help.

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  10. P. rhoeas :
    The cumulative Lagrangian for the Standard Model still has to account for gravity but that’s a hell of a lot further along than “garden in the Middle East”.

    Depends on where you think the middle east is. 🙂

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  11. Look up genetic algorithms in an internet search. Genetic algorithms attempt to mimic evolution to design things that work, among other things. They do work, and work very well, for designing electronic circuits that work, whether cell phones or video monitors, etc. So there is not any serious doubt that evolution works as a process. It is a process that engineers can mimic to solve problems that they have no idea how to solve, or that would be far more expenisve to solve, by other methods.

    On the biological level, if you catch all the big fish in an ocean, but not the small ones, in a relatively short time you will have only small fish, and whatever genes lead to large size will have been selected out of the fish population. The factor many people overlook, I think, is the very long time that evolution requires. Yet, it can be demonstrated on a human time scale for organisms like bacteria. The most famous example is the development of antibiotic resistance by bacteria. Any bacteria which happen to have a slight resistance to an antibiotic are more likely to survive exposure to the antibiotic, and within a few thousand generations [a few months or years] the bacteria that could be killed by the antibiotic no longer have any descendants to be susceptible, so the population of remaining bacteria is antibiotic resistant. The evolution from bacteria to large organisms happens in the same way, just with a time scale many millions of times longer.

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  12. It’s really great that people are trying to explain this to me. It means they believe that even a monkey objectionist can see reason.

    About the peppered moth: isn’t it true that one could find an equal number of examples where the maladaptive traits are the ones that get preserved? (It’s something I vaguely remember from school).

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    1. Why would that be the case? Even considering it a priori, why would genes for maladaptive traits be selected equally often as genes for adaptive traits?

      How do we know if a gene is maladaptive? Wouldn’t the only possible definition be that it’s not selected as often?

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    2. bloggerclarissa :
      About the peppered moth: isn’t it true that one could find an equal number of examples where the maladaptive traits are the ones that get preserved? (It’s something I vaguely remember from school).

      If you have a really small population, a relatively maladaptive trait could become fixed (100% occurrence in a population) or become substantially more common. Two examples:

      On the island of Pingelap, several centuries ago a typhoon hit the island. Due to the resulting population bottleneck, a substantial fraction of the population are carriers of or are affected by a form of colour-blindness where cone cells do not function properly.

      A more substantial example is how humans and some other primate do not manufacture their own Vitamin C.

      The process above is known as genetic drift. It affects all populations regardless of size, but its rate is an inverse function of population size.

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  13. I had no idea this would be a popular thread. I thought people would just shrug their shoulders and move away from a monkey objectionist. 🙂

    Do you, guys, know this famous dialogue:

    “You can keep thinking you have descended from monkeys and I will keep believing that I was created in the image of God.”

    “Yes, but in my case it’s a huge step up, while in your case, what a dramatic step down!” 🙂

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  14. Well, as an evolutionary biologist, perhaps the time has come for me to leave my first comment on your blog. 🙂

    Sometimes it helps to think of species as languages. Imagine a country where everyone speaks French (France comes to mind). A thousand years ago a group of a few hundred people decided to colonise an island and their descendants have remained there since. The isolation in combination with the need to invent words for island-specific things led to their version of French becoming completely unintelligible to people from the mainland. We now have two languages, “Islandese” and Mainland French. Of course, Mainland French will also have changed, so it is more appropriate to talk about Old French and Modern French. Both Islandese and Modern French stem from Old French. The monkey objection therefore becomes “Why is there Islandese, when people still speak French?”

    There will of course have been lots of intermediary forms of French – 17th century French, 18th century French and so on. However, when you have a group of people that can communicate in the same language (in biology this would be equivalent to a group of individuals that can reproduce with each other), then new words (mutations) can spread to the entire group and so the entire group progresses from 17th century French to 18th century French or whatever. This is why if we look at France today, everyone will be speaking Modern French and on the island everyone will be speaking Modern Islandese (with some individual variation of course). However, assuming that the languages have become mutually unintelligible, there will not be anyone speaking an intermediate form between Islandese and Modern French, in the same way that people speak say Swedish OR Danish, even though these are clearly two very closely related languages.

    Does this make sense? I’m happy to explain in more detail if anyone would find it useful.

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    1. Just realised that the word “unintelligible” was a bit misleading. Swedish people understand Danish and vice versa, even if it is with some effort! Hope you still get what I am trying to say.

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    2. Amy – I LOVE this analogy. I’m also an evolutionary biologist (paleobiologist, actually) and I’ve used the languages explaination before, but never quite like that. I usually discuss how many languages descended from Latin. Now, 2000 years ago, Latin was the language. Most of Europe used it. But then there were groups of people who split off. The Roman Empire fell. The “environment” if you will, changed. Groups of people became isolated. They began to adapt their languages to fit what was necessary for themselves. And thus, the “Romance” languages of today were “born”. (I’m doing lots of hand-waving here, as I don’t know nearly enough history to do this justice.) But it’s not like suddenly everyone ceased to speak Latin and spoke perfect modern day French, Italian, Spanish and English. No, rather, there were intermediates. Latin was used quite commonly in conjunction with these languages. Then it was used almost exclusively in religion. Has anyone ever tried to understand “Old English” as written? It’s *hard*! It barely looks like what we speak today. And now Latin is basically gone. Sure, it’s taught in the classroom, but really, almost no one speaks Latin anymore. Latin was the common ancestor of these languages. They evolved from Latin. But it wasn’t that Latin went to sleep one day and woke up French. It wasn’t like a Latin-speaking mother gave birth to a child who only spoke Spanish.

      This analogy can also be carried farther, to look at dialects. Since I’m an English-speaker, I know the English accents and dialects best, though it is certainly *not* the best example. But lets take moment. Think of all the English-speaking countries you know of. How many of them speak exactly the same language? Sure, they all speak a base of English, but I challenge a person from England to go to Australia and understand everything they say there. All of the nuances, the idioms, the accents are different. But they’re also different, again, from the language that their “common ancestors” spoke 200 years ago. They’ve been isoalted in different environments for many generations, and are in “transitional phases” of splitting into 2 separate languages. Now that isn’t to say that eventually they will become 2 different languages. In our globalized society, I do *not* see that happening. But if the two populations stayed isolated for several tens to hundreds of generations? Absolutely. But both would be distinctly different from the language spoken at the time of the split.

      I’m trying (currently unsuccessfully) to find a paper that I heard about on Science Friday a while back, that discussed the evolution of human language, and how if you look at the sounds used in all languages around the world, and build a “phylogenetic tree” out of them, you actually come up with something that looks remarkably similar to the “Out of Africa” model of human evolution. Languages actually do evolve. If I find the reference, I’ll post a reply to this comment for you.

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    3. Found: That article I mentioned: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/04/language-may-have-helped-early-h.html – must’ve come from a Science Magazine Podcast I heard, not Science Friday. This is the link to the popular science piece (I don’t think you need a university login to view it, but I’m on a university network, so I can’t say for sure, and apologize if it’s inaccessible) – basically it discusses how phonemes (the most basic language sounds) have diversified and evolved. I think this is super cool, because it’s similar to genes and DNA – phonemes are the building blocks of language, but its not just them, it’s how they’re used and expressed, that create the whole that is seen. I’ll also say this is as close to human evolution as my academic self gets – actually this is my “general interest” self… I prefer stuff that has nothing at all to do with human evolution. Humans are confusing.

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  15. “Well, as an evolutionary biologist, perhaps the time has come for me to leave my first comment on your blog.”

    – Ah, now I;m really glad that I started this thread.

    The languages argument is very new to me. And as a linguist, I find it easy to understand. I need to think more about the evolution in these terms to see whether it makes sense to me. But this is a very interesting explanation and it’s one I never heard before.

    I need to think about this.

    Thank you, Amy, you are obviously a talented evolutionary biologist because you know how to speak to monkey objectionists. 🙂

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  16. Patrick :
    And very likely, in another 50 yrs, we’ll find that the universe needs to be 30 billion yrs old to make the math work. To the average folk, it sounds a lot like ‘cooking the books’.

    How do you figure? What makes this “very likely?” Just because conceptions of the universe change depending upon new evidence, it doesn’t mean that you can run around believing anything because sooner or later science will agree with you.
    In the past, people figured that the world was a flat disc; then they said that it was a sphere; now they say that (due to the cetrifugal force at the equator) it is an oblate spheroid. Does this make it “highly likely” in your own learned scientific opinion (you’re an accountant, aren’t you) that in fifty years those diabolical book-cooking scientists will be claiming that the world is a cube?

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    1. Your reading too much into my comment. My (poorly) made point was that I have more respect for the astronomy department, because they are not so arrogant as to believe they ‘have’ the answers, and even, in my experience, encourage the questions. This is a direct contrast to the evolutionary biologists I’ve encountered – until today. Amy & E have restored my faith in the field.

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  17. Between 5 and 7 million years ago our ancestors were apes which do not live today (the candidates for this common ancestor typically include Ardipithecus ramidus, Orrorin tugenensis, and Sahelanthropus tchadensis), for the population split over time in to different groups (most likely simply due to geographic factors) then those sub populations, being isolated, were subjected to different environments which they then adapted to. The lineages diverged and became more and more different as time went on. One of these lineages ended up as chimpanzees, the other as humans.

    During that 5 – 7 million years both the lineage which would end up as chimps and the lineage that would end up as humans underwent transitions. The “intermediate forms” between this ancestor and humans include, it is usually presumed, the Australopithecine genus (most famously A. afarensis) then the Homo genus including Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo ergaster, Homo georgicus, Homo antecessor, Homo cepranensis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis. Google image all of these and you will see human evolution in progress, from, in lay person terms, monkey to man. There were species that were “70% human, 20% human, etc.” Obviously the percentage thing is way inaccurate, but the idea is right: something like Homo habilis would look to the layperson maybe 70% human 30% monkey.

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    1. And remember, the chimpanzee (and every species on the planet) is not less evolved than us. It is beautifully adapted to its arboreal environment.

      However it probably has more in common with the common ancestor we share simply because its environment has changed less, so certain of its characteristics had less pressure to be modified. Humans, on the other hand, changed quite a bit because our environment changed a lot. The truth is we probably experienced real hardship in our evolutionary history to end up how we did.

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  18. “There was a time when religionists thought they could explain the universe perfectly, then came science, they both come up short.”

    I love how anti-science people don’t even try to win this debate. They just want to call it a draw and go home. That’s why you get stuff like : “Creationism is a theory, just like Evolution.” (No, you fucking idiot, that’s not how it works) and “Religion and science both fall short of explaining the universe perfectly”, which is like me saying both I and Sir Ernest Shackleton came up short in our quest for the South Pole. Except I’m sitting on my couch eating twinkies, whereas he, you know, actually did come close.

    Jesus Christ.

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  19. As an evolutionary biologist myself I am really enjoying this thread, and I think a number of people have explained the “monkey problem” solution in excellent terms; but I do have one gripe.

    Since we are trying to be scientific on this thread, and since our very own group that is now under discussion, primates, is reasonably small, would it kill people to be a little more specific and accurate when discussing species and relationships?

    eg monkeys are distant relatives of the great apes (the group to which humans belong). Monkeys are equally related to chimps, gorillas and humans. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about a lineage splitting in two, and one lineage becoming humans and the other monkeys. Furthermore, there are actually two major lineages of monkeys, with one being more closely related to the great apes.

    There are two chimpanzees species.

    In general, a better analogy for relatedness would be to think of other living species as our cousins, rather than our ancestors.

    it is not really accurate to think of other hominid species as our ancestors- we’ve probably uncovered few (if any) actual ancestors. However studying long-extinct species can help to uncover wider trends but we should use caution when referring to them all as ancestors. Some, such as Homo neanderthalensis, were contemporaries of Homo sapiens until quite recently, and like other living species, are better imagined as cousins.

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    1. Thanks, Isabel. Sometimes often we non-sciency types do fatally overgeneralize, even if we’re on the same page as the scientists. [Maybe we’re on the same page, but you’re ready to flip to the next while we’re still all, “wait, what’s this paragraph mean”? :)]

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  20. Patrick :
    How do you get the average person to wrap their mind around the concepts and magnitude of time that is required for this to happen. Remember, most of humanity thinks the Greeks are ‘ancient’ history – that’s under 10,000 years. How do you get them to understand what can happen when the time involved is 100,000,000 yrs? That’s where I lose my friends & relatives.

    I have a number of ways to explain it, depending on the tools at hand. One of the best ways I’ve found to describe “deep time” is in terms of # of generations. First, the premise that it takes a certain number of generations to officially speciate. This number of generations required is actually relatively small, and depends on evolutionary criteria. But sometimes its as low as 5-10 generations after a population split to have separate species, but that’s pretty rare, and requires VERY special circumstances with high levels of evolutionary pressure. Usually its longer, and can be upwards of 50-100, or even 1000 or 10,000 generations for a split, if there’s very low evolutionary pressure. Sometimes it takes even more generations. I try to keep the numbers lower, because lets face it, I can imagine 1 year. I can imagine 10 years. If I work *really* hard, I could probably get to 100 years. But what does 100,000,000 years mean to me? That’s just a lot of zeros. It’s not all that different from 1,000,000,000 years or 10,000,000 years. That’s still just a lot of zeros.

    So how many generations of a given order of magnitude can happen in 1000 years? How about 10,000 years? 100,000? And that number changes. If we assume 20 years in a human generation, that’s 5 generations per 100 years. 1000 years = 50 generations. Assuming that anthropologists are right (and I don’t know enough to argue this as right or not, so I’ll take their number), humans (Homo sapiens) have been around for 180,000 years. 9000 generations. How many generations of rabbit is that? Assuming rabbits breed once every year, that’s 180,000 generations of rabbits. Of bacteria? (reproduce once per day) that’s 65,700,000 generations! So there’s a lot more “evolutionary potential” in the number or reproductions during that time. And of course, you’re probably thinking “why aren’t there many species of humans then?” Well, there were, up until very recently. And if you think homo sapiens hasn’t changed and mutated in the 180,000 years its been in existence, then there’s another problem… Our language has developed, our cultures have developed. We have increased our tools available. We have spread out and then globalized. But we kept interbreeding. And that is why there aren’t many species of humans. There’s estimates for gene flow in the deep sea (sorry, this is the field I”m most familiar with the genetics of, but it’s analogous) that suggests that you really only need one interbreeding event (that’s 1 individual from a population moving to a different one and reproducing with them) every 5-20 generations to keep populations from becoming separate species, depending on the organisms in question. And that’s not very much. Who’s not to say that if our evolutionary track had been a little different, and we ended up with many small completely isolated populations that never interbred, that there wouldn’t be many species of humans.

    And sometimes, I use a geologic time clock explanation (or the length of an arm analogy), such as this one: http://www.uky.edu/KGS/education/clockstime.htm. I taught a summer class last summer in which I used a 45 meter long piece of string, and had students place various events that we’d discussed on the “geologic time line” then guess where they thought other events should go. One of the best questions I got was “Where would BC/CE” go? (ignoring the fact that I think the current convention is BCE/CE) – that kind of time scale on geologic/evolutionary time is so very insignificant. To see 2000 years on that 45 meter long piece of string representing 4.5 billion years (each meter represented 100 million years), I explained, you’d have to pull up a microscope. A very powerful one. It’s very humbling to recognize that all of human history took place in such a short period. If each centimeter is 1,000,000 years (how I designed the scale), then 2000 years is 20 microns (0.002 centimeters), or approximately 1/5th the width of a human hair. And that is tiny. This exercise really helped my students to be able to visualize geologically long periods of time, but you do have to have a place where you can lay out 45 meters of string. (Or really, however much you wanted to use. I did it in high school with 4.5 meters of receipt paper).

    Really, though, evolutionary/geologic time scales are something you just have to continue grappling with (if you care enough about them) to really understand. It took me years, and I still don’t fully have an idea of what 1 million years is. But I think I have a better feeling for it than most people who don’t study deep-time questions.

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    1. thanks – I think I can use the ‘string’ theory – visual aids are always so important. If my relatives refuse to accept that the possibility that the earth is beyond 6,000 yrs old, then it doesn’t really matter. But at least I can get them to understand how the theory works.

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    2. “Assuming that anthropologists are right (and I don’t know enough to argue this as right or not, so I’ll take their number), humans (Homo sapiens) have been around for 180,000 years. 9000 generations. How many generations of rabbit is that? Assuming rabbits breed once every year, that’s 180,000 generations of rabbits. ”

      – Then why didn’t rabbits evolve into anything special while humans obviously did? I mean, so many of the creatures who procreate much more often than humans and, hence, could evolve faster, lost the evolution race to humans and the loss was quite resounding.

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      1. Rabbits still exist – they’re “doing as well” at evolving as any other species on earth.
        Evolution doesn’t have a goal in mind; you can’t say humans “won” evolution by virtue of being the first animals to turn into humans.
        Rabbits are doing very well, by the way. In my home country of Australia, the introduction of rabbits has ravaged the local flora and fauna irreparably.

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        1. I know about the problem with rabbits in Australia. However, I’m planning to go to the supermarket this weekend, buy myself a rabbit and cook it. 🙂 That makes me think that my evolution has been much more successful.

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      2. Winning and losing are relative terms. And science, in my experience, is very limited in explaining the ‘why’ something happened. Their much better at explaining how it has happened, and predicting what will happen.

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        1. “In terms of evolution, still being here is winning. There is no end goal, no final product, no ‘most evolved’.”

          – You are seriously saying that human beings are not more evolved than rabbits? Maybe you even think that there are some rabbits who are sitting there, discussing you on their blogs? 🙂 And maybe one or two will cook me for dinner on Saturday, eh? 🙂

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        2. “In terms of evolution, still being here is winning. There is no end goal, no final product, no ‘most evolved’.”

          – You say there is no end goal but then you name one. That hardly makes sense. If you can pick and choose the goal of evolution, then I can do so, too.

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      3. “Evolved” doesn’t mean “stronger” or “smarter”, necessarily. It means suitably adapted to [an] environment[s] so that it flourishes in that environment.

        Humans are “more” evolved than other animals in the sense that we as a species are able to adapt to many kinds of environment and to adapt those environments to our own goals. That does have to do with us being smarter and able to use tools. But other animals have genetic traits that allow them to flourish in their own ecological systems in ways that humans could not.

        Take away the supermarket for a minute. If I had no weapons or clothing, and I was racing against a rabbit to get away from a wolf [assuming the wolf was starving enough to want to eat me], you should put your money on the rabbit surviving this particular encounter with nature. 🙂

        Or a more extreme example: there are bacteria and crustaceans that have evolved to survive in deep sea environments by getting their energy needs met from pyroclastic chimneys, holes in the oceans surface where superheated poisonous gas comes out. Humans would perish instantly in such an environment, assuming we had no tools to use to change it to suit our wishes. We would then be the snacks of scavenging animals, who if they had brains to think about it would wonder why we were so de-evolved as to have no shells or gills. 🙂

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        1. “But other animals have genetic traits that allow them to flourish in their own ecological systems in ways that humans could not.”

          – “Their own ecological systems” do not exist any more. Every ecological system in existence has been invaded, appropriated an modified by the humans.

          “Take away the supermarket for a minute. If I had no weapons or clothing, and I was racing against a rabbit to get away from a wolf [”

          – And if I had wings, I could fly. What’s the point of discussing completely unreal scenarios?

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  21. bloggerclarissa :

    – Then why didn’t rabbits evolve into anything special while humans obviously did? I mean, so many of the creatures who procreate much more often than humans and, hence, could evolve faster, lost the evolution race to humans and the loss was quite resounding.

    With humans, the issue determining survival became intelligence. They engaged in a battle of wits with other intelligent entities like neanderthals, whom they fought for territory and food. It wasn’t simply enough for them to adapt to the environment, like other animals have done. They had to outdo other intelligent species or be eliminated by them. Hence intelligence became a characteristic for selection.

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    1. “It wasn’t simply enough for them to adapt to the environment, like other animals have done. ”

      – The human beings have set the goal to adapt the environment to them. I think it’s hard for many people to understand evolution because of how powerfully we mold the nature to suit our needs. Today, nobody can really see any similarity between the adaptive processes of animals and humans because humans have stopped even trying to adapt.

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      1. which, in and of itself, is adaptation. We won’t realize the evolutionary repercussions of molding the environment to us for countless generations.

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        1. “which, in and of itself, is adaptation. ”

          – I don’t understand this. It’s like saying that the fact that I’m writing the comment is the same as saying that the comment is writing me.

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      2. 1) We are still adapting to the environment. It’s not a conscious decision to adapt or not. It’s a biological imperative.

        2) By adapting the environment to our needs, we confound and confuse the biological imperatives. Which will have an impact on the evolutionary progress of humanity.

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        1. “We are still adapting to the environment. It’s not a conscious decision to adapt or not. It’s a biological imperative.”

          -Human beings have overcome their ties to biological imperatives. Many people choose to kill themselves. Many people choose to avoid procreation. Many people starve themselves. I think that discussing any kind of biological imperative in relation to human beings today is a waste of time.

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      3. bloggerclarissa :“which, in and of itself, is adaptation. ”
        – It’s like saying that the fact that I’m writing the comment is the same as saying that the comment is writing me.

        It is. You are in a Borges story. Don’t flip a coin or it’ll turn into a 5th-dimensional vortex that transforms air into books.

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  22. bloggerclarissa :“It wasn’t simply enough for them to adapt to the environment, like other animals have done. ”
    – The human beings have set the goal to adapt the environment to them. I think it’s hard for many people to understand evolution because of how powerfully we mold the nature to suit our needs. Today, nobody can really see any similarity between the adaptive processes of animals and humans because humans have stopped even trying to adapt.

    This is why humans have come to dominate the planet as a species. We don’t just adapt to our environments, though we’ve proven ourselves remarkably adept at doing so. We also adapt our environments to suit our needs and desires.

    FD :In terms of evolution, still being here is winning. There is no end goal, no final product, no ‘most evolved’.

    This is very good point.

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  23. bloggerclarissa :
    “In terms of evolution, still being here is winning. There is no end goal, no final product, no ‘most evolved’.”
    – You are seriously saying that human beings are not more evolved than rabbits? Maybe you even think that there are some rabbits who are sitting there, discussing you on their blogs? And maybe one or two will cook me for dinner on Saturday, eh?

    no no no! Humans are more advanced, more sophisticated, but that does not mean ‘more evolved’. Species do not necessarily go from less advanced to more advanced or less advanced to more advanced. They evolve based on who survives and who doesn’t which may have nothing to due with intelligence.
    For example say for the next few hundred thousands of years, people with low IQs have a lot of children whereas people with high IQs have very few. After a while humans as a whole will become dumber – that is evolution at work. Those Humans will be ‘more evolved’ than us now but less advanced.
    This is a useful example because it rings a bit true..

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    1. I don’t believe in IQ and I definitely don’t believe that intelligence is an inherited trait. Unintelligent people always had more children than the intelligent ones. Yet, human beings at large become more intelligent with each generation.

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      1. I think we may have hit upon a major stumbling block… the meaning of what “evolved” or “more evolved” is. I know a number of people have said it before in this thread, but really “more evolved” doesn’t mean “more intelligent”, “more able to use tools” or anything else like that. It simply means “adapted and survived to modern times to be able to survive and reproduce under current environmental* conditions”. Incidentally, most evolutionary biologists will argue that phylogenetically, birds are “more evolved” than mammals. Yes, chickens are “farther up the evolutionary tree” than we are. But that doesn’t really mean they are “more evolved”. That must means that if you go back to the most recent common ancestor of tetrapods (4-legged animals), and trace how particular traits evolved through time, birds evolved more different traits later in the game. But they’re still just as “evolved” as we are. They simply express it differently.

        Going back to the languages example, would you argue that English is more evolved than French, because there are more English speakers in the world, and it seems like English is currently the language of science? (This is at least true for science, in the same way that French used to be the Universal Language of Science. I can’t speak about any other field, and don’t claim to.) I certainly wouldn’t. There are places for English, and there are places for French. Both languages are thriving and evolving under their current conditions. They coexist. One could, hypothetically, argue that both English and French are “more evolved” than Latin – Latin is effectively a “dead” language. It’s no longer used except in very specific circumstances, and even then rarely. It died out years ago, and in the process gave rise to the basics for many modern languages. That makes English and French (and the other romance languages) more successful evolutionarily than Latin, and since they’re around now and Latin isn’t really, one could consider them “more evolved”. If Latin was still a major language being used by a large group of people conversationally on a day-to-day basis today, this wouldn’t be the case.

        *By “environmental” I mean anything that can force evolution, whether this be actual environment, or other pressures, such as competition or predation.

        Also, I just wanted to say that this is possibly the most civilized discussion of evolution on the internet I have ever seen. Thank you. 🙂

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      2. I don’t believe in IQ either. Here’s another example, albeit rather silly. The percentage of the world’s population of northern European stock is decreasing. The percentage of the world’s population from Asia and the Middle East is increasing. Therefore, the percentage of blonds is decreasing and the percentage of people with black hair is increasing. With immigration and intermarriage, we may eventually evolve into a species with only black hair. This is evolution, but it is unconscious and unintentional.

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        1. “With immigration and intermarriage, we may eventually evolve into a species with only black hair. This is evolution, but it is unconscious and unintentional.”

          – With cloning knocking on the door, I think the opposite is more likely. But then, of course, once the majority is blond, the dark hair will become prestigious and the pendulum will swing right back.

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    2. Humans are more advanced, more sophisticated, but that does not mean ‘more evolved’.

      Right. What evolves is difference, not advancement. But what we seem to have in the case of our species is that the evolved differences became such game-changers that the differences between us and other animals (in general) are almost differences of kind rather than degree. Hence ‘the humanities,’ is what I seem to hear Clarissa saying.

      For example say for the next few hundred thousands of years, people with low IQs have a lot of children whereas people with high IQs have very few. After a while humans as a whole will become dumber – that is evolution at work.

      This sounds suspiciously like eugenics, but I suppose that just goes to show that scientific theory can propel any of us way the hell out of our comfort zones. So I tend to be careful about ascribing anti-intellectualism to my ideological rivals. I don’t believe in IQ or IQ inheritance, either, but I’m a pretty introspective (and extrospective?) blogger and often point out that many of my beliefs are due to tribal affiliations. The old head/heart conflict… I find the Iron Laws of Economics about as palatable (challenging) as the Bible-based Christians do evolution.

      Various people at various times have raised the concern that evolution doesn’t apply to us any more. Technology is now our route to increased sophistication. The technologies known as ‘architecture’ and ‘medicine,’ in particular, have allowed us take a whole lot of selection pressure out of the equation. I myself see this as a good thing, but it does have an ominous use-it-or-lose-it character. I worry about a future of cargo cults, or Aldeans.

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      1. “the differences between us and other animals (in general) are almost differences of kind rather than degree”

        – Yes, yes, thank you for wording it so well! I can’t squeeze out anything precise today.

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  24. bloggerclarissa :
    “We are still adapting to the environment. It’s not a conscious decision to adapt or not. It’s a biological imperative.”
    -Human beings have overcome their ties to biological imperatives. Many people choose to kill themselves. Many people choose to avoid procreation. Many people starve themselves. I think that discussing any kind of biological imperative in relation to human beings today is a waste of time.

    Again, species are always evolving because certain genes tend to survive and certain do not. Again, I think the IQ example is a good illustration. It’s not a conscious imperative to evolve, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

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  25. What it sounds like is you are capable of understanding the basic process but you have a lot of questions along the way which prevent you from accepting it. But don’t worry, we all had these questions, and now I remember why it’s such a difficult thing for people to grasp despite being probably the most elegant theory in history.

    bloggerclarissa :
    “We are still adapting to the environment. It’s not a conscious decision to adapt or not. It’s a biological imperative.”
    -Human beings have overcome their ties to biological imperatives. Many people choose to kill themselves. Many people choose to avoid procreation. Many people starve themselves. I think that discussing any kind of biological imperative in relation to human beings today is a waste of time.

    This brings up some complex issues. But here are some considerations: 1) suicide is generally the result of a biological malfunction/disease such as major depressive disorder, bi-polar, extreme cases of narcissistic personality disorder, or even escaping some kind of pain which has rendered their life unlivable. Many times it is just a disease people die from, like any other disease, but afflicting the brain instead of the body. The problem with any mental/emotional disorder is it looks to us like free-will is involved since it manifests itself behaviorally, but of course this is exactly why so many have so little sympathy for mental illness (and then this brings up another interesting question, how free or unfree are they? I believe less free than the rest of us tend to believe, but more free than they themselves believe).

    Now how about suicide in extreme acts of protest? 1) often the biological imperative has been undermined here by religious belief, since the person is so heavily indoctrinated by fundamentalism/extremism that there is no doubt to them their life will continue elsewhere after the event, 2) this might come under the study of kin selection and/or group selection, where the explanation goes we make sacrifices for relatives because we share genes with them, and from the birdseye view of evolution it is not individuals who are the important units but rather genes which are shared by many individuals, and the more an individual is like us the closer we are genetically, so our behavior evolved to serve genetic interests. I won’t get in to group selection here.

    People avoid procreation, because in the last couple thousand years or whatever we’ve figured out there’s a connection between sperm and pregnancy, but people pretty much never avoid sex. (And if they do it is nearly never a genuinely free choice.) Sex is the impulse biology but in us to ensure procreation; it’s generally superfluous to invoke intentions of having children in humans; we just have sex then get pregnant, just like any animal. When dogs or cats bang they are not thinking “let’s have children,” they are just acting out an impulse to have sex, and so are we every time we have sex. Because we are rational we can figure out how to avoid this outcome, but even there we fail very often, especially when you consider the whole of the human population rather than just us in the developed world.

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    1. “suicide is generally the result of a biological malfunction/disease”

      – No, it isn’t.

      “Many times it is just a disease people die from, like any other disease, but afflicting the brain instead of the body. ”

      – No, it isn’t. These are myths spread by pharma companies to peddle their stupid pills, that’s all. We are not going to get to the stage of “depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain” mantra, are we? Because that’s not evolved at all. 🙂

      “Sex is the impulse biology but in us to ensure procreation; it’s generally superfluous to invoke intentions of having children in humans; we just have sex then get pregnant, just like any animal. When dogs or cats bang they are not thinking “let’s have children,” they are just acting out an impulse to have sex, and so are we every time we have sex. Because we are rational we can figure out how to avoid this outcome, but even there we fail very often, especially when you consider the whole of the human population rather than just us in the developed world.”

      – Human beings have divorced sex from procreation such a long time ago that it hardly makes sense to talk about procreation as any sort of an instinct.

      “We just have sex then get pregnant, just like any animal”

      – For many people this is not even true any more.

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    2. Yeah careful there with the biotruths fella. I appreciate all you’re doing to try and make this topic more accessible but I don’t fuck to get pregnant. “Biological imperatives” can be overcome by force of will and desire, by humans at least, which makes them not so imperative.

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      1. You’re confusing decisions to act with genetic information buried deep within your body. You may not like that you have MS, and we may even be able to cure it someday – but it’s still carried in your genetic code. We may be able to manipulate the genetic code in the not to distant future – which will have significant evolutionary impacts. Evolution is not an end game – it is a process.

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      2. You decide to Fuck. You decide to kill yourself. Not relevant to evolution. Not the biological imperatives of which I speak. Evolution works at an unconscious level.

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      3. “Yeah careful there with the biotruths fella. I appreciate all you’re doing to try and make this topic more accessible but I don’t fuck to get pregnant. “Biological imperatives” can be overcome by force of will and desire, by humans at least, which makes them not so imperative.”

        – That’s my point exactly. Evolution is great but let’s not slip into evopsych here.

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      4. But your desire to fuck is based on biological imperatives. You can’t just turn off the desire at will can you? Aggression, hunger, territorial urges…we can’t just turn them off.

        Clarissa seems to equate “civilized” with “evolved”. There are many problems with this.

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        1. Read my post on asexuality. In the comments you will find dozens of people who have turned off their desire to have sex.

          As for civilized and evolved, they are synonymous in every dictionary.

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          1. “Turned off” isn’t the right phrase. I just have no desire. Never have. Maybe I will one day. But no I haven’t “turned off” my sexuality. I wrote a blog post about it a while ago.

            Also, “theory” and “hypothesis” are basically synonyms in the dictionary. But that doesn’t make them the same in science-speak. (in fact, one dictionary definition of “theory” is “a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation b : an unproved assumption”)

            That’s actually my biggest issue with things like this – there is a language barrier between scientists and non-scientists. Words and concepts like “uncertainty”, “theory”, and yes, “evolution” are all things that have different meanings if you consider them how they are used in every-day language and how they are used by scientists. “Uncertainty” is something that the critics of global climate change latch on to. But quite often, “Science” and “English” are two different languages. This is a major problem in terms of scientific literacy and people understanding scientific concepts – its inaccessible.

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  26. But how much experience do you have, Clarissa, with mental illness? I have a good amount as I have lived with two people will bi-polar (both made multiple suicide attempts), my grandmother was a prescription pill addict after the death of my grandfather and was committed to a ward after suicidal gestures, then there are more distant examples too.

    Even if the pharmaceutical company conspiracy is true (judgment suspended as I hear it all the time but haven’t researched it in depth) this only means doctors/pharmacists/whoever are too liberal and careless in their diagnoses and prescriptions; it doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as mental illness and that a suicidal person is in their right mind.

    I don’t fuck to get pregnant.

    That’s exactly my point. The impulse has evolved so that even if YOU don’t want to get pregnant, you still have the impulse to have sex which means there’s still a good chance you will get pregnant. More pregnancies are unplanned than planned. But even where people successfully have sex without getting pregnant due to successful contraception use, this is because we are obviously rational reflective beings. Nobody says biology is thoroughly deterministic.

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      1. Elderly couples have quite an impulse to have sex, yet there is no chance they will get pregnant. I have female friends who are in their 60ies, yet they tell me that their libido has never been as powerful as it is now.

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      2. Aaron I think I’m getting that your point re: sex & pregnancy is that humans have evolved desires and physiologies for sexual pleasure that, when we take the species as a whole, play into reproduction and so perpetuation of the species, but that does not mean that reproduction is necessarily the “point” of sexual pleasure. Is that accurate?

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  27. Recommended reading:

    The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins (accessible, beautifully written as always, huge explanatory scope)
    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett (a work of philosophy as much as biology, so a little more challenging)
    How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, chapters 6 and on (also The Blank Slate by Pinker)
    The Red Queen by Matt Ridley (On sexual selection and its relation to human behavior)

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  28. “Read my post on asexuality. In the comments you will find dozens of people who have turned off their desire to have sex.”

    There are 7 billion people on this earth. And I have never seen any evidence that people can turn their desires on and off at will. You are an animal Clarissa. Deal with it.

    “As for civilized and evolved, they are synonymous in every dictionary.”

    This is complete nonsense. In many ways by becoming “civilized” humans have turned their societies into giant ant colonies. What is so evolved about “untouchable castes” or those who live to work 16 hours a day serving others? Or eating our monotonous diets?

    You are living in a bit of a fantasy world, Clarissa. Cloning blond people is just around the corner? I hope that was a joke!

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    1. Isabel: once again you are erupting with completely unnecessary aggression in a thread we have managed to keep very friendly and civil. Please stop doing that, it’s annoying.

      As for the question of what makes human societies better than the life of animals, I’m not sure you are seriously expecting an answer. In case you do, the answer is: everything. And if it isn’t so, there are huge stretches of land where no humans live. (In Siberia, for example.) Feel free to move there and live with wild creatures you consider more evolved. Not interested? Civilization is more attractive?

      I’m not surprised.

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      1. “completely unnecessary aggression in a thread we have managed to keep very friendly and civil. Please stop doing that, it’s annoying. ”

        Okay I will leave you to your absurd delusions.:)

        “As for the question of what makes human societies better than the life of animals, I’m not sure you are seriously expecting an answer. ”

        I don’t believe I asked the question.

        “Not interested? Civilization is more attractive? ”

        Um, the comparison is with not yet “civilized” humans. Who were more egalitarian and had much better diets, and worked less. I never indicated I wanted to get away from civilization. I think you are the one who is getting aggressive here.

        Making a choice today is a silly idea anyway, as it is not possible. We have other problems to solve. We can’t just turn back the clock, obviously.

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        1. “Um, the comparison is with not yet “civilized” humans. Who were more egalitarian and had much better diets, and worked less.”

          – And lived until the ripe old age of 25? Which culture specifically are you talking about? Because I can barely imagine anything more horrible than primitive societies. It is, indeed, better to live amongst a pack of wild dogs, in my opinion.

          Like

      2. Plenty of people lived longer. I don’t really believe those numbers, which are life expectancy figures anyway. And in any case hunter gatherers were taller and more physically fit.

        How has thousands of years of civilization worked out for the average Chinese person? All I am saying is civilization is a mixed bag, at best. There is no free lunch. 🙂

        Like

        1. “And in any case hunter gatherers were taller and more physically fit.”

          – And how did being tall help them not to die before the age of 30?

          “How has thousands of years of civilization worked out for the average Chinese person? ”

          – Let’s discuss cultures that we know something about, OK? I really dislike blabbering about things where I have zero knowledge.

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      3. “Because I can barely imagine anything more horrible than primitive societies.”

        Seriously? Like the native North Americans?

        Like

      4. You keep saying this, but it is not relevant to the discussion.

        So the Europeans were more evolved than the Native Americans, and their way of life was superior. Okay.

        Like

        1. “So the Europeans were more evolved than the Native Americans, and their way of life was superior. Okay.”

          – That’s not what I said. Please try again. (A hint: I’m comparing the contemporary Western society with any primitive society of the past.)

          Like

      5. ““How has thousands of years of civilization worked out for the average Chinese person? ”

        – Let’s discuss cultures that we know something about, OK? I really dislike blabbering about things where I have zero knowledge.”

        Well, on a recent thread you seemed to have knowledge that they have advanced from one bowl of rice per day to 1 and 1/2.

        Like

      6. “If you think their life is better than the one you are leading right now, what’s preventing you from going to live among a primitive tribe somewhere?”

        It is also weird that you think this is possible.

        Like

        1. There is a whole trend of people who abandon civilization and go to live to places with no roads, running water, electricity, etc. Of course, they are all neurotics but pretty harmless ones. And, in any case, they are more honest than folks who keep complaining about horrible civilization while sitting comfortably in front of their computers. It never even occurs to them that if it weren’t for the progress they detest so much, they would spend all their time and energy just trying to survive and would have no time left for philosophical discussions.

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      7. “There is a whole trend of people who abandon civilization and go to live to places with no roads, running water, electricity, etc. Of course, they are all neurotics but pretty harmless ones.

        I think you are making this up. This is a trend?? To go join hunter gatherer societies?

        “And, in any case, they are more honest than folks who keep complaining about horrible civilization while sitting comfortably in front of their computers.”

        Who was complaining? Who used the word “horrible?”

        “It never even occurs to them”

        Now you are mind reading.

        “that if it weren’t for the progress they detest so much”

        Again no one said “detest”

        “they would spend all their time and energy just trying to survive and would have no time left for philosophical
        discussions.”

        Again you are wrong – all the evidence suggests the opposite.

        Like

        1. ““There is a whole trend of people who abandon civilization and go to live to places with no roads, running water, electricity, etc. Of course, they are all neurotics but pretty harmless ones.

          I think you are making this up. This is a trend?? To go join hunter gatherer societies?”

          – I said the following: ““There is a whole trend of people who abandon civilization and go to live to places with no roads, running water, electricity, etc.” What is hard to understand in this very short and simple sentence?

          ““they would spend all their time and energy just trying to survive and would have no time left for philosophical
          discussions.”

          Again you are wrong – all the evidence suggests the opposite.”

          – Evidence of what? Of great philosophical achievements in primitive societies?

          ““And, in any case, they are more honest than folks who keep complaining about horrible civilization while sitting comfortably in front of their computers.”

          Who was complaining? Who used the word “horrible?””

          – You want examples of people who complain about the evils of civilization? I have been ridiculing them since the first days of my blog. here is one of the earliest examples: https://clarissasblog.com/2009/05/05/a-finer-world/

          Like

    2. “- I said the following: ““There is a whole trend of people who abandon civilization and go to live to places with no roads, running water, electricity, etc.” What is hard to understand in this very short and simple sentence?”

      But you provided no evidence for this “trend”. And it is irrelevant anyway. We cannot go back to be hunter gatherers. All the good land was taken by the agrarians anyway long ago, and nomadic lifestyles are very difficult to achieve these days. It’s besides the point anyway. Because I don’t think it’s been all progress, you think I detest technology or something. What I am actually saying is we have paid dearly for the “advances” of civilization. Some people have paid much more than others. Most people still haven’t reaped the benefits. It is hardly the slam dunk you are making it out to be. And what does the future hold?

      Like

      1. ” We cannot go back to be hunter gatherers. ”

        – Would you have liked to if it were possible? I’d rather be shot to death right now, to be honest.

        “What I am actually saying is we have paid dearly for the “advances” of civilization. ”

        – Good things always cost. But civilization and progress have brought such enormous benefits that no price is too high, in my opinion. I’m a woman. Being capable of deciding if and when I procreate is absolutely crucial to me. Going back to a society where I’d be pregnant every year starting at age 12 and then dying in childbirth in my twenties – no “benefits” can compensate for this horror of an existence.

        Like

      2. “Going back to a society where I’d be pregnant every year starting at age 12 a”

        Okay, you need to do some research. I can’t correct every statement; this is ass-backwards. Women only started having babies every year with the advent of agricultural societies. Which also brought in extreme inequality between the sexes and between classes of humans. Along with longer working hours for most, and poorer nutrition for most…

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        1. “Okay, you need to do some research. I can’t correct every statement; this is ass-backwards. Women only started having babies every year with the advent of agricultural societies. ”

          – And before that they sat there deciding whether they might be interested in procreating at age 35? This is, indeed, a novel piece of knowledge for me.

          “Women only started having babies every year with the advent of agricultural societies. Which also brought in extreme inequality between the sexes and between classes of humans. Along with longer working hours for most, and poorer nutrition for most…”

          – I vaguely remember somebody quoting a convoluted article to this effect on my blog a long time ago. I tried to understand the argument but it was beyond silly. I don;t think I can find it right now. Do you know the name of the proponent of this theory?

          Like

  29. Isabel :You can’t just turn off the desire at will can you? Aggression, hunger, territorial urges…we can’t just turn them off.

    Um, yeah, desires come unbidden by consciousness but except in very extreme circumstances we make the choice whether to act on them or not. Sheesh, now we’re getting into phenomenology….

    Like

    1. Well, you can decide not to eat for only so long 🙂 and I am talking about the desires, that mold us, not each and every action. But to imagine that these desires are simply vestigial, i.e. all in the past, is pretty delusional.

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        1. “And become sterile, or die.”

          – That’s my point exactly.

          “There is nothing bad about being an animal. Embrace it!”

          – Just like there is nothing bad about being a bar of soap. But I can’t be one even if I try hard.

          Like

      1. Wow, someone is in serious denial 🙂

        Fortunately, you can be an animal without trying hard at all. Just by being yourself.

        By the way, when in distress other animals do a lot of “unnatural” things also.

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  30. Also, keep in mind that pair-bonding, love, affection etc are biologically based also. It is true, even from a biological perspective, that sex isn’t just about reproducing. Organisms are endlessly complex.

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  31. I am really loving this thread and I learned a ton! Thanks everyone. I seriously never understood how to answer the monkey objection!!….One small thing that maybe can help the discussion (or derail it!) I think that maybe the term “biological imperative” can be better understood in another capcity. (And keep in mind that I am literature person so this explanation is very very imperfect and probably wrong!) So let’s say that, because of massive air pollution, humans start dying out in droves. However, a few people have a biological mutation in their lungs that allow them to survive in this “new” air. So, because other peple are dying, those with the lung mutations start mating, and after millions of years, human beings would have a new kind of special pollution-resistant lung. Humans certainly controlled the environment that created the pollution and humans still decided who to mate with. But the biological change, in and of itself, was outside of human control. And the new lung is not necessarilly better. If for some reason, the earth returns to a non-polluted society, perhaps the new lung is even worse. The lung is just better adapted to the new environment…..Also, re: agency. Human beings can certainly come up with other mechanisms that can help the lung or perhaps save people that are otherwise dying. But, as basis, the mutation is outside of our control. So that’s kind of how I think of a biological imperative. Again, I’m a literature person and I’m coming up with an admitedlly apocalytic scenario. But that’s how I explain things to myself. 🙂

    Like

  32. Last comment ’cause my previous comment offered readings by people much smarter than myself so you’d all be better to consult those if you’re interested.

    – Read *my* posts on asexuality. I got in to it with the self-described “aces” a while back.

    – I am a proponent of evo-psych, for the record, and I think you’ll find your dismissal of it is based on the same lack of understanding you have of evolution in general. Here is a quick defense where Steven Pinker takes social-psychologist Timothy Wilson to task for his unsophisticated dismissal of the discipline: http://edge.org/conversation/social_psychological_narrative (Pinker’s response is down the page).

    – References to humans really being animals are coming up. Yes, this is true, but I like to this does not demote us but rather promotes animals and should emphasize the importance of their experience.

    Like

    1. Actually let me add to the reading list since you’re a literary person: On the Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd – one of the best books I read last year.

      Like

    2. ” and I think you’ll find your dismissal of it is based on the same lack of understanding you have of evolution in general”

      – No, I won’t. Evolution is recognized by the international scientific community. Evopsych is recognized by stand-up comedians. Try mentioning it among actual scientists and observe the reaction.

      “Yes, this is true, but I like to this does not demote us but rather promotes animals and should emphasize the importance of their experience.”

      – I really hope this is a joke because it sounds kind of scary otherwise.

      Like

      1. I’ve noticed that people who take evolutionary psychology to heart have very bad relationships with others. They get into a manipulative mode, not unlike pickup artists, and then when women don’t respond according to “their nature” (i.e. according to how the resident “evolutionary psychologist” mistakenly imagines a female chimp must necessarily respond in the wild), he gets all perturbed and loses his ability to communicate.

        I think the ideology of “evolutionary psychology” must be nature’s way of getting rid of the surplus population.

        Like

        1. I can even understand how very poor social skills might make one search for a simple, accessible guide to understanding how to interact with human beings based on such a primitive system as the gender binary. I mean, I get the pain of such folks who are terrified of the variety of human experience and hide from it in evo- psych.

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      2. Just off the top of my head, some distinguished academics who’ve endorsed evo psych. (In my experience it is only small time liberal arts professors and liberal arts grad students who outright reject evo psych):

        Steven Pinker – professor of psychology at Harvard.
        Richard Dawkins – professor of biology at Oxford.
        E. O. Wilson – professor of biology at Harvard
        Daniel Dennett – professor of philosophy and co-director of center for cognitive studies at Tufts, one of the foremost and most respected philosophers around.
        Peter Singer, while we’re on philosophers – professor of philosophy at Princeton, and one of the foremost philosophers/ethicists of the last 40 years.
        Stephen Davies – professor of philosophy at U of Auckland, currently writing a book on evo psych and art, the sole reason U of A is ranked second only to CUNY in philosophy of art in the Philosophical Gourmet report.
        Cosmides and Tooby – respectively, professors of psychology and anthropology at UCSB.
        Brian Boyd – university distinguished professor of english at U of Auckland, NZ, and recognized as pretty much the foremost authority of Nabokov.
        Frans de Waal – professor of primate behavior, Emory university, widely considered one of the foremost primatologists of our time.
        David Buss – professor of psychology at U of Texas, a pretty distinguished psychologist.

        But I urge you to see Pinker’s reply to Wilson in the article linked above.

        Like

      3. “- I don’t think human beings have access to the experience of animals.”

        This is like saying dogs don’t have access to the experience of animals.

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      4. Actually that is incorrect. Humans and animals are not two distinct categories. That was my point.

        So yes, humans do have access to the experiences of animals. Because they are animals. We are animals. You are an animal.

        Like

        1. “So yes, humans do have access to the experiences of animals. Because they are animals. We are animals. You are an animal.”

          – Which experiences of which specific animals have you been able to access lately? Concrete examples are preferable.

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  33. Aaron :
    Just off the top of my head, some distinguished academics who’ve endorsed evo psych. (In my experience it is only small time liberal arts professors and liberal arts grad students who outright reject evo psych):

    Well, during the nazi era, a number of distinguished academics endorses naziism, too — most significantly Heidegger. I’m happy for people to come up with their theories and even run with them, but I find people who posit that they know my inner workings and who treat me as a simple primate to be infinitely dull.

    Like

    1. Tell it to Clarissa, who brought up the importance of academic endorsement. “Try mentioning it among actual scientists and observe the reaction.” I was just playing by her rules.

      All psychology attempts to understand your inner workings, not just evo psych. That’s what psychology is. And if you think evolutionary psychologists treat you as a simple primate then I can only conclude you’re not well acquainted with the field.

      Like

      1. “Tell it to Clarissa, who brought up the importance of academic endorsement. “Try mentioning it among actual scientists and observe the reaction.” I was just playing by her rules.”

        – Yes, Ivies are filled with crazed kooks, as I happen to know only too well.

        Like

  34. Aaron :
    Tell it to Clarissa, who brought up the importance of academic endorsement. “Try mentioning it among actual scientists and observe the reaction.” I was just playing by her rules.
    All psychology attempts to understand your inner workings, not just evo psych. That’s what psychology is. And if you think evolutionary psychologists treat you as a simple primate then I can only conclude you’re not well acquainted with the field.

    You can conclude what you want to conclude. Whatever makes you happy.

    And it’s true that all psychology tends to be reductionist. That is why I wrote my thesis from a theoretical perspective of shamanism, which is one of the few theoretical platforms that is not reductionist.

    Like

  35. bloggerclarissa :
    “You don’t think the experience of animals is important?”
    – I don’t think human beings have access to the experience of animals.

    Go stab one in the face then.

    But seriously, you realize the world is understandable, right? And that the standard of elegant science is simple theories, not venerating everything as mysterious and of unique ineffable qualities which we shouldn’t even deign to attempt understanding?

    And if you want to appeal to the authority of scientists then… Scientists have done a lot of work on animal behavior and experience. Like, a lot. So much they gave a name to the field: ethology.

    Like

  36. I always think it is weird when people deny that animals (especially closely related mammals) have feelings, or deny that we could ever know if they do. It is rather bizarre to imagine that in the 6-8 million years since we split from our closest living relatives all desires, emotions, drives and feelings evolved de novo in humans.

    Like

    1. “I always think it is weird when people deny that animals (especially closely related mammals) have feelings, or deny that we could ever know if they do.”

      – The first part of this statement directly contradicts the second part.

      I always find it hilarious where a dog lover starts to gush about how their dog “loves” them. And once I heard something like, “I know that my dog understand every word I say.” This was both funny and kind of scary at the same time.

      Like

      1. “- The first part of this statement directly contradicts the second part.”

        Did you catch the word “or”? That means they are two distinct, alternative statements.

        “I always find it hilarious where a dog lover starts to gush about how their dog “loves” them.”

        Another random, unconnected statement. What does this have to do with anything? Who here is gushing? And no one on this thread is suggesting that any non-human animal understands human language. Jeesh.

        Are you saying you think all emotions evolved especially for humans to experience? Now *that* is hilarious. How could you possibly explain that?

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        1. “Are you saying you think all emotions evolved especially for humans to experience? ”

          – Yes, I insist that emotions are a distinctive human feature. Just like, thinking, language, writing, reading, etc.

          “Another random, unconnected statement. What does this have to do with anything? Who here is gushing? And no one on this thread is suggesting that any non-human animal understands human language. Jeesh.”

          – Once again you want to dictate to me which stories I should and shouldn’t share on my blog. You should know by now that this is an unproductive strategy.

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      2. “bloggerclarissa
        February 9, 2012 at 9:43 pm | #161
        Quote

        “Are you saying you think all emotions evolved especially for humans to experience? ”

        – Yes, I insist that emotions are a distinctive human feature. Just like, thinking, language, writing, reading, etc. ”

        This makes no sense at all. Why would emotions arise specifically for humans? This cannot be explained from an evolutionary standpoint.

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        1. “This makes no sense at all. Why would emotions arise specifically for humans? This cannot be explained from an evolutionary standpoint.”

          – As I explained before, I’m religious. And as I confessed in this very post, I don’t understand evolution.

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  37. “- Once again you want to dictate to me ”

    Now I am a dictator??? Unbelievable. This animal thing seems to be a real issue for you. You might think about why being an animal is so upsetting to you that you have this overwhelming need to deny your own reality.

    Like

    1. “You might think about why being an animal is so upsetting to you that you have this overwhelming need to deny your own reality.”

      – Don’t you know already? Because I hate animals! Except for when I eat them. 🙂 Then, I like them. 🙂

      Like

  38. “- As I explained before, I’m religious. And as I confessed in this very post, I don’t understand evolution.”

    I think because of this religious view that humans are divinely inspired you have more in common with creationists, and will likely never understand evolution.

    Like

    1. “I think because of this religious view that humans are divinely inspired you have more in common with creationists, and will likely never understand evolution.”

      – That’s very possible. But I’m trying, and this thread has already offered me a lot of interesting insights. There were some arguments presented here that I’d never heard before and that I find to be extremely logical and convincing.

      Like

      1. There is nothing incompatible about being religious and trying to understand evolution (or any other natural science) – to paraphrase Stephen Hawking, ” I’m just trying to peek into God’s toolbox”.

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        1. “There is nothing incompatible about being religious and trying to understand evolution (or any other natural science) – to paraphrase Stephen Hawking, ” I’m just trying to peek into God’s toolbox”.”

          – This is exactly how I feel about the topic.

          Like

      2. Animals can communicate, and some animals do have something like language. And the higher primates can be taught some basic language. I find that fascinating. It is useful, so why didn’t they develop it themselves? (I don’t take this as an argument against evolution.) We know that we experience emotions because we have first hand knowledge of them. We know other humans have emotions because we observe how they act. So we can guess whether or not animals have emotions by observing them. It seems pretty clear they have SOME emotions, like fear. I would expect that the more similar an animal is to humans, the more human-like its emotions would become. I don’t think they would ever be as nuanced as human emotions, because they don’t have the self awareness humans do, but I don’t see why it is so hard to believe they would have some basic forms of affection, dislike, fear, anticipation, etc. And, out of curiosity, why do you have such strong negative feelings about animals?

        Like

        1. “So we can guess whether or not animals have emotions by observing them. It seems pretty clear they have SOME emotions, like fear.”

          – I think these are instincts, not emotions. I don’t think emotions can exist without language.

          I think I shared on this blog before how I keep getting prevented from taking walks I need for my health by this extremely angry dog who keeps trying to jump at me. “Oh, she just loves you. . .”, her owner gushes without making any attempt to put her on a leash. I had to yell at the owner and promise to lodge a complaint for her to start putting this crazy animal on a leash. And she was extremely reluctant to do so. Bunched her mouth into a facial expression we call “a hen’s ass” in my culture.

          And it’s like this in my entire area. I can’t walk (on public sidewalks that I maintain with my taxes) because inconsiderate dog owners believe everybody needs to fall over themselves with joy at seeing their nasty pets.

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      3. “There is nothing incompatible about being religious and trying to understand evolution’

        This general statement is pointless. However, in this *specific instance* we see how Clarissa’s repeated insistence that humans and animals are two mutually exclusive categories, based on her religious beliefs, presents a major stumbling block.

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        1. ” However, in this *specific instance* we see how Clarissa’s repeated insistence that humans and animals are two mutually exclusive categories, based on her religious beliefs, presents a major stumbling block.”

          – No, not mutually exclusive. I know people who are total animals. 🙂

          Like

      4. I guess that is a joke, though I don’t get it. Do you mean people you don’t like, who have negative qualities such as no feelings?

        But my point is when you answer a question like “why would all these emotions we experience have evolved very recently only in humans – how does this make sense from an evolutionary perspective?” With “because I am religious” you are not really trying to understand evolution.

        Emotions have numerous very basic functions that apply to all social mammals and many other animals. It is sad to me that you are so in denial of the core reality of your existence.

        btw you said the dog was “angry”. And I detest many dog owners also, but their obnoxious dogs are a reflection of their obnoxious owners.

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      5. It isn’t psychoanalytic theory. It is common sense. Dogs can be trained better, they can be kept inside etc. Your walk is disrupted because of annoying people, who don’t care, just as you have described.
        Most dogs have been bred by people to bite and bark, chase, to attack and protect people and property, etc. How many wild animals harass you on your walks? I suspect they are all going about their business and keeping a low profile during the daytime.

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  39. The 1-sentence explanation of the “monkey paradox” is that humans and monkeys
    (and other primates) all decend from a common ancestor who is now extinct.

    Like

      1. The intermediary stages are there. They’re just rare. This is because, in a single phrase, of “punctuated equilibrium” – basically this states that evolution happens rather quickly when changes are made, but once life reaches a form that “fits” the environment, it will be stable as long as the environment is there. So we might see a species that exists for 1 million years in the fossil record. And for the million years before that, we’ll see a species that it looks like it descended from. And the whole of evolution of the new species might have taken 1000 years or 10,000 years. That’s 0.1-1% of the time that it existed in the form we see it. So of course, we’re not going to find as many “intermediary stages”. But we DO find them. Archeopteryx is a cross between dinosaurs and birds. We have found whales with vestigial hind limbs, and even hominid species that look like intermediate stages between Australopithecus and Homo sapiens. So they do exist. There are fewer of them, because of how the forces of evolution work.

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  40. “This doesn’t help because we are still not seeing any intermediary stages of evolution in a single animal, bird, etc. Where are the intermediary stages, huh?”

    Why do you expect to see every intermediary stage anyway? What do you consider an intermediary stage? A living species for every tiny change? We do in fact see many many examples that illustrate trends in evolution. I think this demand is unreasonable.

    Furthermore we do often see closer similarity between species that have diverged more recently than others. The two chimp species appear more similar than either does to humans. Scientists have found many cryptic species of plants that are barely distinguishable and many others that are recently diverged or in the process of diverging.

    There are many many excellent websites, videos, blogs and organizations that address these concerns about evolution. I recommend that people take advantage of them.

    In terms of the difference between humans and our two sister species being a difference in degree so extreme that it is a difference in kind, I think there are two reasons for this. First is our human-centric vantage point. We are hyper focused on the differences. Second, many evolutionary changes that may be relatively small from a genetic standpoint may lead to dramatic morphological changes. One example relevant to humans is neotony. Relative to other apes, humans have retained many juvenile characteristics. This is why young chimps and humans look much more similar to each other than the adults do.

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  41. “First is our human-centric vantage point. We are hyper focused on the differences.”

    – This is the silliest thing I have ever heard in my entire life. You are really doing a huge disservice to the subject by trying to address it in these terms. It begins to sound like complete quackery.

    “This is why young chimps and humans look much more similar to each other than the adults do.”

    – See above.

    I don’t know whether you possess any knowledge on the subject. But I know that you should never try to discuss your ideas anywhere except anti-evolution conventions. There you will be very successful.

    Like

    1. I am speechless. Your comment is completely over the top and undecipherable. You make yourself look like an idiot. This is very basic knowledge that I have described. Read a book sometime.

      Like

  42. Another pointless attack. I’ve taught evolution and have worked on an evolution curriculum for young children that deals with many of these sophisticated concepts. You are the one with the weird religious and philosophical blocks.

    Why don’t you answer my questions? Analyzing your own block with understanding the process is a perfectly rational approach:

    “Why do you expect to see every intermediary stage anyway? What do you consider an intermediary stage? A living species for every tiny change? ”

    What you seem to be expecting is that with every change over time the species would split in two and neither branch would ever go extinct. One lineage would continue to change and the other would be frozen forever in it’s current form. Then with the next change in the evolving lineage there would be a split with two species surviving to the present, with one thereafter unchanging, and so on. Then we would end up with many thousands of living primate species showing every transition. This is revealed to be an unreasonable expectation (for quite a number of reasons) when we put it this way.

    The only other possible way to see every transition would be to have a perfect fossil record. Again, a little knowledge on the subject reveals this to be an unreasonable expectation also. Fossils are rare for terrestrial organisms to begin with, and practically nonexistent in tropical environments. The fact is that we do not have a single fossil from the jungle-inhabiting chimpanzee branch after it diverged from the branch that led to humans 6-8 million years ago. Not a single fossil!

    Finally, if you google “neotony human evolution” you will also see that the evidence for my previous comment is pretty convincing. The point is that small changes in the genome, say to a regulatory gene that controls a particular stage of development, can have large effects.

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  43. By the way, as others have already pointed out, we do have many transitional fossils, and we are discovering more all the time. But even in the marine record, which is much better than the terrestrial record, there is usually evidence of punctuated evolution described by E above. A few centimeters of sedimentary rock will have evidence of hundreds of thousands of years, so the transitions often seem abrupt. Again, the answers to these common concerns are all covered in great detail elsewhere. It is not hard to find these resources, but if you insist I will collect some links for you. 🙂

    Like

  44. bloggerclarissa :
    What do you mean by non-verbal people? Deaf people, for example, do have a language. Non-verbal autistics understand language and express themselves very well in writing.

    Some do, some don’t. For once I must disagree. Literate people are by definition verbal people. Unfortunately it’s become common practice in “help wanted” copy (where all the employable people are above average—in “communication skills“) to word it as “both written and verbal communication skills” instead of “written and oral.” And there are certainly non-verbal ways to express emotion.

    I think the notion that there are differences of kind-not-degree between humans and other animals, particularly in the area of intelligence, is because the only test for the presence of other-than-human intelligence seems to be the “Turing Test,” which is impossible to perform non-verbally. Strategies for detection of extraterrestrial evidence of intelligence seem to rely on evidence of use of symbol systems (if not verbal, at least a form of language), especially if used in a way that demonstrates understanding of (say) mathematical principles. I say “seems” in these statements out of humble deference to the PhD-level ur-scholars who are actually entitled to opinions when the validity of scientific consensus is put on the defensive in the name of religion and/or conservatism.

    Like

    1. ” And there are certainly non-verbal ways to express emotion.”

      – Thank you, I’m well aware. 🙂 This is not what we are discussing, though. We are talking about the ability to express emotions.

      Experiencing emotions is a capacity that we develop very gradually in life. Take people with a very limited emotional range. These are people who were not allowed to express emotions when they were little, so they never develop or fully develop this skill. This is why the idea that animals somehow magically possess this extremely complex and very anti-instinctual skill sounds extremely weird to me.

      It is a very specifically human trait to project one’s own emotions not only onto animals but even onto inanimate objects. When my computer freezes up, I get angry with it and tell it, “Are you stupid or something? Are you doing this on purpose to bug me?”

      But at least I’m lucid enough to realize that I’m projecting.

      Like

      1. “” And there are certainly non-verbal ways to express emotion.”…This is not what we are discussing, though. We are talking about the ability to express emotions.”

        Huh?

        “Experiencing emotions is a capacity that we develop very gradually in life.”

        You haven’t known many toddlers have you? They are the most expressive people I have ever known and have incredible range.

        “This is why the idea that animals somehow magically possess”

        The suggestion was that this evolved, no magic was invoked.

        “this extremely complex and very anti-instinctual skill ”

        Skill? Anti-instinctual?

        “It is a very specifically human trait to project ”

        When did we start discussing projection? Are you talking about empathy?

        “not only onto animals but even onto inanimate objects.”

        Oh I see you think it’s all projection. Yet you still haven’t explained how emotions could have evolved only along the recent human line. I am very curious to hear your ideas on how this could have happened.

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        1. “” And there are certainly non-verbal ways to express emotion.”…This is not what we are discussing, though. We are talking about the ability to express emotions.”

          Huh?”

          – Sorry, I meant the ability to experience emotions.

          “You haven’t known many toddlers have you? They are the most expressive people I have ever known and have incredible range.”

          – And those toddlers don’t understand language??? Not a single word? My niece is two and she can say quite a lot in 4 different languages. However, there are emotionally stunted kids. Ask anybody who has worked with sexually and emotionally abused kids what emotional range they have as compared to a normal toddler.

          “this extremely complex and very anti-instinctual skill ”

          Skill? Anti-instinctual?”

          – Are you disagreeing that experiencing emotions is a skill? Let me tell you, for people who were emotionally stunted in childhood, it is the most difficult skill to master. And it’s anti-instinctual because emotions often lead us to do things that directly contradict what are supposed to be our instincts (e.g. self-preservation.)

          ““It is a very specifically human trait to project ”

          When did we start discussing projection? Are you talking about empathy?”

          – When people say, “My doggie loves me”, they are projecting. Empathy has nothing to do with this. Unless you are claiming that animals experience empathy. Are you? Because it scares me to imagine that anybody can seriously believe something like that.

          “Oh I see you think it’s all projection. Yet you still haven’t explained how emotions could have evolved only along the recent human line. I am very curious to hear your ideas on how this could have happened.”

          – Asking me to explain things in terms of a theory that I expressly said I don’t understand is akin to asking an atheist to explain their religious interpretation of certain events. I can’t explain evolution to you because, as I said, I don’t get it. If I start to explain my worldview here, it would be extremely off-topic.

          Like

      2. “- Asking me to explain things in terms of a theory that I expressly said I don’t understand is akin to asking an atheist to explain their religious interpretation of certain events. ”

        But you are making an assumption that needs explaining in terms of evolution. And I assure you this would be next to impossible to achieve, yet you still insist that your idea is correct.

        What is off-topic is emotionally stunted humans. What about normal humans? They need to develop the skill of experiencing emotions because emotions are anti-self preservation? And anti-instinctual? I have never heard so many absurd ideas in my life as I have heard expressed by you on this thread. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with next.

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        1. “But you are making an assumption that needs explaining in terms of evolution. And I assure you this would be next to impossible to achieve, yet you still insist that your idea is correct.”

          – You do realize that, in this case, the only reaction that I can provide is that the theory of evolution does not work. I am hoping, however, that the true answer is that we (meaning, you and I) are not seeing that explanation right now (albeit for different reasons). I’m hoping that somebody will find their way to this thread who can explain this.

          “What about normal humans? They need to develop the skill of experiencing emotions”

          – Of course. There are endless strategies that child psychologists suggest to help a child to develop the capacity to experience emotions. Do you want me to talk about that? Because this is an area where I, by sad necessity, have acquired a lot of knowledge.

          “They need to develop the skill of experiencing emotions because emotions are anti-self preservation? And anti-instinctual?”

          – I have no idea why you decided to put the word “because” between these different statements. Where did you find a causal link in my comment?

          “I have never heard so many absurd ideas in my life as I have heard expressed by you on this thread.”

          You made the idea absurd by placing a causal link where none was implied. Does the idea that humans often act against their instincts because of emotions?

          Like

  45. ““They need to develop the skill of experiencing emotions because emotions are anti-self preservation? And anti-instinctual?”

    – I have no idea why you decided to put the word “because” between these different statements. Where did you find a causal link in my comment?”

    Well, you said:

    “Experiencing emotions is a capacity that we develop very gradually in life…. This is why the idea that animals somehow magically possess this extremely complex and very anti-instinctual skill sounds extremely weird to me. ”

    and

    “And it’s anti-instinctual because emotions often lead us to do things that directly contradict what are supposed to be our instincts (e.g. self-preservation.)”

    Then you said:

    “- You made the idea absurd by placing a causal link where none was implied. Does the idea that humans often act against their instincts because of emotions?”

    I don’t follow the last sentence fragment, but you certainly do seem to be implying that emotions work against self-preservation and against instincts, in humans at least; and furthermore, that they do not exist at all in other species, even our closest relatives.

    I really have no idea *what* you are trying to say. We were originally discussing- whether animals experience emotions. Why would emotions have evolved at all if they were maladaptive, and needed special skill to experience, or even to express? And why (and how) would they have originated only in the last few million years, to be experienced only by a single species? Sure, there are undoubtedly differences in the experience, but to completely deny that closely related species experience anything similar to our experience at all – that seems to me the position that needs defending.

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    1. Isabel, if you are suggesting that animals do experience emotions, then could you name some of these emotions that you think animals experience? And also, what evidence do you use to suggest that animals do experience emotions? The way I’m seeing your argument right now, is that you are saying that animals have to experience emotions because the fact that they don’t cannot be explained from the point of view of the theory of evolution as it is commonly understood right now.

      Am I reading your statements correctly?

      P. S. I am very grateful to everybody who has been participating in this discussion because I feel very enriched intellectually by it. I am grateful to people for their patience because it will take me a while to understand all of this.

      I am also extremely happy that my blog is a place where we can discuss evolution rationally and reasonably. As a deeply religious person, I am grateful that people are taking the time to explain how the evolution works to me.

      Like

  46. “you are saying that animals have to experience emotions”

    No, I did not say they HAVE to experience anything. I said it makes a lot more sense to assume that they do, otherwise there is a lot to be explained: why humans have a special need for emotions that is not shared even with close relatives (and how these emotions could have evolved recently in a young species) as well as endless examples that appear to show evidence (from behavior to similar facial expressions) of love, grief, fear, pain, depression, happiness, affection, anger, jealousy etc in many animals.

    I am not an expert in emotion in humans or other animals. It is possible that I am wrong. But that would involve an extraordinary amount of explaining on your part. Your views are also uncomfortably similar to the views of those who until recently thought animals felt no physical pain and used them for medical research with no anesthetic, or those Westerners who asserted that the “primitives” they came across in their explorations had only rudimentary feelings, not refined feelings like civilized people have.

    Like

    1. ” I said it makes a lot more sense to assume that they do, otherwise there is a lot to be explained”

      – So you make such huge assumption simply because you have no other explanation? What a profoundly scientific approach.

      “as well as endless examples that appear to show evidence (from behavior to similar facial expressions) of love, grief, fear, pain, depression, happiness, affection, anger, jealousy etc in many animals”

      – Animals experience depression? OK, I now realize that I have wasted time discussing this with you. You led me to believe that you are some sort of a scientist but now I realize that you probably didn’t even finish high school. Depressed animals and pain as an emotion have given you away.

      Please remove yourself from the thread so that it doesn’t turn into a complete travesty and actual scientists have a platform to share their knowledge.

      Like

      1. I don’t know how to make this any clearer Clarissa – my very first comment was critical of people who assume that animals have don’t experience pain or emotions since it is by far the less parsimonious assumption. It is clearly based on some need for humans to be special, not on science.

        “- Animals experience depression?”

        You keep telling me I am not reading carefully, but it is obviously projection. I never said this. I said they show evidence of it, that needs explaining. Do you understand the difference? I don’t think you do.

        “Depressed animals and pain as an emotion have given you away. ”

        Again, you are the one who made the assumption. And I later talked about physical pain as an additional example, so I obviously meant emotional pain and distress.

        “Please remove yourself from the thread so that it doesn’t turn into a complete travesty and actual scientists have a platform to share their knowledge.”

        This is too funny. I am not “removing myself” from such an entertaining thread – you will have to do the deed yourself.

        Like

    2. Certainly a lot of things evolved in the species Homo sapiens in its youth as some scientists refer to our species at its current stage of development as Homo sapiens sapiens.Seems there was some kind of awakening at some point that not only could we learn (as do so many animals) but we can”build on” knowledge, transmit it across generations etc. Once the afterburner kicked in–kind not degree.

      Still evolution not God though, you ask me.

      Like

      1. ‘but we can”build on” knowledge, transmit it across generations etc. ”

        this has now been observed in animals also.

        “Once the afterburner kicked in–kind not degree.'”

        What is the afterburner?

        Like

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