Steven Pinker on the "False Allure of Group Selection
", with comments by Daniel Dannett, Stewart Brand, and others. Richard Dawkins's take
on group selection. Jerry Coyne's take
In Praise of Leisure
- "Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren
.' Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all... He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years — that is, by 2030." (via
) [more inside]
Evolution of music by public choice.
Results are out from the DarwinTunes experiment (previously
) - a Darwinian music engine working with mutating short audio loops that underwent evolutionary selection for 2,513 generations under the influence of thousands of listeners. Article in the Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci
. You can participate at the DarwinTunes web site.
Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution catalogs 230 tree-like branching diagrams, culled from 450 years of mankind’s visual curiosity about the living world and our quest to understand the complex ecosystem we share with other organisms, from bacteria to birds, microbes to mammals.
(More trees are visible at the Google Books site
is a tag-team tumblr, featuring an illustrated evolution that started with this little beastie
, drawn by Evan Dahm
(Rice Boy comics
| Making Places worldbuilding blog
). The next evolution
was by Yuko Ota
(Johnny Wander comic
| forthcoming Lucky Penny comic
), the other half of this illustrious duo. But their creature does not have a simple linear evolution chart, as seen in this cladogram
showing the various fan-made offshoots. Some
are linked from
the Exquisite Beast posts, but you can find more from the Exquisite Beast tumblr tag
The Control Revolution And Its Discontents
- "the long process of algorithmisation
over the last 150 years has also, wherever possible, replaced implicit rules/contracts and principal-agent relationships with explicit processes and rules."
The First Word.
A new Electric Sheep
comic by Patrick Farley on the psychedelic origins
of language. [NSFW, Via]
Infinite Stupidity Now, it sounds incredible. It sounds insane. It sounds mad. Because we think of ourselves as so intelligent. But when we really ask ourselves about the nature of any evolutionary process, we have to ask ourselves whether [our mechanism for generating ideas] could be any better than random, because in fact, random might be the best strategy. Mark Pagel previously
, edge.org previously
He was taught to use matches, a skill he picked up quickly. There’s something eerie about watching Kanzi strike a match. The way he then holds the flame — taking care not to burn himself — is remarkably human.
"An egg and an apple build competing broadcast towers that vie for the attention of a transistor radio." [Via]
Did the disappearance of the elephant caused the rise of modern man?
Humans are not good at extracting energy from plants or converting protein to energy. Without fire to allow for better conversion, fat was a vital part of early man's diet. Elephants being slower and larger than many other prey was a prime hunting target. When the number of elephants declined, man had to find other sources. Hunting smaller, faster prey resulted in a change in human evolution. Man became lighter and their brain size increased to handle the requirements for hunting enough animals to provide the necessary fat.
You have certainly seen a Tree of Life
at some point (not the movie; the diagram of the evolution of species)
. Originally conceived of by Lamarck
(though there is some interesting debate on this
), it was Darwin himself who popularized the concept, first in his notebook
, and next as the only image
in The Origin of the Species
. Though they have inspired beautiful illustrations
, and a large and fascinating web project to map the tree
, trees of life remain problematic since taxonomy can be complicated
. One truly stunning way of redrawing the tree is the Hillis Plot
, which maps 3,000 species by genetic similarity. You can print out the amazing illustration here
, but, even though the Plot only contains 0.18% of named species, it needs to be 1.5 meters square to be legible. The Hillis Plot has been appearing in art, notably (and meta-rifficly) this one carved into an English oak
, and, of course, tattoos
TimeTree is a public knowledge-base for information on the evolutionary timescale of life. A search utility allows exploration of the thousands of divergence times among organisms in the published literature. A tree-based (hierarchical) system is used to identify all published molecular time estimates bearing on the divergence of two chosen taxa, such as species, compute summary statistics, and present the results . . . For those interested in published summaries of relationships and divergence times of major groups of organisms (family level and above), see the authoritative synthesis The Timetree of Life.
Here are some examples to get you started: Humans and Chimpanzees diverged 6.3 MYA
; Giraffes and Dolphins diverged 58.3 MYA
; Cats and Mice diverged 95.2 MYA
; and Dogs and Fleas diverged 777.8 MYA
. [more inside]
Scientists have come closer to finding the common ancestor of all Earth life.
The last common universal ancestor (LUCA)
is an idea that goes back to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species
and whose existence is supported by the fact that all Earth life is based on DNA. But the tantalizing search is getting closer, primarily based on the question
, "Which features of the archaea, bacteria and eukaryotes can be traced back to their common ancestor, LUCA?"
How to hatch a dinosaur:
'So making a chicken egg hatch a baby dinosaur should really just be an issue of erasing what evolution has done to make a chicken. Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves.' [via
Collective violence, extending from riots to warfare, presents a challenge to our ordinary understanding of free will. Actions that would rarely be taken by an individual on their own seem to be embraced when supported by a larger group. This can occur in societies ranging from the communist regime of Soviet Russia to the capitalist free market of modern day England. Given this commonality, perhaps the collective violence of a riot can be best understood as a biological event in which evolved cognitive responses encounter a unique environmental threat. And if that is the case, do individuals caught up in such incidents have any choice in the matter?
Freedom to Riot
: an evolutionary perspective on collective violence.
"The web today is a growing universe of interlinked web pages and web apps, teeming with videos, photos, and interactive content. What the average user doesn't see is the interplay of web technologies and browsers that makes all this possible. The color bands in this visualization
represent the interaction between web technologies and browsers, which brings to life the many powerful web apps that we use daily." By Hyperakt
for Chrome's 3rd birthday
Evolution 2011, the largest fighting game tournament in the world, starts tomorrow. On its eve, a documentary chronicling one player's run last year, FOCUS
, was released. [more inside]
Evolution Right Under Our Noses.
"A small but growing number of field biologists study urban evolution — the biological changes that cities bring to the wildlife that inhabits them." [Via]
There were a lot of rocker dogs. You know, I want rock!
My favorite were the ones in the front row—the droolers. They had all been really primed because for one week before the show, all of the owners had been like, “We are going to a concert just for you—you are going to love it." [more inside]
More than 300 heavily-annotated books from Charles Darwin's personal library
have been digitized in a collaboration between Cambridge University
, which holds the collection, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library
, a project that has so far digitized nearly 50,000 titles from the natural sciences. And if you're looking for what Darwin wrote, rather than what he read, the University of Oklahoma
has digitized the first edition of each of his 22 books
A Miss USA delegate from each state (and D.C.) was asked whether or not they felt evolution should be taught in schools
A Mismeasured Mismeaurement of Man.
Stephen Jay Gould's classic The Mismeasure of Man
argues that 19th century scientist Samuel George Morton
inflicted his own racial biases on his data
to demonstrate that Caucasians had larger brains than other races. A new paper in the Public Library of Science: Biology
debunks Gould's account by remeasuring the same skulls Morton used. Whatever biases Morton may have had, they are not reflected in the data
Some early test shots
from legendary filmmaker and animator Ray Harryhausen's
unfinished film, Evolution
. [more inside]
is a veteran American cartoonist best known for his delightful comic-book guides to science and history, many of which have previews online. Chief among them is his long-running Cartoon History of the Universe
(later The Cartoon History of the Modern World
), a sprawling multi-volume opus documenting everything from the Big Bang to the Bush administration. Published over the course of three decades, it takes a truly global view -- its time-traveling Professor thoroughly explores not only familiar topics like Rome and World War II but the oft-neglected stories of Asia and Africa, blending caricature and myth with careful scholarship (cited by fun illustrated bibliographies
) and tackling even the most obscure events with intelligence and wit
. This savvy satire carried over to Gonick's Zinn
chronicle The Cartoon History of the United States
, along with a bevy of Cartoon Guides
to other topics, including Genetics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, The Environment
, and (yes!) Sex
. Gonick has also maintained a few sideprojects, such as a webcomic look at Chinese invention
, assorted math comics
), the Muse magazine
mainstay Kokopelli & Co.
(featuring the shenanigans of his "New Muses"
), and more
. See also these lengthy interview snippets
, linked previously
. Want more? Amazon links to the complete oeuvre inside! [more inside]
Ants are one of the most abundant groups on earth, but, curiously, not a lot of things eat them. Yes, there are anteaters (who also eat a lot of termites), and some lizards specialize on ants, but the little critters are full of noxious chemicals and pheromones that put them way down on the list of predators’ preferred foodstuffs.
Because of this, many other insects and arthropods have evolved to mimic ants, taking advantage of the aversion of predators to anything antlike.
These mimics are called myrmecomorphs, and they’re the subject of a really nice eponymous feature in this week’s Current Biology.[via]
Behold the Manul!
Otherwise known as Pallas's cat
, it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve. (Via The Ark In Space
, an amazing compendium of creatures.)
The Thinking Atheist: 'Nothing More To Talk About'
(SLYT) - Many religious family members pray for their atheist and agnostic loved ones graciously, honoring personal boundaries and showing respect for the skeptic's right to form his/her own worldview... This video is not about them...
Big dust up
about kin selection. Biologists E.O. Wilson, Martin Nowak, and Corina Tarnita publish a paper attacking kin selection, the idea that the reproductive success of a gene is influenced not only by its effects on its carrier, but also by its effects on related individuals (kin) carrying the same gene. 130 some odd other biologists respond
Richard Dawkins weighs in
. Some talking bears offer a summary
Dare 2 Share Ministries offers profiles and tips
on how to "share your faith" with fourteen different types of friends a teen Christian might have, such as Andy the Atheist
, Marty the Mormon
, Jenna the Jew
, Sid the Satanist
, Mo the Muslim
and Willow the Wiccan
. If none of those strategies work, they also offer articles
on how to "use the buzz in current teen culture to initiate God-talk with your friends" by "sharing your faith" through Indiana Jones
, Halo 3
, Brokeback Mountain
, Kung Fu Panda
and The X Files