Unnatural Selection

31 years old and full of fire.

It’s been a while since Darwin published his books about living things. I can’t think of anyone who should hold the title of the world first, and most famous, behavioral scientist.

There is a problem, however. And it’s built into both of his most famous books: Origin and Descent.

He must have known he was doing it.  But as I’ve noted before, taking on GOD did not seem like the best method for influencing the course of human history.  He made the right choice.  But it also means he left us a flawed work.

The flaw is the term “Natural Selection.”

This term appears 247 times in Origin and 155 times in Descent.

Why is it a flaw?

Because it means there are forms of selection that are not natural.

What can be “not natural?”

For one, it was a popular notion that anything people did back in those days was somehow different from what the birds and bees could do.  People can talk to each other and use tools.  Birds and bees couldn’t do those things… or did they?

Of course they could.  Only people didn’t know enough to know that.

People could also choose to cross-breed trees or flowers in ways no one had ever seen before.  These ways were also deemed to be “not natural.”

We had a term for that.  We called it “synthetic.”  So you could have natural selection, and then you could have synthetic selection.

There’s another problem.

People were also considered to be extremely special in the universe.  We had a direct wireless connection to the greatest server of all time, GOD.

So not only was our behavior beyond the natural, it was SUPER-natural.

Here’s where the problem surfaces today.

By limiting his ideas to what is considered natural, Darwin left the door open to those who want to believe that everything people do is somehow above and beyond the rest of nature.

And that’s the real problem.  Because being able to use the established tools of conventional science has been good enough to understand life from bugs to butterflies.

The same tools should be good enough to understand Beyonce and Bulgaria as well.

But we don’t allow it, because we feel that somehow, they are beyond our understanding.

We shouldn’t.  Nothing is beyond our ability to imagine.

Anything less?

Well.  That would simply be, unnatural.

 

 

Be Nice, Learn to Talk

Why are we so talkative?  Why can’t some people SHUT UP?

Turns out that you and I aren’t the only ones trying to figure this out.

Some of those brainiac types are asking this question as well.  Better yet, they may have some answers.

Those brainiacs are what journalists call “scientists.”  Yes, those guys.  The ones asking questions based on lots of data that other “scientists” can use to get the same answers.  Big deal.

Well, it is a big deal, actually.

You see, these science guys went and looked at some birds.  Why birds?

Well, there’s lots of different types of birds for one.

And these birds, well, they seem to have this talking thing similar to us people.  As people we don’t call it talking.  We call it singing, or bird calls, or song, or whatever.  But birds seem to know what they are saying.

It turns out that some birds aren’t very social.  In fact, they are downright not nice.  Kind of like some neighbors I’ve had.  Birds called Munia are like that.  Not so social.

That’s compared to the Bengalese finch, a bird that’s been domesticated for 250 years.

Guess what?  The finch has complex songs and can figure out what you might be thinking.  The Munia, not so much.  No complex songs.  Doesn’t care what you are thinking.

You might say, so what about the birds already.  Good point.

Turns out that 50 generations of fox have also started showing these traits.  Bonobos.  We already know about cats, dogs, horses and cattle.  But at least in the case of the birds, there is a direct relationship between talking (alright, singing) and human language.

Here’s the kicker.  Good old Charles Robert Darwin suggested a LONG time ago that perhaps, just perhaps, people domesticated themselves.  It’s long been known that domesticated animals don’t have as much hair and take much longer to “grow up.”

That growing up time can be used to learn stuff.  Like talking.

So the next time you want to say something, say something nice.  Because, after all, if you weren’t nice to begin with, you probably wouldn’t be talking.

Thanks for stopping by.

By the way, the source article is from Science, 3 August 2018, volume 361, issue 6401, page 436-7.  Written by Michael Erard and Catherine Matacic

 

 

 

Evolution Devolution

155,615 words in something called Origin of Species.

Of those words, “evolve” is mentioned only once.  You heard it right.

As for “evolution” or “evolving” or some other variant, zip.  Nada.  Nothing.

Isn’t that funny?

Now, the word “variation” comes up 188 times.

And the word “selection” comes up 414 times.

Here’s the reason why.

As a methodical man, Charles Robert Darwin was most interested in convincing lots of good, smart people, in this radical idea that the thing we call “species” was changing over time.

CRD also knew that a lot of those same people were big on the Big Guy, the big light in the sky, the ultimate authority, GOD.

CRD had no interest in taking on religion, that wasn’t his aim.  His only goal was to show people that species weren’t sitting still.  Some species had walked the Earth long ago and disappeared.  That implied that new species were being created.  CRD had to figure out how to show people what he’d learned.

Law of Nature Number One: Each one of your children is different.  And attached to this law is another: Each of your children is different from all other children.  It’s another way of saying all of us are unique.  Even identical twins stop being identical the moment they are born.

Any problems with this?  Do you disagree?  Then check out a worm, and another worm.  If you look long enough you will see differences.  That’s a Law of Nature.

Law of Nature Number Two: Some differences help you have more babies.  Do you know any couples who have trouble making kids?  What about race horses?  The owners of famous stallions who win big races make lots of money selling that horses baby-making bits.  As long as horse racing is a big sport, there’s a good chance lots of fast-horse babies are going to be born.

Any problems with number two?  If not, we’re ready for the big finale.

Putting both of these Laws of Nature together creates a process of change.  Every individual is unique.  Every individual has a different number of babies.  And so on.

Biologists thought they were doing everyone a favor long ago when they applied the term “evolution” to the process.  It seems harmless enough.  What they didn’t realize was that they were making it harder for us non-biologists to follow along.  Bad marketing.

As a result, we have arguments with GOD over whether or not evolution exists.  Here’s the funny thing.  Evolution doesn’t exist, just like “falling” doesn’t exist.  Falling is a process of being up, and then suddenly being down.  We don’t have schools teaching “falling” as a subject.  Instead we have physics and gymnastics.

Similarly, we shouldn’t be teaching evolution in school.  We must stick to the laws of nature: we’re all unique, and we’re all going to have different numbers of children.

That’s a horse you shouldn’t bet against.

 

 

Uneasy Feelings

Think about the last time you bought something frivolous, for yourself and no one else. Or, how about your car? What did you go through in selecting that vehicle? Did you only care that it had 4 wheels and an engine? Or did you think about its color, inside and out? Did you imagine what your friends would see as you drove it to their house? Speaking of houses, there is generally no greater investment we can make. Do you know of anyone who would buy their house without having good ‘feelings’ about the purchase? Or would they remain totally rational and objective?

The answers are obvious to most people. Feelings, whether you are buying that special watch, a car, or your house, will probably be one of the biggest factors in your decision. Your feelings matter, in a very big way. And feelings come in many shapes and sizes.

For instance, there is one feeling that, among us humans, we call premonition. Something terrible is going to happen says the gnarly character as dark music swells. Sharp eyes pierce yours, and chills go up your spine. In the movies, something terrible does happen; that’s the controlled horror we pay for. In reality, we don’t have the ability to predict the future, yet many people abide their premonitions.

Ah, at this point, Gentle Reader, you may be thinking “Hold it right there.” You may even say out loud, “This site is about the scientific approach to studying behavior.” And you are quite correct.

However, science is not all black and white, it is not only yes or no. Science itself is a form of behavior, and as such it must obey whatever laws of behavior there may be. It helps me to think of science as another form of expression, much like painting with oils. There are aspects that are fixed, methods which must be followed so that the final outcome is called science. For everything else, the full range of creative expression and human interpretation is allowed. It is just these sorts of creative versus rigid aspect of science that recently deceased biologist Francois Jacob described as day science and night science. [1]

Jacob defined day science as a linear progression of observation and scientific design leading to a viola conclusion. Night science is how the discovery process really happens, a messy, intuitive, questioning progression where we construct and then demolish hopeful hypotheses, “fighting a lot with yourself.”

Which brings us to the point. Feelings are important to understanding our behavior. Yet, Western science denies the importance of feelings. Whether for good or bad isn’t relevant, feelings simply aren’t as important as other factors. In all the natural sciences, from math and physics to chemistry and biology, one can easily argue that there is absolutely no room for feelings. In the social sciences, the best incorporation of feelings comes from psychology, being directly dealt with by Freud, and economics, indirectly incorporated into the observations of Malthus. In each case, modern versions of psychology and economics try to deal with feelings as best they can; but their success is highly debatable. Psychology most often incorporates feelings into social psychological research, with highly dubious results. Economics, more to its credit, has constrained the use of feelings to ‘consumer confidence’ measures; but the contribution of this to understanding the economy is suspect.

Talking about feelings makes me feel uneasy, because feelings are not well defined. So let’s make a stab at a definition. My feelings are purely subjective states that influence my behavior. Your feelings do the same thing, but the only way I can ever know your feelings is to listen to you tell me about them (oh, please do!), or to infer them based on your observable behaviors.

Here’s what Darwin and Spencer said about feelings without referring to them as such. In his book, Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals, [2] Darwin defines emotions negatively by drawing on Spencer’s definitions from 1863. Feelings come from two sources: Emotions or sensations. The difference between emotions and sensations are that sensations are generated in our corporeal framework. The implication is that emotions are all in the non-corporeal framework, or “in the mind.”

But as we know, studying what goes on in the mind, and knowing what our corporeal sensations are telling us can be very difficult. In fact, we may still not know the extent of our corporeal senses. A good and fairly recent example has to do with our sense of taste. It took a while, but besides sweet, salt, sour and bitter, we now have umami on our tongue. [3] Is that the final answer?

What about the major sense categories? These 5 are arbitrary in themselves, created by men to categorize the senses we can ‘see.’ For instance, what is the true difference between taste and smell? And what of the senses we can’t see? Birds can detect magnetic fields using slightly magnetized bacterial cells, thereby migrating thousands of kilometers annually. Sharks sense their mouthful of prey using electrical potentials. And there may be others for which we have no inkling.

What goes on in our minds? Even that is difficult enough for us to report on ourselves, let alone trying to discern what might be going on in someone else’s head. The upshot is this, instead of confronting this problem head on, modern science has decided to simply ignore feelings. Is this a bad thing?

It may be. Perhaps we’ve been ignoring feelings for so long that it’s backfiring. Our forward- thinking scientific society is creating a generation of science doubters. There does seem to be an increasing number of people who doubt science so much that they are fighting to go backwards. How many school boards try to incorporate creation as science?

More importantly, is it impossible for science to even study feelings? Is it possible that these subjective mental states are beyond our capacity to observe and study? Is it even possible that these things called feelings don’t even exist?

Balderdash.

What doesn’t exist is our ability to properly handle the concept and treat it more objectively. But, as any night science must, we must continue this argument… with myself.

And part of this argument goes like this. There are strong feelings out there, in the wilds of society, that point to the direction our society is taking. I am only a single surveyor, but it appears to me that there are too many people feeling things aren’t right.

What people? Our people, friends and relative people. Passing acquaintances and chance stranger people. People on the far left and people on the far right. Even people in the center.

My Saturday breakfast buddies are a collection of old men gathering year round celebrating eggs and aging. The core of conversation is guns and cars (good) and women (generally bad), but the spice is invariably politics. And it’s here that they agree, as staunch conservatives, that things feel wrong – mismanaged – going the wrong way.

At the same time there are my liberal friends, not quite so organized as the SBB, also decrying the lack of progress, the rise of ultraconservatives, and general disappointment in leadership.

All these feelings may not be relevant, but they exist, and as astute observers of behavior we must at least acknowledge them.

They are feelings, and there may not be a rational model generating these moods, there may not even be words to express the fundamentals of their foreboding. Still they persist.

Taken all together, these feelings anticipate a darker future. We can only wait and see what the future holds, before we can ascribe anything to today’s feelings. I only hope that part of that future also contains a behavioral science that is able to handle all our feelings.

 

 

[1] Science magazine, published by AAAS. Issue of 24 May 2013, p 939.

[2] Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, by Charles E Darwin, originally published in 1872. The Spencer work is referenced on page 27 of the edition published in 1979 by Julian Friedmann, London.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umami