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 Evolutionary queries

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 13:44

@ferval wrote:
This week Temp, it was on last night. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sex-death-and-the-meaning-of-life/episode-guide/series-1/episode-2

There's something about Dawkins' 'in the flesh' as it were that I find very hard to engage with but I can't quite work out why. If it wasn't that I am already a (non) believer, I'm doubtful if he would convert me. Even this series where he claims to be addressing the issues of the evolution of some aspects of behaviour, he still manages to drag God(s) into it. If he would just lay out his conclusions on evolution without telling you what to make of it, I'd be much more sympathetic. I also find the books where he is proselytising for atheism annoying; I was given 'The God Delusion' ages ago and I haven't read it yet.

I watched the programme, ferval - it was good. Dawkins came over, as ever, as such an interesting (even if extremely annoying) man, and he did have the decency to acknowledge the good that that Ray Lewis chap was doing with those tough London kids. Lewis appeared to fancy himself as a sort of cross between Martin Luther King and a ruthless sergeant major, didn't he? But possibly just what those kids need? Dawkins was certainly silenced by Lewis's "without that (some kind of belief) we've just got intellectual masturbation, Richard" comment. Left him speechless - although I'm sure Dawkins could have come back with a killer riposte. Perhaps he just chose not to - I think he was very impressed by Lewis's sincerity.

I got the George Price biography ("The Price of Altruism") out of the library last week (found it, interestingly, not in the biography or even science sections, but with the philosophy books). I've been ploughing my way through it since Thursday - highly recommended for anyone interested, not just in "the origins of kindness" (i.e. evolutionary biology), but also in history and/or theology. The biography (and it is so much more than a biography) ranges dizzyingly from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist who wrote "Mutual Aid in Animals" and who decided he needed "to rescue Darwin from the 'infidels', men like Huxley who had raised the 'pitiless' struggle for personal advantage to the height of a biological principle", to Darwin himself and his aggressive atheist friend, the Ealing Bulldog. I'm a third of the way through and haven't got to the hard sums yet...

One thing I have read - that actually got me wondering if William Shakespeare was an evolutionary biologist as well as everything else - was all about the role the mammalian hormone, oxytocin, plays in promoting human warmth, kindness, love, altruism. Oxytocin is a hormone produced in huge quantities (usually) in the bodies of women during childbirth and breastfeeding; but all humans, even men, produce it too. Or rather we are all *supposed* to produce it: psychopaths and sociopaths, male or female, apparently don't. Clever old Shakespeare writing all that stuff about "the milk of human kindness"! Seems the thoroughly unpleasant Lady Macbeth was not evil at all, just sadly deficient in an important neuromodulator. I'll never read these lines in quite the same way again:

"...Come to my woman's breasts

And take my milk for gall."

and

"I have given suck, and know

How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn

As you have done to this."

I suppose lack of oxytocin explains the strange phenomenon of women (and other female animals?) who harm their young - an activity that seems to make nonsense of "passing on the gene" theory.

But how depressing to think that love is no more than an hormonal ruse - just a trick of nature. Haven't got to George in London yet with Hamilton and Maynard Smith and the homeless alcoholics. I'm really interested to read about how Price's "beautiful" maths (a "supremely elegant equation") proved that altruism doesn't exist (not that I'll be able to understand the maths), and how he later came to question his own findings. Apparently he just couldn't bear it.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 14:29

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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 17:30

In a less profound vein, even Darwin had his off days. http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/10/18/163181524/charles-darwin-and-the-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day

You can't help but feel for him.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 18:18

@ferval wrote:

You can't help but feel for him.

And for nerds everywhere. Here's a libation to the gods for them all.


I'm going to London next week. I'm going to put some flowers on Price's grave (if I can find it, that is - it's apparently by a bench and a willow tree - how sad is that?).
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 18:52

Better still Temp, give the price of the flowers to a homeless alcoholic. I'm sure Price would have appreciated that.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 19:06

£3.25 - the cost of an M&S mixed autumn bouquet - or the £125 for my ticket for "Swan Lake" at the Royal Opera House, ferval?

You shame me.

No smiley this time, I'm afraid.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:11

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:46

Quote :
I am hoping it would at least lift a leg or something to indicate it is alive. Instead it just sits there, enduring through geological time.

Oh dear Lord, what more is there to say?

Here's to Henry and Mildred.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:47

£3.25 can buy a sandwich.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:48

Not at M&S.


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:56; edited 2 times in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:49

Beggars aren't fussy.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:50

Been there.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 22:55

Where - M&S or St. Pancras' cemetery?

I'm on the wrong thread. They're talking about transubstantiation at Downton Abbey - what a treat - must go.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 23:02

Actually both - if you're not fussy which branch of M&S we're referring to. But anyway, off you go and enjoy your sanitised English history (should that be a capital H?).
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 23:19

M&S basic sarnies are £2.00 ish and they sell off sandwiches cheaply now at sell by date, a feast could be obtained for £3.45 as could rather a lot of cheap cider.

The dinner table scene with the vicar was, for me, horribly familiar even if it is a long time since I heard anyone referred to as a 'left footer'.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 23:24

One time a 10 pounds donation on the street (outside St Martin in the Fields) translated into a week's sustenance thanks to M&S. Mind you, that was twenty years ago.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 23:44

Well, it would still buy 2 main courses, 2 sides, 2 puddings and a bottle of wine so if Temp feels generous, our jakey could 'dine out for 2' and treat a friend.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 23:50

Having been "our jakey" in the past I'm just glad Temp doesn't frequent the Trafalgar Square area. The cops were actually the kindest people around there (until they heard my accent). But even then, I got through three months without starving in England (thanks to the Pakistanis and Indians).

What has this to do with evolution? I apologise. We digress ....
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 22 Oct 2012, 02:12

@nordmann wrote:

What has this to do with evolution? I apologise.

And so do I.

I should have kept mention of George Price to his maths and his work with Hamilton and Maynard Smith - not that I understand any of that.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 22 Oct 2012, 04:58

I think tuatara have something to do with evolution. The names Henry and Mildred rang quite a bell when I saw Temperance's post, and so it proved. But I hadn't heard they were particularly any more endangered than previously. There was a very big fuss here when Henry's first babies were born.

It's true they don't move a lot, at least in the museums where you get to see them, but it's still a treat to see something that goes this far back as a species.

(The novel I am reading now - by a Swedish/NZ writer - is partially set in Krakow. Krakow doesn't come to the fore much in NZ, and here is two mentions of it in one day.)
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 22 Oct 2012, 14:26

There had to be an evolutionary catch to oxytocin, didn't there - universal love and trust are not very sensible if you want to survive:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11hormone.html?_r=0

PS Just read in my book that it was Herbert Spencer (one of George Eliot's lovers) who coined "the survival of the fittest". Didn't know that. I always thought it was Darwin's most famous expression.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 22 Oct 2012, 15:48

Quote :
There had to be an evolutionary catch to oxytocin, didn't there

Not necessarily, doesn't it depend on who you recognise as being one of your clan and that can be a cultural construction?
We are generally hard wired to respond to the large head, flat face, big eyed in nature, I assume by an oxytocin rush, with babies and some animals, but that response can be overcome, again by cultural factors and self interest.
Anyway, what can seem like altruism can be enlightened self interest and that is an evolutionary plus.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Wed 24 Oct 2012, 22:47

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00xfdmt/episodes/guide The Nariokotomo boy programme has some interesting bits about altruism, although the final results of all of the progs arenothing out of the ordinary, plenty of "reconstructions" already exist which look remarkably similar
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