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This is an interesting topic that may border on the uncomfortable for many. As much as Disney and Hollywood want to convince you, monogamy was not our natural state of relationship with one another.

There are a number of theories about how monogamy came into existence. I’ll skirt over the moral and ethical details, as they are highly subjective, and just lay out the “facts”.

To being with, I need to clarify that as we are looking back to find the root of monogamy, it no longer becomes “human” monogamy, but rather monogamy as a wider species. To this end, here are a few statistics to keep in mind: monogamy in primates is found in 15% of species compared with about 5% for mammals as a whole (Schaik and Dunbar, 1990). It also invariably involves close spatial association between the members of the pair (sorry guys, long distance is a no-no; more on that another time).

Monogamy in these species did not evolve because males are unable to defend access to more than one female. Hence, it must be related to behavioural services provided by the male which substantially increases the female’s reproductive output.

The major proposal by Schaik and Dunbar is that the services mentioned in the quote above involve protection against predators, defence of an exclusive feeding area, and protection of the female and child against infanticide by other males. This paper is a bit old but keep in mind the main points: protection and food.

Where resources are transferred across generations, social monogamy can be advantageous if partitioning of resources among the offspring of multiple wives causes a depletion of their fitness value and/or if females grant husbands higher fidelity in exchange for exclusive investment of resources in their offspring. This may explain why monogamous marriage prevailed among the historical societies of Eurasia: here, intensive agriculture led to scarcity of land, with depletion in the value of estates through partitioning among multiple heirs.

The major point here is that social monogamy is the outcome of strategic behaviour in regards to the allocation of resources to the next generation (Fortunato and Archetti, 2010). Again, we can see a common theme. Not necessarily food, but resources/wealth (which are essentially the same as food when considering the difference between humans and other animals).

Finally, we have one of the most recent studies done by Sergey Gavrilets at the University of Tennessee (2012). Gavrilets identifies a key trait in all polygamous alpha males: they don’t have to invest in their young because they’ll have plenty of offspring regardless. By comparison, a supportive male (not an alpha, but helps provide food and protection), can also be successful reproductively speaking, but only if they can be certain of their “target” children – otherwise they will be wasting resources on offspring that aren’t their own. Using the complex mathematics of his field (biomathematics), he reconciled a model for the transition from alpha polygamy to our current social paradigm of monogamy (a paradigm that is again turning a bit due to the rambunctious youths).

The crux of the matter? Low-ranking males offered food to females in return for mating opportunities as they had no prospects in physical domination. Obviously, these males were more likely to select faithful females. And think about it, women love material things right? Even gold-diggers will stay faithful (or appear to be) to a lesser male if the promise of wealth is large enough. This evolution into monogamy also signified a change in the concept of what “success” and “power” are. Today, they are more frequently associated with monetary assets than physical prowess.

It has been said, obviously, that Gavrilets’s paper is a bit oversimplified, but hey – spherical chickens in a vacuum (science joke; click the link for an explanation).

So what does this mean? Women are shallow? Well, yeah, but it’s in their nature. That’s how they evolved. No, seriously though, you can take away whatever you want from this information. Whether you hold patriarchal views or the more radical “modern” views, these are just scientific approaches to a social phenomenon. Biologically and evolutionarily speaking, I understand polygamy and the need to sleep around. I try not to judge people for it either, and consider myself quite open minded. Personally, though, in terms of a long-term partner I’m willing to really invest in, I’d prefer a faithful girl. Maybe that strips me of an alpha male status, but that’s how we appear to have evolved. Well, as it stands I probably have more physical prowess than any monetary assets so …

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I try to keep this blog religion free but this post will probably cut close to the line (and if it crosses a line, it’s your fault not mine – religion doesn’t have to conflict with evolution, you just want it to). I just want to make it clear I’m not attacking any beliefs – I just want to make some things clear whilst championing truth and logical reasoning. If it makes you sleep better, you’re free to believe that evolution was “set into motion” by a god, but the fact is that evolution is very real.

On a side note, I’m sick of theists trying to use science to disprove science. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t suddenly decide to believe in a certain, small amount of science taken out of context to “prove” your god, and then turn around and ignore all the other science pointing to another answer. If you’re a believer, stick to your beliefs and stop trying to justify it. If you feel the need to use an opposing ideal to verify your own, then you obviously don’t have enough strength in your beliefs to rely on it alone. You don’t see scientists saying god proves that there is no god.

Back on topic: here are some facts about evolution that many people might not know.

  1. The Catholic Church has changed its public stance to accept evolution as a fact, the same way it changed its opinion on a heliocentric solar system (Earth revolving around the sun). I lead with this because the Vatican seems to have no problem reconciling its beliefs with this particular scientific fact, although its reasoning is a bit sketchy. In a nutshell, the Church says they’re not sure whether cosmological and biological evolution exist but if it does, then it’s because of god. As for evolution, the Church accepts that we evolved from other biological life forms, but claims that god “specially created” our “soul”.
  2. Humans did not come from monkeys. This claim is an oversimplification commonly employed by theists to try and disrepute evolution and is a combination of both the Strawman and appeal to emotion logical fallacies (making it a doubly stupid claim). First of all, humans are closer to modern apes than monkeys, which automatically makes theists using this claim a whole deal more ignorant. Second, we didn’t evolve from these apes either, we share a common ancestor. About 5-8 million years ago, our common ancestor diverged into two separate lineages, one of which went on to become modern apes and the other became us humans. In fact, even this is oversimplifying it. Our common ancestor evolved into the earliest hominid species 5-8 million years ago, and since then, there have been dozens of different species of human-like creatures. It’s not as simple as take a monkey, pop, oh look it’s a human; it’s millions of years of dozens of species evolving slowly over time, with homo sapiens being the greatest survivor. It’s almost like the mitochondrial Eve.
  3. Humans have roughly a 96% DNA similarity to chimpanzees. This figure was previously as high as 99% but has been revised over time. DNA comparison by itself is somewhat limited so let’s introduce the next point.
  4. The missing chromosome between humans and apes has been discovered. Some of you might know about this, but for those who don’t, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have 48 chromosomes (if traced back far enough, humans have a common ancestry with these three separate species, with chimps being the closest). Humans, however, have only 46 chromosomes. If common ancestry were to be valid, one would expect humans to have a same number of chromosomes as our distant cousins. Chromosomes can’t just disappear, which would be fatal, so there are only two possibilities – either humans do not share a common ancestry with apes or two chromosomes got fused. Well, Dr. Ken Miller and other associates have located the two chromosomes that were fused through whole genome sequencing techniques. Chromosomes have centromeres which are DNA sequences used to separate them in the middle during mitosis and telomeres, which are DNA sequences at the ends. If two chromosomes were fused, we would have telomeres in the centre of the chromosome (instead of at the end). Guess what? They found the chromosome, it’s the Human Chromosome #2, which shows the exact point at which this fusion took place.
  5. There are many examples of evolution happening right before our eyes. It’ll take far too long for me to list  them and why, so I’ll give a quick list of the names and you can Google these for yourself if you don’t believe me (which you should). Peppered moths, three-toed skinks, crabs and mussels, Italian wall lizards, cane toads, Darwin’s finches, butterflies and parasites, viruses and superviruses (SARS, swineflu), flatfish, Australian skinks, elephants, fish in the Hudson River and many other species of lizards besides the ones I’ve mentioned.

“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’. It is information, words, instruction.”

– Richard Dawkins, 1986.

Many of you have heard the term “meme” due to the recent popularity of internet memes. However, the word “meme” has existed long before the advent of funny pictures with poorly written English emblazoned on it. Interestingly, it was Richard Dawkins who invented the word in 1976 from Greek influences. He shortened it to “meme” because he wanted the word to be a monosyllable that sounded similar to “gene”. On a related note, that means it’s pronounced “meem” similar to “gene”, not as some people say “me-me” or the French word “meme” meaning same (I can’t do accents on my keyboard, but there’s one over the first “e”).

So what is a meme? This quote from the Smithsonian is pretty good to help build an initial understanding:

Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve.

Essentially, a meme is an idea or concept that is spread from generation to generation through means that are non-genetic (transmitted via writing, visual representation, speech, gestures or any other imitable phenomena). The importance of the word meme resembling the word gene is that memes are theorised to evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to biological evolution – basically, a meme is like a gene for information. Here’s one more good quote:

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects

– Malcolm Gladwell

Memes are powerful language tools because they can convey a vast array of inherent information with very few words (or actions/images depending on the meme). Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication. Internet memes are the most commonly known these days, and just think of the amount of information we can get out of a few words or an image.

This badly drawn picture by itself is enough to evoke a wide range of information. It means someone who is always unsuccessful at finding companionship and is used by the victim to demonstrate his/her emotions regarding their situation. There’s a huge list of internet memes; I’m not going to go through every one of them. Internet memes are plentiful though, which dilutes their potency a bit. Here’s a stronger example: Olympics. With that one word alone, I can make you think of competitions, athletes, races, medals and an overarching theme of unity and celebration.

However, remember Gladwell’s definition. Memes mutate over time and can end up misrepresenting something, or becoming impervious to change. Folk etymology is an example of this (I’ve gone into this in my etymology posts), where people start believing that a certain idiom originated one way when in actual fact it was another (such as the “cold shoulder”). Other good examples can be found in urban myths, which persist even when scientifically proven wrong. My girlfriend’s anatomy lecturer told her that your heart stops beating when you sneeze. This has been proven false already, what’s an anatomy lecturer doing not knowing this?

Now that we understand that memes are ideas and information transmitted over time, we have to accept that memes are prone to mutation and cannot be considered fully reliable. Here’s the interesting thing though – religion is also a meme. We can see evidence of religion changing or “mutating” over time as the Church changes its public stance on certain issues (heliocentric solar system, evolution, etc.).

It’s interesting that memes are often subject to “survival of the fittest”. It is for that reason why we don’t practice human sacrifice, because that is a weak idea from an evolutionary point of view (it doesn’t promote growth). There’s a whole scientific side to memes that I didn’t get into (I was focusing more on its power as a language tool). For those of you interested in finding out more, this is a good article:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/What-Defines-a-Meme.html

It’s been a while since I’ve made a new post, mainly because I’ve been busy with my last semester of university starting. That may just be an excuse for laziness on my part though, but we’ll go with the former. Anyway, the blog’s gone over 1,000 views now so I thought I’d do a good article with knowledge that will really benefit people’s thinking and their overall prospects for being an academic mind. Surely, knowing about this topic is considered “classier” than knowing the names of some celebrities, and since celebrities get so many readers I hope that this will get at least a few.

It also occurs to me that I may be losing some readers with the complexity of my diction, for which I apologise. This is simply how I write when talking about academic matters. It requires some paying attention to understand, but believe me, it’s an acquired taste.

Anyway, I was actually continuing a discussion of the nature of “evil”, following on from my blog post about villains, and was requested to make a post about ethics (specifically, Aristotle’s ethics). So here we go. Just a foreword, don’t go ratting on me about how these categories are not all-encompassing. I did not invent these, I’m merely redelivering information that I learned at university by consolidating all my knowledge and focusing it towards one particular topic. Unlike my three categories for villains, what I’m posting here are internationally accepted standards. Whilst I am sure that, for the purposes of psychoanalytical profiling, there exist many more categories, I assure you that the information I am about to divulge is correct to a university level academic standard.

The two types of ethics:

I’m not going to tell you who Aristotle is (because you should have an idea and can find this out for yourself), but Aristotle’s ethics fall into the category of teleological ethics. There are two broad groups of ethics: teleological and deontological. Teleological theories stipulate that behaviours/actions are considered ethical if the result is desirable, whereas deontological theories stipulate that a behaviour/action is only ethical if it is following some kind of paradigm such as duty or the law.

Examples of teleological theories include ethical egoism, utilitarianism, ethical elitism and ethical parochialism. Of these, I’ll explain the two most interesting (in my opinion), those being utilitarianism, which is the concept of “the greater good” in which sacrifices can be made to accomplish a larger aggregate gain in utility and ethical parochialism, which maximises the utility of your group (be that sports team, fans, company, family or any other discernible group). A good example of utilitarianism can be demonstrated through the hypothetical of a sinking ship. Your lifeboat can only support the weight of five people whereas you have six people trying to occupy the lifeboat. Either one person sacrifices himself to die (or is forced to by the group) or all of them die. If nobody volunteers, a utilitarian view would justify you forcibly removing a member of the boat to their death because you are saving five other lives by doing so (whereas it would be concerned unethical to kill somebody else using a deontological viewpoint). As for ethical parochialism, that should be axiomatic – you support your own “team” more than others.

A good example for a deontological theory would be Kant’s system, which we will get into later.Basically, deontological theories are heavily rule and duty based but they produced skewed results. For example, donating out of an act of compassion is not considered ethically valid as you have no duty or rule compelling you to donate. As such, teleological theories are generally considered superior.

Aristotle’s ethics:

Aristotle’s ethics were intended to apply to everyone, regardless of cultural background or belief. He believed that ethics should be axiomatic – that is self-evident once explained – and believed the purpose of all ethics should be towards the final goal, that being the achievement of “good”. The ultimate “good” that he suggested humans should all strive for was the flourishing of human life. Aristotle categorised his ethics into two groups of virtues: moral and intellectual. Now, there are 13 moral virtues and 5 major intellectual and 3 minor intellectual virtues so you can probably guess that I’m not going to list them all for you. You can probably just Google the list if you want. I will, however, explain how his virtues worked.

Moral virtues are obtained through good habit formation and practice. Moral virtues have two extremes (known as vices), those being excess and deficiency. Every person is naturally closer to one extreme than the other (that is to say, nobody stands at the arithmetic mean between these two vices). For example for the moral virtue of courage, the unethical practice of cowardice would be courage by deficiency, whereas excess courage would be considered something akin to recklessness.

Intellectual virtues are obtained through education and training. These have only one extreme, deficiency, except for prudence which has two extremes. Excess prudence would be fraud and opportunism whereas a deficiency in prudence constitutes negligence.

Justice is a little special as it is divided into three different types.

Distributive justice ensures that common goods are distributed maintaining proper proportionality. This means that if you have two kids and one is larger, and thus has a bigger appetite, if you give them both the same amount of food you are actually violating distributive justice. The key word here is proportionality.

Remedial justice is in the realm of law; it ensures the remedy of a wrong (i.e. compensation equal to damages).

Commercial justice ensures that the value of something given should equal the value of what is given in return (where this value is determined by market forces; i.e. ripping someone off violates this).

Thomas Aquinas refined Aristotle’s virtues with a Christian influence, but I’m not going to talk about that.

Evolution of ethics and morality:

The evolution of ethics is axiomatic. Quite simply, ethics and morality evolved as a point of necessity. If they had not, we would not exist in our current state – we would probably still be hunter-gatherers or would have died out as a species. This is a fact. There is no way we would be living in civilisations if it were customary for us to kill and rob our neighbours, thus, to survive, we evolved certain ethics and morals. I reject the Christian belief that god gave us morals, because that is both a horribly pessimistic view (that humans are incapable of being good without someone giving it to us; also it doesn’t explain why evil exists), and because it is arrogant to assume that before Christianity came along a few thousand years ago, every life form on the planet was evil (remembering that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old).

To articulate this point further, let me put it this way. The very fact that you are even here to ponder how ethics came to be means that ethics were a necessary part of evolution. Without it being a part of evolution, we would only have rudimentary semblances of society. These are all facts. Now on to my own personal hypothesis.

I believe that there are two primal instincts at play here. First and foremost, the strongest human instinct is survival. For that purpose a human will do anything within their power. An extension of survival is selfishness. A human will always, within the boundaries of what is allowed, seek to gain as much for themselves as possible. Now, this begs the question why we don’t loot and pillage and rape all the time. Well, short answer is we used to. However, as social order developed into a more complex system of social paradigm and law, humans were faced with a choice between getting whatever you wanted at the cost of community (and thus the inherent benefits of community such as economies of scale and safety), or giving up certain things to establish a community.

Now, as I said, survival is the strongest instinct and that is closely followed by selfishness (as the two are strongly correlated – to have more is to survive better). In a primal state, it would not be considered wrong to kill or pillage. There would be no concept of right and wrong (as these are human fabrications). Why is it that we chose society over personal gain? Because the prospect of a large community (which would eventually become cities and countries) offered more than the prospect of fending for one’s self. First, there are the intrinsic benefits a community brings. These should be obvious. There are many things that you can accomplish as a team rather than alone. Communities also tend to prosper more and offer more chance to profit (thus appealing to the selfish side). At the same time, humans are social animals. We cannot reproduce asexually and inter-mixing genes within a family is bad. Diverse genetic breeding produces stronger children. So in a toss up between “I can take my neighbour’s stuff if I’m stronger than him” and “I can have good children, more potential mates, more potential material gain and more safety” (among other things of course), humans naturally went for the one with the highest chance of survival – community. This is axiomatic too. If any creature did not naturally choose their best option for survival, they would not exist anymore.

So there you go, the evolution of ethics and my take on why it occurred this way.

So since the Higgs Boson thing, I haven’t really written much about science. I thought I’d do a quick one on panspermia to amend this little problem.

Of all the theories on how life on Earth originated (or to be more specific, how it accelerate at such a rate), panspermia stands out as the most likely (in my opinion).

We all know life evolved over billions of years (it’s estimated that the earliest forms of life existed on earth around 3 billion years ago, if I remember my astronomy course correctly), but there was a period of time where evolution was sped up beyond predicted levels, allowing multicellular lifeforms to evolve in a much shorter time than they would normally have needed. I feel lazy tonight so I’m going to do most of this off the top of my head. If there’s anything I’m a bit hazy on, I’ll say so. I’m pretty solid on my facts of panspermia itself, I’ve just forgotten the exact timing and order of bacterial evolution on Earth. Feel free to research this yourself.

Anyhow, let’s not get into an argument over whether evolution is real or not. That would be stupid and unscientific, both of which automatically disqualify your opinion. I’m not here to say god doesn’t exist, you’re welcome to believe that he/she/it designed evolution, but the fact that evolution exists is a scientific truth on par with saying that atoms exist.

Panspermia is the hypothesis and process by which life is spread throughout the universe. The scientifc theory (let’s get this straight too, there’s a difference between a theory and a scientific theory) states that the universe is full of life (mostly at a very small and unevolved stage, such as bacteria) and these simple life forms travel around on comets, meteors and asteroids. When space rocks collide with a planet, they “seed” the planet with these simple life forms (by which I mean bacteria, carbon and amino acids). In layman’s terms, this means that life on Earth came from outer space, and very likely from Mars (because 7.5% of Mars rocks land on Earth).

Image

Here’s my own little twist to the theory (although I doubt nobody else has thought of it before). The universe, and thus life, was creating in the Big Bang. Originally, the Big Bang created hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium. All the other elements on the periodic table were created in the furnaces of stars and released through supernovae, which scattered these elements throughout the universe (loosely quoted from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson). As we know, stars are formed in nebulae, which are huge regions of dust and ionised gases, often containing these elements that were spread across the universe by other stars (which were formed by the original three elements of the Big Bang). The star’s gravity then attracts more space dust which orbit around it, eventually clumping together and forming planets. It thus follows that Earth was created in the same way, and either our nebula contained carbon (which is not unreasonable as it is one of the most common elements in the universe), or during its formation, Earth was bombarded by space rocks containing carbon. This is an absolutely necessary process as we (all life as we know it) are a carbon based life form. By that logic, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Earth was formed with existing life forms already on the planet, though sparse.

Predictions for the time that these simple life forms would take to evolve into multi-cellular life forms, given their density and state of evolution, don’t coincide with actual figures. Something boosted them along the way. Considering 7.5% of rocks from Mars reach Earth, it’s very likely that Earth was further fertilised through panspermia, boosting the bacteria numbers and speeding up the process of evolution.

So if you’ve ever wondered where life on Earth came from, the answer is space. Of course, everything was once in space (and still is) so I guess that answer should be obvious. What I mean, though, is the majority of the basic, microscopic life forms that evolved into all life around us came flying here on meteors, so if your heritage was traced back far enough, you could mostly likely claim that you’re a Martian.

Those who want to hear some evidence may look at this list I’ve quickly compiled:

  • In 1984, scientists discovered the meteor Allan Hills 84001. This meteorite had been blasted off the surface of Mars around 15 million years ago, and was found in Antarctica. In 1996 ALH84001 was shown to contain structures that may be the remains of terrestrial nanobacteria. Several tests for organic material have been performed on ALH84001 and amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found. (http://www.panspermia-theory.com/)
  • Bacteria can survive the harsh environment of space, and indeed, it is a well-documented fact that organic compounds are commonly found in the tails of comets. Carbon, early bacterial ingredients and amino acids are frequently found protected in meteors.
  • Mars is a more protected planet than Earth, and may have developed an inhabitable atmosphere long before Earth did (it was less hot, is more protected from bombardment, and had oxygen before Earth).
  • Recently, scientists discovered life in a sample of rock taken from Mars a few years back. Originally, they hadn’t understood what they were looking at. Unfortunately, they destroyed this life during experiments, as they had no idea what they were doing. This was in the news recently.
  • Basic life ingredients like carbon (the best building block for complex life, followed by silicone) are abundant throughout the universe. They have also been proven to be able to survive in meteors, and are always shooting around through space at high speeds. Occasionally they land on a planet, and have been proven to be able to survive that impact (prove by many examples on Earth). It follows that life in space is frequently transported around to different planets.

The chilling, mind boggling and awesome extrapolation from this information is that perhaps humans once had a powerful civilisation on Mars, which eventually destroyed the planet through our well-known penchant for unsustainable living. As the planet could no longer support life (remembering that there is evidence of old river beds on Mars), we died out there as a species, leaving traces of our existence in bacteria and amino acid forms. Panspermia then brought us from Mars to Earth, where we reset the cycle and evolved all over again. If so, it’s ironic that we’re committing the same mistake again and destroying Earth. I can’t help but think, in the near future, we’ll drain this planet too, die out again, and then our remnants will be carried off as Earth, stripped of its protective atmosphere, is blasted to pieces, and perhaps we will re-evolve again on some other planet.

Well, if you’ve ever needed something to keep you up at night thinking, there it is. Man, science is awesome.

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