Re: War Gods?

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 12 Mar 2004 - 05:46:02 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: psychohistory?"

    At 11:41 AM 11/03/04 +0000, you wrote:
    >Help me -- this post has bloated out of control!!!

    ok snip

    >And yeah -- waltzing isn't from a 'gene for', it's just a loss of proper
    >function (rhythmic circuits are ubiquitous in motor control, so
    >dysfunction often appears rhythmic). Anyway I know that wasn't the
    >direction of your argument so I won't get stuck in to that.

    It is, however, possible for genes to code for really elaborate behavior--typically in a rigid sequence.

    "Sphex finds a suitable small insect, stings it with a venom that paralyzes without killing, and takes it to the site of the burrow, which she had closed when she left after laying her egg. Madame Sphex leaves the torpid-but-alive prey near the burrow's entrance, reopens the hole and goes back in, where she presumably re-inspects to see that everything is still shipshape. Her regular as clockwork behavior after this inspection is to drag the preservative-filled food inside, drop it, exit again, and close the hole once more. She normally proceeds to bring several food items into the burrow in precisely this manner. This part of her behavioral repertoire is performed
    "religiously." (I grossly misuse that term solely to highlight the activity that Fabre examined.) Then, when her biological duty is at last done, without a thought for her tyke, she seals the burrow for the last time. Getting out is her offspring's problem.

    "What Fabre did was to intervene in the middle of her provisioning pattern, while the digger wasp was inside inspecting her burrow, by moving the future meal an inch or so from where it had been. When the wasp came out, her first act was to position the paralyzed prey back to where she had left it at the entrance. Her next act was not to bring the food inside, as we might expect, but to repeat her role as Sphex, the Inspector General. Satisfied once more that all was in order, she again came out to bring the meal within. But while she was inside, the diabolical scientist again intervened to move the prey. This prey-moving by the human outside while the wasp was inspecting inside happened again and again. Fabre was persistent, he moved the nourishing morsel more than forty times. Madame Sphex was "resolute," she repeated her prey-repositioning and parlor-reinspection each time. At which point, Fabre may have felt his obligation to science was satisfied. At any rate, he quit.

    "What is to be said about all this? If nothing else, we have seen the very model of a less-than-modern major general pattern of rigid instinctive behavior."

    Insects generally rely on this kind of "gene constructed" behavior. Mammals don't as much, though there are certainly things that look to be hardwired or close to it.

    snip (interesting though)

    >There is also _no_ sperm competition in humans --

    It is not uncommon for a litter of kittens to obviously be the offspring of two or more toms. It is not unheard of for a woman to have twins with different fathers. If a woman has sex with two men in a short period and nine months later has a baby, either one of them could have been the father but only one was. If this is not sperm competition, what is it?

         "This association between relative testicle size and the intensity of sperm competition is so consistent that we can use it to gauge the basic level of sperm competition in humans. Among gorillas, for instance, female promiscuity and sperm competition are almost unknown: the male's testicles are relatively tiny, weighing in at a mere 30g or 0.03 per cent of body weight. Chimpanzees, on the other hand are highly promiscuous (females may copulate a thousand times for each pregnancy), and despite their smaller body size males have huge testicles 119g or 0.3 per cent of their body weight. Human testicles fall in between these two simian extremes (40g or 0.08 per cent of body weight), suggesting only modest levels of female promiscuity in our evolutionary past."

    see amazon for Baker's most recent book (at $200)

    >Anyway I think there may be several strands of EP. Keith yours seems less
    >contentious, but the problem as I see it is that as more and more of the
    >contentious stuff is removed it ceases to be a field at all. Who are the
    >people that were permanently announcing 'genes for' all sorts of
    >behaviours a few years ago then? Not EPers? If not then I have been
    >mistaken, for which I apologise. I'm sure it's a bigger church than you're
    >letting on.

    I have what I think is a standard view of EP. It really isn't my field, I am an engineer, electronics hardware design, big fan of William Calvin. Calvin thinks that humans working their way into the projectile hunter niche and spreading into the cold parts of the world were what induced the big expansion of the brain. (You need the large number of cells to reduce release timing jitter so you can hit small targets far from you.) Recently Lahn found a gene that is apparently behind the larger brain sizes as you get closer to humans. If Calvin is right, you could consider this a gene for accurate throwing, though what it looks like it actually does is regulate the number of cell divisions in the cerebral cortex

    >As for whether I or the media missed the point, I can assure you it's the
    >media that worries me (even if I missed the point I think the consequences
    >would be rather small). Point is the media have some agendas, and the
    >moment any scientist opens their mouth, they are waiting to slot the info
    >into one of a few pigeonholes, so you _must_ be _incredibly_ careful when
    >talking to them (and you'll still get screwed). Remember the debates over
    >whether 'criminal' genes would get you off, or get you the death penalty?
    >Randy Thornhill (the poisonous little ****) has given more succour to
    >bigotted misogynistic men than every other fictional evil lothario
    >combined, because he is "a scientist" (apparently).

    I really don't understand this. It sounds like people getting freaked out at Wilson for Sociobiology. Thornhill's contentions seem relatively obvious and main stream. If people made a big political deal out of it, I don't see that is it particularly his fault. (Correct me if I get this wrong, but humans have this weird and fairly rare behavior which at first look does not seem to be adaptive, especially in the modern world. Close examination indicates that the behavior was probably conditionally adaptive as an evolutionary stable strategy as long as it was uncommon in the EEA. Since all behavior depends on mechanisms built by genes, chances are a tendency toward this behavior was influenced by genes that were either rare or rarely led to the behavior being expressed. These genes did however tend to be kept in the population gene pool--pre birth control/abortion--by the behavior.)

    >Media interest in science is limited to things that they can crowbar into
    >one of six(ish) pigeon holes: cures, gadgets, exploration, sex, bad
    >people, why-are-we-here. Let's remember the context in which we do our
    >science, and have our debates.

    Well, we don't seem to have them hanging around here.


    Keith Henson

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