Tag Archives | Evolution

Humans are still evolving and we don’t know what will happen next

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Malcolm T. Nicholson writes at Hopes&Fears:

Evolutionary biology is not a slow-moving science. Just last month a new species of hominid (Homo naledi) was unveiled at a news conference in South Africa. When did modern humans branch off as an independent species? What have been our most important adaptations? And, most importantly, what is the next evolutionary step for humanity?

We reached out and spoke to five of the foremost experts on human evolution, who shared their expertise and predictions.

MICHAEL RUSEProfessor of philosophy at Florida State University who has written extensively on the philosophy of biology. He founded the journalBiology and Philosophy and was a key witness in McLean v. Arkansas arguing against teaching creationism as science in public schools. He has published dozens of books on the philosophy of science, including The Philosophy of Human Evolution (2012) and Darwinism and Its Discontents (2006).


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Myth of the ‘Missing Link’ in evolution does science no favors

This spring, the world learned of a newly discovered missing link between microbes and humans called Lokiarchaeota. The actual story is that the microbe Lokiarchaeota, discovered on the deep sea floor by a hydrothermal vent called Loki’s Castle, shares features with both bacteria and us. The spin is that this makes it a missing link between the two. Microbiologists have been discreetly quiet about this narrative fiction; although the microbe is fascinating, and so deserves the spotlight, it is no more a missing link than the platypus is a missing link between ducks and humans.

This missing link imagery, based on the idea that evolution is a methodical process with logical, continuous connections to be discovered and mapped, might set up a good story. But it’s wrong – and can detrimentally influence our understanding of immediately threatening processes like the rapid evolution of flu.

The Great Chain of Being

The notion of missing links in evolution comes from medieval theology’s Great Chain of Being, an idea that survived Darwin and still persists.… Read the rest

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The Lost Spiritual Path in Wes Anderson’s Films

11783040314_4e4dae9a6c_zOn elephant journal, I explore what happened to the aspect of Wes Anderson’s older films in which a white male undergoes a transformation to a new paradigm of living:

About a decade ago, acclaimed director Wes Anderson started taking some flak for what critics perceived as repetition of childish content, or content he had imagined in his youth. I didn’t agree with the Hollywood echo chamber at the time, but I also never really got Anderson’s films until “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004). Despite being a twentysomething, I related far too much to Bill Murray’s rendition of a man in mid-life crisis.

As I reacquainted myself with Anderson’s back catalogue (and discovered his feature debut, “Bottle Rocket”, from 1996), I started to notice symbols, character types and traits that reappear in a seemingly intentional way: the overachieving kid, the has-been adult, the disgruntled wife, ex-wife, or widow and even the pregnant woman.

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The Psychology of Revenge: Biology, Evolution and Culture

Murder of Agamemnon

“Revenge is a dish best served cold…”
(Ancient Klingon Proverb)

This post originally appeared on Philosophical Disquisitions

When I was younger I longed for revenge. I remember school-companions doing unspeakably cruel things to me — stealing my lunch, laughing at my misfortune and so forth (hey, it all seemed cruel at the time). I would carefully plot my revenge. The revenge almost always consisted of performing some similarly unspeakably cruel act towards them. Occasionally, my thoughts turned to violence. Sometimes I even lashed out in response.

I’m less inclined towards revenge these days. Indeed, I am almost comically non-confrontational in all aspects of my life. But I still feel the pangs. When wronged, I’ll briefly get a bit hot under the collar and my thoughts will turn to violence once more. I’ll also empathise with the characters in the innumerable revenge narratives that permeate popular culture, willing them on and feeling a faint twinge of pleasure when they succeed.… Read the rest

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You Have to Be Conscious to Deny Consciousness, and Other Conundrums


via Evolution News:

Would you have a rational discussion with a zombie? Materialists are forced into the position of discussing philosophy and science with the walking dead, since under their terms we are all that. Unless rationality is a mindful concept — unless we are more than atoms in motion — that’s the logical result of denying mind and intelligence.

To deny that we are mindful creatures, the materialist also has to deny the existence of any realm of abstract concepts that a mind can access. Yet materialism itself is an abstract concept.

This seems intuitively obvious, but it’s amazing how often materialists ignore the self-refuting nature of their assumptions. Nancy Pearcey wrote about this a few months ago, noting ways in which materialist claims commit the self-referential absurdity: “Applied to itself, the theory commits suicide.”

A recent example is a new theory of consciousness from Ezequiel Morsella, a psychology professor at San Franciso State University.

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Project Baseline: See Evolution In Action

Sarah Laskow goes behind the ambitious effort to save, store and then plant three million seeds to see evolution in action, for Atlas Obscura:

Not so long ago, the seeds bagged and stuffed into the fridge of Steven Franks’ lab were starting their lives in a field or a meadow or on the side of the road, somewhere along the East Coast. Now they are destined for a seed bank in Colorado, where they may be taking a very long nap, of 10, 20, even 50 years.

Photo: 3268zauber (CC)

Photo: 3268zauber (CC)


Then, warmed up, planted in a bit of soil, they will be brought back to life. They will be raised alongside their descendants, the exact same species of plants, collected from the same exact same spots where these started their lives. Only, most likely, those descendants will be different in some way. Having survived for years out in the world, with the climate changing, they will have evolved in response.

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Philosophy Recap: Darwinism

Bryan Wright (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Bryan Wright (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Darwinism designates a distinctive form of evolutionary explanation for the history and diversity of life on earth. Its original formulation is provided in the first edition of On the Origin of Species in 1859. This entry first formulates ‘Darwin’s Darwinism’ in terms of five philosophically distinctive themes: (i) probability and chance, (ii) the nature, power and scope of selection, (iii) adaptation and teleology, (iv) nominalism vs. essentialism about species and (v) the tempo and mode of evolutionary change. Both Darwin and his critics recognized that his approach to evolution was distinctive on each of these topics, and it remains true that, though Darwinism has developed in many ways unforeseen by Darwin, its proponents and critics continue to differentiate it from other approaches in evolutionary biology by focusing on these themes. This point is illustrated in the second half of the entry by looking at current debates in the philosophy of evolutionary biology on these five themes.

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Evolution puts checks on virgin births


IMAGE: A little fire ant worker forages for food. All worker ants in this species are sterile females.

Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University via Eureka Alert:

This news release is available in Japanese.

It seems unnatural that a species could survive without having sex. Yet over the ages, evolution has endowed females of certain species of amphibians, reptiles and fish with the ability to clone themselves, and perpetuate offspring without males. Researchers at the at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) found that in species where females have evolved the ability to reproduce without males relatively recently, fertilization is still ensuring the survival of the maximum number of healthy offspring and thus males are still needed. The research was published online in The Science of Nature.

A species can increase its numbers faster in harsh environments when its females do not have to find worthy males.

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Mystery of Darwin’s Strange South American Mammals Solved

“We have resolved one of the last unresolved major problems in mammalian evolution,” claims Ian Barnes of London’s Natural History Museum, as reported by the Guardian:

To 19th century British naturalist Charles Darwin, they were the strangest animals yet discovered, one looking like a hybrid of a hippo, rhino and rodent and another resembling a humpless camel with an elephant’s trunk.

Toxodon platensis.jpg

“Toxodon platensis” by Robert Bruce Horsfall


Ever since Darwin first collected their fossils about 180 years ago, scientists had been baffled about where these odd South American beasts that went extinct just 10,000 years ago fit on the mammal family tree. The mystery has now been solved.

Researchers have revealed that a sophisticated biochemical analysis of bone collagen extracted from fossils of the two mammals, Toxodon and Macrauchenia, demonstrated that they were related to the group that includes horses, tapirs and rhinos.

Some scientists previously thought the two herbivorous mammals, the last of a successful group called South American ungulates, were related to mammals of African origin like elephants and aardvarks or other South American mammals like armadillos and sloths.

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Ending Aging with Dr. Aubrey de Grey | Midwest Real

aubrey de grey

Via Midwest Real

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at the SENS Research Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending aging. 


The march of time spares none, neither rich, famous nor powerful. The deep, existential angst that comes part and parcel with that knowledge has, no doubt, haunted mankind from the very first moment we became self-aware. It’s also the one obstacle we’ve encountered as a species we just take for granted as the unassailable natural order of things.

It’s incredible really- we’ve walked the moon, we fly across the world and we transmit words through the air as if it’s trivial. Yet, for some reason when it comes to aging, we yield. Even the most brilliant men among us don’t consider the possibility that we might be able to circumvent becoming old and dying.

Actually, some brilliant men do.

Ending aging has become the life’s work of our guest, Dr.Read the rest

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