Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

Life exists as a succession of identities

November 18, 2017

Life is an abstract concept manifested as living things. The thread of life has no discernible beginning.

Life – to be life – must be manifested in an entity capable of reproduction. The elements displaying life either continue or come to an end. The thread is carried as a possibility by every sperm and every egg but the sperm and egg cannot themselves reproduce. Most of these possibilities come to an end before the two combine. If – and only if – a sperm and egg do combine, then life continues as, and within, a unique identity created by that combination. It is the creation of the identity – at conception – which continues life. About one in 300 billion sperm survives to combine with about one in 200 eggs to create an identity. It is a unique genetic identity. That identity, first as a fetus may end before birth. Or it may continue after birth as a child. It may grow to be an adult human and give rise to further sperm or eggs before itself coming to an end. When that identity qualifies to be considered a human entity and protected by society is a choice for the societies and the individuals concerned. Most societies start assigning the identity some rights and protections before birth but only after about 20 weeks of life as a fetus.

There is little doubt, however, that a unique genetic identity is created at conception, whether in a test tube or in a womb. At what stage of development that identity achieves consciousness and then self-awareness is not certain but almost certainly only after a rudimentary brain has formed. That would be some weeks after conception but probably some little time before birth. At what point that identity is to be afforded legal “rights” is then a matter for the surrounding society to determine.

Until the identity reaches birth – whether by natural or by artificial means – it has no options and no choices to exercise. Whether self-aware or not, its existence is in the gift and the power of others. It starts acquiring choices and freedoms of action only after birth, as allowed or constrained by its own development and the rules of the society it finds itself in.

Life then only exists as a succession of identities.

To trace the beginning of life would require going back from identity to identity to the specific cells some 3.7 billion years ago. A collection of sperm and eggs may contain the elements for life to continue but do not in themselves constitute life. The beginning of an identity is not the beginning of life. But the act of conception brings a unique identity into being and it is surely the beginning of a specific new life.

Life may be continuous as a concept but can only be realised and manifested as a succession of unique, discrete identities.


 

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Evolution is indifferent to species survival

November 11, 2017


 

Early hominins left Africa 6 million years ago

September 3, 2017

A foot print found in Crete is probably that of an early hominid and was made 5.7 million years ago.

The single Out-of-Africa theory sometime around 70,000 years ago is already obsolete. It was more likely to have been multiple hominin crossings out of Africa into both Europe and Asia. The expansion of homo sapiens sapiens is more likely to have been in  at least two waves out of Africarabia.  Homo erectus appeared around 2 million years ago while homo sapiens appeared about 1 million years ago.  Homo sapiens sapiens then split from homo sapiens neanderthalensis around 600,000 years ago. So the footprint found is that of a human ancestor after the split with chimpanzees (c. 8-9 million years ago), after the beginning of bipedalism but well before homo erectus appeared.

image from physorg

The paper is

Gerard D. Gierlińskia et al., Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete? Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006

As the Uppsala University  press release puts it:

….. Ever since the discovery of fossils of Australopithecus in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th century, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa. More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, including the iconic 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins (early members of the human lineage) not only originated in Africa but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia. The discovery of approximately 5.7 million year old human-like footprints from Crete, published online this week by an international team of researchers, overthrows this simple picture and suggests a more complex reality. …….

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct ‘ball’ on the sole, which is never present in apes. The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash. …….

…… During the time when the Trachilos footprints were made, a period known as the late Miocene, the Sahara Desert did not exist; savannah-like environments extended from North Africa up around the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, Crete had not yet detached from the Greek mainland. It is thus not difficult to see how early hominins could have ranged across south-east Europe and well as Africa, and left their footprints on a Mediterranean shore that would one day form part of the island of Crete.

‘This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,’ says Per Ahlberg.

Abstract

We describe late Miocene tetrapod footprints (tracks) from the Trachilos locality in western Crete (Greece), which show hominin-like characteristics. They occur in an emergent horizon within an otherwise marginal marine succession of Messinian age (latest Miocene), dated to approximately 5.7 Ma (million years), just prior to the Messinian Salinity Crisis. The tracks indicate that the trackmaker lacked claws, and was bipedal, plantigrade, pentadactyl and strongly entaxonic. The impression of the large and non-divergent first digit (hallux) has a narrow neck and bulbous asymmetrical distal pad. The lateral digit impressions become progressively smaller so that the digital region as a whole is strongly asymmetrical. A large, rounded ball impression is associated with the hallux. Morphometric analysis shows the footprints to have outlines that are distinct from modern non-hominin primates and resemble those of hominins. The interpretation of these footprints is potentially controversial. The print morphology suggests that the trackmaker was a basal member of the clade Hominini, but as Crete is some distance outside the known geographical range of pre-Pleistocene hominins we must also entertain the possibility that they represent a hitherto unknown late Miocene primate that convergently evolved human-like foot anatomy.


 

Manliness has more than halved in western men since 1973

July 26, 2017

There is a new paper, a meta-review, receiving much attention.

The manliness of western men has more than halved between 1973 and 2011. It reports a significant ongoing decline in sperm concentration and sperm counts of Western men. It seems that “between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa.”

Being a meta-review this study does not shed light on the causes of this drastic decline in the manliness of western men. It speculates that this may be due to chemicals or lifestyle or smoking or obesity or pesticides or some other factor. This speculation is just speculation and smoking or pesticide use would have caused stronger effects in Asia. They are quite right, however, in not following the sheep and including global warming as a possible cause. However they seem to be ignoring some other relevant factors.

I am inclined to think that the decrease of manliness among western men sounds more like a psychological reaction to political trends. Western society just values “manliness” much less than it used to. So other factors which probably need to be considered include:

  1. the increase of gender ambiguity
  2. the decrease in men’s social status
  3. the decline of political leadership in the west,
  4. the spread of political indecisiveness,
  5. the decline of corporal punishment in schools,
  6. the decline of femininity

It stands to reason that if gender difference is eliminated then sperm count and concentration will also decline. It follows that eliminating gender difference will result in the elimination of reproduction and species extinction.

Hagai Levine et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update. DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022

MedicalXpress writes:  ….. between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa. ….. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011. ….. 

While declines in sperm count have been reported since 1992, the question has remained controversial because of limitations in past studies. However, the current study uses a broader scope and rigorous meta-regression methods, conservatively addresses the reliability of study estimates, and controls for factors that might help explain the decline such as age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.

“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, the lead author and Head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

“Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling broader risks to male health.

It also follows that western men pose less of a risk to women looking for promiscuity, but that western women who wish to have children have a better chance with men having a higher level of manliness.


 

Conservation denies tigers a future as a species

June 13, 2017

There are, it is thought, around 4,000 tigers still living in the “wild”. There may be as many as 8 – 9,000 in captivity (3,000 in China and perhaps 5,000 in the US). The tigers in captivity are in zoos and parks and are, in the US, often bred for “hunting”. Very few (< 100 perhaps) of those in captivity are returned to the “wild” every year. Breeding hybrid tigons and ligers once used to be very popular in zoos but less so now though it is still prevalent for entertainment purposes. The numbers are not very significant.

Tigers are magnificent animals and a cultural icon for humans. No doubt the sabre-toothed tiger was an even more magnificent creature. It is surely a matter of regret that they became extinct a long time ago. As a species they were replaced by others which were more suited to the changing world. If present-day tigers (considered endangered) were to become extinct, it would also be a matter of much regret. But I find the rationale for “conservation” efforts flawed and illogical. The WWF (which is close to being one of my least favourite organisations) writes in a typical woolly-headed, gushing style:

Yet they are more than just a magnificent animal – they are also crucial for the ecosystems in which they live. As top predators of the food chain, tigers keep populations of prey species in check, which in turn maintains the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Balanced ecosystems are not only important for wildlife, but for people too – both locally, nationally and globally. People rely on forests, whether it is directly for their livelihoods or indirectly for food and products used in our daily lives. ……… Tigers not only protect the forest by maintaining ecological integrity, but also by bringing the highest levels of protection and investment to an area. Tigers are an “umbrella species” – meaning their conservation also conserves many other species in the same area. They are long-ranging and require vast amounts of habitat to survive; an adult male’s home range varies from 150 km2 – 1000 km2.

Tigers are endangered because their habitats are disappearing. That habitat loss is fundamentally irreversible. As a species they already have no significant role to play in the ecosystem prevailing. They have already become a redundant species biologically even if the concept of majestic tigers roaming wild forests still has a massive emotional impact on the selfish human psyche. Creating new tiger reserves – constrained in area by various means –  is little more than creating glorified zoos. They are just parks where the cages are a little bigger.  The tigers themselves are “frozen” into their current, unsuccessful, unsuitable, failed genetic state. They are doomed to continue unchanged and unchanging in a shrinking and ever more unsuitable habitat. There are no natural selection pressures (or artificial selection measures) in play which would make their descendants more capable of surviving in the new habitats due to changes that have already happened and have yet to come. This “conservation” is not about helping the tiger to survive by evolving but is only about freezing them into an increasingly untenable form. It is backwards looking and all about preserving failure.

I am even more convinced that traditional “conservation” is misguided and is done just to satisfy the emotional needs of humans, and not, in any way, forward-looking to help endangered species to adapt and survive into the future.

Fighting against species extinction is to deny evolution   – (ktwop – 2013)

So what then is the objection to – say – tigers becoming extinct which is not just an emotional reaction to the disappearance of a magnificent but anachronistic creature?  The bio-diversity argument is not very convincing and is of little relevance. To artificially keep an unsuccessful species alive in a specially protected environment has no genetic value. It increases the mis-match between the existing environment and the genetic profile needed to survive in that environment. In fact the biodiversity argument is only relevant for “life” in general and never for any particular species or group of species.  It can serve to maintain a very wide range of genetic material in the event of a catastrophe such that some form of life has a chance of continuing. But given a particular environment biodiversity in itself is of little value. …

…. All those species which succeed into the future will be those which continue to “evolve” and have the characteristics necessary to thrive within the world as it is being shaped and changed by the most successful species that ever lived (though we cannot be sure how far some particular species of dinosaur may have advanced). Putting a tiger into a zoo or a “protected” environment actually only preserves the tiger in an “unsuccessful” form in an artificial environment. Does this really count as “saving the species”? We might be of more use to the future of the tiger species if we intentionally bred them to find a new space in a changed world  – perhaps as urban tigers which can co-exist with man.

Smilodon image DinoAnimals.com

I’ll still make a donation to Project Tiger but that is about helping individuals to survive and has nothing to do with saving the species.


Sherpas are genetically more efficient at using Oxygen

May 23, 2017

A new paper today confirms that Sherpas are genetically more efficient at using Oxygen. It is another example of an ethnic group where defining characteristics of the group are genetically inherited.

Horscroft, J et al. Metabolic basis to Sherpa altitude adaptation. PNAS; 22 May 2017; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1700527114

EurekAlertSherpas have evolved to become superhuman mountain climbers, extremely efficient at producing the energy to power their bodies even when oxygen is scarce, suggests new research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). …..

When oxygen is scarce, the body is forced to work harder to ensure that the brain and muscles receive enough of this essential nutrient. One of the most commonly observed ways the body has of compensating for a lack of oxygen is to produce more red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying blood around the body to our organs. This makes the blood thicker, however, so it flows more slowly and is more likely to clog up blood vessels.

Mountain climbers are often exposed to low levels of oxygen, particularly at high altitudes. This is why they often have to take time during long ascents to acclimatise to their surroundings, giving the body enough time to adapt itself and prevent altitude sickness. In addition, they may take oxygen supplies to supplement the thin air.

Scientists have known for some time that people have different responses to high altitudes. While most climbers require additional oxygen to scale Mount Everest, whose peak is 8,848m above sea level, a handful of climbers have managed to do so without. Most notably, Sherpas, an ethnic group from the mountain regions of Nepal, are able to live at high altitude with no apparent consequences to their health – as a result, many act as guides to support expeditions in the Himalayas, and two Sherpas are known to have reached the summit of Everest an incredible 21 times.

Previous studies have suggested differences between Sherpas and people living in non-high altitude areas, known collectively as ‘lowlanders’, including fewer red blood cells in Sherpas at altitude, but higher levels of nitric oxide, a chemical that opens up blood vessels and keeps blood flowing.

Evidence suggests that the first humans were present on the Tibetan Plateau around 30,000 years ago, with the first permanent settlers appearing between 6,000-9,000 years ago. This raises the possibility that they have evolved to adapt to the extreme environment. This is supported by recent DNA studies, which have found clear genetic differences between Sherpa and Tibetan populations on the one hand and lowlanders on the other. Some of these differences were in their mitochondrial DNA – the genetic code that programmes mitochondria, the body’s ‘batteries’ that generate our energy.

To understand the biological differences between the Sherpas and lowlanders, a team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Cambridge followed two groups as they made a gradual ascent up to Everest Base Camp at an elevation of 5,300m.

The study was part of Xtreme Everest, a project that aims to improve outcomes for people who become critically ill by understanding how our bodies respond to the extreme altitude on the world’s highest mountain. This year marks 10 years since the group’s first expedition to Everest.

The lowlanders group comprised 10 investigators selected to operate the Everest Base Camp laboratory, where the mitochondrial studies were carried out by James Horscroft and Aleks Kotwica, two PhD students at the University of Cambridge. They took samples, including blood and muscle biopsies, in London to give a baseline measurement, then again when they first arrived at Base Camp and a third time after two months at Base Camp. These samples were compared with those taken from 15 Sherpas, all of whom were living in relatively low-lying areas, rather than being the ‘elite’ high altitude climbers. The Sherpas’ baseline measurements were taken at Kathmandu, Nepal.

The researchers found that even at baseline, the Sherpas’ mitochondria were more efficient at using oxygen to produce ATP, the energy that powers our bodies.

As predicted from genetic differences, they also found lower levels of fat oxidation in the Sherpas. Muscles have two ways to get energy – from sugars, such as glucose, or from burning fat (fat oxidation). The majority of the time we get our energy from the latter source; however, this is inefficient, so at times of physical stress, such as when exercising, we take our energy from sugars. The low levels of fat oxidation again suggest that the Sherpas are more efficient at generating energy.

The measurements taken at altitude rarely changed from the baseline measurement in the Sherpas, suggesting that they were born with such differences. However, for lowlanders, measurements tended to change after time spent at altitude, suggesting that their bodies were acclimatising and beginning to mimic the Sherpas’.

One of the key differences, however, was in phosphocreatine levels. Phosphocreatine is an energy reserve that acts as a buffer to help muscles contract when no ATP is present. In lowlanders, after two months at high altitude, phosphocreatine levels crash, whereas in Sherpas levels actually increase.

In addition, the team found that while levels of free radicals increase rapidly at high altitude, at least initially, levels in Sherpas are very low. Free radicals are molecules created by a lack of oxygen that can be potentially damaging to cells and tissue.

“Sherpas have spent thousands of years living at high altitudes, so it should be unsurprising that they have adapted to become more efficient at using oxygen and generating energy,” says Dr Andrew Murray from the University of Cambridge, the study’s senior author. “When those of us from lower-lying countries spend time at high altitude, our bodies adapt to some extent to become more ‘Sherpa-like’, but we are no match for their efficiency.” ……

Race is not a social construct as the politically correct would have me believe. Race is real and is a consequence of ancestry. Racial classification is fluid and changes but only over generational time. Sherpa genes help high-altitude living. There are West African genes which help sprinters, East African genes which are beneficial for long-distance runners, Scandinavian genes which predispose to diabetes 1 and Indian genes which predispose to diabetes 2.

And there are genes which predispose to high performance in IQ testing.


 

Fantasy or just bad science — “humans in North America 130,000 years ago”

April 27, 2017

Nothing wrong with fantasy of course. It just makes for bad science. The real problem here is that it is very bad science being encouraged by the journal Nature. The whole paper is based on analysing some crushed Mastodon bones which were found 25 years ago, a doubtful application of a dating technique and then the assertion that it was impossible for the bones to have been crushed by anything other than human activity. They made some experiments to crush bones and then they leap to their fantastic conclusion that the crushing was (was and not might have been) by stone tools (of which there are no traces) made by unknown humans (who also have left no other trace).

This is not just fantasy. It is borderline rubbish.

Controversial study claims humans reached Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought

The “science” is quite sophisticated —–

“Scientific” bone crushing

Even the staid BBC is driven to report:

Prof Michael R Waters, from Texas A&M University in College Station, described the new paper as “provocative”. He told BBC News the study “purports to provide evidence of human occupation of the Americas some 115,000 years before the earliest well established evidence”.

Prof Waters explained: “I have no issues with the geological information – although I would like to know more about the broader geological context – and the likely age of the locality. However, I am sceptical of the evidence presented that humans interacted with the mastodon at the Cerutti Mastodon site.  …… To demonstrate such early occupation of the Americas requires the presence of unequivocal stone artefacts. There are no unequivocal stone tools associated with the bones… this site is likely just an interesting paleontological locality.”

Prof Tom Dillehay, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, told BBC News the claim was not plausible. Another authority on early American archaeology, Prof David Meltzer from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, said: “Nature is mischievous and can break bones and modify stones in a myriad of ways. ……. With evidence as inherently ambiguous as the broken bones and non-descript broken stones described in the paper, it is not enough to demonstrate they could have been broken/modified by humans; one has to demonstrate they could not have been broken by nature. ….. This is an equifinality problem: multiple processes can cause the same product.”


 

Democracy, like natural selection, has no need for excellence

April 14, 2017

Natural selection gives traits that are good enough for survival up to the time of reproduction. There is no value to be gained by being anything beyond just good enough to survive and only till reproduction is accomplished. Natural selection is about being “good enough” and there is no force which drives towards excellence. Fast enough may, in fact, be much more successful for descendants than fastest. Strong enough is good enough and there is no advantage necessarily accruing from being the strongest. The forces of natural selection are quite satisfied with intelligent enough and do not persist towards increasing intelligence. The equilibrium position is mediocrity.

And so it is with democracies. Democracies are all about winning elections, not about selection of the “best” leaders. A winning candidate only needs to be sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently competent and sufficiently rich and  sufficiently cunning and sufficiently dishonest to ensure the capture of sufficient votes. There is no value, and there may well be a negative value, in having more of a vote-winning attribute than just necessary.

Given that excellence, of any attribute, must be a minority “thing” (the bell curve again), any system promoting the majority must inevitably promote a leveling down – a chase for mediocrity. Natural selection is all about increasing population. Extinction is failure and increasing population is the measure of success. Democracies pander to the majority in a population. There will always be more of the poor than of the rich, the unintelligent will always outnumber the intelligent and the incompetent will always swamp the competent.

Excellence in sport requires special coaching and training regimes for elite squads of young athletes. Academic excellence requires elite academic institutions. Excellence in science needs its ivory towers. Excellence in companies is achieved by autocracies (including monarchies) but never by democracies. Military excellence requires elite troops.  Excellence in government and in management requires autocrats. To achieve excellence in almost any field requires elitism. “Socialist principles” abhor elitism. It is not perhaps so surprising that the essence of “social democrats” lies in leveling down, in making a god out of mediocrity.

At some point humans and human societies will find the need to drive towards improvement and a search for excellence. With no pressure to increase population humans will be freed from the constraints of natural selection and will be able to target excellence. Natural selection will have to be given direction with a strong dose of artificial selection. Once poverty is eliminated (but not the poor who must always be there) and population is stable or declining, even human societies will be freed to chase excellence. Democracies will then need to acquire some spine by institutionalising  more than just a little whiff of autocracy. Voters and candidates for election will need to qualify, votes will be weighted and elected leaders will be autocrats for their terms of office.

Leaders might then begin to lead again rather than being followers of the mob.


 

Does life start when the egg is laid?

April 9, 2017

Birds and reptiles (and the duck billed platypus which is a mammal), lay eggs for their offspring. Their only interaction of the parents with the egg after it is laid is to keep predators away and to incubate it – which is often done by the male. The development of the embryo in the egg requires no nourishment or any biological intervention from the parents.

In the case of a chicken’s development, the egg when laid consists of a minuscule embryo (0.0002 grams) and nutrients. The chick hatches when the nutrients have been consumed and its weight has increased to about 30-31 grams.

Image result for development of a chicken egg

from EnchantedLearning.com

Is the chick alive when the egg is laid?

One could argue that the embryo at that point is not yet deserving of the label “chick”. But I think there is no rational way in which to question that “life” has definitely started by the time the fertilised egg is laid. In the case of humans a fertilised egg is called a “zygote” until it has implanted itself (about 6 -10 days after conception) in the wall of the womb. It is then called an “embryo”. It is called a “fetus” only from 8 weeks after conception and remains a “fetus” till the birth of a “child”. Just as a “chick” only emerges after egg hatching, a human “child” only emerges after birth. But in both cases life, life has begun much earlier. By the time a hen lays an egg, the genetic identity of the embryo in the egg has already been fixed. The unique genetic identity whether for chicken or for human is actually fixed when conception occurs. The implantation of a human zygote in the wall of the womb is the corresponding point when an embryo is defined. The genetic identity of the embryo has then been well established and the life of a unique identity has clearly begun.

An individual human time line is then not so complicated as the Great Abortion Debate would make it to be:

0: Conception: Genetic identity is established. Life begins as a zygote.

+2: Implantation in the womb: Life continues as an embryo.

+8: Life continues as a fetus

+40: Life continues as a child.

+1340: Child becomes adult when brain development is complete

+4720 (approximately): Life of that unique identity ends


The time when a unique identity is established and life begins is quite simply defined and the Great Abortion Debate is actually about the ethics of terminating that life at different times during its existence. It is trying to make an ethical distinction between breaking an egg for a breakfast omelette or killing a chicken for a roast dinner. (But note also that many vegetarians eat eggs but a chicken eater is never considered a vegetarian). Abortion, infanticide, murder or euthanasia are just labels for different times at which life is to be terminated. Abortion always kills a fetus (not a child) and infanticide always kills a child (not a fetus). But whether it is a zygote which fails to implant itself, or a fetus which is aborted, or a child killed for being the wrong gender, or an aged person being assisted to die, it is the same life, the same identity, which is terminated.

And, I note, ethics are always personal and cannot be imposed by a society on someone. But a society can always exclude someone from the club for not complying with its ethical code.

This Slate article unnecessarily complicates the matter only to try and justify a particular ethical view.

When Does Life Begin? It’s Not So Simple

It actually is just that simple. A unique genetic identity and life are established with conception.


 

Inheritance rules

March 8, 2017

Genes surely define the behavioural envelope within which an individual can operate. This envelope, though, is quite wide. Nevertheless, one would think that after some 10,000 generations of evolution as anatomically modern humans, living in societies where cooperation is primal, that all those beneficial behavioural traits which had a genetic component, would have by now been selected. But psychopaths are not extinct, anti-social behaviour is very common and compassion is not a survival trait to be selected for. Barbarism has not been deselected by evolution. It could be that the same genes which give religious fanaticism also give rise to artistic creativity.

One would also have expected that the intelligence we credit humans with, and see as a key differentiating factor from other creatures, would also have been selected as a trait. Of course intelligence is not so easily defined and it certainly is not just the result of an IQ test. There are suggestions, from brain size measurements, that intelligence, as given by brain size, peaked when we were still hunter gatherers, possibly because that was when individuals needed to be very autonomous and – by inference – quite selfish to survive.  IQ tests today are not a good predictor of the success of an individual in society, probably because the test does not capture those aspects of intelligence that have to do with leadership, team work or entrepreneurial ability.

There was a time when light and dark were outside human control. So far we have left evolution to take its slow, natural, wasteful, trial and error course. But the speed of natural selection is now completely out of sync with the speed of change. The few attempts to guide evolution have been discredited by the manner in which they have been applied. They have been based on the principles we have used to breed livestock and dogs by terminating unwanted characteristics and only allowing individuals with desired characteristics to have progeny. The Nazi experiments with eugenics and even Margaret Sanger’s objectives of controlling the black population in the US (by making abortions freely available) were horrible (still are in some instances), in their manner of execution. But the idea of guiding our own evolution is still sound and an idea whose time has still to come. We are already tinkering with eugenics – though in a very amateurish way – when foetuses are aborted, or IVF is used, or when sperm banks are drawn upon, or fertility drugs or surrogacy are employed. Now, we have a sort of eugenics by default. When foetuses are screened genetically as a matter of course, and when genetic manipulation and correction becomes possible then eugenics will have properly arrived.


 


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