Question / Is Common Sense even better than Empathy?

My posting has slowed to almost nothing since last Saturday:

Summer at last; warm winds, blue skies, puffy clouds. The dog and I are both delirious over the ability to “get out of” quasi imprisonment indoors.

Into the truck; a short drive to the south, up and over the canyon edge into the wide open space of the plateau. Out into “the world again” striding easily along a two-rut track that goes nowhere; the type that is established by the driver of a first vehicle, turning off the road, through the brush, and headed nowhere. Humans cannot resist such a “lure” – Who drove off the road and why? Maybe the track does go somewhere. And so, the tracks grow, simply by repetition of the “nowhere” pattern. Years pass; ruts widen, deepen, grow and are bypassed, smoothed out, and grow again, becoming as permanent and indestructible as the Appian Way.

This particular set of ruts is a habitual dog-walking path for me: the view, the wind, the light, the sky whipped into a frenzy of lovely clouds… and then, agony. Gravel underfoot has turned my foot, twisting my ankle and plunging me into a deep rut and onto the rough ground. Pain; not Whoops, I tripped pain, but OMG! I’m screwed pain. I make a habit of glancing a few feet ahead to check where my feet are going, but my head was in the clouds.

This isn’t the first time in 23 years that I’ve taken a fall out in the boonies: a banged up shin or knee, a quick trip to the gravel; scraped hands, even a bonk on the head, but now… can I walk back to the truck, or even stand up? One, two, three… up.

Wow! Real pain; there’s no choice. Get to the truck, which appears to be very, very far away, at this point. Hobble, hobble, hobble; stop. Don’t stop! Keep going. Glance up at the truck to check periodically to see if it’s “growing bigger” – reachable. I always tell myself the same (true) mantra in circumstances like this: shut out time, let it pass, and suddenly, there you will be, pulling open the truck door and pulling yourself inside.

There is always some dumb luck in these matters: it’s my left ankle. I don’t need my left foot to drive home. Then the impossible journey from the truck to the house, the steps, the keys, wrangling the dog and her leash, trying not to get tangled and fall again – falling through the doorway, grabbing something and landing on the couch. Now what?

That was five days ago. Five days of rolling around with my knee planted in the seat of a wheeled office chair, pushing with the right foot as far as I can go, then hopping like a  one-legged kangaroo the rest of the way. Dwindling food supplies; unable to stand to cook; zapping anything eligible in the microwave. No milk in my coffee. Restless nights. Any bump to my bandaged foot wakes me up. This is ridiculous! My life utterly disrupted by a (badly) sprained ankle. I think I’m descending into depression.

Bipedalism, of course, begins to takeover my thoughts. But first, I try to locate hope on the internet, googling “treatment for sprained ankle.” You’re screwed, the pages of entries say. One begins to doubt “evolution” as the master process that produces elegant and sturdy design. Ankles are a nightmare of tiny bones and connecting ligaments, with little blood supply to heal the damage, and once damaged, a human can expect a long recovery, intermittent swelling and inevitable reinjury, for as long as you live.

It seems that for our “wild ancestors” a simple sprain could trigger the expiration date for any individual unlucky enough to be injured: the hyenas, big cats, bears and other local predators circle in, and then the vultures. Just like any other animal grazing the savannah or born into the forest, vulnerability = death. It’s as true today as it ever was. Unless someone is there with you when you are injured, you can be royally screwed: people die in their own homes due to accidents. People die in solo car wrecks. People go for a day hike in a state park and within an hour or two, require rescue, hospitalization and difficult recovery, from one slip in awareness and focus. And, being in the company of one or more humans, hardly guarantees survival. Success may depend on their common sense.

So: the question arises around this whole business of Homo sapiens, The Social Species. There are many social species, and it is claimed that some “non-human” social species “survive and reproduce successfully” because they “travel together” in the dozens, thousands or millions and “empathize” with others of their kind. Really? How many of these individual organisms even notice that another is in peril, other than to sound the alarm and get the hell out of the danger zone or predator’s path? How one human mind gets from reproduction in massive numbers, that is, playing the “numbers game” (1/ 100, 1/100, 1, 100,000 new creatures survive in a generation), and the congregation of vast numbers in schools, flocks and the odds for “not being one of the few that gets caught and eaten” – how one gets from there to “pan-social wonderfulness” is one of the mysteries of the social human mind.

There are occasions when a herd may challenge a predator, or a predatory group; parents (usually the female), will defend offspring in varying manner and degree, but what one notices in encounters (fortuitously caught on camera, posted on the internet or included in documentaries) that solitary instances are declared to represent “universal behavior” and proof of the existence of (the current fad of) empathy in “lesser animals”. What is ignored (inattentional blindness) and not posted, is the usual behavior; some type of distraction or defensive behavior is invested in, but the attempt is abandoned, at some “common sense point” in the interaction; the parents give up, or the offspring or herd member is abandoned.

What one notices is that the eggs and the young of all species supply an immense amount of food for other species.

Skittles evolved solely as a food source for Homo sapiens children. It has no future as a species. LOL

I’ve been watching a lot of “nature documentaries” to pass the time. This is, in its way, an extraordinary “fact of nature”. Our orientation to extreme Darwinian evolution (reductionist survival of the fittest) is stunningly myopic. We create narratives from “wildlife video clips” edited and narrated to confirm our imaginary interpretation of natural processes; the baby “whatever” – bird, seal, monkey, or cute cub; scrambling, helpless, clueless, “magically” escapes death (dramatic soundtrack, breathless narration) due to Mom’s miraculous, just-in-the-nick-of-time return. The scoundrel predator is foiled once again; little penguin hero “Achilles” (they must have names) has triumphantly upheld our notion that “survival is no accident” – which in great measure is exactly what it is.

One thing about how evolution “works” (at least as presented) has always bothered me no end: that insistence that the individual creatures which survive to reproduce are “the fittest”. How can we know that? What if among the hundreds, thousands, millions of “young” produced, but almost immediately destroyed or consumed by chance, by random events, by the natural changes and disasters that occur again and again, the genetic potential “to be most fit” had been eliminated, depriving the species of potential even “better” adaptations than what those we see? We have to ask, which individuals are “fittest” for UNKNOWN challenges that have not yet occurred? Where is the variation that may be acted upon by the changing environment?

This is a problem of human perception; of anthropomorphic projection, of the unfailing insistence of belief in an intentional universe. Whatever “happens” is the fulfilment of a plan; evolution is distorted to “fit” the human conceit, that by one’s own superior DNA, survival and reproduction necessarily become fact. 

Human ankles (and many other details) of human physiology are not “great feats of evolutionary engineering.”

Like those two-rut roads that are ubiquitous where I live, chance predicts that most of evolution’s organisms “go nowhere” but do constitute quick and easy energy sources for a multitude of other organisms.

 

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Big 5 Personality Traits / cont., The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans

I would submit that these personality factors are not scientifically valid, but socially invented and constructed; not objective, but subjective. This “theory without proof” lies outside the scientific method of proof – but these “speculations” are the basis for Psychology; the socio-cultural Western religion.   

Note the highly “socially judgmental” descriptions of “low scorers” and “high scorers”. A polarized view of human personality, in which “socially approved” characteristics (outgoing, empathetic, warm, helpful) are given “high scores” The  trait categories are also skewed: extraversion, agreeableness, openness – conscientiousness, neuroticism! How do these highly subjective ideas drive the relentless push toward conformity to social prescriptions for “normal, typical, or idealized” behavior, which is determined by culture? What they “measure” is the opinion of the measurer – and his or her socio-cultural agenda. As the author points out, “However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness.” 

continued from: The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and animals by Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University in American Psychologist, 2006  Evolution and Behaviour Research Group, Division of Psychology, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NE2 4HH, United Kingdom.

Human Personality Traits

The rest of this article follows the structure of the five factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1992; Digman, 1990). Though the five broad factors, or domains, are decomposable into finer facets (Costa & McCrae, 1985) and certainly do not capture all the variation in human personality (Paunonen & Jackson, 2000), there is broad consensus that they are useful representations of the major axes of variation in human disposition (Digman, 1990). Following the considerations outlined in the previous section, I briefly examine the nature of each domain and consider the kinds of costs and benefits that increasing the level of the domain might have with respect to biological fitness. The reviews here are speculative, but they are offered in the hope of stimulating empirical work and of drawing psychologists’ attention to the idea that changing the level of a trait is associated with fitness costs as well as fitness benefits.

Extraversion

Note that many of the “negative risk factors” are actually admired and rewarded in American males: I would go so far as to say, that ‘extraversion’ is tailor-made permission for “boys to be boys” as defined culturally. In females, these same behaviors are viewed negatively. Also, my comments refer to the BIG 5 model, not to the author’s concepts. 

A dimension related to positive emotion, exploratory activity, and reward is a feature common to all personality frameworks and theories. Its most common label is extraversion, and its proximate basis is thought to involve variation in dopamine-mediated reward circuits in the brain (Depue & Collins, 1999). I have outlined a trade-offs-based evolutionary model for the maintenance of polymorphism in extraversion (Nettle, 2005). Extraversion is strongly and positively related to number of sexual partners (Heaven, Fitzpatrick, Craig, Kelly, & Sebar, 2000; Nettle, 2005), which, for men in particular, can increase fitness. High scorers are also more likely to engage in extrapair copulations or to terminate a relationship for another. This may lead to their securing mates of higher quality than those secured by individuals who are more constant in their choice of partners. The benefits of extraversion are not limited to mating, as extraverts, or those high on the closely correlated trait of sensation seeking, initiate more social behavior (Buchanan, Johnson, & Goldberg, 2005) and have more social support (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990) than others. Moreover, they are more physically active and undertake more exploration of their environment (Chen et al., 1999; Kircaldy, 1982). However, in pursuing high sexual diversity, and high levels of exploration and activity in general, extraverts also expose themselves to risk. Those who are hospitalized due to accident or illness are higher in extraversion than those who are not (Nettle, 2005), and those who suffer traumatic injury have been found to be high in sensation seeking (Field & O’Keefe, 2004). High extraversion or sensation seeking scorers also have elevated probabilities of migrating (Chen et al., 1999), becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behavior (Ellis, 1987), and being arrested (Samuels et al., 2004). All of these are sources of risk, risk that in the ancestral environment might have meant social ostracism or death. Moreover, because of their turnover of relationships, extraverts have an elevated probability of
exposing their offspring to step-parenting, which is a known risk factor for child well-being. One can thus conceive of extraversion as leading to benefits in terms of mating opportunities and exploration of novel aspects of the environment but carrying costs in terms of personal survival and possibly offspring welfare. It is unlikely that there will be a universal optimal position on this trade-off curve. Instead, local conditions, including the density and behavioral strategies of surrounding individuals, could lead to a constant fluctuation in the optimal value, and hence genetic polymorphism would be retained.

Neuroticism (Traditionally in psych / psych dogma, Neuroticism is by default the normal “female” condition.)

The neuroticism personality axis is associated with variation in the activity levels of negative emotion systems such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. The negative effects of neuroticism are well-known in the psychological literature. High neuroticism is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorder in general (Claridge & Davis, 2001), particularly depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is also associated with impaired physical health, presumably through chronic activation of stress mechanisms (Neeleman et al., 2002). Neuroticism is a predictor of relationship failure and social isolation (Kelly & Conley, 1987). A much more challenging issue, then, is finding any compensatory benefit to neuroticism. However, given the normal distribution observed in the human population, and the persistence of lineages demonstrably high in the trait, such a benefit seems likely. Studies in nonhuman animals, such as guppies (see the Evolution of Variation section), suggest that vigilance and wariness are both highly beneficial in avoiding predation and highly costly because they are quickly lost when predation pressure is absent. In ancestral environments, a level of neuroticism may have been necessary for avoidance of acute dangers. Anxiety, of which neuroticism can be considered a trait measure, enhances detection of threatening stimuli by speeding up the reaction to them, interpreting ambiguous stimuli as negative, and locking attention onto them (Mathews, Mackintosh, & Fulcher, 1997).

Because actual physical threats are generally attenuated in contemporary situations, (this is highly dependent on gender, race, socio-economic and class status and geographical location) the safety benefits of neuroticism may be hard to detect empirically. However, certain groups who take extreme risks, such as alpinists (mostly male?) (Goma-i-Freixanet, 1991) and Mount Everest climbers (Egan & Stelmack, 2003), have been found to be unusually low in neuroticism. Given the high mortality involved in such endeavors (around 300 people have died in attempting Everest), this finding suggests that neuroticism can be protective. There may also be other kinds of benefits to neuroticism. Neuroticism is positively correlated with competitiveness (Ross, Stewart, Mugge, & Fultz, 2001). McKenzie has shown that, among university students, academic success is strongly positively correlated with neuroticism among those who are resilient enough to cope with its effects (McKenzie, 1989; McKenzie, Taghavi-Knosary, & Tindell, 2000). Thus negative affect can be channeled into striving to better one’s position. However, here neuroticism certainly interacts with other factors. When intelligence or conscientiousness is high, for example, the outcomes of neuroticism may be significantly different than when such factors are low. Thus it is quite possible that very low neuroticism has fitness disadvantages in terms of lack of striving or hazard avoidance. Although very high neuroticism has evident drawbacks, it may also serve as a motivator to achievement in competitive fields among those equipped to succeed. Thus the optimal value of neuroticism would plausibly depend on precise local conditions and other attributes of the person, leading to the maintenance of polymorphism.

Openness

The trait of openness to experience again seems, at first blush, to be an unalloyed good. Openness is positively related to artistic creativity (McCrae, 1987). According to Miller’s (1999; 2000a) cultural courtship model, creative production in artistic domains serves to attract mates, and there is evidence that women find creativity attractive, (Again, we have the problem of just who is defining and judging what qualifies as “creative production”, a highly subjective culturally-dependent matter, often attributed in the U.S. to whatever/whomever makes a profit…) creative especially during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle (Haselton & Miller, 2006), and that poets and visual artists have higher numbers of sexual partners than controls (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). The core of openness seems to be a divergent cognitive style that seeks novelty and complexity and makes associations or mappings between apparently disparate domains (McCrae, 1987). Though such a cognitive style might appear purely beneficial, it is conceptually very similar to components of schizotypy, or proneness to psychosis (of course; creative types are “dangerous” in a rigid, impoverished culture of social conformity) (Green & Williams, 1999; Woody & Claridge, 1977). Indeed, five-factor Openness correlates positively with the Unusual Experiences scale of the Oxford–Liverpool Inventory for Feelings and Experiences schizotypy inventory (Mason, Claridge, & Jackson, 1995; Rawlings & Freeman, 1997). The Unusual Experiences scale is also correlated with measures of creativity (Nettle, in press-b; Schuldberg, 2000). Individuals scoring high in Unusual Experiences and on measures of creativity have increased levels of paranormal belief (McCreery & Claridge, 2002; Thalbourne, 2000; Thalbourne & Delin, 1994), and five-factor Openness itself is positively correlated with beliefs in the paranormal (Charlton, 2005). The Unusual Experiences trait is elevated in schizophrenia patients (Nettle, in press), and an extremely similar scale predicted the onset of schizophrenia in a longitudinal study (Chapman, Chapman, Kwapil, Eckblad,&Zinser,1994).Thus, openness and its covariates are associated with damaging psychotic and delusional phenomena as well as high function. Openness itself has been found to be associated with depression (Nowakowska, Strong, Santosa, Wang, & Ketter, 2005), as has a high score on the Unusual Experiences scale (Nettle, in press-b). Thus, the unusual thinking style characteristic of openness can lead to nonveridical ideas about the world, from supernatural or paranormal belief systems to the frank break with reality that is psychosis. What determines whether the outcome of openness is benign or pathological is not fully understood. It may be a simple matter of degree, or there may be interactions with developmental events. Poets, for example, differ from schizophrenia patients not in their Unusual Experiences scores, which are in the same range, but in the absence of negative symptoms such as anhedonia and social withdrawal (Nettle, in press-b).

And yet, we relentlessly promote creativity and “out of the box” thinking in American schools as social positives; are we actually promoting sexual promiscuity, schizophrenia, “Ancient Alien” “UFO” “Paranormal” delusion and psychotic behavior?

The Unusual Experiences trait is positively correlated with mating success in nonclinical populations, at least partly because it leads to creativity (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). However, when it leads to schizophrenia, reproductive success is much reduced (Avila et al., 2001; Bassett et al., 1996). Thus the fitness payoffs to openness appear to be very context or condition dependent, leading to the retention of variation.

Conscientiousness

The remaining two personality domains, conscientiousness and agreeableness, are often thought of as being unalloyed in their benefits, because they are generally negatively related to measures of delinquency and antisocial behavior (e.g. Heaven, 1996). However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness. Natural selection favors traits that increase reproductive success, including many cases in which this success comes at the expense of other individuals. It is likely that fitness can be enhanced by a capacity to demand a free ride, break rules, and cheat on others under certain circumstances. Conscientiousness involves orderliness and self-control in the pursuit of goals. A by-product of conscientiousness is that immediate gratification is often delayed in favor of a longer term plan. This leads, for example, to a positive association of conscientiousness with life expectancy (Friedman et al., 1995), which works through adoption of healthy behaviors and avoidance of unhygienic risks. Very high levels of traits related to conscientiousness —moral principle, perfectionism, and self-control—are found in patients with eating disorders and with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000; Claridge & Davis, 2003).

Though some obsessional individuals can be very high achievers in the modern context, it is not evident that their fitness would always have been maximal in a variable and unpredictable ancestral environment. Their extreme self control not only may be damaging, as their routines become pathological, but may lead to the missing of spontaneous opportunities to enhance reproductive success. Highly conscientious individuals have fewer short-term mating episodes (Schmidt, 2004) and will forgo opportunities to take an immediate return that may be to their advantage. Adaptations that orient the organism toward working for long-term payoffs will tend to have the effect of reducing the opportunistic taking of immediate ones. This can have fitness costs and benefits, which will vary with local conditions.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness, with its correlates of empathy and trust, is also generally seen as beneficial by personality psychologists, and its absence is associated with antisocial personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000). Agreeableness is strongly correlated with Baron-Cohen’s empathizing scale (Nettle, in press-a), which is in turn argued to measure theory of mind abilities and the awareness of others’ mental states (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Several evolutionary psychologists have argued plausibly that as a highly social species, humans have been under strong selection to attend to and track the mental states of others (Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Dunbar, 1996; Humphrey, 1976). Others have noted that we seem to be unique among mammals in the extent of our cooperation with unrelated conspecifics. Inasmuch as agreeableness facilitates these interactions, it would be highly advantageous. Agreeable individuals have harmonious interpersonal interactions and avoid violence and interpersonal hostility (Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1996; Heaven, 1996; Suls, Martin, & David, 1998). They are much valued as friends and coalition partners. Although this may be true, a vast literature in theoretical biology has been devoted to demonstrating that unconditional trust of others is almost never an adaptive strategy. Across a wide variety of conditions, unconditional trusters are invariably outcompeted by defectors or by those whose trust is conditional or selective (see, e.g., Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Maynard-Smith, 1982; Trivers, 1971). Levels of aggression can often be selected for (Maynard-Smith, 1982). Very high agreeableness, if it led to an excessive attention to the needs and interests of others, or excessive trusting, would be detrimental to fitness. Among modern executives, agreeableness is negatively related to achieved remuneration and status (Boudreau, Boswell, & Judge, 2001), and creative accomplishment (as distinct from creative potential) is negatively related to agreeableness (King, Walker, & Broyles, 1996). Though it is an uncomfortable truth to recognize, it is unlikely that fitness is unconditionally maximized by investing energy in positive attention to others. Instead, though an empathic cognitive style may be useful in the whirl of social life, it may have costs in terms of exploitation or inattention to personal fitness gains.

Moreover, sociopaths, who are low in agreeableness, may at least sometimes do very well in terms of fitness, especially when they are rare in a population (Mealey, 1995). The balance of advantages between being agreeable and looking after personal interests will obviously vary enormously according to context. For example, in a small isolated group with a limited number of people to interact with and a need for common actions, high agreeableness may be selected for. Larger, looser social formations, or situations in which the environment allows solitary foraging, may select agreeableness downward.

Conclusions

This article has had several purposes. The first has been to stress that heritable variation is ubiquitous in wild populations and therefore should be expected as the normal outcome of evolutionary processes acting on human behavioral tendencies. Thus, personality variation can be understood in the context of a large literature, both theoretical and empirical, on variation in other species.

Second, I have suggested that a fruitful way of looking at variation is in terms of trade-offs of different fitness benefits and costs (summarized in Table 1 for the Big Five personality factors). Theories based on trade-offs have been very successful in providing an understanding of evolution in other species. Moreover, the idea of trade-offs can be usefully married to the notion of fluctuating selection to explain the persistence of diversity. Such accounts are not speculative. Studies such as those on great tits, guppies, finches, and sunfish (see the section on Evolution of Variation) have demonstrated how fluctuations in environmental context change the fitness outcomes associated with particular phenotypes, which in turn affects the future shape of the population through natural selection. Thus, researchers examining nonhuman variation have been able to go well beyond post hoc explanations and actually observe evolution in action. The current trade-off account builds on the ideas of MacDonald (1995), who argued that the observed range of variation represents the range of viable human behavioral strategies and who stressed that there are fitness disadvantages at the extremes. Thus, he stressed stabilizing selection. The present argument is that selection can fluctuate, such that it may sometimes be directional for increasing a trait and sometimes be directional for decreasing it. Among the great tits, for example, selection on exploration is clearly directional in any given year (Dingemanse et al., 2004). The retention of a normal distribution is a consequence of the inconsistency of the direction of selection, not its stabilizing form. That said, I agree with MacDonald that there could be quite general disadvantages at the extremes of some personality dimensions, such as chronic depression with high neuroticism, or obsessive–compulsive personality disorder with high conscientiousness. It is not a necessary feature of the current approach that there always be stabilizing effects. The other major difference between the current approach and that of MacDonald (1995) is that he did not fully develop the notion of trade-offs across the middle range of a continuum, and in particular, he did not develop empirical predictions for the nature of trade-offs for all the different five-factor dimensions. It is important to stress that trade-offs and fluctuating selection are not the only possible approaches to the maintenance of heritable variation. Biologists have also observed that there are a number of traits that are unidirectionally correlated with fitness and yet in which substantial heritable variation is maintained (Rowe & Houle, 1996). An example would be physical symmetry. In general, the more symmetrical an individual, the higher its fitness, and yet heritable variation in symmetry persists. The maintenance of variation in such cases appears paradoxical, because directional selection might be expected to home in on perfect symmetry and winnow out all variation. The solution to the paradox appears to be that such global traits as symmetry are affected by mutations to many, if not most, genes. Most mutations that arise are to some extent deleterious, so deviation from physical symmetry becomes an index of the load of mutations an individual is carrying.

Selection, particularly that operating via mate choice, favors symmetry, and thus individual deleterious mutations are winnowed from the population. However, so many genes are involved that there is a constant stream of new mutations maintaining population diversity. Thus, symmetry is a fitness indicator trait in that it is a reliable signal of genetic quality. Some heritable human traits may be better explained by fitness indicator theory than by trade-off theory. Miller (2000b), for example, has applied such reasoning to intelligence. Intelligence is correlated with physical symmetry, (reallsuggesting that it taps overall quality (Prokosch, Yeo, & Miller, 2005). Thus, a fitness indicator approach seems likely to be fruitful in such a case. For personality, however, I suggest that an evolutionary trade-off account is likely to be useful. This does not mean that all personality differences are to be explained by the same mechanism. There are likely to be developmental calibration effects, too, as indicated by behavior genetics data showing a role for the unique environment and also as suggested by recent studies on early life stress and adult behavior (Figueredo et al., 2005). However, for the heritable basis of personality, the combination of trade-off and genetic polymorphism seems a fruitful avenue to pursue. It might be objected that the particular costs and benefits put forward here are speculative and as such amount to just-so stories about how personality variation has arisen. The former is true; as for the latter, such a charge misunderstands the utility of adaptive explanation in psychology. The evolutionary framework used here is hypothesis generating. That is, an article such as this one, which draws on evolutionary biology, is not an end in itself but rather an engine for generating testable empirical ideas.

The particular costs and benefits listed here may not turn out to be the correct ones. However, the framework makes testable predictions that would not have been arrived at inductively. For extraversion, the hypothesis that high scorers will have greater numbers of sexual partners but more serious injuries has already been confirmed (Nettle, 2005). For neuroticism, the current framework makes the prediction that performance on certain types of perceptual monitoring tasks, such as detecting an artificial predator, will actually be improved by neuroticism. Because neuroticism impairs performance on many kinds of tasks, this is a novel prediction.

For openness, the model predicts that high scorers will either be socially successful through creative activity or be socially and culturally marginalized through bizarre beliefs, (who decides which beliefs are “bizarre beliefs? This is highly culturally and individually determined) and the determinants of which outcome prevails may depend on overall condition. This is a hypothesis that certainly merits further investigation (see Nettle & Clegg, 2006).

For conscientiousness, the model predicts that high scoring individuals might perform badly on tasks in which they have to respond spontaneously to changes in the affordances of the local environment, because they will be rigidly attached to previously defined goals. Finally, for agreeableness, the theory predicts that high scorers will avoid being victims of interpersonal conflict but may often emerge as suckers in games such as the public goods game and the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, which are well studied by psychologists and in which the usual equilibrium is a mixture of cooperation and exploitation. Thus, the current framework should be seen not as a post hoc explanation of the past but as an engine of predictions about the consequences of dispositional variation in the present. Such consequences are a central explanatory concern of personality psychology, and as such, the evolutionary framework, with its emphasis on costs, benefits, and trade-offs, could be of great utility.

The irony of social living / reproductive isolation

Futurists are always talking about the human race voyaging to distant star systems. Really? All 7 billion of us? They are liars: a handful of elites will “escape” human-caused disasters and run away to screw up other planets.

We tend to think of isolation as a geographical phenomenon. The wilds of Alaska unpopulated except by old geezers that have a “problem” functioning in a city or town, or belonging to a family. Or edgy patched-together families with haphazard living arrangements for whom life on-the-fly means chronic failure. People who by actual movement, and society’s encouragement, drift farther and farther away from “golden cities” that are jam-packed with successful, educated, well-off people; official, professional” humans who shop, attend the arts and eat peculiar expensive food, the   cost of which, could support entire families for months. Isolated people who “belong to” certain geographic islands in the sky, which protect them from contamination by  the world’s lower classes.

The “winners” of society are by definition the owners and occupiers of the tiny top of the global pyramid; individuals who circulate the globe like the Albatross, doomed to soar the empty skies between red carpets and charity events. Wealth and power guarantee social isolation for the wealthy and powerful and that’s the way they want it. The reward for “making it” is isolation from those one has left behind.

I’ve written before about “the species definition problem” as it applies to hominids, and specifically Homo sapiens. One of the vehicles toward speciation is reproductive separation and isolation. A species migrates and encounters a geographic barrier and divides. One group seeks a path around the mountain range, body of water, or climate boundary and the other decides to stay put. The separation can result in reproductive isolation, or eventually, speciation, should the two groups remain disconnected from each other for an extended period of time.

Society erects similar barriers for modern humans, but based on wealth and class, not on geography. Picture a slice of New York City: one that includes both the isolated, heavily guarded towers of the rich and famous, and adjacent neighborhoods with streets and buildings straight out of post Apocalyptic novels; a social and cultural divide exists that effectively ensures that the two groups will (hardly) ever interact and therefore reproduce. Is this not reproductive isolation? 

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We have seen again and again in human history that isolation of the “elite” has  terrible consequences; too few options for non-incestuous reproduction exist. If reproductive contribution is not diversified, an inferior, inbred and shrinking supply of “talent” occurs. The standard scenario is that “fresh genetic stock” is supplied by a harem arrangement; by “trading” females between top families; and the occasional adoption of healthy outsiders, both male and female, to fill vacancies in the ruling elite.  This may have serious results: if the dynasty is made up of weak and isolated individuals, new members, chosen for intelligence and aggression, can easily dispose of the ruling family. Once this is done, the peasants may assume that overthrowing the elite class is possible and even easy.

It may seem unlikely that this violent type of change can happen in modern nations, but reproductive speciation is a likely outcome. The rich and powerful won’t need to reproduce: cyber existence, extreme medical intervention, and replacement of inferior body and brain parts by “perfect” long-lasting artificial components, will isolate those at the top of the pyramid from organic humans even further. And geographic isolation will increase due to expansion to new exotic locations: a residence in earth orbit, or on the moon, will simply confirm the incredible social distance between the elite and humans left behind in decaying cities.

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Great! Mars will look like suburban Salt Lake City!

human_cloning_test_tube_super_soldier_babies_experiments_cyber_wars

A handy set of clones will allow the rich and powerful to outlive themselves several times over.

 

Genome Study Revises Neanderthal, Denisovan, “Modern” Lineages

 

New look at archaic DNA rewrites human evolution story

Contradicts convention on Denisovans, Neanderthals, modern humans

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170807155158.htm

Date: August 7, 2017

Excerpt: Previous estimates of the Neanderthal population size are very small — around 1,000 individuals. However, a 2015 study showed that these estimates underrepresent the number of individuals if the Neanderthal population was subdivided into isolated, regional groups. The Utah team suggests that this explains the discrepancy between previous estimates and their own much larger estimate of Neanderthal population size.

“Looking at the data that shows how related everything was, the model was not predicting the gene patterns that we were seeing,” said Ryan Bohlender, post-doctoral fellow at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, and co-author of the study. “We needed a different model and, therefore, a different evolutionary story.”

The team developed an improved statistical method, called legofit, that accounts for multiple populations in the gene pool. They estimated the percentage of Neanderthal genes flowing into modern Eurasian populations, the date at which archaic populations diverged from each other, and their population sizes.

These population trees with embedded gene trees show how mutations can generate nucleotide site patterns. The four branch tips of each gene tree represent genetic samples from four populations: modern Africans, modern Eurasians, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. In the left tree, the mutation (shown in blue) is shared by the Eurasian, Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. In the right tree, the mutation (shown in red) is shared by the Eurasian and Neanderthal genomes.

A family history in DNA

The human genome has about 3.5 billion nucleotide sites. Over time, genes at certain sites can mutate. If a parent passes down that mutation to their kids, who pass it to their kids, and so on, that mutation acts as a family seal stamped onto the DNA. Scientists use these mutations to piece together evolutionary history hundreds of thousands of years in the past. By searching for shared gene mutations along the nucleotide sites of various human populations, scientists can estimate when groups diverged, and the sizes of populations contributing to the gene pool.

“You’re trying to find a fingerprint of these ancient humans in other populations. It’s a small percentage of the genome, but it’s there,” said Rogers.

They compared the genomes of four human populations: Modern Eurasians (living today), modern Africans, Neanderthals and Denisovans. The modern samples came from Phase I of the 1000-Genomes project and the archaic samples came from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The Utah team analyzed a few million nucleotide sites that shared a gene mutation in two or three human groups, and established 10 distinct nucleotide site patterns.

Against conventional wisdom

The new method confirmed previous estimates that modern (living today) Eurasians share about 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA. However, other findings questioned established theories. Their analysis revealed that 20 percent of nucleotide sites exhibited a mutation only shared by Neanderthals and Denisovans, a genetic timestamp marking the time before the archaic groups diverged. The team calculated that Neanderthals and Denisovans separated about 744,000 years ago, much earlier than any other estimation of the split. (Was the last common ancestor Homo erectus?)

“If Neanderthals and Denisovans had separated later, then there ought to be more sites at which the mutation is present in the two archaic samples, but is absent from modern (living today) samples,” said Rogers. The analysis also questioned whether the Neanderthal population had only 1,000 individuals. There is some evidence for this; Neanderthal DNA contains mutations that usually occur in small populations with little genetic diversity. However, Neanderthal remains found in various locations are genetically different from each other. This supports the study’s finding that regional Neanderthals were likely small bands of individuals, which explains the harmful mutations, while the global population was quite large.

“The idea is that there are these small, geographically isolated populations, like islands, that sometimes interact, but it’s a pain to move from island to island. So, they tend to stay with their own populations,” said Bohlender.

Their analysis revealed that the Neanderthals grew to tens of thousands of individuals living in fragmented, isolated populations.

“There’s a rich Neanderthal fossil record. There are lots of Neanderthal sites,” said Rogers. “It’s hard to imagine that there would be so many of them if there were only 1,000 individuals in the whole world.”

Rogers is excited to apply the new method in other contexts.

“To some degree, this is a proof of concept that the method can work. That’s exciting,” said Rogers. “We have remarkable ability to estimate things with high precision, much farther back in the past than anyone has realized.”

Original Paper:

Early history of Neanderthals and Denisovans

Alan R. Rogers, Ryan J. Bohlender, and Chad D. Huff

http://www.pnas.org/content/114/37/9859

Neanderthal and Homo erectus (Turkana Boy – 1.5-1.6 mya) reconstructions by Elizabeth Daynes / Field Museum, Chicago. 

 

Casting doubt on the Obsterical Dilemma / Head too big

Vital to the development of a “potential” human, is the intricate relationship between mother and fetus. There is much more going on than mechanics, both individually and in human evolution. 

__________________________________________________________________

Casting Doubt on a Paradigm /

the energetics-of-gestation-and-growth hypothesis.

on the work of Holly Dunsworth

The obstetrical hypothesis postulates that the demands of an unusual locomotor system (bipedalism) increase the risk and cost of the reproductive process. If this is the case, evolution would favor human birth at earlier stages of development than in other, non-bipedal primates, and mothers with wider hips would experience decreased motor efficiency. (Curious reasoning!)

The obstetrical hypothesis is neat and readily comprehended, which helps explain its widespread acceptance, but new evidence casts doubt on it. A recent paper by Holly Dunsworth of the University of Rhode Island and colleagues reexamines the predictions and evidence supporting the obstetrical hypothesis and suggests an alternative explanation. For instance, human gestation is often said to be short relative to that of other primates, based on how much more growth is needed in neonates (birth – 1 year old) to achieve adult brain size. The shorter duration of gestation on first glance supports a prediction of the obstetrical hypothesis—that birth has evolved to occur earlier in hominids so that the baby is born before its head is too large to pass through the birth canal. Actually, the duration of human pregnancy (38–40 weeks) is absolutely longer than that of chimps, gorillas, and orangutans (32 weeks for chimps and 37–38 weeks for the latter two). When Dunsworth and her colleagues took maternal body size into account, which in primates is positively correlated with gestation length, they showed that human pregnancy is also relatively longer compared to that in great apes. (we are apes!) No wonder that the third trimester seems so long to many pregnant women.

Another oft-cited fact supporting the obstetrical hypothesis is that, of all the primates, human newborns have the least-developed brains. Human babies’ brains are only 30 percent of adult size, as opposed to 40 percent in chimps. This difference in newborn brain size seems to suggest that human babies are born at an earlier developmental stage than other primates.

The catch is that adult brain size in humans is much larger than in other primates for reasons having nothing to do with birth. This means that using adult brain size as a basis for comparing relative gestation length or newborn brain size among primates will underestimate human development. But as one of the collaborators with Dunsworth, Peter Ellison of Harvard University, pointed out in his 2001 book Fertile Ground, the relevant question is,

Given how large a mother’s body size is, how big a brain can she afford to grow in her baby? It is an issue of supply and demand. Labor occurs when the mother can no longer continue to supply the baby’s nutritional and metabolic demands.

As Ellison puts it, “Birth occurs when the fetus starts to starve.” From this perspective, the brain size of a human newborn is not small for a primate but is very large—one standard deviation above the mean. Body size in human newborns is also large relative to other primates when standardized for a mother’s body size. Both facts suggest that pregnancy may push human mothers to their metabolic limits.

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My two cents: I think that the ‘missing’ factor is sexual selection that has been occurring since the advent of Agriculture-Urbanization: intense selection toward juvenalization has produced childlike / tame females who are fertile at a young age, but are under-equipped physically to support sufficient gestation and childbirth. Also, agricultural products are deficient nutritionally. This “food” problem addresses both skeletal problems, metabolic problems and a modern epidemic of premature birth.

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The obstetrical hypothesis, in contrast, suggests that locomotion rather than metabolism is the limiting factor in birth size. The underlying concept here is that wider-hipped women—capable of giving birth to larger offspring—should suffer a disadvantage in locomotion. But detailed studies of the cost of running and walking—including new work by Dunsworth’s coauthors Anna G. Warrener of Harvard University and Herman Pontzer of Hunter College—do not support this idea. Men and women are extremely similar in the cost and efficiency of locomotion, regardless of hip width. Enlarging the birth canal to pass a baby with a brain 40 percent of adult size, as is typical of newborn chimps, would require an increase in diameter of only three centimeters—just over an inch—in the smallest dimension of the birth canal. This wouldn’t hinder locomotion significantly, given that many women already have such broad hips. The conflict between big-brained babies and upright walking may be more conceptual than real.

What Does a Baby Cost?

Although the findings showing that human babies are not earlier than other primates are interesting, they still fail to identify what limits baby brain size. Dunsworth and her coauthors propose that the metabolic constraints faced by a mother limit the length of pregnancy and fetal growth. They have dubbed their hypothesis the energetics-of-gestation-and-growth hypothesis.

As the baby grows in both brain and body in the womb, its demand for energy accelerates exponentially. At some point, the mother reaches the limit of her ability to supply the fetus’s demands, and then labor begins. Even following birth, the big-brained, big-bodied newborn needs a loving mother who will continue to feed and care for it while its brain continues to grow at a fetal rate. In the womb, the fetus is basically part of the mother. Once born, the baby is effectively at a higher trophic level than its mother, like a parasite feeding on her, which increases the metabolic demands on her. However, the baby’s needs have shifted to include more long-chain fatty acids, which are key for brain growth. Since these are very efficiently transmitted to the baby through breast milk, rather than through the placenta, moving the baby outside the womb isn’t a problem. (Breast feeding, social rules be damned, is vital to newborns.)

The obstetrical hypothesis is not defunct; it is simply under question. But merely convincing those who were raised intellectually within this paradigm to consider an alternative hypothesis can be challenging. When she gives a talk about the energetics hypothesis, Dunsworth summarizes a conversation that illustrates this challenge:

“What always comes next is, ‘then why doesn’t the pelvis get wider to make childbirth easier?’ And my answer is always, ‘Because it’s good enough. Witness over seven billion humans on the planet.’ But that doesn’t satisfy most people who are moved to ask the question in the first place. And when they argue ‘the tight fit at birth is too much of a coincidence to ignore,’ I ask, ‘Isn’t it just a coincidence that my finger fits perfectly into my nostril?’

She’s right. Evolutionary adaptation doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Perhaps the female pelvis adapted to fit the size of the human fetus’s brain, rather than the female pelvis’s limiting the baby’s brain size. Still, we are left with no clear reason why a baby is such a tight fit in the mother’s birth canal. Pelvic size may be limited by something not yet taken into account in locomotor studies, such as speed, balance, or risk of injury. Or, perhaps simple economy keeps pelvic size close to neonatal brain size. The third alternative is that human childbirth was not always difficult and has only become so as improvements in diet have increased newborn body size. (Or modern neotenic females are less robust than earlier females and less capable of carrying the fetus to complete gestation, but deliver increasingly premature infants and / or require caesarean intervention.) The obstetrical hypothesis and the energetics hypothesis are not mutually exclusive.

The evolutionary conflict that makes human birthing difficult may not be between walking or running and having babies, but between the fetus’s metabolic needs and the mother’s ability to meet them. Perhaps the problem isn’t only having—bearing—a big-brained baby. Perhaps the real problem is making one.

Just what is the problem between Asperger types and Neurotypicals?

I’ve been posting for three years now on the bizarre insistence by neurotypicals  that the very existence of Asperger types is an affront to “their species.” I’ve also tried to convey how the myriad ridiculous, destructive and irrational things that NTs “believe and do” drive us equally batty. The details of this stupid situation are mind-boggling and confounding, but there is one simple difference in motivation that lies at the bottom of all this “blah, blah.”

Neurotypicals do whatever makes them feel good; they will “believe in” whatever cruel and idiotic nonsense gives them permission to do whatever makes them feel good.  

Of course, 7 billion people doing / believing whatever makes them feel good inevitably creates conflict. It also makes solving problems impossible; the “non-solution” is application of force and violence. The prime NT commandment is: “Destroy whoever doesn’t do or say what makes you feel good.

This makes us avoid NTs, because the need to eradicate any and all opposition makes them  dangerous.  

Asperger types are interested in how the universe  works, whether or not the “discovery” of how things work makes us feel good or not. Why? Because knowing how things work allows for making things better.

The result is that we contradict what NTs must be told (or else!), which is, “Yes, you’re right; the universe and everything in it exists to make you feel good. I am your slave.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hunter-gatherers have a special way with smells / Study

=Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

http://www.mpi.nl/news/hunter-gatherers-have-a-special-way-with-smells

When it comes to naming colors, most people do so with ease. But, for odors, it’s much harder to find the words. One notable exception to this rule is found among the Jahai people, a group of hunter-gatherers living in the Malay Peninsula who can name odors just as easily as colors. A new study by Asifa Majid (Radboud University and MPI for Psycholinguistics) and Nicole Kruspe (Lund University) suggests that the Jahai’s special way with smell is related to their hunting and gathering lifestyle.

“There has been a long-standing consensus that ‘smell is the mute sense, the one without words,’ and decades of research with English-speaking participants seemed to confirm this,” says Asifa Majid of Radboud University and MPI for Psycholinguistics. “But, the Jahai of the Malay Peninsula are much better at naming odors than their English-speaking peers. This, of course, raises the question of where this difference originates.”

Hunter-Gatherers and horticulturalists

To find out whether it was the Jahai who have an unusually keen ability with odors or whether English speakers are simply lacking, Majid and Nicole Kruspe (Lund University, Sweden) examined two related, but previously unstudied, groups of people in the tropical rainforest of the Malay Peninsula: the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer Semelai. The Semelai are traditionally farmers, combining shifting rice cultivation with the collection of forest products for trade.

The Semaq Beri and Semelai not only live in a similar environment; they also speak closely related languages. The question was: how easily are they able to name odors? “If ease of olfactory naming is related to cultural practices, then we would expect the Semaq Beri to behave like the Jahai and name odors as easily as they do colors, whereas the Semelai should pattern differently,” the researchers wrote in their recently published study in Current Biology. And, that’s exactly what they found.

Testing color- and odor-abilities

Majid and Kruspe tested the color- and odor-naming abilities of 20 Semaq Beri and 21 Semelai people. Sixteen odors were used: orange, leather, cinnamon, peppermint, banana, lemon, licorice, turpentine, garlic, coffee, apple, clove, pineapple, rose, anise, and fish. For the color task, study participants saw 80 standardised color chips, sampling 20 equally spaced hues at four degrees of brightness. Kruspe tested participants in their native language by simply asking, “What smell is this?” or “What color is this?”

The results were clear. The hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri performed on those tests just like the hunter-gatherer Jahai, naming odors and colors with equal ease.The non-hunter-gatherer Semelai, on the other hand, performed like English speakers. For them, odors were difficult to name. The results suggest that the downgrading in importance of smells relative to other sensory inputs is a recent consequence of cultural adaption, the researchers say. “Hunter-gatherers’ olfaction is superior, while settled peoples’ olfactory cognition is diminished,” Majid says.

They say the findings challenge the notion that differences in neuroarchitecture alone underlie differences in olfaction, suggesting instead that cultural variation may play a more prominent role. They also raise a number of interesting questions: “Do hunter-gatherers in other parts of the world also show the same boost to olfactory naming?” Majid asks. “Are other aspects of olfactory cognition also superior in hunter-gatherers,” for example, the ability to differentiate one odor from another? “Finally, how do these cultural differences interact with the biological infrastructure for smell?” She says it will be important to learn whether these groups of people show underlying genetic differences related to the sense of smell.

This study was funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research as well as the Swedish Foundation.

Publication

Majid, A., & Kruspe, N. (2018). Hunter-gatherer olfaction is special. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.12.014

 

Nose thyself: individuality in the human olfactory genome

Many “autistic” individuals report “odors” that other people in the same environment do not smell. Another supposed “symptom” that psychologists have labeled as proof of “defective brain development”. This blames autistic individuals for the discrepancy. Once again, psychologists seem to “abhor” actual evidence of human variability, choosing to discriminate against those people whom they judge to be “socially defective.” 
Genome Biol. 2007; 8(11): 230.
Published online 2007 Nov 26. doi:  10.1186/gb-2007-8-11-230

Xiaohong Zhang1 and Stuart Firesteincorresponding author1

Different people have different noses. Not just on the outside, it turns out, but inside as well. Indeed, there may be more variation in olfactory abilities among humans than in any other sense. We have all had the experience of being in a room where everyone seems to smell some odor, good or bad, that we simply do not perceive, no matter how much we sniff. Detection thresholds – the ability to detect a given odor at a particular concentration – vary over several orders of magnitude of concentration in different people. There are also many cases of selective anosmia, the inability to detect a particular odor, in the human (and mouse) population, and many of these seem to sort along genetic lines. One of the best known is a selective anosmia to isovaleric acid. This is socially important because isovaleric acid is the main noxious component of body odor. About 6% of the human population appears to have this anosmia, and they tend to self identify [1].

The high level of variation in the sense of smell may be related to the large family of genes that encode the odor receptors. Odor receptors are G-protein-coupled receptors that are expressed in specialized cilia on the tips of olfactory sensory neurons located in a layer of epithelium at the back of the nasal cavity. The odor receptor genes were first identified in 1991 by Linda Buck and Richard Axel [2], who predicted that they might comprise a very large gene family. We now know that they form the largest gene family known in mammals, numbering more than 1,000 genes [3], or more than 5% of the typical mammalian genome. Even humans, whose sense of smell is thought to be less good than that of many other animals, have some 350 odor receptor genes, comprising more than 1% of the coding genome [4]. For comparison, the next largest family of GPCRs is that of the serotonin receptors, with just 15 members. Given all the genetic material in the odor receptor genes, there are presumably many opportunities for polymorphisms and other variations with phenotypic effects.

A recent report in Nature by Keller et al. [5] now establishes a specific connection between a particular genetic polymorphism and olfactory ability in humans – in this case, the detection of the steroids androstenone and androstadienone. This work makes use of two different and complementary techniques: functional assays in cells containing introduced receptor genes and a psychophysical survey of human subjects. The extensive genetic mapping information in human populations and the fact that humans can report their olfactory experiences makes for a powerful collaboration.

Androstenone is well established as a pheromone in pigs; it is also found in truffles and accounts for the ability of boars to sniff them out. Androstenone and the closely related steroid androstadienone have been suggested, though never proven, to act as pheromones in humans. Different people report a wide range of perceived odors from these chemicals, from unpleasant and urinous to sweaty, woody or even pleasantly floral, and nearly 30% of the human population claims not to be able to smell them at all [6, 7]. These two chemicals therefore represent an interesting example of genetic variation in the human population, and one that is relatively easy to document.

There are numerous possible causes for differential olfactory abilities, including age, gender, environment, health status and experience. Between the receptor and the change in membrane voltage that signals the presence of an odor to the brain lies a complex biochemical pathway, and mutations in any of the proteins in this pathway can also result in olfactory abnormalities. An example is Kallmann syndrome [8], which is caused by mutation of a G protein that happens to be expressed in olfactory neurons as well as in other tissues. Along with hypogonadism, caused by a deficiency in pituitary hormones, patients with this condition also have anosmia.

The 350 or so genes for odor receptors would, however, seem to be the most likely targets for mutations affecting olfaction. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) occur at considerable frequency in the human genome and are thought to constitute the genetic basis for most of the variability in human traits. SNPs that modify a particular odor receptor could lead to significant differences in threshold sensitivity towards particular odorants or to odorant-specific olfactory deficits. The most obvious candidates for generating a functional effect are the 600 or so non-synonymous SNPs that change amino-acid residues that might be crucial to protein function of odorant receptors [9]. In addition, polymorphisms in the promoter or other regulatory regions of odor receptor genes might result in altered expression patterns that modify olfactory function [10].

There is an enormous diversity in the repertoire of functional odorant receptor genes among different people. Roughly 60% of human odor receptor genes have mutated into non-functional pseudogenes in a relatively recent genomic process; thus a substantial fraction of human odor receptors might be expected to segregate between an intact and a pseudogene form in different individuals. Menashe et al. [11] genotyped 51 odor receptor loci in 189 individuals of several ethnic origins to screen for SNPs that distinguish the intact and pseudogenic forms. Remarkably, of the 189 individuals, 178 functionally different genomes were found. These and earlier findings suggest that differing evolutionary pressures may have shaped the chemosensory repertoire in different human populations. Additional variation in the population may come from differences in gene expression. Experiments with custom microarrays specialized for detecting odor receptor genes have found that the expressed receptor repertoires of any pair of individuals differ by at least 14% [12], suggesting that polymorphisms exist not only in coding regions but also in promoter and other regulatory regions (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The diversity of odor receptor gene expression in humans. The numbers refer to the number of genes whose expression was detected (at P < 0.05) in one or more of three samples of olfactory epithelium [12]. As can be seen, there is a substantial difference in the odor gene repertoire expressed in the three samples.

Despite many anecdotal reports and numerous population screens that indicate heritable olfactory traits, a definitive connection has never been made between single-gene mutations and olfactory abilities. Now combined work from two laboratories [5], those of Leslie Voshall at Rockefeller University, New York, and Hiro Matsunami at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, provides this evidence. This study combined a cell-based assay technique to identify ligands for human odor receptors with an olfactory psychophysical study of a diverse population of human volunteers. The authors cloned a panel of 335 putative human odor receptors and expressed them in Hana3A cells, which were then screened for androstenone-mediated stimulation. A receptor called OR7D4 gave the strongest response, suggesting that this is the high-affinity androstenone receptor in humans. Polymorphisms in OR7D4 were then identified in 391 individuals and two non-synonymous substitutions that occurred at the highest frequency were identified. These substitutions gave two receptor variants of OR7D4, called RT and WM, which differed in one amino acid. The authors investigated the ligand specificity of the two variants in the cell-based assay and found that the RT form responded to androstadienone whereas the WM form did not.

To correlate this variation in OR7D4 with variation in the actual perception of androstenone and androstadienone, olfactory psychophysical studies were carried out with 391 human volunteers. Subjects were asked to rate the perceived intensity, valence (the emotional reaction associated with a stimulus) and detection threshold of androstenone and androstadienone, compared with control odors. Statistical analysis showed that the OR7D4 genotype had a significant effect on the perception of androstenone odor intensity. Heterozygous RT/WM individuals as a group had higher detection thresholds than RT/RT individuals, that is, they were less sensitive to the odor. Variation in OR7D4 genotype also affected the perception of odor quality. The RT/WM group rated the smell of both androstenone and androstadienone as less unpleasant than did the RT/RT group. In this study, non-parametric regression analysis showed that OR7D4 genotype explained 19% and 39% of the variance in the valence and intensity rating, respectively, of the steroid odors. Thus, although there must be some additional receptors or non-genetic effects involved, OR7D4 genotype was clearly identified as a significant heritable factor influencing the perception of androstenone and androstadienone. This study provides the first link between an identified genetic polymorphism in an odor receptor gene and altered perception of an odor compound.

GPCRs are estimated to account for some 50% of the targets for drugs in current use. As the odor receptors are GPCRs, the demonstration of polymorphic variation in their function by Keller et al. [5] provides strong support for the likelihood that polymorphic variation in other GPCRs has important effects on drug efficacy and side effects. Non-synonymous SNPs in GPCRs can clearly have large effects on function, and further investigation of the odor receptors is likely to unearth more information on variation and its effect on function in this important receptor class.

How to Exterminate Aboriginal Peoples, cont. / Reproductive Elimination

 

From: National Library of Australia 1866 Photograph "Aborigines of Tasmania: William Lanney, Coal River Tribe, 26 year. Lallah Rookh, or Truganini (Seaweed), female, Bruni (i.e. Bruny) Island Tribe, 65 year.

From: National Library of Australia 1866 Photograph “Aborigines of Tasmania: William Lanney, Coal River Tribe, 26 year. Lallah Rookh, or Truganini (Seaweed), female, Bruni (i.e. Bruny) Island Tribe, 65 year. Truganini died in the mid-1870s. She is believed to be the last Aboriginal Tasmanian.

The Process of DOMESTICATION:

How to wipe out an indigenous population, subculture, ethnic group, wild population, or wild species.

As is usual among social humans, there is bitter conflict over “who is right” concerning the history of European – Tasmanian conflict. I could not care less about these social battles; arguments are not about the facts, but about who “owns” history. What does interest me is a pattern of “knocking off” small populations of wild humans, by the reduction of females allowed to reproduce with “wild males.” This pattern applies to the collision of peoples and cultures, in which one is powerful, numerous and RUTHLESS and the other is an indigenous population sheltered by geography from contact with human predators for hundreds to thousands of years. This process has been repeated countless times around the globe.

The Pattern:

locationJPG Bassian_Plain

TIMELINE

1790-ish: British and Americans arrive to hunt seals in the Bass Strait.

1800-ish Seal hunters are dropped off on uninhabited islands in Bass Strait, staying November to May, the seal hunting season. Sealers establish camps on islands close to Tasmania and make contact with Aboriginal Tasmanians, who had been isolated from their origins in Australia for 8 – 10,000 years.

Trade develops – Tasmanians want dogs & food items; sealers trade for kangaroo hides. No surprise – a trade in Aboriginal Tasmanian women developed: women were excellent seal and bird hunters. Some women were purchased outright, others were “gifts.” Some sealers raided coastal Aboriginal settlements and abducted women.

Each seal hunter “required” 4-5 women to work for him as hunters. The women were marooned on uninhabited islands, and if not enough seals had been killed by the time the sealer returned, the women were brutally beaten and “stubborn” ones killed. 

By 1810 the seal population was severely reduced and the hunters moved on; some remained with Aboriginal women they had “married.” Children of these mixed European / Aboriginal reproductions survived while native children stopped being conceived.  

Tales are remembered of women who “went rogue,” attacking and killing the sealers because of the brutality they suffered. Female slaves became a force against white authority and fought in conflicts. Women who fought back, resisted enslavement, or proved too difficult to be “domesticated” were eliminated.

After mere decades the number of Aboriginal Tasmanian women declined: it is reported that by 1830 only 3 Aboriginal women remained in northeast Tasmania, along with 72 men. This lack of females made it impossible for Aboriginal Tasmanians to reproduce in enough numbers to survive as a distinct and original population.

Domestication depends on juvenalization (neoteny) – a brutal, but simple, process. Select “tame” females for reproductive use: Childlike traits of obedience, passivity, and easy manipulation and handling are valued by “captors” just as tame traits are valued in the selection of wild animals for domestication. 

The idiotic European belief that dressing up indigenous people in "white" clothing will magically convert them into being "tame" or "domesticated."

The idiotic European belief that dressing up indigenous people in “white” clothing will magically convert them into being “tame” or “domesticated.”

Truganini ca. 1812-1875 Her life and image have been exploited, similar to freaks in a carnival or the head of a trophy animal hung on the wall.

Truganini ca. 1812-1875
Her life and image have been exploited, like a freak in a carnival sideshow or like the head of a trophy animal hung on the wall.

 

___Article by: Aaron Greenville and Paddy Pallin

____________________________________________Will we hunt dingoes to the brink like the Tasmanian tiger?

A dead dingo in 2013 (left) and a Tasmanian tiger, last seen in the wild in 1932. Dingo photography by Aaron Greenville; a hunted thylacine in 1869, photographer unknown.

The last Tasmanian tiger died a lonely death in the Hobart Zoo in 1936, just 59 days after new state laws aimed at protecting it from extinction were passed in parliament. But the warning bells about its likely demise had been pealing for several decades before that protection came too late – and today we’re making many of the same deadly mistakes, only now it’s with dingoes. Earlier this month the Queensland government announced it would make it easier for farmers to put out poison baits for “wild dogs”. In Victoria, similar measures have already been taken. Lethal methods of control have lethal consequences. It is time to rethink our approach in how we manage our wild predators.

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A deadly history lesson

(A familiar impasse to those of us in Wyoming who want the Wolf to retain its natural status as top predator in our state versus cattle and sheep ranchers who demonstrate a pathological fury against the wolf and want it exterminated (again.)

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Commonly known as Tasmanian tigers because of their striped backs, thylacines were hunted due to the species alleged damage they were doing to the sheep industry in the state. However, the thylacine’s actual impact on the industry was likely to have been small.

Instead, the species was made a scapegoat for poor management and the harshness of the Tasmanian environment, as early Europeans struggled implementing foreign farming practises to the new world.

The tiger [thylacine]… received a very bad character in the Assembly yesterday; in fact, there appeared not to be one redeeming point in this animal. It was described as cowardly, as stealing down on the sheep in the night and want only killing many more than it could eat… All sheep owners in the House agreed that “something should be done,” as it was asserted that the tigers have largely increased of late years. – The Mercury, October 1886.

More than a century later, and it’s now the dingo in the firing line.

Since 1990, the number of sheep shorn in Queensland has crashed 92 per cent, from over 21 million to less than 2 million. Although there have been rises and falls in the wool price and droughts have come and gone, it’s the dingoes that have been the last straw.ABC Radio National, May 2013

An ancient predator vs modern farmers

Producing sheep is an incredibly tough business, with droughts, international competition and volatile markets for wool and meat – mostly factors that are well beyond the control of an individual farmer.

Dingoes are seen as one of the few threats to livelihood that producers can fight back against. As a result, the dingo has experienced a severe range contraction since European settlement and there is mounting pressure to remove the dingo from the wild, despite dingoes calling Australia home for 4000 years.

Dingoes are now rare or absent across half of Australia due to intense control measures. While they are more common in other areas, we have seen how species populations can collapse quickly. For example, bounty records from Tasmania showed the thylacine population suddenly crashed in 1904-1910 due to hunting pressure from humans.

Will the dingo’s demise be like that of the thylacine? We simply do not know, but the social conditions and a rapidly changing environment mirror the story of the thylacine.