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-   -   Why haven't humans ever evolved pointy elf-like ears? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=771972)

buddha_david 10-12-2015 06:05 PM

Why haven't humans ever evolved pointy elf-like ears?
 
It's a common trope in fantasy and science fiction for non-human races like elves and Vulcans to sport distinctive, pointy ears. In fact, Spock's pointy ears were developed as a really inexpensive way to make him instantly recognizable as an alien species.

Which makes me wonder -- why don't pointy ears exist as a natural human feature? Most mammals have pointy-ish ears, from rodents to cats to antelope. It's only the primate species which have those boring round ears, which really aren't as effective in gathering sound. But that's what they evolved, so we humans are stuck with them.

Is there any physiological reason why pointy ears wouldn't work with humans? Or is it just an accident of evolution that we don't have people walking around who resemble Legolas?

Chronos 10-12-2015 06:30 PM

Animals with pointy ears have them on the top of their heads, where the ears can be pointed in different directions to pin down the direction a sound is coming from. Human ears are on the sides of our heads, and can't really point any way except to the sides, so there's no advantage for us to have points.

panache45 10-12-2015 06:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by buddha_david (Post 18767321)
. . . an accident of evolution . . .

All evolution begins with random mutations, or "accidents." If the mutation never happens, the effects will never exist. No pointy ears.

Lucas Jackson 10-12-2015 06:54 PM

Personally I believe it's because evolution doesn't have a sense of whimsy.

Hilarity N. Suze 10-12-2015 07:02 PM

(1) nobody had them, in the first place, and...

(2) apparently we got along fine that way.

Chief Pedant 10-12-2015 07:16 PM

Because they make you ugly without producing some other physical advantage.

So they therefore do not drive a reproductive advantage since fewer individuals will choose mates with pointy ears.

John DiFool 10-12-2015 07:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by White SIFL (Post 18767434)
Personally I believe it's because evolution doesn't have a sense of whimsy.

Eru's gift to mankind lies in another direction.

Mister Rik 10-12-2015 07:53 PM

My aunt has one pointy elf ear.

solosam 10-12-2015 07:57 PM

There's rarely a point to asking why something "didn't" happen. There's often no answer. From an evolutionary perspective, if a mutation offers no advantage to the perpetuation of the species, it is unlikely to perpetuate.

If we all had pointy ears, someone would probably be on the internet asking why we don't have round ears.

Qadgop the Mercotan 10-12-2015 08:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John DiFool (Post 18767526)
Eru's gift to mankind lies in another direction.

"Oh, wow! Death! Gee, thanks, Eru!"

Leo Bloom 10-12-2015 08:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mister Rik (Post 18767592)
My aunt has one pointy elf ear.

Did she bear offspring?

Senegoid 10-12-2015 11:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chief Pedant (Post 18767507)
Because they make you ugly without producing some other physical advantage.

So they therefore do not drive a reproductive advantage since fewer individuals will choose mates with pointy ears.

Cartoon I saw once somewhere:

First panel: Vulcan child sitting on the ground, looking very dour. Three other Vulcan children, pointing and laughing, saying "Spock has pointy ears! Spock has pointy ears!"

Second panel: Spock says: "Your remarks are highly illogical. We all have pointy ears."

Third panel: The other three Vulcan children are putting their hands on their ears, investigating their shape.

Fourth panel: All four Vulcan children are sitting on the ground, looking very dour.

CatastrophicFailure 10-12-2015 11:59 PM

If most mammals have "pointy-ish" ears, doesn't that make our round ears distinctive?

Kedikat 10-13-2015 12:29 AM

Most of the time, evolution tries to balance survival by using the minimum amount of equipment required. Even a bit of extra ear cost a little energy to keep alive. However. If pointy ears had become some sexual attraction, then they might have become extravagantly long and pointy.

naita 10-13-2015 12:33 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by buddha_david (Post 18767321)
It's only the primate species which have those boring round ears, which really aren't as effective in gathering sound.

Who wants to tell the grizzly bear that it's actually a primate?

t-bonham@scc.net 10-13-2015 12:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by buddha_david (Post 18767321)
It's a common trope in fantasy and science fiction for non-human races like elves and Vulcans to sport distinctive, pointy ears. In fact, Spock's pointy ears were developed as a really inexpensive way to make him instantly recognizable as an alien species.

Pointy ears imply muscles* to aim the points in various directions, to locate a sound. Such extra layers of muscles along the neck & collarbone make the idea of a 'Vulcan nerve pinch' quite unlikely and nonsensical.

But then it's TV; it doesn't have to make sense.

*Humans have some such muscles, but atrophied & minuscule.

Mangetout 10-13-2015 01:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by buddha_david (Post 18767321)
Most mammals have pointy-ish ears, from rodents to cats to antelope. It's only the primate species which have those boring round ears...

I disagree with this statement of fact. Most rodents have sort of round-ish shell-like ears. Antelope and other deer have ears that are typically erect, but only a little bit pointy (and quite round in most cases) - and even then, not really pointy in the elfin/Vulcan sense.

dtilque 10-13-2015 03:14 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mister Rik (Post 18767592)
My aunt has one pointy elf ear.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leo Bloom (Post 18767699)
Did she bear offspring?

By all reports, half-elves should be interfertile with humans.....

bob++ 10-13-2015 03:34 AM

So how many of you can wiggle your ears - pricking them up I think? I can only find uncited statements that suggest it's 10 to 20% of us.

Mijin 10-13-2015 03:34 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Senegoid (Post 18768117)
Cartoon I saw once somewhere:

First panel: Vulcan child sitting on the ground, looking very dour. Three other Vulcan children, pointing and laughing, saying "Spock has pointy ears! Spock has pointy ears!"

Second panel: Spock says: "Your remarks are highly illogical. We all have pointy ears."

Third panel: The other three Vulcan children are putting their hands on their ears, investigating their shape.

Fourth panel: All four Vulcan children are sitting on the ground, looking very dour.

I thought you were going for a 100 blue eyes-style problem for a moment there.

Like if Spock said "At least one of you has pointy ears, and anyone that realizes that they have pointy ears will become sad" :)

DrFidelius 10-13-2015 06:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mister Rik (Post 18767592)
My aunt has one pointy elf ear.

Some of the "souvenirs" of the Ring War have become embarrassments to the families of the veterans. It was a different time.

Mangetout 10-13-2015 07:59 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bob++ (Post 18768371)
So how many of you can wiggle your ears - pricking them up I think? I can only find uncited statements that suggest it's 10 to 20% of us.

I can't do it on purpose, but I do sometimes feel them move if I am surprised by a noise behind me.

jtur88 10-13-2015 08:37 AM

Most people have never noticed, in the Donald Duck conic strips, illustrated characters who are not members of the Duck family are dogs if male and cats if female. The dog-males have round black noses and pendant floppy ears, and females have pointy cat ears, and still look humanoid enough that the reader does not notice the consistency of the characteristics.

BigT 10-13-2015 09:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jtur88 (Post 18768801)
Most people have never noticed, in the Donald Duck conic strips, illustrated characters who are not members of the Duck family are dogs if male and cats if female. The dog-males have round black noses and pendant floppy ears, and females have pointy cat ears, and still look humanoid enough that the reader does not notice the consistency of the characteristics.

I never saw them as cats and dogs, just dogs with ears that hang low vs hang high. Though my exposure is mostly in cartoon form from Ducktales and such.

gnoitall 10-13-2015 09:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mister Rik (Post 18767592)
My aunt has one pointy elf ear.

Quote:

Originally Posted by DrFidelius (Post 18768543)
Some of the "souvenirs" of the Ring War have become embarrassments to the families of the veterans. It was a different time.

"Yo auntie wears Orcish combat boots!"

Sailboat 10-13-2015 10:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by panache45 (Post 18767392)
All evolution begins with random mutations, or "accidents." If the mutation never happens, the effects will never exist. No pointy ears.

Insufficient number of mechanical rice picker accidents.

Mister Rik 10-13-2015 11:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leo Bloom (Post 18767699)
Did she bear offspring?

Several, but none inherited the pointy ear.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kedikat (Post 18768204)
Most of the time, evolution tries to balance survival by using the minimum amount of equipment required. Even a bit of extra ear cost a little energy to keep alive. However. If pointy ears had become some sexual attraction, then they might have become extravagantly long and pointy.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com...cfa6a454e9.jpg
:cool:

furryman 10-13-2015 11:40 AM

I have pointed ears, buy they don't look like elf or Vulcan ears.

jayjay 10-13-2015 12:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net (Post 18768218)
*Humans have some such muscles, but atrophied & minuscule.

Unless you're Henry Rollins...

Leo Bloom 10-13-2015 12:41 PM

I do not see (or it has not been shown) why directional acoustic collectors should be pointy.

Given the 3-D scoop, which is the way to go (yay Nature!) perhaps "optimal" stiffness to strain considerations of cartilage come into play.

Ornery Bob 10-13-2015 01:30 PM

Most of the time, evolution tries to balance survival by using the minimum amount of equipment required.

Sorry, but this is utter nonsense. Evolution doesn't have an agenda and isn't trying to do anything. Random mutations simply happen. Some get passed along and some don't. Some have survival advantages and some don't. There's no "balance" that is some sort of goal. Evolution simply happens, there's no destination.

Senegoid 10-13-2015 09:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ornery Bob (Post 18769789)
Most of the time, evolution tries to balance survival by using the minimum amount of equipment required.

Sorry, but this is utter nonsense. Evolution doesn't have an agenda and isn't trying to do anything. Random mutations simply happen. Some get passed along and some don't. Some have survival advantages and some don't. There's no "balance" that is some sort of goal. Evolution simply happens, there's no destination.

No, it's not entirely nonsense. Random mutations tend to behave like a form of entropy: They tend to de-evolve from more elaborate structures toward more simple structures, UNLESS there is some adaptive preference toward the more elaborate structure.

For example: Certain species of mammals live in places where there is little or no light, and in these species, their eyes have tended to de-evolve and become vestigial. Bats, living in caves and coming out only at night, are famously blind. There are some species of dolphins that live in muddy river waters, and some of these species are nearly blind. Whales and dolphins, at some point in their history, had legs, but these have de-evolved. Some cetaceans have a vestigial pelvis and vestigial leg bones.

Yes, it's all in random mutations. But random mutations are as likely to add or subtract some structure. Absent some evolutionary pressure favoring the more elaborate structure, you tend to get regression.

Colibri 10-13-2015 10:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Senegoid (Post 18771164)
Bats, living in caves and coming out only at night, are famously blind.

No bats are actually blind. All have at least small, perfectly functional eyes. Many species are active in daylight and have good vision.

TriPolar 10-13-2015 10:16 PM

There's been no evidence presented here to show that humans never had pointy ears.

Francis Vaughan 10-13-2015 10:43 PM

There is some small amount of evidence * that guys with pointy ears are considered hot by some members of the opposite sex. YMMV

* Really sorry, you will need something very strong and alcoholic to wipe the memory of this seared into your brain.

buddha_david 10-14-2015 12:50 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan (Post 18771391)
There is some small amount of evidence * that guys with pointy ears are considered hot by some members of the opposite sex. YMMV

Ayup... in fact, it was this character who inspired me to ask this question. :cool:

Bricker 10-14-2015 06:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sailboat (Post 18769086)
Insufficient number of mechanical rice picker accidents.


City on the Edge of Forever, just so you know the reference wasn't lost.

jtur88 10-14-2015 08:10 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan (Post 18771391)
There is some small amount of evidence * that guys with pointy ears are considered hot by some members of the opposite sex. YMMV
]

Then, why do plastic surgeons do so many nose-jobs and no pointy-ear-jobs?

Tamerlane 10-14-2015 11:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jtur88 (Post 18771932)
Then, why do plastic surgeons do so many nose-jobs and no pointy-ear-jobs?

Welllll...

filmore 10-14-2015 11:59 AM

The shape of the ear allows it to filter certain frequencies which help us figure out where a sound comes from. Computer headsets take advantage of this to trick your brain into thinking a sound is coming from front or behind depending on which frequencies are filtered out. Pointy ears might not be as good as this type of filtering and may be at a disadvantage at locating a sound (just guessing).

I would also guess that pointy ears might get a lot colder than rounded ears. Round ears can get pretty painful in cold weather. That pointy part that sticks out would be even harder to keep warm. That might also be a disadvantage.

August West 10-14-2015 12:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Senegoid (Post 18771164)
No, it's not entirely nonsense. Random mutations tend to behave like a form of entropy: They tend to de-evolve from more elaborate structures toward more simple structures, UNLESS there is some adaptive preference toward the more elaborate structure.

For example: Certain species of mammals live in places where there is little or no light, and in these species, their eyes have tended to de-evolve and become vestigial. Bats, living in caves and coming out only at night, are famously blind. There are some species of dolphins that live in muddy river waters, and some of these species are nearly blind. Whales and dolphins, at some point in their history, had legs, but these have de-evolved. Some cetaceans have a vestigial pelvis and vestigial leg bones.

Yes, it's all in random mutations. But random mutations are as likely to add or subtract some structure. Absent some evolutionary pressure favoring the more elaborate structure, you tend to get regression.

Your bias as a sighted, legged creature is showing. :D

There's no reason to say "de-evolve", it's just evolution on a different path.

Kenm 10-14-2015 12:58 PM

How do you know you killed the wrong dinosaur when you return in the time machine with your T-Rex head?

The iPhone in the No Time At all Inc. return room is a triangle.

Quercus 10-14-2015 01:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by buddha_david (Post 18767321)
those boring round ears, which really aren't as effective in gathering sound.

Not to be all SDMB on you, but, uh, you got any evidence this is actually true? I mean, before we start arguing about why X improvement didn't happen, maybe we should figure out if X really is an improvement.

cochrane 10-14-2015 01:07 PM

How the hell do I know? I'm a doctor, dammit, not an anthropologist!

bup 10-14-2015 03:37 PM

Does anyone know what Homo sapiens' most recent ancestor was that had pointy ears?

Leo Bloom 10-14-2015 07:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leo Bloom (Post 18769627)
I do not see (or it has not been shown) why directional acoustic collectors should be pointy.

Given the 3-D scoop, which is the way to go (yay Nature!) perhaps "optimal" stiffness to strain considerations of cartilage come into play.
Quote:

Originally Posted by filmore (Post 18772650)
The shape of the ear allows it to filter certain frequencies which help us figure out where a sound comes from. Computer headsets take advantage of this to trick your brain into thinking a sound is coming from front or behind depending on which frequencies are filtered out. Pointy ears might not be as good as this type of filtering and may be at a disadvantage at locating a sound (just guessing).

I would also guess that pointy ears might get a lot colder than rounded ears. Round ears can get pretty painful in cold weather. That pointy part that sticks out would be even harder to keep warm. That might also be a disadvantage.


Ital added

Which I'm not sure is a supporting datum or not, or for which species: 3-D echolocation by virtue of the distance between the ears (which the electronics processor must mimic) is of use to the pointy and non-pointy folk.

But, as Galileo didn't say, all those critters got 'em. The scorecard Them: a million. Us: none. (Not to mention the second, heat transfer issue you mentioned.)

There a whole bunch of engineers on SD who know about antennas and acoustic engineering. Maybe they'll show up.

Leo Bloom 10-14-2015 07:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kenm (Post 18772858)
How do you know you killed the wrong dinosaur when you return in the time machine with your T-Rex head?

The iPhone in the No Time At all Inc. return room is a triangle.

It's been done: "Your Portable Connection to Everything in Space and Time"

http://theoffice.wikia.com/wiki/Pyramid

Kenm 10-14-2015 09:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leo Bloom (Post 18773907)
It's been done: "Your Portable Connection to Everything in Space and Time"

What a relief! The timeline isnít screwed after all.
Quote:

Yes, this is a fictional tablet, but it does remind me of the current iPad competition landscape. Too often we see products announced that tout specs, features and taglines that donít reflect what consumers really want.
Although a notice pops up in Firefox telling me the video ID is invalid. The Time Corps should be informed!

Leo Bloom 10-16-2015 08:06 PM

Parrots, I might note, are on exception, in regard to external acoustic collection devices.

The Independent, 10/17/15: (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/news...-a-parrot.html)
Who's a pretty boy then? Man cuts off his ears to look like a parrot
Ted Richards, 56, has already had his face and eyeballs tattooed, next he wants a surgeon to turn his nose into a beak
With pictures of the disgusting looking guy--but note, he's of mixed mind: he has pointy where-the-ears-were.

So take that, OP.

I wonder if the taxpayers' medical service in England paid for that.

Bandi 05-22-2016 10:40 AM

Well...
 
It's the second most common genetic ear mutation in humans, actually. (First being lop-ears.)

Darwin actually wrote a lot about the evolution or human ears. Which you can find a bit about by using Google.

I have pointed ears. :)

http://i.imgur.com/4fGLqX4.jpg


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