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Old 02-27-2017, 02:02 AM
adaher adaher is offline
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Are there certain problems with our bodies that evolution will solve?

Humans are the product of billions of years of evolution, and yet there are still some problems with our bodies that it would be nice to see nature fix in the next update patch.

Examples:

1) Pain- While pain seems to be pretty good at removing us from immediate danger, it's not very good at telling us how much damage we've incurred. Stubbing your toe hurts like a mortal wound, yet your body can die from the inside out from cancer and you can feel nothing until the latter stages. .


2) Fat storage-Probably because living with such abundance is fairly recent, we might have to wait awhile for this one. Why would your body just keep storing fat until you literally die from too much of a good thing? While fat has a real purpose, it seems that our bodies should say enough as enough at some point and just eliminate excess fat as waste. But no, it's killing you yet your body just merrily continues along, perfectly willing to jack you up to 600 pounds

3) Better brain-body coordination- as evolved as we are, we're more of a community than a true individual. Our brain does a pretty good job of controlling our muscular system and rational thought, but most bodily functions and regulations are inaccessible to us. Not only can't we do anything about most of them, we can't even get information on them without inventing machines that can tell us. And to get back to pain, while pain can be useful, it can also be counterproductive. When nerves start firing, wouldn't it be useful for you to be able to tell them, "Okay, I get it, I'm on fire, now let me figure out how to make myself not be on fire rather than filling my brain with nothing but pain signals."

Now assuming millions of years of natural evolution, would we expect to see some of these things get better? Or are there limitations to the process that make certain things impossible unless a higher intelligence like man intervenes?

Last edited by adaher; 02-27-2017 at 02:02 AM.
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Old 02-27-2017, 02:04 AM
sitchensis sitchensis is offline
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I think we will solve all of our problems before evolution, said the guy with the glasses
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Old 02-27-2017, 02:23 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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No.

None of those examples you gave interfere with the sexual reproduction abilities of the people involved, nor do they kill off their children before they reach reproduction age.

So evolution doesn't care about those minor items.
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Old 02-27-2017, 03:42 AM
adaher adaher is offline
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There are no advantages to more sophisticated brain-body coordination? Now the fat example I can see, since being overweight is unlikely to kill you before you have a chance to reproduce, but the ability to handle pain more intelligently or to regulate bodily functions more directly if necessary seems like a very useful thing for survival, in much the same way intelligence gave humans a big advantage.
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Old 02-27-2017, 03:58 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adaher View Post
There are no advantages to more sophisticated brain-body coordination? Now the fat example I can see, since being overweight is unlikely to kill you before you have a chance to reproduce, but the ability to handle pain more intelligently or to regulate bodily functions more directly if necessary seems like a very useful thing for survival, in much the same way intelligence gave humans a big advantage.
Evolution has no intelligence. Survival is not correlated with breeding prospects, on the whole, in modern life since almost everyone survives to breeding age. Even people who would, by nature, die in the womb are now able to live long and reproductively-complete lives.

Probably the major factor on human evolution, at the moment, is that people who are more poorly educated and who have worse prospects in life are having more children than those who have a better education and better prospects in life. Assuming that meritocracy is involved in that distinction to at least some extent, people who are less likely to do well in life are - from an evolutionary standpoint - finding the current environment to be more suitable to their reproductive success than people who are likely to do well in all other respects.

The only other factor I can think of is how often a person spends their time drunk during their teen years. That is going to be strongly correlated to dying an early death. People who are more "social animals" or natural drunks are being selected against, perhaps.

Last edited by Sage Rat; 02-27-2017 at 04:01 AM.
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Old 02-27-2017, 04:30 AM
Mijin Mijin is online now
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The important takeaway is:

Evolution: very slow
Human societal and technological change: very fast

If you could visit the year 2500 I'm sure that humans will have a lot of physiological and even psychological differences from you and I. But they'll be because of environmental differences, improved medical knowledge and surgery, cybernetic implants / augmented reality, genetic engineering and so on.
Not because of survival of the fittest.
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Old 02-27-2017, 05:14 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
No.

None of those examples you gave interfere with the sexual reproduction abilities of the people involved, nor do they kill off their children before they reach reproduction age.

So evolution doesn't care about those minor items.
Selection doesn't have to be boolean kill/survive- it can operate at a statistical advantage/disadvantage level and still drive evolution in a population - for example, for a trait to decline in a population, it doesn't need to *kill* babies - it only needs to reduce the average capacity for having surviving children by a percentage (rather than an increase in infant mortality, which would be more conspicuous)
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Old 02-27-2017, 06:20 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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Originally Posted by adaher View Post
1) Pain- While pain seems to be pretty good at removing us from immediate danger, it's not very good at telling us how much damage we've incurred. Stubbing your toe hurts like a mortal wound, yet your body can die from the inside out from cancer and you can feel nothing until the latter stages.
The purpose of pain is to tell you "whatever you are doing, stop it, now!", or If you start having pain as soon as you have cancer, what are you going to do about it? For the vast majority of the time complex animals have been on Earth, you get cancer, you die. (The only change has been recently for some humans who have access to extraordinary means and some of their favorite pets--for most animals it remains that way.) If anything, the flaw isn't that cancer doesn't hurt sooner, it is that cancer ever hurts at all.

It would be nice to have pain that continues only to the point that you can do something about it (stop holding that cactus, shake that angry bandicoot off your ankle) then stop hurting when the danger passes, but 1.) evolution can't "look ahead" and plan solutions, and 2.) "comfort" is arguably not a barrier to reproduction ("not tonight, I have a headache" being a notable exception.)

Quote:
2) Fat storage-Probably because living with such abundance is fairly recent, we might have to wait awhile for this one. Why would your body just keep storing fat until you literally die from too much of a good thing? While fat has a real purpose, it seems that our bodies should say enough as enough at some point and just eliminate excess fat as waste. But no, it's killing you yet your body just merrily continues along, perfectly willing to jack you up to 600 pounds
This one has the potential to be modified by evolution, but only if humans became unwilling to have sex/children with people who are fat. But that doesn't seem to be happening. (While some fat people may have problems getting sex, those that do may end up having a boatload of children (citation: American reality TV.))

Quote:
3) Better brain-body coordination- as evolved as we are, we're more of a community than a true individual. Our brain does a pretty good job of controlling our muscular system and rational thought, but most bodily functions and regulations are inaccessible to us. Not only can't we do anything about most of them, we can't even get information on them without inventing machines that can tell us.
As in point 1, any information you would receive on internal problems would be evolutionary pointless because there is nothing that you can do about it (without modern medical technology.) What would be the point of your body telling you "hey just so you know, your pancreas just died" when there is nothing that you can do to run away from or fight off a dead pancreas?

As for conscious coordination, do you really want to have to remember to digest your food or filter out your urine? With semi-voluntary systems such as blinking or breathing, under stressful moments or times of high concentration, you can temporarily "forget" to blink or breathe. Would you like to be concentrating on something and forget to beat your heart?
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Old 02-27-2017, 06:39 AM
igor frankensteen igor frankensteen is online now
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As is common, many people talk about the evolutionary process incorrectly. Only one person here so far, seems to get the jist of it.

The main thing to watch out for, often made worse by careless educators, is the use of phrasing that makes it sound as though evolution is some sort of giant FORCE or ENTITY that makes MINDFUL CHOICES, on the grounds that it "makes sense."

If you think about it from a slightly different point of view, something that you can gain great insight about it from, is by recognizing that the only reason why evolutionary change happens at all, IS BECAUSE OF HOW SLOPPY THE REPRODUCTIVE MECHANISMS ACTUALLY ARE.

If the way that a given entity reproduced was perfect, no accidental changes would occur. No mutations. And therefore no chance for some entities to be able to survive to reproduce again, when some disaster happens. Therefore zero change in the entity at all.
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Old 02-27-2017, 07:13 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
This one has the potential to be modified by evolution, but only if humans became unwilling to have sex/children with people who are fat. But that doesn't seem to be happening. (While some fat people may have problems getting sex, those that do may end up having a boatload of children (citation: American reality TV.))
Dispute the 'only if' clause here. There are myriad ways in which this (obesity/fat storage) *could* provide something for evolution to select - for example, if it adversely affected parenting capability, or (through impacts arising from early mortality of the parent) if it affects the reproductive chances of the offspring, etc.

It doesn't have to do any of that in 100% of cases - it just has to exert statistical pressure.
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Old 02-27-2017, 07:14 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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As is common, many people talk about the evolutionary process incorrectly. Only one person here so far, seems to get the jist of it.
Care to count again? I spotted more than one.
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Old 02-27-2017, 07:26 AM
Francis Vaughan Francis Vaughan is offline
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Perhaps the bottom line is this:

The title to the thread asked "Are there certain problems with our bodies that evolution will solve? "

The answer is yes. Evolution will select against some things that are a problem at that time or select some trait that is advantageous at that time. (Solve is perhaps a poor word however.)

Do we know what they are?

No. Not a clue. What mutations might exist in the future is unknown, and how they relate to the conditions at that time is also unknown. Pressures on features of the existing diversity of humans is also impossible to predict in the future.

Kurt Vonnegut's Galápagos has a particular take on what traits might be selected for as time passes to ensure the survival of the species.
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Old 02-27-2017, 07:41 AM
WhyNot WhyNot is offline
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The only other factor I can think of is how often a person spends their time drunk during their teen years. That is going to be strongly correlated to dying an early death. People who are more "social animals" or natural drunks are being selected against, perhaps.
Seeing as alcohol reduces sexual inhibitions, and we're making abortion more and more inaccessible, I'd argue that natural drunks are being selected for.
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Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
Perhaps the bottom line is this:

The title to the thread asked "Are there certain problems with our bodies that evolution will solve? "

The answer is yes. Evolution will select against some things that are a problem at that time or select some trait that is advantageous at that time. (Solve is perhaps a poor word however.)

Do we know what they are?

No. Not a clue. What mutations might exist in the future is unknown, and how they relate to the conditions at that time is also unknown. Pressures on features of the existing diversity of humans is also impossible to predict in the future.
What mutations may occur is an unknown, and so is the human response to them. Our pattern is to intervene and stop people from dying of mutations that we can fix or compensate for, allowing them to survive to reproductive age, and treat the infertile so that they can reproduce, as well as caring for the babies of those who die, even if they're not in our personal genetic line. So it's quite possible that human evolution will take us not in what we perceive to be a more positive direction, but a sicker, weaker one.

Evolution doesn't "care" about fit and healthy in a medical sense. A sick person in a high technology environment that allows them to reproduce is just as "fit", in an evolutionary sense, as a healthier one.
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Old 02-27-2017, 07:48 AM
adaher adaher is offline
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Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
Perhaps the bottom line is this:

The title to the thread asked "Are there certain problems with our bodies that evolution will solve? "

The answer is yes. Evolution will select against some things that are a problem at that time or select some trait that is advantageous at that time. (Solve is perhaps a poor word however.)

Do we know what they are?

No. Not a clue. What mutations might exist in the future is unknown, and how they relate to the conditions at that time is also unknown. Pressures on features of the existing diversity of humans is also impossible to predict in the future.

Kurt Vonnegut's Galápagos has a particular take on what traits might be selected for as time passes to ensure the survival of the species.
Two points:

1) I should have said, "Would evolution solve these problems if we were not interfering in the process?

2) It does seem that some evolution is pretty predictable. For example, whatever senses a species needs most will become highly developed, while senses they need less will tend to stay primitive.
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:06 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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Originally Posted by adaher View Post
1) I should have said, "Would evolution solve these problems if we were not interfering in the process?
Another point is that your examples 1 and 3 are common to all vertebrates. That's a common misconception when thinking about evolution, that human organs/systems are somehow "special" when the majority of them are not. Creationists (not accusing you of being one) will talk about the impossibility of the evolution of the human eye, but neglect to mention (or possibly even realize) that the human eye isn't all that different from the cow eye, the rabbit eye, the turtle eye, and the catfish eye (to name a but a few.) If 1 and 3 are problems that need to be solved by evolution, why assume that it will be humans that evolution solves it for, instead of cows, rabbits, turtles, or catfish? Why wouldn't it have been solved 400 million years ago with the first tetrapods and thus been inherited by everything that descended from them?

(While numbers 1 and 3 are pretty universal issues, number 2 varies from animal group to animal group, with some having more potential for fat storage than others. You won't find many fat animals in the wild, but pampered, overfed pets can and do happen.)
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:09 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
No.

None of those examples you gave interfere with the sexual reproduction abilities of the people involved, nor do they kill off their children before they reach reproduction age.

So evolution doesn't care about those minor items.
This. The only way evolution can select for/against any given trait is if that trait makes you more/less likely to survive to the age of reproduction and have viable children.

Let's consider the OP's examples:

Quote:
Originally Posted by adaher
1) Pain- While pain seems to be pretty good at removing us from immediate danger, it's not very good at telling us how much damage we've incurred. Stubbing your toe hurts like a mortal wound, yet your body can die from the inside out from cancer and you can feel nothing until the latter stages.
Stubbed toes used to be extremely dangerous. If a real foot injury kept you from hunting and gathering, you starved to death, so the pain signal for a stubbed toe needed to be industrial strength so as you remind you "hey dipshit, be more careful with your feet, or you might die."

Is there a chance evolution in the future might select for people who feel less pain when they stub their toes? Probably the opposite; even in the modern day, someone who keeps smacking and cutting their feet is more likely to get a potentially fatal infection. I suspect evolution will continue to select for a strong pain response; pain is good for you far more often than it is bad for you. On those rare occasions that it is bad or just annoying, technology has the answer in analgesics and anesthetics.

Lack of pain is more dangerous, as you've suggested. Example, people with esophageal or pancreatic cancer often don't notice any symptoms until they're at or near the terminal stage of the disease. 10,000 years ago it didn't matter whether it hurt or not: if you got cancer, you were screwed. Now that we can do something about it, maybe evolution will select for a pain response that sends you to the doctor soon enough for successful treatment. But it's likely to be a very weak selective pressure, since situations like this are pretty rare, and when they do occur, it's usually later in life, after the individual has borne children.


Quote:
Originally Posted by adaher
2) Fat storage-Probably because living with such abundance is fairly recent, we might have to wait awhile for this one. Why would your body just keep storing fat until you literally die from too much of a good thing? While fat has a real purpose, it seems that our bodies should say enough as enough at some point and just eliminate excess fat as waste. But no, it's killing you yet your body just merrily continues along, perfectly willing to jack you up to 600 pounds
Same deal, obese individuals rarely die (because of their obesity) before they're old enough to have kids. No reason to expect any selective pressure in the future. In fact, quite the opposite: to the extent that there's any genetic propensity for a given individual to develop morbid obesity, modern medicine/society is doing better at ensuring these individuals get treatment and survive to reproduce. If anything, evolution is now relaxing the genetic requirements for survival.

Quote:
Originally Posted by adaher
3) Better brain-body coordination- as evolved as we are, we're more of a community than a true individual. Our brain does a pretty good job of controlling our muscular system and rational thought, but most bodily functions and regulations are inaccessible to us. Not only can't we do anything about most of them, we can't even get information on them without inventing machines that can tell us. And to get back to pain, while pain can be useful, it can also be counterproductive. When nerves start firing, wouldn't it be useful for you to be able to tell them, "Okay, I get it, I'm on fire, now let me figure out how to make myself not be on fire rather than filling my brain with nothing but pain signals."
When time is of the essence (e.g. fire, tiger attack), the pain and fear responses give a survival result far more often than any rational response, so evolution will select for pain/fear instead of against them. This won't change in the future.

And as long as modern medicine can tell us important things about our body, there won't be any evolutionary selection pressure for us to develop innate sensing abilities. Take hypertension, unsensed by your unaided body, but easily measured (and treated) with technology. There's no reason to expect that evolution would select for the ability to directly detect hypertension in our own bodies, since hypertension is rarely a problem before you've made/raised babies. This is true for a whole lot of medical conditions.
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:15 AM
adaher adaher is offline
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Oh, that much I knew. It almost seems like our advanced brains were just patched onto an ape body, then they threw in an opposable thumb and called it a day. You would think that an advanced brain would also have more advanced functions for regulating automatic processes yet it seems that some animals are actually more sophisticated than us in this regard. For example, I've read that rats' hearts restart. I guess sometimes human hearts can restart, but usually it takes intervention to make that happen.

Now the eye, that brings me to another question. How DOES an eye evolve? An eye is very sophisticated, yet it has really only one purpose: to enable one to see. And until one can see, it's not doing anything to aid in survival. So how does that mutation happen? Did a fish just get born with a simple eye one day 4 billion years ago?
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:25 AM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is offline
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Proto-eyes are very useful, and found throughout the tree of life. Plenty of single celled critters have eye spots, that simply measure the amount of light. Those can be coupled to locomotion mechanisms to move the critter to an environment with the right amount of light. Need to photosynthesize but you're in the dark? Start moving in a straight line, if the light gets stronger keep going, else turn around and try again.

Between simple eye spots and our image-forming eyes, there are plenty of useful intermediates. If you block light on one side of an eye spot, you now have a directional way to measure light. Put several eye spots in a pit, and you can measure the light in several directions at once. Cover that pit with a small opening and now you have a pinhole lens that can form an image. Cover the opening with a clear substance and light sensing cells are protected. Change the shape of the clear covering and now the image is clearer. Etc...
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:31 AM
adaher adaher is offline
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
Proto-eyes are very useful, and found throughout the tree of life. Plenty of single celled critters have eye spots, that simply measure the amount of light. Those can be coupled to locomotion mechanisms to move the critter to an environment with the right amount of light. Need to photosynthesize but you're in the dark? Start moving in a straight line, if the light gets stronger keep going, else turn around and try again.

Between simple eye spots and our image-forming eyes, there are plenty of useful intermediates. If you block light on one side of an eye spot, you now have a directional way to measure light. Put several eye spots in a pit, and you can measure the light in several directions at once. Cover that pit with a small opening and now you have a pinhole lens that can form an image. Cover the opening with a clear substance and light sensing cells are protected. Change the shape of the clear covering and now the image is clearer. Etc...
Oh, I didn't know eyes developed so early. So although the human eye is very complex, it is possible to see out of something much simpler? That's pretty cool.
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Old 02-27-2017, 08:36 AM
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Now the eye, that brings me to another question. How DOES an eye evolve? An eye is very sophisticated, yet it has really only one purpose: to enable one to see. And until one can see, it's not doing anything to aid in survival. So how does that mutation happen? Did a fish just get born with a simple eye one day 4 billion years ago?
It didn't happen just once. It's happened, as best as we can tell, some 50 or more different times.

The general pattern seems to be that a Thing mutates some area of a cell or cells so that they can sense light. This is usually a good thing, and that Thing has better opportunities to feed and to avoid predators, and so it makes more babies than other Things. (These Things are often unicellular, so the beginning of the evolution of the eye goes waaaaay back.)

Eventually, one of the Thing's descendants, now multicellular, has a mutation that forms a depression in a group of cells that can sense light. This is way cool, because now the Thing can tell which direction light is coming from. Even better for finding food, avoiding prey, and finding mating partners. More babies with light sensors with depressions are made and survive than babies without the depression in their light sensors.

The next mutation is a constriction of this depression, which aims light waves better, and allows the Thing to see light, direction, and some rudimentary shapes of items in the environment.

Another mutation may provide a layer of transparent cells over this eye, protecting it from injury and infection. Fluid forms between the transparent layer and the light/direction/shape sensing area, and this allows the Thing to leave the water and see on land. It also, in some Things, allowed for the first differentiation of color.

Sometimes a mutation happens that causes a group of cells to line up in a vertical fold. Those are eyes with lenses, that allow for greater focus. Sometimes these lines mutate and split, forming a cornea.

And so on.

Far from the Creationist argument that an eye isn't useful unless all the components are in place at once (and how unlikely would it be for a Thing to mutate all these mutations at once? Very.) the eye is a whole bunch of different mutations that each gave Things better evolutionary fitness in their environment.
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Old 02-27-2017, 09:13 AM
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*ahem* As I was saying before the board outage rudely interrupted me...

Ninjaed by lazybratsche!
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Old 02-27-2017, 09:21 AM
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Now the eye, that brings me to another question. How DOES an eye evolve? An eye is very sophisticated, yet it has really only one purpose: to enable one to see. And until one can see, it's not doing anything to aid in survival. So how does that mutation happen? Did a fish just get born with a simple eye one day 4 billion years ago?
This touches on the concept of irreducible complexity - the creationist argument that extant complex biological structures/functions could not have evolved on their own, since evolution (so goes the claim) wouldn't select for any of the expected intermediate structures/functions between "no photosensing at all" and "fully formed vertebrate eyeball". As WhyNot and lazybratsche have shown, there are plenty of intermediate forms (many of which are also extant in other species) that provide useful functionality that can be selected for by evolution. There's that Haldane quote, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine," and it serves as the counterpoint: a person arguing for irreducible complexity demonstrates only that the world is stranger than he can imagine.
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Old 02-27-2017, 09:34 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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Now the eye, that brings me to another question. How DOES an eye evolve? An eye is very sophisticated, yet it has really only one purpose: to enable one to see. And until one can see, it's not doing anything to aid in survival. So how does that mutation happen? Did a fish just get born with a simple eye one day 4 billion years ago?
First stage is a patch of light-sensitive molecules on the surface of a cell.* All that they can show is that there is more light on one side of the cell than the other, but that is still useful--it can trigger the cell to ooze or rotate its cillia/flagella in a way that moves it towards or away from the light. Even bacteria have those.

Second stage is having versions of those light-sensitive molecules on the surface of patches of cells on a multi-cellular organism. Again, all they can show is that there is more light in one direction than another.

Third stage is having those patches of cells in a shallow pit, which allows the direction of the light to be more finely determined.

Fourth stage is having the pit become deeper, and partially closed over. This allows for a pinhole camera, and finally an eye that can form an image.

Fifth stage is forming a transparent membrane over that partially closed pit roof. This becomes a lens.

Every single step along this progression is useful, and earlier stages look "primitive" only when compared to later progressions.

*and at least one family of unicellular organisms has actually evolved an "eye" with a lens!
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Old 02-27-2017, 09:43 AM
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*and at least one family of unicellular organisms has actually evolved an "eye" with a lens!
Ooh! That's cool. Creepy, but cool!
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Old 02-27-2017, 09:56 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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...
There's that Haldane quote, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine," and it serves as the counterpoint: a person arguing for irreducible complexity demonstrates only that the world is stranger than he can imagine.
Folks who've been trained from a young age to be dogmatically incurious often have very weak imaginations. And darn little knowledge of the immense variety actually available in the world which needs no imagining at all; merely the desire to learn and explore.
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Old 02-27-2017, 10:45 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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2) It does seem that some evolution is pretty predictable. For example, whatever senses a species needs most will become highly developed, while senses they need less will tend to stay primitive.
Not really. When you look around and see species with developed senses that they need, they didn't get them because they need them. It's more a case that they're still here because they have them.

Within the framework of evolution, the most common response to needing something you don't currently have is simply failure to survive.
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Old 02-27-2017, 11:50 AM
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The important takeaway is:

Evolution: very slow
Human societal and technological change: very fast
The vast difference in rate of change between these two messes up a lot of things.

For example, there might one trait now that isn't so good for us but in a more advanced society 500 years from now will be advantageous.

Evolution is not just playing catchup, the goal posts keep moving around as well as getting farther and farther away.

One human problem that has arisen due to rapid change is so many people falling for lies. Language developed too quickly that the countermeasures to tell when someone is scamming us haven't developed to keep pace. Will we ever evolve the ability to spot BS?
  #28  
Old 02-27-2017, 11:51 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
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Not really. When you look around and see species with developed senses that they need, they didn't get them because they need them. It's more a case that they're still here because they have them.

Within the framework of evolution, the most common response to needing something you don't currently have is simply failure to survive.
What he said.

Whether or not a species needs something to survive has no effect on what mutations occur.

Regards,
Shodan
  #29  
Old 02-27-2017, 12:04 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Now the eye, that brings me to another question. How DOES an eye evolve? An eye is very sophisticated, yet it has really only one purpose: to enable one to see. And until one can see, it's not doing anything to aid in survival. So how does that mutation happen? Did a fish just get born with a simple eye one day 4 billion years ago?
Although other posters have covered the uses of a proto-eye, the book In the Blink of an Eye goes into depth about the possible evolution of sight, including numerous examples from both the fossil record and modern animals. I found it an interesting read.

I'll also note that trilobites had crystalline eye lenses that, in some cases, have been preserved intact in fossils. Meaning it is possible to actually look through the actual eye lens of a creature that lived half a billion years ago, still in working order. So, not a layer of transparent cells, but a layer of deposited mineral.

Last edited by Broomstick; 02-27-2017 at 12:08 PM.
  #30  
Old 02-27-2017, 12:31 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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This one has the potential to be modified by evolution, but only if humans became unwilling to have sex/children with people who are fat. But that doesn't seem to be happening. (While some fat people may have problems getting sex, those that do may end up having a boatload of children (citation: American reality TV.))
Overweight people actually live longer.

http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-...ht-individuals
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Old 02-27-2017, 01:16 PM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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Although other posters have covered the uses of a proto-eye, the book In the Blink of an Eye goes into depth about the possible evolution of sight, including numerous examples from both the fossil record and modern animals. I found it an interesting read.
Interesting book maybe, but best read while holding a grain of salt. (Yes, I've actually read it myself, but so long ago that my memories of the details are vague at best.)

Quote:
I'll also note that trilobites had crystalline eye lenses that, in some cases, have been preserved intact in fossils. Meaning it is possible to actually look through the actual eye lens of a creature that lived half a billion years ago, still in working order. So, not a layer of transparent cells, but a layer of deposited mineral.
A good summary of trilobite eyes from probably the best trilobite info site on the web (the work of one person, and has been around practically forever in web-years.)
  #32  
Old 02-27-2017, 01:48 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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I read somewhere that eyes appeared to have evolved independently up to 40 times.

One place that evolution might take place and even quickly would happen if we somehow succeeded in wiping out malaria, whether by a gene drive mechanism or otherwise. You would see the sickle cell trait disappear rather quickly in evolutionary terms. Maybe with a few dozen generations or certainly a few hundred.

On the other hand, we are unlikely to evolve a lack of appendix. I am very sensitive to this because I am one of three none of whom would have survived to reproductive age without the availability of appendectomies, which is the sort of thing that ought to generate strong evolutionary pressure. But the other side of this coin is something I read somewhere that smaller appendices are more likely to get infected than larger ones. So the appendix is unlikely to wither away, although I suppose it could just disappear somehow.

This illustrates the fact that evolution can work only with the material it has at hand. It can happen quickly or slowly, but every step has to give a selective advantage.
  #33  
Old 02-27-2017, 03:55 PM
doubleminus doubleminus is offline
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You're all neglecting sexual selection, which roughly uses female (mostly) intelligence to predict the reproductive success of the potential offsprings. This is a much faster evolutionary pathway, and in fact there are a number of human genes that had significant evolutionary pressure in the past few thousand years.

Last edited by doubleminus; 02-27-2017 at 03:57 PM.
  #34  
Old 02-27-2017, 04:28 PM
rbroome rbroome is offline
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Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
<snip>
*and at least one family of unicellular organisms has actually evolved an "eye" with a lens!
As others have said, Cool!
Thanks
The Dope never ceases to amaze...
  #35  
Old 02-27-2017, 04:30 PM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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Several people have described the evolution of light-sensitivity to functional eye. Some creatures have eyes on aim-able stalks IIRC; one can see the evolutionary advantage of shrinking the stalk to make it less vulnerable until it retracts into the body (sumo style) so only the lens is exposed, but still retaining some aim capability.

Another point is that a lot of the intermediate products (half-way there eyeballs?) disappear as the creatures that had them lose the evolutionary battle to the better model.

Even a pit with a few dozen light-sensors gives the creature an idea whether it has ventured out from under a rock, for example, and should reverse course and duck under cover again. Evolution advantage...

* * *

The key to any evolution change is - does the advantage allow the person to have more children than others and allow those children to survive into adulthood? The latter is critical because humans have a notoriously longer childhood than many species, before they can fend for themselves. In fact, modern human society is directly countering many evolutionary tendencies - welfare generally means that even the least capable persons survive to reproduce; modern medicine and vaccines reduce the risk of childhood mortality, and that child welfare systems ensures those children survive to adulthood even if the parents don't. Birth control reduces the tendency of differential reproduction rates; you may have a great mutation, but if you choose to use protection, you will not pass it on to more children than your rivals. One study I read suggested that regardless of abortion, or available birth control, most women in western society tend to have as many children as they want and no more. Regardless, biological "fitness" is less of a criteria for how many children one raises to adulthood. Indeed, it's possible that irresponsibility and immunity to the effects of birth control hormones may be the major factors being selected for.

(We had a long thread earlier about the issue of whether modern medicine is causing the reverse, genetic dilution with traits that would be detrimental to survival outside the modern support system; do eyeglasses and insulin and antibiotics and IVF result in generations that contain a more tech-dependent population).

Last edited by md2000; 02-27-2017 at 04:32 PM.
  #36  
Old 02-27-2017, 04:38 PM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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You're all neglecting sexual selection, which roughly uses female (mostly) intelligence to predict the reproductive success of the potential offsprings. This is a much faster evolutionary pathway, and in fact there are a number of human genes that had significant evolutionary pressure in the past few thousand years.
Of course, partly that selection is aimed at evaluating the ability of the male to help feed and protect the woman and offspring while the children cannot survive on their own... again, the extended childhood of humans. Hence the attraction of a man's large... wallet.
  #37  
Old 02-27-2017, 09:01 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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I think we will solve all of our problems before evolution, said the guy with the glasses
Glasses are only a partial weapon against evolution. Beer goggles overcome them. And ladies, don't kid yourselves. You wear them, too.
  #38  
Old 02-27-2017, 09:15 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
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There are no advantages to more sophisticated brain-body coordination? Now the fat example I can see, since being overweight is unlikely to kill you before you have a chance to reproduce, but the ability to handle pain more intelligently or to regulate bodily functions more directly if necessary seems like a very useful thing for survival, in much the same way intelligence gave humans a big advantage.
Not really, chronic pain isn't a problem for people in their teens, 20s and 30s for the most part. Even if it is and a parent becomes disabled, that isn't going to affect whether the children survive to adulthood or mate themselves. I know someone in their 30s who has chronic pain and it is impacting her ability to be a parent. But her children will have grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. to pick up the slack. She has 2 kids. Irrelevant of whether she is disabled by chronic pain or not, both of those kids will survive until they finish puberty and I doubt it affects the quality or quantity of mates they find.

Right now Africa makes up about 14% of the human population, 1 billion out of 7 billion. By 2100 they could make up 40% of the human population, 4 billion out of 10 billion. They have more kids in Africa.

Evolution rewards whatever mates the most, and whose offspring survive to adulthood and themselves mate.

Sadly,right now evolution is selecting against positive traits like long range planning or education. Less educated women have more children. People who reflect on how serious raising a family is have less kids than people who just fuck like bunnies. Wealth is also selected against on a national level, nations with a per capita income below $6000 have far higher fertility rates than nations above this level. So right now evolution is selecting for poorer, less educated individuals. Sucks.

I do wonder if evolution would select against obesity because obese people are less sexually desirable and they have lower fertility rates. However, who knows how long that'll take. Realistically we will probably have a cure for obesity in 20-50 years, so I doubt evolution would matter much after that.

Last edited by Wesley Clark; 02-27-2017 at 09:17 PM.
  #39  
Old 02-27-2017, 09:49 PM
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We'll probably also be able to augment our intelligence and perhaps stop aging. That would restore natural selection in favor of positive traits, since if we're not aging and dying of natural causes then the morons get themselves killed in other ways.
  #40  
Old 02-27-2017, 11:27 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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Not really. Note my beergoggles post. We are stuck being the product of our stupid genes. Any hope otherwise is cute. Totally cute. Enough to find me cute. Far too long to waste genetic material on cute losers. Y'all fucked.

Last edited by dropzone; 02-27-2017 at 11:29 PM.
  #41  
Old 02-27-2017, 11:30 PM
Mijin Mijin is online now
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The vast difference in rate of change between these two messes up a lot of things.

For example, there might one trait now that isn't so good for us but in a more advanced society 500 years from now will be advantageous.

Evolution is not just playing catchup, the goal posts keep moving around as well as getting farther and farther away.
Exactly. It's like asking "In 100,000 years time, when continental drift means Jamaica is only half as far away, will a ferry crossing still cost $50?". Arguably this is a less silly question than the future of human evolution, because the continents' movement is unlikely to be affected by human activities, but because continental drift doesn't have the baggage of misconceptions that evolution has, it can illustrate the problem with that way of thinking.

Quote:
One human problem that has arisen due to rapid change is so many people falling for lies. Language developed too quickly that the countermeasures to tell when someone is scamming us haven't developed to keep pace. Will we ever evolve the ability to spot BS?
We have our fair share of cognitive biases and blindspots that's for sure.

On lies though, it's not quite as simple as you say. One hypothesis for example is that one of the reasons Homo's brains had such a runaway increase in intelligence is because it became an issue, not of being smart enough to hunt or escape predators, but being smarter than the next man. And that being able to tell if someone was cheating you became very important.
Certainly modern humans seem to instinctively develop an idea of fair vs cheating.

Unfortunately though, for facts, it seems we put a lot of stock in who the messenger is. If it's someone we trust, or want to follow, the default is to accept what they are saying.
  #42  
Old 02-27-2017, 11:32 PM
Francis Vaughan Francis Vaughan is offline
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Originally Posted by adaher View Post
We'll probably also be able to augment our intelligence and perhaps stop aging. That would restore natural selection in favor of positive traits, since if we're not aging and dying of natural causes then the morons get themselves killed in other ways.
There will almost certainly be variations on how well augmentation and longevity treatments work across the populace. These will almost certainly be partly genetic in origin.

So, those for which the treatments work best will stop ageing and get really smart. This tends to reduce the reproduction rate. Those for which the treatments don't work so well, will thus tend to out-reproduce those for which the treatments work.
  #43  
Old 02-28-2017, 08:17 AM
Kimera757 Kimera757 is offline
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Problems with breastfeeding might be a partially genetic problem that interferes with reproduction. Modern humans have solutions to solve the problem (baby formula, heating devices), so I doubt evolution will correct for that.
  #44  
Old 02-28-2017, 09:57 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
...
On lies though, it's not quite as simple as you say. One hypothesis for example is that one of the reasons Homo's brains had such a runaway increase in intelligence is because it became an issue, not of being smart enough to hunt or escape predators, but being smarter than the next man. And that being able to tell if someone was cheating you became very important.
Certainly modern humans seem to instinctively develop an idea of fair vs cheating.

Unfortunately though, for facts, it seems we put a lot of stock in who the messenger is. If it's someone we trust, or want to follow, the default is to accept what they are saying.
The key thing is our mental systems are optimized for dealing with a couple dozen to maaaybe 100 people and dealing with those same people every day of our lives.

This breaks down when asked to live in a society composed of hundreds of millions. Our concepts of Us, Them, trust, reciprocity, etc., are operating well outside their design parameters. With the predictable failure modes.

Of course there's also the problem that as humans evolved to be smarter at detecting cheating, the cheaters equally got smarter at hiding cheating.

In the modern world where cheaters can control multi-million dollar advertising campaigns the ordinary person is at further disadvantage. It doesn't matter if they're selling timeshares, toothpaste, or Trump; they can do it more effectively than many (most?) people can effectively counter.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 02-28-2017 at 09:58 AM.
  #45  
Old 02-28-2017, 09:59 AM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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To get back to the OP - humans should not be able to turn off pain; allowing conscious control of pain levels, for example, would lead people to tune out relevant pain rather than addressing the situation. pain indicating your back is sore, you have a herniated disk - sometimes this sort of pain is intended to make you avoid placing a load on the problem area until it can heal. If you can ignore the pain and walk on your broken ankle, you are only making it worse and delaying healing time.

As for fat storage - this has only been a problem for a generation or three. For every Henry VIII who had to turn sideways to get through doors (the least of his medical problems, apparently) there were a few million Englishmen whose tendency to accumulate fat was irrelevant. Widespread obesity has only been an issue in the last half century at most and only in some areas of the Western world. So up until now, there really has not been a tendency to select against those who accumulate fat - indeed, the opposite. People who could pack away the pounds at harvest easily before winter food shortages set in, had a better survival odds.

Plus, as repeatedly pointed out, traits have to have a demonstrable effect on reproductive success to affect evolution; beer goggles notwithstanding- economics, social behaviour and technology play a greater role that genetics in reproduction rates nowadays.

(Recall a discussion - I think it was Freakonomics - that women in the end nowadays usually have as many children as they choose/plan to have. Any "oops" earlier in life just means they have fewer children later in life.)

Last edited by md2000; 02-28-2017 at 10:01 AM.
  #46  
Old 02-28-2017, 10:07 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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The key thing is our mental systems are optimized for dealing with a couple dozen to maaaybe 100 people and dealing with those same people every day of our lives.

This breaks down when asked to live in a society composed of hundreds of millions. Our concepts of Us, Them, trust, reciprocity, etc., are operating well outside their design parameters. With the predictable failure modes.
For reference, see Dunbar's number:

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Originally Posted by Wikipedia
Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships.[
  #47  
Old 03-01-2017, 07:00 PM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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2) It does seem that some evolution is pretty predictable. For example, whatever senses a species needs most will become highly developed, while senses they need less will tend to stay primitive.
This is not by any inherent ability to predict what will be valuable for survival. Rather, the mechanism of natural selection works against the individuals that do not have traits that give them an advantage. The acquisition of those traits is by mutation.

For example, say rabbits have short ears. A rabbit is born with slightly longer ears. That rabbit can hear predators a bit earlier than his neighbors, and can therefore respond more quickly. He is more likely to survive and reproduce more. That trait builds up to long ears in rabbits, because the shorter eared rabbits get killed off more.

The traits that fit the environment get pushed by natural selection to improve, with the lesser versions disappearing by outcompetition. The traits that don't aid the environment don't improve. They might drift around, or even atrophy, but to improve it requires reproductive advantage.

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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
Proto-eyes are very useful, and found throughout the tree of life.
For example, some snakes (pit vipers) have pits on their face that are sensitive to infrared. Those pits are proto-eyes in the infrared spectrum. They give an sense and a bit of direction to that sense. They help the snakes detect body heat for finding prey.
  #48  
Old 03-02-2017, 06:28 AM
Haldurson Haldurson is offline
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The OP has a misunderstanding about how evolution works. It's not a mechanism that drives creatures towards perfection. It's about natural (and with humans, sometimes, and in the future, unnatural) selection. What happens is that if a genetic trait appears in a population, and that trait, for some reason, gives an advantage such that more offspring survive to a breeding age, then it's likely that that trait will continue to be passed on.

There are a few different ways this can happen -- a trait can increase the survival of young, it can increase the number of offspring, or it can give an advantage in the breeding process itself.

Note that this means that a trait which can help a child reach breeding age, can actually be a disadvantage in an aging organism. Your example about fat storage, for example, is not as much of a disadvantage early in life.

Also, a trait has to actually exist for it to be passed on. Traits don't simply appear because it would be an advantage. Traits may already exist in a population, or they can appear as mutations, or they can enter from other populations (mitochondrion, for example, may have become part of animal cells from bacteria). IT may be that some creature would have a great advantage within its niche if it grew wheels instead of feet -- but DNA may be incapable of producing wheels.

Last edited by Haldurson; 03-02-2017 at 06:29 AM.
  #49  
Old 03-02-2017, 07:09 AM
Haldurson Haldurson is offline
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The traits that fit the environment get pushed by natural selection to improve, with the lesser versions disappearing by outcompetition.
Traits don't improve -- they either survive or they don't.

There are more complex traits that are controlled by multiple pieces of DNA, and that may be what you are thinking of. There are multiple traits that are linked to a propensity towards addiction, for example. There are multiple traits that are linked to a propensity to higher intelligence.

And some traits that give an advantage may also give a disadvantage. For example, the ability to breed more offspring may seem like an advantage in nature. But every niche has limited resources, and such an 'advantage', if it's too 'good' may actually drive that species towards extinction.

Furthermore, evolution can push creatures towards specialization to a given niche. Lots of fur and fat and so on is a real advantage in colder climates. But if things warm up, not so much. Sometimes less evolved creatures tend to be hardier and more resilient to changes in the environment. Again, it's not about perfection, it's about the ability to survive to breeding age within a given niche.

What's caused a lot of confusion is the misuse of the word evolution in non-scientific circles to be synonymous with "improvement". But that's not what it actually means in scientific terms. It's simply about surviving and breeding, and that doesn't always mean improving.
  #50  
Old 03-02-2017, 07:45 AM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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Exactly. Humans don't have a fat problem, for example - they have a motion problem and an appetite problem. We are evolved to take advantage of excess food supply, since the next season may be lean. Our bodies are finely tuned to balance the need to store energy vs. the need to accommodate the level of activity we typically use to survive. Unfortunately, in modern society, both those points are now at an extreme end of the spectrum.

Does it matter, evolution-wise? Not really. People don't choose to have children based on their appetite or body mass. Only the extremes - the people who weigh, say, 400 pounds or more - would (maybe) find that an impediment to reproduction - meaning in a millennia or two or five, maybe the tendency to have "run-away" obesity cases would be less. .
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