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World of Science +1: Artificial Ape Man
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mouse



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

tinkeringIdiot wrote:
mouse wrote:
saying that fully biological effects are necessary to explain the evolution of a species rather overlooks a whole lot of things. a lot of evolution is driven by response to non-biological things, which do evolve by different mechanisms than biological systems. the evolution of lakes to wetlands to dry land, as sediment builds up in the lake bed, is "evolution" in the biological sense, nor does it follow the same pressures - does that mean that organisms around that evolving lake evolve by a different mechanism than those that live in a more constant environment, like the deep sea?


The sedimentation of lakes into wetlands isn't a good comparison to the effects of tool use as that process is not controlled by the animals affected by the transition (except perhaps us, because we can build dams and such.)

i think you are kind of changing your ground here. what you said originally was "Since technology itself evolves according to different mechanisms than biological systems, the evolution of our species cannot be fully understood by looking at biological factors". you are basing your argument on evolution being driven by something non-biological, which changes in a different fashion/at a different rate/in response to different things than a biological driver. so any non-biological thing that changes according to its own laws is a fair comparison.

the problem with pulling technology out as a different thing is, of course, that technology does not evolve independently of the humans who create it. it is the humans who change the tools, and the knowledge/ability they have to make those changes - those "evolutions" - is based on their current capacity - their brain power, their understanding of the world, the tools they have already "evolved". homo erectus could no more build a rifle than a crow can grow thumbs - they didn't have anything from which such a tool could come.

tinkeringIdiot wrote:

Quote:
how would the evolution of jaw strength in humans differ from, for example, the evolution of beak sizes in darwin's finches? both change because diet changed. true, the human diet changed because we learned to make knives and build fire and cook stuff. but biological natural selection still determines how our jaws changed.


Here you've already presented the counterpoint to your argument: the driving force behind diet change for finches is what food is available in the environment while our diets changed because we learned to prepare our food differently through tool use. Yes of course the bottom line is that this ability allowed the genes of those individuals possessing of fire and sharp rocks to be passed on and influence the evolution of the species. But technology is what allowed those individuals to pass on their genes rather than physiological advantages like a bigger beak. I think you are picking apart the semantics of the argument rather than the argument itself.

well, the semantics are pretty basic to the arguments. if we aren't using the same terms to mean the same things, we can't understand where the other person is coming from.

yes, technology allowed some humans to pass their genes on - just as a different beak allowed some finches to pass their genes on. and the failure of large terrestrial preditors to make it out to new zealand allowed a whole selection of flightless birds to pass on their genes. see, by _my_ definition, evolution is the differential passing on of genes, due selection on reproduction, resulting in a change in genetic frequencies in subsequent populations which can be detected by an observably different phenotype in the parent and child populations. there are many many different drivers - different selectors. but the different drivers do not change the essential mechanism of natural selection. whether you survive because you can make a knife, or because you can run faster than a predator, or just the luck of the draw, your mere survival is what determines the genes present in the next generation.

taylor, by the way, seems to have his own problems with semantics. he says "when you look at an artificial object like a chair, for instance, there is no central rule that defines it." which is just stupid. of course there is a central rule that defines a chair - it something that is used primarily for sitting on. you can sit on a table, but it isn't a chair, because the prime function of a table is not to be sat on, it's to put other things on. which is exactly what he goes on to say: "The chair's meaning is linguistic and symbolic - a chair is a chair because we intend for it to be a chair and we use it in a particular way." well, what is intent and use, other than a central rule defining the object? he's trying to make his case by insisting things are defined other than how most people define them. in this case, things like "evolution" and "natural selection".

tinkeringIdiot wrote:

Quote:
i see that taylor (and you, i guess) are saying that using technology to build technology is a step other species have not (yet?) taken


I'm not saying that and I don't think he is either. New Caledonian crows and a few other corvid species are known tool makers, not to mention chimps and other closer cousins. Studying the evolutionary progression of these species would actually be a fine place to test Taylor's hypothesis.

yes - but as i am reading this, using technology to make technology is indeed where he is making the distinction. to quote the original article:
"Some biologists argue that human culture and technology is simply an extension of biological behaviours and in that sense humans are like hermit crabs or spiders. That's an idea known as "niche adaptation". I see human technology as different because of the notion of entailment."
he defined entailment near the top: "With chipped stone, something else is going on, something called "entailment": using one thing to make another. "

what i said was "using technology to build technology", which makes it seem more complicated. but to make a chipped stone, you use another stone = which is in itself at tool (you can also use it to crack bones or nuts or kill an animal). so if you prefer - humans use tools to make other tools. which taylor calls entailment.



tinkeringIdiot wrote:

But what if the advantage is not a direct expression of our inherited genes (like stronger jaws) but a result of learned skill (like how to make a stone knife)? Now the determining factor for the passage of genes to the next generation (the actual mechanism of evolution, as you've pointed out) is decoupled from the genes themselves. This allows individuals with the best tools to pass on their genes rather than the individuals with the best genes. If tool use and, more critically, more complex tool making were genetic, then the comparison to beavers and bats would be appropriate. But it is not. That much is abundantly clear from the world around us.


but is tool making and use in fact independent of genes? is not our ability to learn to use tools due to our genes? the ones that gave us large brains, and the ability to learn new skills? how about the genes that gave us our hands and their fine motor skills? are those not essential to tool making? beavers and bats and even crows don't have hands - they have very limited physical ability to make tools, so we really can't assess how much potential they have to do so. they do, however, manage to do things with the equipment they have that other organisms with the same equipment do not do. so what does that mean?

tinkeringIdiot wrote:
To sum up, I would call an advantage derived directly from some morphological feature a "biological" driver while one derived from tool use to be a "non-biological" driver, for the purpose of this conversation.


and that still doesn't change the fact that the result of that driver is differential survival, i.e., natural selection. and that we exist in the shape we do now for the same reason crows exist in the shape they did - we are the descendants of individuals who lived to pass on their genes.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

mouse wrote:
the problem with pulling technology out as a different thing is, of course, that technology does not evolve independently of the humans who create it. it is the humans who change the tools, and the knowledge/ability they have to make those changes - those "evolutions" - is based on their current capacity - their brain power, their understanding of the world, the tools they have already "evolved". homo erectus could no more build a rifle than a crow can grow thumbs - they didn't have anything from which such a tool could come.


I think this underscores the entire article: you can't have humans without tools. It makes sense though, after all it is 100% impossible for humans to survive w/o tools. There is no plausible scenario that can be painted where homo sapien has existed and survived sans tools.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 5:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
There is no plausible scenario that can be painted where homo sapien has existed and survived sans tools.


certain areas of african highland which were much more widespread that long ago in earth's climatological history. You could have just wandered around in perfect year-round subtropical weather and eaten roots and berries all year.
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nathan



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 6:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I will not involve myself in this thread beyond the unsupported statement that this man is wildly and profoundly idiotic.

Suggested revision: "The Artificial Paradox."
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tinkeringIdiot



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 2:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for that er...contribution nathan.

mouse - which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Quote:
but is tool making and use in fact independent of genes? is not our ability to learn to use tools due to our genes?


Was it the tools that allowed the genes of the toolmaker (namely those concerned with fine motor control and brain size) to be passed on or was it the genes of the toolmaker that allowed the tool to be made?

Quote:

yes, technology allowed some humans to pass their genes on - just as a different beak allowed some finches to pass their genes on. and the failure of large terrestrial preditors to make it out to new zealand allowed a whole selection of flightless birds to pass on their genes. see, by _my_ definition, evolution is the differential passing on of genes, due selection on reproduction, resulting in a change in genetic frequencies in subsequent populations which can be detected by an observably different phenotype in the parent and child populations. there are many many different drivers - different selectors. but the different drivers do not change the essential mechanism of natural selection. whether you survive because you can make a knife, or because you can run faster than a predator, or just the luck of the draw, your mere survival is what determines the genes present in the next generation.


Again, I'm not arguing that technology supplants the differential passing on of genes as the actual _mechanism_ evolution. That's stupid.

For my rebuttal to your points of debate, see my previous post.
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Mizike



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 2:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Egg, obviously.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 3:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sam wrote:
Quote:
There is no plausible scenario that can be painted where homo sapien has existed and survived sans tools.


certain areas of african highland which were much more widespread that long ago in earth's climatological history. You could have just wandered around in perfect year-round subtropical weather and eaten roots and berries all year.

I assume you mean not that long ago, but what about predators and shelter? Wouldn't tools bee needed to successfully ward predators off or to construct shelters?
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the problem we're having is this false dichotomy between "biological evolution" and his "artificial" monicker for our species. Tool use is unquestionably enabled by biological means first. The fact that we've evolved to make more and more sophisticated tools does not mean our evolution hasn't been "biological" or explicable by normal evolutionary processes like any other animal. Tools let us exploit our environment, so we thrive with better tools. This creates a selective pressure to enable better tool use, rather like having wings that let you glide creates a selective pressure towards flight.
When he says we don't adapt to our environments, that's disingenuous. Human morphology bears striking adaptations to different environments, like dark skin near the equator, barrel-shaped bodies in cold climates, there's even a population of divers in the Pacific that has excellent underwater vision. But more to the point, his insistence that we accumulate "deficits" ignores the fact that this is precisely because we have altered our environment and so we are adapting to it. (Nitpick: primates lost their claws long before they started making tools. It's an effect of living in trees when you have an opposable thumb for grasping and don't need claws for grip.) The fact that he calls our adaptations "deficits" is pretty gripe-worthy in itself: having claws isn't necessarily desirable, nor is having huge jaws with lots of extra teeth. He's making use of the common perception of weakness which doesn't line up with a real biological concept, he's using it as a flip-side of how the phrase "survival of the fittest" confuses people about evolution. This guy is an anthropologist? It's almost like he set out to deliberately obfuscate things.

He wants to argue that we're something super special and undergoing processes distinct from other animals, but I find that distinction a bit thin. Ants wouldn't be what they are today without their colonies, they'd be more like the wasps they evolved from. Does that mean they're not "fully biological entities?" Where do you draw the line, at the fact that humans make chairs and ants don't?
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mouse



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

what wheels said.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 6:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Darqcyde wrote:
Sam wrote:
Quote:
There is no plausible scenario that can be painted where homo sapien has existed and survived sans tools.


certain areas of african highland which were much more widespread that long ago in earth's climatological history. You could have just wandered around in perfect year-round subtropical weather and eaten roots and berries all year.

I assume you mean not that long ago, but what about predators and shelter? Wouldn't tools bee needed to successfully ward predators off or to construct shelters?


Life in some parts of the globe is a breeze. There's places, in the timeframe of the dawn of human evolution and even today, that you could have just walked around naked and made your way. Some indigenous tribes still do that, practically; they just walk around day to day and subsistence forage in a way which still doesn't require tools of any sort.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 6:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
When he says we don't adapt to our environments, that's disingenuous.


I was going to go so far as to say it's outright false and stupid. pheomelanin/eumelanin variance in humans based on climate is the most direct and obvious demonstration of this fact. People's skin shades are a result of how you have to contrast the requirement for solar protection and protection against hypervitaminosis D versus nutrient deficiency in more polar climes.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sam wrote:
Darqcyde wrote:
Sam wrote:
Quote:
There is no plausible scenario that can be painted where homo sapien has existed and survived sans tools.


certain areas of african highland which were much more widespread that long ago in earth's climatological history. You could have just wandered around in perfect year-round subtropical weather and eaten roots and berries all year.

I assume you mean not that long ago, but what about predators and shelter? Wouldn't tools bee needed to successfully ward predators off or to construct shelters?


Life in some parts of the globe is a breeze. There's places, in the timeframe of the dawn of human evolution and even today, that you could have just walked around naked and made your way. Some indigenous tribes still do that, practically; they just walk around day to day and subsistence forage in a way which still doesn't require tools of any sort.
True, but isn't it also plausible (not making any claim to probability) that had this occurred during a time period where H. Sapiens had to compete with Neanderthals and that H. Sapiens could have been driven by the physically superior Neanderthals into less hospitable regions and therefore were forced into more of a reliance upon tools for their survival?
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mouse



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

except neanderthals seem to have been found only in europe and the middle east, which are not really some of those areas - it's homo sapiens that got down to the subtropical area.
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E-boy



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, it's the tool use hypothesis resurrected all over again....

Here's the thing, you can't discount tech as biological. Humans have never become independent of the biosphere. In a very real sense all our tech is every bit as natural as a termite mound. Has technology changed us? Well, behaviors involving use of non-biological implements have certainly kept our ancestors alive. But as has been mentioned that's true of a great many animals.

Cooking very likely contributed to brain size increases. Prior to that opportunistic meat eating likely did something similar. Brain is metabolically expensive tissue though, and while technology may have eased certain selective restrictions, it didn't eliminate environmental pressure. It's all well and good to suggest that in addition to easing some contstraints it might well have created new selective pressures, I don't know of anyone that doesn't already espouse some variation on that theme. As for the rest, it just seems like an attempt to wrest back our "Special" status among the "lesser" animals.

The fact that we create some of the pressures that act on us in a selective environment doesn't make us unique. The degree to which our behaviors impact those pressures does. The explosion in technology though is a relatively recent human phenomena. There were a few false starts prior to 40,000 years ago or so, but they petered out. Forty thousand years is long enough for certain minor gene variants to arise and spread, plenty of time for things like Blue eyes to show up. His hypothesis starts losing steam rapidly in the face of the fact that fully anatomically modern humans didn't hit the scene forty thousand years ago or even after that. The oldest anatomically modern fossils are in the neighborhood of 130 thousand years old. For most of the intervening time we used tool assemblages little different from homo-erectus.

There is evidence for one innovation in the right time frame that could well have had a major impact on our physiology. The use of fire. Which would also suggest cooking. Cooking destroys some calories in food, but of the remaining material more is bioavailable. So much so, in fact, that one could afford to do away with gut tissue (Another expensive organ system). It would also relax selective pressure on robust jaw bones, muscles, and teeth. If selective pressure for more cognitive ability was present in these circumstances a brain size increase wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination and human social interactions are highly demanding in the brain power department.

Fire use is technology yes, but it's only one technology. Again I don't so much disagree with the guy as I think he's taking a small fraction of the data and going over the top with it. Technology arguably influences selective pressures in animals other than humans. The fact that we were involved in a series of events historically driven by natural selection that happened to hit on a lucky strike in specific technologies is a difference of degree and not kind.

There's a very good book out there called "Catching Fire" that goes into great detail about the potential influence of dietary quality on evolution. Specifically as it applies to humans. Beginning the the addition of larger amounts of meat in our diet and moving on to cooking. The oldest hearths found to date predate modern humans by the better part of a million years.

Sorry for the novel and for resurrecting an older thread, but things like this seem to harken back to the days when certain individuals bent over backwards to preserve our "Special" status. Some even went so far as to suggest humans were no longer evolving. They provided no real evidence for this. They simply said our tech and our society preserved the infirm and thus natural selection couldn't work. This totally ignores the fact that we continue to live in a changing environment (Which is exactly what provides part of the drive for natural selection). An environment in which differential reproductive success still occurs. Sure we create a lot of this environment, but only the surface of it and in any case there's still a working mill and plenty of grist for it.
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Michael



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My gf works for a large IT firm where she competes with neanderthals on a daily basis. Many of them seem to carry iphones and she's only got a blackberry so I'm not quite sure about the advantages of advanced technology.
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