Monday, July 31, 2006

On Evolution

OK, now here's an interesting article. Perhaps you read about this in the New York Times. A PhD student is breeding a bunch of mean rats (and nice ones too), to see what he can learn.

I really wish I had taken more biology in school. Back then, it was just a little too squishy for me. I needed harder sciences and math -- you know, the ones with right and wrong answers. I couldn't handle the ambiguity of it all. If only I had understood this would be an essential life skill.

I find particularly interesting the reference to humans. And the notion we may well be effecting our evolution through societal norms that punish those that do not conform. Of course, in the good ole days we really were thorough in our punishment, and so you could see how this would directly effect the gene pool; now we are somewhat kinder and gentler, so it is not as clear. But I guess when you are in jail, you are not procreating.

You can see where this leads, however. We fought a world war over this (at least in part), didn't we?

And what about selective societies. That share common beliefs (let's say in deep spiritual matters), and only let others join the community that share these beliefs and practice their rites (meditation, etc.). And banish those that stray off the path, and therefore, relieve the (local) gene pool of that potential progenitor. Is there any genetic trait -- a "God gene" if you will -- that has ever been seen manifest in the resultant generations? Are the progeny more likely to attain enlightenment? Or talk to God? Surely someone has studied this. Any pointers?

I ask this not just because of the article. But also because of a teaching I attended by Andrew Cohen a while back. He would have us believe that we are now at that point in evolution where as beings aware of our own consciousness, we can participate in the evolutionary process of consciousness itself. I'm still trying to wrestle with that. And I keep coming back to some tiny bits and pieces of biological evolution -- that process of modifying our genetic makeup -- to really "participate" in the evolutionary process.

Social constructs, higher awareness, greater tolerance do not seem to really affect consciousness on an evolutionary scale, at least to me. I wrote about this elsewhere, and haven't gotten past this point. But this article did intrigue me. The notion that we are (as societies) participating in our own domestication -- helping us all to "play nice", at least within our own society. Alas, we see how poorly this works across societies at present. (Upon reflection, it ain't working so well within societies either. But I suspect that depends on the reference point.)

Anyways, that would seem to lead one to believe we just need to "up" the level of society to a "world view". Many have made that point. I wonder if that would have the intended effect given our pluralistic attitudes that are de rigueur. Remember, "domestication" was enabled through societies weeding out traits they found unacceptable. If we "accept everything", without judgment, then nothing is weeded out (except those that are unwilling to accept everything). Interesting.

Here's an interesting extract from the article:
When dogs were developed from wolves, selection against fear and aggression "may have been sufficient to produce the unusual ability of dogs to use human communicative gestures," Dr. Hare wrote last year in the journal Current Biology.

Dr. Hare believes that wolves probably have the same cognitive powers as dogs, but their ability to solve social problems, like picking up human cues to hidden food, is masked by their fear. Dogs, after their fear is removed by domestication, see humans as potential social partners, not as predators, and are ready to interact with them.
Selection against fear and aggression. What a concept (especially the fear aspect, which does not seem so obvious, and yet we know fear motivates many undesirable behaviors). Anyway, I'm glad someone is doing this research. And I welcome inputs, comments, and pointers from those that have some basic education or serious summer-time reading under their belt to help me better understand evolution, and specifically, the concept of evolution of consciousness.

No comments: