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Old 10-12-2015, 06:05 PM
buddha_david buddha_david is offline
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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?
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Old 10-12-2015, 06:30 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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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.
  #3  
Old 10-12-2015, 06:36 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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. . . 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.
  #4  
Old 10-12-2015, 06:54 PM
Lucas Jackson Lucas Jackson is offline
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Personally I believe it's because evolution doesn't have a sense of whimsy.
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Old 10-12-2015, 07:02 PM
Hilarity N. Suze Hilarity N. Suze is offline
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(1) nobody had them, in the first place, and...

(2) apparently we got along fine that way.
  #6  
Old 10-12-2015, 07:16 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
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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.
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Old 10-12-2015, 07:20 PM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Personally I believe it's because evolution doesn't have a sense of whimsy.
Eru's gift to mankind lies in another direction.
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Old 10-12-2015, 07:53 PM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is offline
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My aunt has one pointy elf ear.
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Old 10-12-2015, 07:57 PM
solosam solosam is offline
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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.
  #10  
Old 10-12-2015, 08:12 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
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Eru's gift to mankind lies in another direction.
"Oh, wow! Death! Gee, thanks, Eru!"
  #11  
Old 10-12-2015, 08:29 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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My aunt has one pointy elf ear.
Did she bear offspring?
  #12  
Old 10-12-2015, 11:38 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is online now
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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.
  #13  
Old 10-12-2015, 11:59 PM
CatastrophicFailure CatastrophicFailure is offline
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If most mammals have "pointy-ish" ears, doesn't that make our round ears distinctive?
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Old 10-13-2015, 12:29 AM
Kedikat Kedikat is offline
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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.
  #15  
Old 10-13-2015, 12:33 AM
naita naita is offline
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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?
  #16  
Old 10-13-2015, 12:41 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
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.
  #17  
Old 10-13-2015, 01:12 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
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.
  #18  
Old 10-13-2015, 03:14 AM
dtilque dtilque is offline
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Originally Posted by Mister Rik View Post
My aunt has one pointy elf ear.
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Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
Did she bear offspring?
By all reports, half-elves should be interfertile with humans.....
  #19  
Old 10-13-2015, 03:34 AM
bob++ bob++ is offline
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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.
  #20  
Old 10-13-2015, 03:34 AM
Mijin Mijin is offline
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
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"
  #21  
Old 10-13-2015, 06:31 AM
DrFidelius DrFidelius is offline
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Originally Posted by Mister Rik View Post
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.
  #22  
Old 10-13-2015, 07:59 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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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.
  #23  
Old 10-13-2015, 08:37 AM
jtur88 jtur88 is offline
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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.

Last edited by jtur88; 10-13-2015 at 08:39 AM.
  #24  
Old 10-13-2015, 09:27 AM
BigT BigT is online now
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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.

Last edited by BigT; 10-13-2015 at 09:28 AM.
  #25  
Old 10-13-2015, 09:47 AM
gnoitall gnoitall is offline
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My aunt has one pointy elf ear.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFidelius View Post
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!"
  #26  
Old 10-13-2015, 10:05 AM
Sailboat Sailboat is offline
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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.
  #27  
Old 10-13-2015, 11:19 AM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is offline
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Did she bear offspring?
Several, but none inherited the pointy ear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kedikat View Post
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
  #28  
Old 10-13-2015, 11:40 AM
furryman furryman is offline
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I have pointed ears, buy they don't look like elf or Vulcan ears.
  #29  
Old 10-13-2015, 12:16 PM
jayjay jayjay is offline
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*Humans have some such muscles, but atrophied & minuscule.
Unless you're Henry Rollins...
  #30  
Old 10-13-2015, 12:41 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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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.
  #31  
Old 10-13-2015, 01:30 PM
Ornery Bob Ornery Bob is offline
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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.
  #32  
Old 10-13-2015, 09:20 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is online now
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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.
  #33  
Old 10-13-2015, 10:10 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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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.
  #34  
Old 10-13-2015, 10:16 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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There's been no evidence presented here to show that humans never had pointy ears.
  #35  
Old 10-13-2015, 10:43 PM
Francis Vaughan Francis Vaughan is offline
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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.
  #36  
Old 10-14-2015, 12:50 AM
buddha_david buddha_david is offline
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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.
  #37  
Old 10-14-2015, 06:28 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Insufficient number of mechanical rice picker accidents.

City on the Edge of Forever, just so you know the reference wasn't lost.
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  #38  
Old 10-14-2015, 08:10 AM
jtur88 jtur88 is offline
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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?
  #39  
Old 10-14-2015, 11:38 AM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Then, why do plastic surgeons do so many nose-jobs and no pointy-ear-jobs?
Welllll...
  #40  
Old 10-14-2015, 11:59 AM
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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.
  #41  
Old 10-14-2015, 12:09 PM
August West August West is offline
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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.

There's no reason to say "de-evolve", it's just evolution on a different path.
  #42  
Old 10-14-2015, 12:58 PM
Kenm Kenm is offline
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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.
  #43  
Old 10-14-2015, 01:03 PM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
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.
  #44  
Old 10-14-2015, 01:07 PM
cochrane cochrane is offline
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How the hell do I know? I'm a doctor, dammit, not an anthropologist!

Last edited by cochrane; 10-14-2015 at 01:07 PM.
  #45  
Old 10-14-2015, 03:37 PM
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Does anyone know what Homo sapiens' most recent ancestor was that had pointy ears?
  #46  
Old 10-14-2015, 07:29 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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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 View Post
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.

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 10-14-2015 at 07:31 PM.
  #47  
Old 10-14-2015, 07:42 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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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
  #48  
Old 10-14-2015, 09:13 PM
Kenm Kenm is offline
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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!
  #49  
Old 10-16-2015, 08:06 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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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.
  #50  
Old 05-22-2016, 10:40 AM
Bandi Bandi is offline
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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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