Archive for Evolution

Okay, I Lied. Sue Me.

I’m really back this time, but posts may be sporadic until mid-May. Aside from finals, I get to go doctor-hopping again (yippee!). Long story short(er), I’ve been having back pain and numbness again, so I’ve been trying to get in to see my neurosurgeon. Unfortunately, he’s insanely busy, and I couldn’t get in for a month. I went to my family doctor, who said that I had very distinct chyphosis (hunching), which I didn’t have a month ago, and that a few spinous processes were missing. So, my grandpa, bless him, e-mailed his doctor, who e-mailed my surgeon, who phoned me and said to come in that night. So, I was up at OHSU Thursday and Friday, having tests run, and they’re stumped so they’re sending me to a metabolic specialist to figure out what’s wrong with my spine. So I’m sorry for the sudden dearth of intelligent commentary in the blogosphere. (No, the fiasco hasn’t popped my inflated ego.)

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Apologia for Evolution

A departure from politics today. I’ve encountered a barrage of anti-evolution comments and websites recently, so I felt like I had to respond. The easiest way seems to be to debunk some of the worst and most common arguments against evolution. Just a note, I’m feeling snarky today, so edit out the snark if you’re actually arguing with a creationist.
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Evolutionary Psychology 101

Over at Feministing, where I comment frequently, there have been more than a few, er, discussions about evolutionary psychology. (Full disclosure: I started one of them.) In general, the feminists (whom I usually agree with) think it’s a bunch of bunk, and the “trolls,” who are the loud obnoxious frat-boys of the blogosphere (at least, that’s the impression I get), use evolutionary psychology to “put women in their place”—pregnant and at home.

The problem is, evolutionary psychology isn’t really anti-feminist. (Is “masculinism” the opposite of feminism? Just a thought.) Most of the readers at Feministing also have a somewhat distorted view of evolutionary psychology: “evolutionary biology [sic] means that I shouldn’t be good at math or abstract thinking.” Well, actually, it doesn’t. The first thing that you must remember about evolutionary psychology is that no one, not even Steven Pinker, thinks that biology is the only thing that controls personality or ability. There is room for a “use it or lose it” theory, and significant outside influences. Even if someone is born with an aptitude for math, if they are discouraged from taking math, they are likely to lose some of that ability. Conversely, if someone is encouraged to take math, and likes it enough to continue with it, they can become very good at it regardless of innate talent.

Second, evolutionary psychology deals only with averages. It cannot deal with individual cases. So, if most humans are better at arithmetic than calculus (which I blogged about previously), evolutionary psychology can help explain. It cannot explain why Einstein could discover E=MC2 but couldn’t do his taxes. It can explain why most men don’t like it when their wives/girlfriends cheat on them, but not those men who don’t really care. It might be able to explain the difference in the ratio of men to women in sciences and in arts, but not why certain people prefer science, art, language, or any other discipline. It can explain why we like sex, but not why some like BDSM, and some don’t

Finally, and most importantly, evolutionary psychology is descriptive, not normative. It makes claims about how the world is, not how it ought to be. So, even if Lawrence Summers was right when made those stupid remarks about whether or not the lack of women in sciences could be due to innate differences, it should not influence him to avoid hiring qualified female science professors (as he apparently did).

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The Game of Love

Good news for me.

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Neanderthal… Nephilim?

Apparently, we interbred with Neanderthals at some point in the distant past, giving us a gene for a better brain. Two interesting points not mentioned in any article I’ve seen so far. First, this means (from what I know of biology) that Neanderthals had the scientific name Homo sapiens neanderthalensis not Homo neanderthalensis since it’s impossible to reproduce with an individual outside of your own species.

Second, and more interesting, this lends some credence to the old theory that the Neanderthals were the inspiration for the Biblical Nephilim. (Sorry about the link to the religious nutjob site, but it illustrates the theory pretty well.) The Bible (Genesis 6:1) says that some angels (the Grigori or Watchers) interbred with the “daughters of man,” giving birth to a race of giants. The Neanderthals were more robust than H. Sapiens, and so would have been their offspring. Also, since this news appears to imply that Neanderthals were more intelligent, it explains why they would be thought of as angels.

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Who Needs LSD?

I had an interesting experience this week. I was recovering from a stomach flu, and couldn’t sleep, so I was watching old Sherlock Holmes movies on Google Video, and ended up staying awake all night (not a common occurance, I like to sleep). Around 5:00, I started thinking about what would have happened if we had evolved from something other than chimpanzees. Somehow I got the idea of evolving from gazelles, and I figured that if we had, math would be completely different.

If we had evolved from gazelles, we would learn calculus before arithmetic. Think I’m crazy? I don’t blame you, but read on. The reason we needed the ability to do simple math is so that we could tell that if three lions go into a cave and two come out, it’s not a good idea to go in. Only as a last resort did we calculate how fast we have to run to escape from the lions.

Gazelles, on the other hand, do these sorts of calculations all the time, when they need to figure out if they’re fast enough to be able to afford to stot. They don’t need to know how many lions there are so much as how fast they are.

This is why I’ll never try drugs. I don’t need them.

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