Posts Tagged ‘Natural selection’

Natural selection is obsolete and the compassionate society needs non-coercive eugenics

March 20, 2016

Natural selection is about being “good enough” and never about excellence. It has been sufficient to the purpose to cope with the slow change of prevailing environment. It has been effective but remarkably inefficient. But now that homo sapiens has developed to the point of influencing – even if not yet controlling – the prevailing environment, the trial and error process of “natural selection” can no longer cope with the pace of change. Compassionate societies take care of their physically unfit and natural selection is effectively bypassed.

Natural selection is about “good enough”, but artificial selection could be about excellence

Natural selection has no direction. In fact it is unintended selection. It just allows for the survival and the reproduction of the “just good enough” individuals (not of the best individuals). “Evolution” is then just the resulting changes in species, where some individuals have had the genetic variation (errors or abnormalities) to be able to survive in a changed environment (habitat and/or competing species). Paradoxically, species which display a wide genetic variation in individuals (large errors), have a greater chance of surviving change. Of course, many abnormal individuals fail to survive, which is the price paid for the survival of the species. In that sense, “natural selection” sacrifices individuals for the sake of the species. The unplanned, unintended “selection” occurs primarily by the deselection of the unfit individuals. You could say it was unethical, since the end (species survival), justifies the means (deselection of unfit individuals). There is no compassion for deselected individuals in natural selection.

Excellence of a particular attribute is never selected for. Survivors are those just good enough, to live long enough, to reproduce. Evolution by this “natural selection” clearly works, but it is not intentional, is not very efficient and can only cope with slow, small changes to the environment. Rapid or large changes cannot be matched by the available genetic variation. When the genetic variation (errors) among individuals does not throw up some which can survive some external change, species go extinct. It is the selection not by a pro-active choice but by whatever is left surviving after a multitude of trials of the errors.

We are getting to the point where we are beginning to be able to discern the genetic components which, partially or wholly, determine health, disease, intelligence and behaviour of the individual. We no longer allow the sick and unintelligent to be deselected. The “compassionate society” has effectively short-circuited the natural selection process which depended on the physically “unfit” dying off. However we take no similar actions about those who are mentally or behaviourally unfit. We have started changing the environment and we have cancelled the death of the physically unfit. But we still allow the mentally or behaviourally unfit to survive and reproduce.

It is time then to also take charge of genetic selection.

We see nothing wrong in genetic intervention in preventing debilitating disease. We even allow capital punishment (abortion) where the genetic fault in a foetus is considered very large. We practice artificial selection – of a sort – with IVF and surrogate motherhood. “Genetic engineering”, and “artificial selection” are nothing but eugenics where no coercion is involved. The Nazi search for “racial purity” involved massive coercion and tried to achieve the goal of a particular physical appearance and external attributes which defined their “master race”.

But without coercion, eugenics is unexceptionable as a method to seek genetic excellence.

Eugenics:The Problem Is Coercion

Razib Khan in The Unz Review

…… the issue with nics is simple: the problem is coercion, and the rest is commentary. I understand that the public is wary and skeptical of CRISPR technology and preimplanation genetic diagnosis. The problem is that the public is also suspicious of food which has DNA in it. Genes are not magic, but that is hard to convince the person on the street. Whereof one does not know, thereof one must be suspicious.

I believe for there to be a clear discussion, one needs to take coercion off the table, and abolish its specter by stating that it just isn’t an option. Then we can have a real dialogue that gets beyond the superficiality induced by the shadow of genocide. For example, consider sentences such as the following from the op-ed above “editing genes for frivolous purposes such as increasing intelligence.” There are many technical reasons that it may not be possible to increase intelligence in the near future through genetic engineering. But would increasing one’s intelligence be frivolous? I don’t think so. Whether you agree with this project or not, it is a serious matter, and gets to the heart of what we value as human beings (or at least some of us). But the specter of genocide casts a pall on exploring these nuanced questions, and that is because of the past record of coercion in eugenics.

Natural selection together with the compassionate society results in an increase in the proportion of “unfit” individuals (physical, mental or behavioural) in the population. But we take no measures to compensate for this by increasing the genetic excellence of succeeding generations.

Natural selection is just not good enough. It can no longer keep up with the pace of change and it is not compatible with a compassionate society. Non-coercive eugenics seeking excellence, not just to compensate for the increasing number of the unfit, but mainly to improve the human condition, is necessary.


 

Related:

Breeding for intelligence?

Is human intelligence declining?


 

Humans have neutralised natural selection and some alternative is needed

December 25, 2015

I was reading the Reuters report about the fatwas issued by ISIS which apparently justify the harvesting of organs of apostates and infidels – even from living individuals – for the sake of transplantation into “good muslims”. There has to be a genetic component to “barbarism”. Then I saw the report of the Pope’s speech at his midnight mass yesterday attacking consumerism and all “bad things”. That got me to thinking that all the pretty speeches made by politicians and Popes, exhorting “good behaviour”, are all meaningless if actions to ensure and sustain “good behaviour” are not also taken. If humans mean that “good behaviour” is something to aspire to and work for, then we must also take the measures available to us which can improve, whatever we may define as “good behaviour”, from one generation to the next. If behaviour is entirely due to nurture then it just requires proper teaching (though the line between teaching and brainwashing is quite thin). But it is not just nurture, of course. There is little doubt, in my mind that there is a significant genetic component to the behaviour that is expressed by an individual.

Certainly there is no doubt that genetics defines the envelope of behaviours that is open to any individual. Normally the envelope of enabled behaviour is so wide that it allows both “good” and “bad” behaviour. Thereafter it may well be nurture and the peculiarities of each individual which determines which particular behaviour will actually be expressed. But the artificial breeding of pets and livestock shows that key behavioural (as opposed to purely physical) characteristics (aggression, curiosity, propensity to cooperate, playfulness, sensitivity, …) can be selected for. Even “intelligence” has been selected for among dogs with some measure of success. It follows that in addition to physical characteristics, the envelope of possible behaviours that can be expressed by an individual can also be altered by genetics. It is highly likely then, that modifying genetics and shifting the envelope will allow certain behaviours to be completely eliminated from the realm of the possible.

Of course it is primarily natural selection which has produced the humans of today and it is this evolution which gives the cognitive behaviour which favours the “compassionate society”. But in this compassionate society, all those who would otherwise have been deselected by natural selection are now protected. The advances of medical science allied with the development of our ethical standards of behaviour (concepts of “human rights”), mean that the physically and mentally disadvantaged are protected and enabled to survive and reproduce. But one consequence is that even those exhibiting “bad behaviour” are also protected and survive to reproduce. The “welfare society” not only protects the weak and disadvantaged, it also ensures that their genetic weaknesses – assuming that they exist – are carried forward into succeeding generations. The “compassionate society” sees to it that even murderous psychopaths (whose behaviour may well be largely due to genetic “faults”), are imprisoned for relatively short times and then permitted (even encouraged) to pass on their faulty genes to succeeding generations.

Something is not right here. To be a compassionate society and protect the weak and disabled is wholly admirable, I think. But when the protection of the weak and disabled extends to the preferential propagation of the weakness or the disability, then the “compassion” also becomes counter-productive and eventually unsustainable. From the perspective of the future survival of the human race, the unnecessary perpetuation of weaknesses and disabilities becomes stupid and suicidal. It may be that the same genes which give some perceived weakness also give some critical survival attribute, in which case there is a trade-off to be made and a call to be taken.

I like the analogy of genetic propagation being seen as a chemical or nuclear reaction. Run-away reactions are avoided if moderation is available. I am coming to the view that some method of moderation of propagation is actually a necessity. Now that natural selection has been neutralised by human compassion and can no longer provide a moderating influence on genetic propagation, then some other form of genetic moderation is needed to avoid “run-away” genetic explosions. That then requires some form of “artificial” selection as the moderator. We may not yet know the specifics and the extent of the genetic components of intelligence or behaviour, but it is a simple conclusion that without moderation, we may well be ensuring the dumbing-down of the human race or ensuring the propagation and expansion of “bad behaviour”. It may not be causal, but there is a clear correlation showing higher fertility rates with lower “intelligence”. It is an arithmetic certainty that, if there is a causal relationship between intelligence and lower birth rates, then the intelligence of humans will decline.

There is nothing fundamentally incompatible between being a compassionate society which protects the weak and the disabled of the current generation, while still ensuring that genetic weaknesses are not carried forward into succeeding generations. In fact, it could even be considered unethical to knowingly allow such weaknesses to be carried forward, especially if we had the knowledge and the means to prevent it. But that, of course, would be considered eugenics.

Craving for junk food is proof that natural selection is obsolete

December 4, 2015
christmas dinner (guardian)

christmas dinner (guardian)

It is that time of the year. There are luscious smells of baking and roasting and frying that assail my poor brain. Almost everything that makes my mouth water is bad for me. I have just about recovered from the frustrations of abstinence from Diwali sweets and Christmas is now already upon us. I have just been soaking the dried fruits in my second best brandy and they can absorb no more. Dark, bitter chocolate and marzipan and glazed cherries are coming out of their hiding places in the larder (and they are hidden to keep me from them). Now I feel schizophrenic. My unconscious brain is delighting in all the good things to come but my conscious, rational brain is just making a list of eating pleasures that will be heavily curtailed or may not even be.

image londonbeep.com

image londonbeep.com

And that got me to wondering why natural selection and evolution could be so horribly, ineffective. How come, I do not crave what is healthy and good for me? If evolution worked properly and worked towards my survival, then surely my brain would crave salads and raw vegetables and fruits and maybe some nuts, but not honey-glazed ham and choux pastry dipped in dark chocolate and filled with cream. Or brandy butter and Christmas cake saturated with booze. Why do I find roast potatoes so much more enticing than plain boiled potatoes (except of course if they were new potatoes and covered in herb butter and melted cheddar)?

My tentative theory is that in the last 2000 years humans have become experts at creating their own, favourable environmental bubbles in which they live. Our bubbles include the production of our food. We live in the Arctic or at the equator and maintain a tropical climate around ourselves throughout the year. Refined sugar and processed meat and hot house vegetables are things that natural selection was not intended to cope with. I read that we crave certain foods to balance the serotonin that our brains desire to maintain a “proper” balance – whatever that might be. Carbohydrates provide serotonin which dispels stress and anxiety. Fats and sugar together produce calm and even euphoria. Before we controlled the production and processing of our foods we only had access to natural sugars through fruits and some vegetables. Meats provided fats. Quantities imbibed were necessarily limited, for sources were not as readily available until after agriculture and animal domestication were established (say from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago for the transition). And there has been another massive step change in the availability of these foods and in their affordability in the last 100 years.

The rate of change with which humans have established the environmental bubbles we create, and in the foods available to us, has been much too fast for natural selection to cope with. Moreover, even though what is bad for us may eventually kill us, medical advances mean that even the “unfit” lovers of bad foods live long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes. Natural selection no longer has a role to play. It has been bypassed and has become irrelevant. Medical care now negates all the deselection of “unfit” individuals that natural selection once eliminated.

I see evolution actually as the result of the individuals who get deselected rather than a proactive selection of those individuals who are just good enough to survive. (It has never been about the survival of the fittest – but only of the selection – by default – of those just fit enough to survive). Hence my conclusion that my cravings for unhealthy foods are the fault of an ineffective and obsolete natural selection.

So as I struggle with (and sometimes give in to) temptations for the next month, I will console myself by blaming the imperfect, lethargic and ineffective natural selection which has failed me.

Natural selection is about “good enough”, but artificial selection could be about excellence

September 11, 2015

“Natural” selection is brainless.

I am always irritated by the assumption that natural selection and its resultant evolution is a “good thing”. After grinding my teeth for a while I tend to switch off when a “scientist” starts assigning values of goodness or badness to something that just is. So this comes as a reaction to an idiot scientist I just heard on radio, gushing about how wonderful evolution is.

Natural selection has no direction. In fact it is unintended selection. It just allows for the survival and the reproduction of the “just good enough” individuals (not of the best individuals). “Evolution” is then just the resulting changes in species, where some individuals have had the genetic variation (errors or abnormalities) to be able to survive in a changed environment (habitat and/or competing species). Paradoxically, species which display a wide genetic variation in individuals (large errors), have a greater chance of surviving change. Of course, many abnormal individuals fail to survive, which is the price paid for the survival of the species. In that sense, “natural selection” sacrifices individuals for the sake of the species. The unplanned, unintended “selection” occurs primarily by the deselection of the unfit individuals. You could say it was unethical, since the end (species survival), justifies the means (deselection of unfit individuals). There is no compassion for deselected individuals in natural selection.

Excellence of a particular attribute is never selected for. Survivors are those just good enough, to live long enough, to reproduce. Evolution by this “natural selection” clearly works, but it is not intentional, is not very efficient and can only cope with slow, small changes to the environment. Rapid or large changes cannot be matched by the available genetic variation. When the genetic variation (errors) among individuals does not throw up some which can survive some external change, species go extinct. It is the selection not by a pro-active choice but by whatever is left surviving after a multitude of trials of the errors.

It is said that 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct. It follows, then – by that measure – that evolution has a pretty dismal 1% success rate. A process with 99% of the production being rejected. It is hardly six-sigma. It also follows that many of the species alive today are not quite suitable, are intended for rejection and must go extinct. (I have always thought that this embarrassing level of inefficiency is in itself a powerful denial of any “intelligent design”).

The “wondrous evolution” of the eye, for example, is not all that wondrous considering the length of time involved (3.8 billion years from light sensitive algae to the human eye), and the mamillions of generations of trial by error. (A mamillion is the mother of all millions and is one million raised to the one millionth power). The eye is no doubt wonderful, but as a sensor of electro-magnetic radiation, it is only just “good enough”. It could have been much “better”, if excellence of the sensor was a purpose. The long, slow process by which the human eye has evolved is pretty unimpressive as a process, even if the result is not that bad. Natural selection does not even have survival as a purpose. It just throws up a multitude of possibilities and survival of some lucky few is the result. It is this shotgun approach of natural selection which is so inefficient – but to its credit, I have to admit it is a low-cost process which has been sufficiently effective to keep the selfish genes alive.

My contention is that an “artificial selection” approach, which had purpose, intelligence and direction, could have produced a superior eye and in much less time. Having direction means that excellence of an attribute could explicitly be sought. “Artificial selection” would be the precisely targeted, rifle-shot, giving a better eye with every generation, compared to  the “something should hit the barn sometime” approach of natural selection’s shot-gun, where a better eye was only one of many possibilities for the coming generations.

Consider then what “artificial selection” might have achieved – may yet still achieve – for the human form. Surround-sight eyes seeing deep into the uv and ir spectra. Ears able to discern pressure waves from the rumble of elephants and whales and upto the ultrasound of some creatures. Skin with an ability to absorb solar energy. Retractable gills. Cells for photosynthesis. Intelligent, armed, police cells patrolling the body for nasty, criminal cancers. Generalist antibodies. Regenerating cells. Rebooting capabilities for the mind. A brain which could beat a supercomputer at chess. Auto-translation cells between the ear and the brain. A hooded “third eye” to detect the undetectable. A heightened olfactory sense. A shielded “inner ear” to detect gravitation waves. A multi-tasking, retractable tail. Tunable radio receivers in our heads.(And many more desirable attributes I cannot even imagine).

Natural selection is about being just good enough. Artificial selection could be about excellence, an excellence as perceived at the time of selection. Artificial selection would then indeed be the application of intelligence to design. It would not take a million years for an “all seeing eye”.

That would be a Brave New World for a brave new species of homo sapiens superior.

Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species

October 26, 2013

If the big cats, or elephants or giraffes or pandas want to survive into the distant future they need to evolve. The changes taking place in their environment and in their loss of habitat are happening too fast for natural selection to throw up the genetic changes needed for long term survival. As long as humans remain the dominant species in their environment they will need to come to terms with that – genetically. Conventional conservation efforts are fundamentally flawed. They are backwards looking. They try to preserve these species – as they are – in artificially protected habitats which are frozen in time, which remain unchanged while the world around them changes. Conservation attempts to freeze these species and thereby lock them into the non-viable position they have found themselves in. This is not going to help them to continue into the future, except as an unsuccessful species. It is paradoxical that unsuccessful species are subject to conservation efforts and successful species get labelled as pests.

Much of the rapid change to the environments for these species is a consequence of the success of humanity as a species. Trying to keep a species unchanged and stagnating in a changing world seems to me to be irresponsible. And creating  little protected bubbles of habitat – whether in a reserve or a zoo can only be a short term measure. Domesticated animals are at little risk of extinction as long as humans thrive. Their success is inextricably linked with the human species and they have been adapted genetically to be what they are today. They are not allowed to breed freely or indiscriminately and that is the genetic price they pay. But their survival is assured – at least as long as humans thrive and maybe even beyond.

‘There are many more “urbanised” species which have through a natural – but environmentally coerced or forced – selection adapted genetically to have the traits which allow them to be successful in  the human-dominated environments they find themselves in. Foxes, bears, wolves, badgers and even the polar bears of Churchill have evolved and adapted to survive in human dominated environments. But they generally live surreptitious lives in the shadow of man. They have not found a sustainable position  as yet. An increasing number of birds have adapted their behaviour (presumably also by genetic changes) to take advantage of human behaviour. They have learned to live in and around our cities, to take advantage of our agricultural and harvesting habits and to use our waste streams as their food source. Even in the water, there are fish species which succeed because of the changes brought about by man. Many insects – be they cockroaches or spiders or mosquitoes, or termites – now know how to take advantage of man-made environments. At the microbial or viral level, species are not much concerned by the changes wrought by humans and continue their merry way.

Now in this new age of DNA analysis and intentional selection of genes I think it is time for Conservation to move away from merely trying to “freeze” species in an artificially protected environment and to move into a pro-active phase where humans actually help threatened species to continue into the future. This does not mean that the neo-species that appear must necessarily be domesticated or in the service of humans but it does mean that they must share the same habitat and be able to co-exist. If they require a specialised habitat which is likely to disappear or change due to man or for any other reason, they are destined to eventually go extinct. Putting such species into zoos or other artificially maintained or otherwise protected habitats only preserves an obsolete species in a temporary environment. Conventional conservation as it is practiced today goes down that route. And while it may provide a short term method for preserving the genes of such species, it is in an unsustainable form. It is a method which does no real service to such species.

Instead of trying to recreate the woolly mammoth for an environment which is totally unsuitable or of making futile attempts to preserve habitats for elephants so that they continue “unchanged”, it would be better if we considered how elephants – or the big cats – could be assisted along the evolutionary path such that they could find a natural and sustainable place in the brave new world that they now inhabit. For example, if neo-elephants were helped to evolve genetically such that their propensity to wander over very large areas reduced, or if they preferred certain kinds of trees and bushes and left others alone, or where their wanderings were more discerning and not as damaging to human crops, then herds of neo-elephants could find a sustainable place by the side of humanity.

Perhaps Siberian neo-tigers could be evolved genetically to help herd reindeer and develop a mutually beneficial partnership with man. An occasional reindeer kill would then be quite acceptable. It would be so much more contructive if neo-wolves were helped not to stagnate genetically, but instead to evolve the behavioural characteristics that allowed them to find a way of co-existing with humans and human flocks of sheep. The idea of neo-dolphins who communicate with man and have a herding behaviour in the oceans which benefit both humans and themselves has long been a subject of science fiction. Our nearest primate cousins have to be helped to move on and not to stagnate into extinction. The pace of environmental change is much too fast for natural selection to throw up the individuals capable of survival. Instead a natural deselection of individuals incapable of surviving is taking place. Neo-gorillas and neo-chimpanzees will not appear without human intervention.

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

Modern eugenics in all but name: Sex selection by abortion is legal in the UK

October 7, 2013

Eugenics is here even if nobody wants to acknowledge it for fear of being equated with the Nazis. Artificial selection and deselection rather than natural selection will eventually come to dominate the future evolution of humans. In India the abortion of female foetuses is sometimes an extension of female infanticide caused by the fear of the cost of female children and by the social status accorded by a male child. Sex selection by deselecting foetuses of unwanted genders is not just a feature of the developing world. Even in the UK, sex selection by abortion is legal.

The Telegraph:

Doctors have been informed that they can carry out sex-selective abortions in certain circumstances, the Director of Public Prosecutions has disclosed.

The British Medical Association (BMA) updated its guidance in the wake of an investigation by the Telegraph to advise doctors that “there may be circumstances, in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of fetal sex would be lawful”.

The disclosure is expected to spark fury among dozens of MPs who have criticised the medical establishment for seeking to redefine abortion laws.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, today publishes a detailed memorandum explaining the controversial decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute two doctors who agreed to arrange illegal abortions based on the sex of an unborn baby.

Mr Starmer warns that current guidance for doctors needs to be urgently updated amid widespread concern over practices in clinics which do not appear to fall foul of the letter of the law.

The two doctors at the centre of the controversy were exposed by the Telegraph after being secretly filmed offering to abort baby girls, even though this is widely thought to be illegal.

The CPS decided it would not be in “the public interest” to prosecute the two doctors.

It has today emerged that in guidance published after The Daily Telegraph carried out the investigation, the BMA issued guidance for doctors.

It stated: “It is normally unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of fetal sex alone.”

However, it then continues: “The pregnant woman’s views about the effect of the sex of the fetus on her situation and on her existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered.”

“In some circumstances doctors may come to the conclusion that the effects are so severe as to provide legal and ethical justification for a termination,” concludes the guidance.

Letter from DPP

“…… The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination. …..

….. The discretion afforded to doctors under the current law in assessing the risk to the mental or physical health of a patient is wide and, having consulted an experienced consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, it appears that there is no generally accepted approach among the medical profession.”

David Attenborough is my hero but humans are not “a plague on earth”

September 10, 2013

David Attenborough is reported in the Guardian as being rather pessimistic about the future of humans.

Sir David Attenborough warns things will only get worse

People should be persuaded against having large families, says the broadcaster and naturalist

Much of what he is reported to have said is perfectly sound but many of the conclusions then present a pessimistic and apocryphal – a very Guardianesque – view. In fact I suspect that the spin is entirely due to the Guardian’s reporter and the Guardian’s remarkable ability to see a looming catastrophe in every advance.

That with falling fertility rates, world population will continue to rise at a decreasing rate and stabilise by 2100 is just a matter of arithmetic. But a 100 years from now we will face the challenges of a slowly declining population. That natural selection is “defeated” when even weak individuals are cared for and are not allowed to die is not something to regret. We are in the process of artificial selection over-riding natural selection and at a quite different pace, but it is just another challenge for humans – not something to wring our hands over. In fact we are already practicing a sort of eugenics by default.

Sir David Attenborough has said that he is not optimistic about the future and that people should be persuaded against having large families.

The broadcaster and naturalist, who earlier this year described humans as a plague on Earth”, also said he believed humans have stopped evolving physically and genetically because of birth control and abortion, but that cultural evolution is proceeding “with extraordinary swiftness”.

“We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 90-95% of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were,” he tells this week’s Radio Times.

“Stopping natural selection is not as important, or depressing, as it might sound – because our evolution is now cultural … We can inherit a knowledge of computers or television, electronics, aeroplanes and so on.”

Attenborough said he was not optimistic about the future and “things are going to get worse”.

“I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

“We may reduce in numbers; that would actually be a help, though the chances of it happening within the next century is very small. I should think it’s impossible, in fact.”

… he also appeared to express qualified support for the one-child policy in China.

He said: “It’s the degree to which it has been enforced which is terrible, and there’s no question it’s produced all kinds of personal tragedies. There’s no question about that. On the other hand, the Chinese themselves recognise that had they not done so there would be several million more mouths in the world today than there are now.”

He added: “If you were able to persuade people that it is irresponsible to have large families in this day and age, and if material wealth and material conditions are such that people value their materialistic life and don’t suffer as a consequence, then that’s all to the good. But I’m not particularly optimistic about the future. I think we’re lucky to be living when we are, because things are going to get worse.”

“Worse” is a matter of judgement.

We will feed and house more people than ever before. We will take care of more of the elderly than ever before. We will each have more and affordable energy available to us than ever before. We will educate and empower more people than ever before. More of us will see more of this world than ever before. We will face more challenges than ever before.  That’s not “worse”.

On birth rates, abortions and “eugenics by default”

July 20, 2013

Selective breeding works.

Humans have applied it – and very successfully – for plants and animals since antiquity.

There is nothing “wrong” conceptually with eugenics for the selective breeding of humans. But the Nazis – and not only the Nazis – brought all of eugenics into disrepute by the manner in which they tried to apply the concept.  Because of the Nazis and the coercive treatment of some minorities in Europe and of the Aborigines in Australia where forced sterilisation, forced abortions, genocide, euthanasia and mass murder were used to try and control the traits of future generations, eugenics has come to be inextricably associated with the methods used. Even in more recent times genocide, mass rapes and mass murder have been evident even if not openly for the purpose of controlling the genetic characteristics of the survivors.

I note that evolution by “natural selection” does not intentionally select for any particular traits. Surviving traits are due to the deselection of individuals who have not the wherewithal to survive until reproduction. Natural Selection in that sense is not pro-active and evolution is merely the result of changing environments which causes individuals of a species who cannot cope with the change to perish. Evolution has no direction of its own and is just the result of who survives an environmental change. It is not not some great force which “selects” or  leads a species into a desired future. Species fail when the available spread of traits and characteristics among the existing individuals of that species is not sufficient to generate some individuals who can survive the environmental change. Natural Selection is therefore not an intentional selection process but represents the survivors of change. Of course, not all traits have a direct influence on survival. All “collateral” traits are carried along – coincidentally and unintentionally –  with those traits which do actually help survival in any particular environment. But as conditions change what was once a collateral trait may become one which assists in survival.

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Future human evolution will be selection by deselection

June 6, 2013

io9 carries  a look at how science fiction treats evolution :The most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history.

Of course this begs the question as to how humans are likely to evolve over the coming generations?

Humans and chimpanzees ancestors split some 7-8 million years ago and it took some 350,000 generations after that divergence for evolution by natural selection to produce anatomically modern humans (AMH). (This of course raises the question as to how chimpanzee evolution proceeded to reach modern chimpanzees while humans were developing into homo sapiens?).

It has been only about 10,000 generations since AMH appeared and only some 6,000 generations or so since modern humans left Africa. A very short time in evolutionary terms yet in this period humans have evolved to exhibit the various races of man that exist today. This differentiation is primarily superficial and all humans existing are capable of mating and producing viable offspring with each other. In theory humans existing today would also be compatible and – in the main – capable of mating with the humans of 6,000 generations ago. In practice a meeting of modern humans with those from 120,000 years ago would be an exaggerated replica of modern man meeting with isolated tribes in the 20th century. These isolated branches of humanity generally had lower levels of immunity to the bacteria carried by their distant cousins and were ravaged by disease after such encounters. The bacteria we carry are probably greatly different to those that humans carried at the dawn of anatomically modern humans. Probably no such meeting or mating would be very successful and one or both would probably succumb to disease brought on by the other’s bacteria. Nevertheless the genomes of the two – even after 6,000 generations – would  not be so very different and probably still be compatible. In any primate species a generational distance of over 20,000 between individuals will probably disqualify any theoretical possibility of successful mating.

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Humans may have started selective breeding 50-60,000 years ago

November 25, 2012

Humans probably started selective breeding – artificial selection – with the domestication of the dog. Dogs diverged from wolves about 100,000 years ago. The earliest skeletal association of wolves with humans is also from about 100,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of an ancestral dog  is from about 32,000 years ago.

It is not implausible that the first exercise of artificial selection is connected with the domestication of the dog and happened 50- 60,000 years ago.

Ancient dog domestication was the start of artificial selection by humans


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