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Polar Opposites

By Sgt York in Science
Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 06:23:23 PM EST
Tags: biology (all tags)

Polar water is cold.

Of course, I mean the water geographically located near the poles of the Earth, not water that is polar in nature. Steam is polar. But I digress.

Back on track then: Polar water is cold.

It makes sense that animals living in polar water would have to come up with a strategy for coping with this cold, salty water. Unlike marine invertebrates, saltwater fish osmoregulate. That is, their internal salt composition is much like ours, and is hypotonic in relation to the water around it. Saltwater typically has over 1000mOsm/L, while blood has an osmolarity of 300 mOsm/L. This is important because at 1100mOsm/L, the freezing point of water is about -2C but at 300mOsm/L is -0.6C. This means that a fish can swim in water colder than the freezing point of its own blood. And for the liberal arts majors out there, having ice water in you veins is only good as a figure of speech. Never freeze your fish. NEVER. Ruins the texture.

Jellyfish, squid, and other marine invertebrates solve this problem quite simply: they keep their internal composition the same as the water around it. It's the marine equivalent to being cold-blooded. It's a straightforward solution, but it does have its tradeoffs. Nerves and muscles aren't quite as reliable, and they are very sensitive to changes in the sea around them.

But vertebrates want to have their cake and eat it, too. Fortunately, this is possible. Evolution to the rescue! Enter the antifreeze glycoproteins, or AFGPs of the common arctic cod. These are really cool little proteins dreamed up as an alternate use of some cleaveble precursor gene. Basically, it's this long chunk of protein that is nothing but a repeat of threonine-alanine-alanine over and over again, with an occasional proline thrown in. I'll get to the proline later.

The amino acids in this repeat are ripe for glycosylation, the attachment of long chains of carbohydrate to protein. Glycosylation is not an unusual thing, you find it damn near everywhere. Snot is a bunch of glycoproteins (glycosylated proteins). Antibodies are often glycosylated, many membrane proteins are. It is often even a regulatory event, telling a protein where to go or what to do. But in this case, the purpose is a little more ingenious.

The long chains of glycoprotein act as a type of antifreeze, disrupting the formation of tiny ice crystals in the blood, reducing the effective freezing point while keeping the osmolarity at an acceptable level. Those prolines? Cleavage points. Make one long protein, glycosylate it, and chop it up into three amino acid bits. Beautiful!

But wait....

Let's head south. There are fish there, too. It's cold there, too. And these fish also osmoregulate. And they have been a separate evolutionary branch for a pretty damn long time...longer than the AFGP gene has been around. And they don't mix. Just like tropical fish don't fare well in cold water, arctic fish generally don't fare well in the tropics. So how does an antarctic fish solve this quandary? Exactly the same way

The antarctic icefish Chaenocephalus aceratus has an AFGP with the repeat thr-ala-ala, just like the arctic cod, Boreogadus saida. The cod repeats are glycosylated, just like the icefish. The genes are not related, neither are the animals. See? But don't take my word for it, or theirs. A picture is worth a thousand words: this is an arctic cod; this is an antarctic icefish. Can you see the family resemblance? I think the milkman was involved there somewhere, and he was one ugly sonuvabitch.

The proteins are virtually identical, but the genes are not. The intron/exon setups are very different. Icefish use an arginine-glycine cleavage point instead of a lone proline. They are very different in origin, but identical in purpose and function. They do the same thing in the same way, but they got there by different routes.

This is a classic example of convergent evolution, two completely different organisms that develop similar characteristics. You see it in marsupials and eutheria (placentals). Compare a koala to a monkey, or a thylacine to a canid. Hedgehogs, porcupines, and echidnas have all developed very similar spiny protrusions as a defense, but their most recent common ancestor was a contemporary of the dinosaurs. Puffins (auks) and penguins are widely geographically separated. Their common ancestor could fly, and lived about 70MYA. Sharks and tuna have similar swimming strategies, using muscles in a bulge near the center of the body to swing the tail for propulsion, allowing a streamlined shape and the mechanical advantage of a lever. There are many examples, and they all follow the same general rule: The same or similar solution to the same problem, arrived at by different paths.

It doesn't always happen. Batwings and bird wings are different solutions to the same problem. If those aren't different enough for you, compare both to insect wings. And there are flying bugs as big as some birds, the goliath beetle can weigh 100g. Some hummingbirds weigh close to 1% of that.

So what's the point? You people should already know about convergent evolution. Well, sorry, that was all just a working up to the real point here. An undisclosed number of years ago, I took a bunch of evolution courses in college. Evolutionary genetics, comparative anatomy, evolutionary principles, and possibly a few others. The undisclosed number does have more than one digit, and I haven't looked at my college transcript in a while. We really dove into convergent evolution in some of those classes; it's a pretty cool thing and fun to ponder over. But to me it always flew in the face of one of the primary principles of evolutionary biology, that evolution has no purpose or plan. It is random, it has no destination or goal, it is simply a force of nature, like the wind.

But even that analogy falls flat on its face. The wind does have a "purpose" of sorts, it equalizes air pressure between two points. Has anyone ever seen wind blowing from low pressure to high? Evolution does have a purpose. To steal a phrase, it is to "be fruitful and multiply." And no, this is NOT a proposal of intelligent design. I do not subscribe to that bunk. This proposal neither invokes nor requires God, avian pasta, invisible pink unicorns, or anything else outside the realm of science. It invokes only the physical world.

There's not a complete design behind evolution. There was no blueprint 4.5BYA that had an Archean genome, biology, and structure spelled out. But the design requirements were there. It must be able to use one or more of the energy sources available, which are x, y, and z. It must be able to withstand temperature T, pressure p, chemicals ad through nauseum, and be able to make copies of itself. It must not be set to destroy its own environment. It must be able to adapt. Proto-organisms that did not meet these design requirements didn't make the cut. They were discarded, so to speak.

Same thing on down the line. The changes introduced must improve the ability of the organism to thrive. Too much oxygen? You need to cope with that. Some organisms just buried themselves and became anaerobes. They aren't heard from very much any more. Others decided to use this new ox-y-gen, and many of their descendants are now doing quite well. Food's in the trees? You'll need a way to get up there. Come up with one, there are several. Climb, fly, grow a long neck, it's up to you. But the best one gets the food, and therefore wins. The "coming up with designs" is random. There is no other source. However, the new designs (i.e., new genes) are just the fuel for evolution, they are not evolution itself. Evolution cannot be random, it is guided along certain paths by the nature of the environment. This includes not just the physical inanimate world, but other species as well. Evolution changes its own design requirements. Light => plants => herbivores => thorns => herbivores with thick skin => poisonous plants. Predators get spun off as well, as do pollinators, nitrogen fixers, parasites, and so on. A niche shows up with certain characteristics. The organism that comes along best able to exploit this niche is the winner and gets to modify the environment a little more to form another niche.

The source is random, but the destination is not. There may be an infinite number of designs, but there is a finite number of successful designs for a given niche. The success or failure is determined by the environment.

Now please, discuss.


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Display: Sort:
Polar Opposites | 115 comments (75 topical, 40 editorial, 0 hidden)
Question. (none / 1) (#2)
by creature on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 12:12:39 PM EST

Is "straightforward solution" in the second paragraph a pun?

lol (none / 0) (#4)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 12:16:44 PM EST

Unintended. The best kind.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

This is interesting. (none / 1) (#10)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 01:14:04 PM EST

What do you think of the big bang and day-age theories of origins of life?

HERESY (none / 0) (#12)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 01:46:16 PM EST

I would give a serious reply, but it's hard to be serious with a post from an account created a few weeks ago and named "trend setting dildo".

I hope you understand. I hear this place is simply oozing with trolls.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

I'd really like a reply. (none / 1) (#13)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 01:48:56 PM EST

I will not troll. I am interested in your opinion on this stuff since you have openly stated that you are a Christian and have beliefs sometimes seen as contrary to the view of science, though you are a scientist yourself.

[ Parent ]
OK, what the hell (none / 0) (#14)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 02:38:45 PM EST

Describe the question a little better. I know the Big Bang theory at an educated layman's level, but I'm not familiar with the "Day Age Theory." Is that some Creationist thing?

If so, I'll take a chance and preemtively say it's a bunch of crap.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Well, Big Bang is usually hated by strict (none / 1) (#16)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 02:52:54 PM EST

Creationists because it does away with a 144-hour creation scheme and atheists don't like it because it conclusively points to a creator. Where would you stand on this?

As for Evolution, as a person who is religious, what is your belief about it?

Day-age theory acknowledges a creator, but says that God had a hand in creation at various points analogous to what is written in the Bible. Selection and 'evolution' did the rest, but it does not allow for the Darwinian notion of a single celled creature evolving into a human after 3 - 4 billion years. However, it does acknolwedge the timelines traditionally used by science to determine the age of the earth.

Generally, the people who follow a Day-Age theory are fairly well-educated adn usually working in the field of biology or cosmology.

[ Parent ]

My personal beliefs (3.00 / 4) (#20)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 03:25:22 PM EST

I don't know if it really fits either of those but, here goes. I don't think anything observed in science rules out the existence of God. Those observations also do not require his existence.

I believe in something like the clockmaker system, I guess, but with the modification that the system is not fully abandoned. God set up the universe in a particular way that caused things to happen as they did; Big Bang, galaxies, stars, and planets condense, Earth forms, life begins, etc. but all according to the system set up, like a computer program carefully written and then executed, but tended to or guided at various points in its execution.

I believe that man was created specially from the raw material available. Dirt is the metaphor used in Genesis, and I think the metaphor refers to the life that was on Earth at the time, like some ancient hominid. However, "dust to dust" could imply that the material referred to was bacteria.

We arose from the other species, due to the actions of God. All evidence says that you can trace the ancestry of all organisms on Earth to a single ancestor, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were other lineages. However, I don't think any of the others were very successful. They'd be rare and archaic today. Man shares an ancestor with toadstools, IMHO. So, I take issue with that aspect of the Day-Age theory.

You can see how this belief system fits into the story here, but the way the universe is set up could be just as easily attributed to chance. That's why I say my proposal does not require God.

Of course, this is all speculation, and not really all that important. I quote one of my heroes, Galileo: "Scripture teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

The infallibility clause of the Bible so many people love to selectively quote comes with a qualifier that those same people love to forget. It says that it is useful for specific things. There is a list that follows, and you won't find anything scientific on that list. The Bible is not meant as a history, biology, physics, astronomy, or mathematics text. It is about morality and God's version of righteousness (which probably isn't what you think it is). And just like you wouldn't use a math textbook to learn about Shakespeare, you shouldn't use the Bible to learn about science.

God gave us the Bible to learn about Him. He gave us brains, eyes, and ears to learn about what He made.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Ugh. (none / 0) (#23)
by i wish i were an oscar meyer weiner on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 05:01:45 PM EST

Plz to be filtering out christo-garbage and try again, thx

[ Parent ]
If I took out the religious angle (none / 1) (#24)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 05:09:29 PM EST

It would be a pretty piss-poor answer to his question.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

I WOULD BE OK WITH THAT (none / 0) (#25)
by i wish i were an oscar meyer weiner on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 05:14:05 PM EST

I'm just glad you kept it out of your story

[ Parent ]
You like piss-poor answers? (none / 1) (#26)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 05:26:28 PM EST

Is it just because it has the word "piss" in it?

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

the original question was a troool (none / 0) (#27)
by i wish i were an oscar meyer weiner on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 05:27:26 PM EST

and I am perfectly fine with piss-poor responses to trools, yes

[ Parent ]
B-b-b-bbut (none / 0) (#28)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 06:28:39 PM EST

he SAID he wasn't a troll!

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

by i wish i were an oscar meyer weiner on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 06:38:07 PM EST

[ Parent ]
pardon, my interjection here, but you sir (none / 0) (#30)
by nononoitaintmebabe on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 06:40:14 PM EST

are a wiener.  

[ Parent ]
QUIET YUO (none / 0) (#31)
by i wish i were an oscar meyer weiner on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 06:41:05 PM EST


[ Parent ]
I, Egil S./Dave T. agree with you to a 'T' (1.50 / 2) (#32)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 06:46:47 PM EST

I always figured you did, too.

In the end, it's a question of philosophy. However, I do think things point to a creator, whether or not people like it. Finding someone honest enough to evaluate the question honestly, though, would be a challenge.

This, obviously, was not a troll at all.

[ Parent ]

You claim to be Egil (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:17:48 PM EST

and not a troll. That is a logical impossibility, unless both are LIES.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Oh, come on. I always turned off (1.50 / 2) (#43)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:44:07 PM EST

the troll for you.

[ Parent ]
you guys are cute (none / 0) (#85)
by cunt minded on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 01:33:33 AM EST


[ Parent ]
You want honesty? (none / 1) (#41)
by codejack on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:23:52 PM EST

Fine, here goes:

The scientific rubric for evaluating the existence of [god] (insert local deity here) is a chimaera, like trying to determine whether everyone sees the same thing when they see the color blue. The problem is that the definition of [god] is slippery; for several centuries, [god] has been carefully redefined by those institutions claiming to represent him/her/it/them around science whenever it wasn't feasible to simply kill the scientist and destroy the evidence. This is the root of the alleged hatred that scientists feel towards religion.

Definitions aside, the question remains: Is there any empirical evidence for or against the existence of [god]. The answer is, of course, "no". Neither I, nor any other self-respecting scientist, can categorically deny the existence of [god]. Dawkins points out that neither can they deny the existence of a china teapot in orbit around Mars; enter Flying Spaghetti Monster. The documentary evidence in favor of the existence of [god] is effectively null, having approximately as many verifiable falsehoods as alleged truths.

Many people answer this with the "50/50" solution: that there is a 50% chance of [god] existing. Dawkins used his last book to attempt to push the split to "67/33" or thereabouts, a maneuver that I find appalling. Frankly, I find putting numbers to this offensive, and so should anyone religious, although for exactly the opposite reason.

Personally, I don't care what a person's beliefs are, so long as they don't try to interfere with my life in order to satisfy them. "Faith-based initiatives", "In God we Trust", "...so help me God"; these are all euphemisms for "us against you", an attitude I disagree with even in the rare circumstances that I find myself on the side of the "us". My personal code of behavior is outlined in large part by the humanist movement; in an interesting parallel to the story, many of the tenets of humanism arrive at some of the same conclusions as several religious concepts, e.g. Christ's "Golden Rule", although they are reached those conclusions through logic and reason, rather than divine revelation. Heh, a parallel to parallel evolution.

Does this meet with the approval of Diogenes?

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
'Us against you' and Dawkins in the same post (none / 1) (#44)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:45:39 PM EST

You lost me after that logical fallacy.

[ Parent ]
Read the sig /nt (none / 0) (#75)
by codejack on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 06:16:21 PM EST

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
s'posed to be a joke (none / 0) (#11)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 01:43:02 PM EST

That was the intentional pun. There are 2 meanings to "polar" in this context, one having to do with charge distribution, the other to do with geographical location (i.e., near the north or south poles of the Earth).

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

I liked it, so it will get a +1FP from me (none / 0) (#15)
by GhostOfTiber on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 02:51:53 PM EST

What do you think about evolution coming up with an atomically powered bug?  Some kind of nuclear reactor beetle evolving from fungus living in current reactor cores....

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne

Nah. (none / 0) (#17)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 03:00:59 PM EST

Never happen.

Evolutionary time between fungus and beetle is a few orders of magnitude greater than the time the nuclear reactors or all but the longest-lived nuclear waste will be around. You'd probably never have some animal with an actual reactor core in it; it's just too energetic and the food sources would be too rare.

It would probably never evolve locomotion, even if it did come to exist; there would be no need. The most likely is some variant of photosynthesis, like the fungus described in the article. There's a Science article with a bit more meat, but you need to be a subscriber to read it.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

ah damn (none / 1) (#18)
by GhostOfTiber on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 03:15:33 PM EST

I had visions of terribly mutated bugs crawling between piles of radioactive garbage in some post-apocalyptic future.  They would be powered by heat from the radiation and carry glowing dust on their backs.

This of course would attract bass fishermen to use them for sport fishing.

"In other news, protobass fisherman John Doe today picked up a species of nuclearous explodimus beetle and attempted to hook it.  Let us remind you at FOX News that hooking one of these is extremely dangerous.  Philadelphia was wiped off the map today when the hook pierced the abdomen.  Here's Tom with the weather."

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne
[ Parent ]

Good idea. (none / 0) (#42)
by Corwin06 on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:38:14 PM EST

Yes, I know, never gonna happen. Still a good idea.

+1 FP.

"and you sir, in an argument in a thread with a troll in a story no one is reading in a backwater website, you're a fucking genius
[ Parent ]
Insect wings. (none / 0) (#19)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 03:21:38 PM EST

Some insect wings (I'm thinking of bumble bees) actually fold in flight. The research I was reading said that the same mechanism that pumps fluid into the "veins" in the wings to stiffen them make the wings "limper" during the up stroke. Some can control this and fly in both modes - the less efficient (fuel wise) mode allows things like hovering.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
Damn (none / 0) (#21)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 03:27:11 PM EST

That must be some fast valve. How fast do bee's wings beat, anyway?

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Let me try to remember (none / 0) (#22)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 04:19:30 PM EST

what the speaker said - it's not actually a "valve". They have a more simple mechanism (as I recall) where as the wing muscle flexes it pushes the liquid (a tiny, tiny amount) outward, then on the up stroke the pressure is less, creating a more flexible wing. Also - the second set of wings isn't necessarily for direct lift generation. Some insects use them to create turbulence they can exploit for lift. The smallest insects have a mass so tiny comparitive to air density that they basically "row" through the air.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
Bee wings (none / 0) (#64)
by BottleRocket on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 01:27:37 PM EST

(and insect wings in general) work by generating vortices above the leading edges. Were insects merely scaled down versions of ornithopters, they would never get the kind of lift that they manage to generate. Instead, their wings beat with a long enough period to stall the insect, then cut back to continue swirling the air above them.

What is this research you are looking at, plz? I would like to partake too.

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Yes I do download [child pornography], but I don't keep it any longer than I need to, so it can yield insight as to how to find more. --MDC
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[ Parent ]

Yes, I've read about that (none / 0) (#76)
by xC0000005 on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 06:46:57 PM EST

not all bees use the same methods though. The larger ones do so much more (aparently out of necessit). We had a guy from UW talk on the design of bees, though he studied insects in general. I confess to not understanding exactly what "to stall the insect means". My primitive flight understanding should probably be expanded. It does make sense though - the secondary wings are simply not large enough to be used as "paddles" to generate lift. The slides I saw said they are used instead to aid in lift by causing turbulence (how the researcher put it). Fascinating. I have wondered if beetles (which are often much larger) employ similar strategies?

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
yet, Bible ruined more life than it saved... (none / 0) (#33)
by sye on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 07:14:06 PM EST

I'd say Bible ruined more life than it saved,  taking one example, Michael Servetus... what's your take on this?

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rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in

When making a claim like that (none / 1) (#38)
by Sgt York on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 08:15:27 PM EST

Anecdotal evidence is not exactly the method of choice for proof. Especially 500 year old anecdotal evidence.

It is funny, though, that even though I say outright that this theory does not attest to the existence of any kind of god, people still have to summon religion in any evolution discussion.

Reflex, I guess. I'm guilty of it, too.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Jesus forgives you for embracing Biology (none / 0) (#45)
by givemegmail111 on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 09:35:26 PM EST

Yahweh is another story...

McDonalds: i'm lovin' it
Start your day tastefully with a Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddle, only at McDonalds.
Rusty fix my sig, dammit!
[ Parent ]
Evolution and religion (none / 0) (#107)
by svampa on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 08:03:19 AM EST

Religion tries to explain the following points:

  1. A social moral (including rituals)
  2. What will happen to us, our relatives and neighbours after death
  3. Where human kind, Earth and Universe come from
  4. A hierachy of gods, godnesses, angels, daemons etc

Evolution (the scientific theory) doesn't need God , the process needn't to be steered by a god, and the result needn't to be planned in advance, it is a blind force, a mechanism.

Although Evolution theory doesn't state that God doesn't exist, it doesn't need a god involved. If God was not involved in human kind creation, when did God get involved? did God come across us and said "Gee! where did these cute creatures come from? I think I'm gonna give them rules and look after their souls after death with rewards and punishments"?

Whenever evolution topic rises without an explicit envolvement of God (via inteligent dessign or something like that), religion is threatened, thus religion easily becomes a part of the topic as well.

[ Parent ]
Excellent article. +FP (none / 1) (#35)
by dakini on Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 07:17:08 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
was hovering around +1 or obstaining (none / 1) (#48)
by loteck on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 02:32:28 AM EST

but the support of this vapid cuntery pushed me over to -1. she almost universally adores retarded shit and is allergic to anything really intriguing.

surely there is a better place for such academia? i dont hate it, i just dont want to read it on k5...
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]

the layman's view of evolution (2.00 / 2) (#52)
by circletimessquare on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 07:43:58 AM EST

there is this notion of evolution being this steady march of progress resulting in us, humanity. this view of evolution, and the steady simple view might be called a dumb, harmless way to look at natural history. the layman doesn't need to know the details, he just needs to know the basics to the kind of questions everyone asks. and if the answers are presented in such a way that glosses over subtle complexities, so be it

the most important subtle complexity is the answer to the question: "what is the fucking point?" the simple dumb answer is "progress." the real answer is "just get the fucking job done." that the job gets done with more and more complexity is merely an after effect, not the point of evolution. but the common layman's answer needs a driving force to dumb down the narrative, and progress has become that mythical answer, and it's mostly a harmless replacement in how to think about evolution

evolution doesn't care one stinking bit about what creatures are made, there is merely deviation from the average complexity of an animal, and occasionally the animal gets very complex. like our brain. from evolution's point of view, it's just a statistical aberration in terms of complexity to get the primary job done: surviving death and breeding a new generation. increasing complexity isn't the point. all evolution cares about is that we successfully breed, or not. from evolution's point of view, human beings, horseshoe crabs, and slime molds all do a good job of that, and so we are equivalent successes. that we do it with a lot more complexity than a slime mold means nothing at all. that horseshoe crabs have been doing it for billions of years while we only a few million means nothing at all

who cares how complex, as long as the fucking job gets done. so some features hardly evolve, old ones are picked up again after years of neglect, and new ones are adapted by wildly different creatures, etc. it's a subtle and complex versus simplistic and quick way to sample a deep and gigantic field of inquiry, and if mythical concepts like "progress" have to be created as a driving force in order to bridge the difference between intense study and quick overview, so be it, it's a harmless mental substitution for the layman

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Wow, that was a lot of writing for a layman (1.50 / 2) (#61)
by Trend Setting Dildo on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 12:46:21 PM EST

[ Parent ]
one other point on convergence (2.50 / 4) (#53)
by circletimessquare on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 07:55:07 AM EST

is the big striking examples of convergence: the recreation of another organisms complete standard repertoire of forms and functions, in a completely unrelated species. the classic example being: dolphins and whales. here you have a mammal that has basically recreated what fish have been doing for billions of years

you have bats which are mammals who have become birds in form and function

and then just last night i was watching a feature on the philippine tarsier

if you have ever watched this simian... or protosimian, or lemur, or some mix of both: no one's quite sure how to place the tarsier, it's a species in its own ancient mostly extinct order... or ever heard it, watched how it moved and behaved, you come across an inescapable thought:

this monkey is a bug

it's basically a simian  that has recreated the form and function of being an insect

pretty wacky

this sort of "hey, you got it all figured out already, i'll just copy you in every way possible" sort of evolutionary convergence on a large scale of mimicry has always amazed me

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

how is the tarsier like a bug? (none / 1) (#78)
by rhiannon on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 08:06:07 PM EST

Looks like a non-bug to me.

I continued to rebuff the advances... so many advances... of so many attractive women. -MC
[ Parent ]
look into those big buggy eyes (none / 0) (#91)
by circletimessquare on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 09:50:32 AM EST

watch those quick little buggy movements

hear those locust lke chirps

the monkey has emulated a bug

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Excellent article. +FP (1.50 / 2) (#72)
by dakini on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 04:03:12 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
thanks (none / 1) (#82)
by loteck on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 09:59:59 PM EST

we definitely wanted to hear your worthless opinion twice. look up the word "editorial". you'll find it somewhere between "cunt" and "face".
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]
+1 FP (none / 0) (#74)
by debillitatus on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 05:28:33 PM EST

Excellent stuff!

Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!

The purpose of evolution you advance (none / 0) (#77)
by levesque on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 07:53:37 PM EST

"To reproduce", would not it make as much sense to say the purpose is to eat.

Nope (none / 1) (#84)
by Sgt York on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 11:25:26 PM EST

Plants don't eat (for the most part), and they do quite well. Mules can eat quite a bit, but they can't make viable offspring, so they fail.

"To reproduce" is not my idea, it's Darwin's. Fitness in evolution is defined as the number of offspring an individual has that survive to produce offspring of their own. I have a fitness of zero as neither of my kids are old enough to have kids yet. However my parents have substantial fitness, as all of their children have had multiple children.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

so you're saying (none / 0) (#87)
by jolt rush soon on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 05:35:29 AM EST

that an old grandfather on his deathbed is fitter than a childless man in his prime?
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]
Obviously (none / 0) (#95)
by sholden on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 05:54:31 PM EST

Unless said man in his prime has some kids later.

The world's dullest web page

[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 0) (#97)
by levesque on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 06:41:20 PM EST

biological fitness is a measure after the fact. You can compare the genes of two individuals in the past with the genes in their species today and then declare that one individual was fitter because it had more genes in common with the genes in the species today.

[ Parent ]
That's a lot of issues (none / 0) (#96)
by levesque on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 06:08:32 PM EST

I think what we refer to as Darwinian fitness is a useful variable to consider in many problems but that does not mean a rise in fitness is always better --A species may end up better adapted to survive in a new environment than another species because it went through changes that include a reduction in the number of offspring that live to reproduce.

I used "to eat" in a more general sense like: "to process matter to build and power oneself", I think plants do this too. By this I'm not suggesting eating is the purpose of evolution I believe the theory of evolution does not deal in purpose.

[ Parent ]

A useful variable in many problems? (none / 0) (#101)
by Sgt York on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 01:03:38 PM EST

Evolution isn't a philosophy, religion, or morality. It's a scientific theory. Gravity is useful for figuring out why it's hard to hold heavy shit up in the air, but it's not going to help you figure out if the girl of your dreams will marry you.

As for the your offspring reduction argument. Read up on the difference between "niche" and "environment". Niches are subsets of an environment, and niches are where competition takes place. "Survival of the fittest" refers to that competition. A cheetah and a gazelle occupy the same environment, but completely different niches.

"I believe the theory of evolution does not deal in purpose." This is actually counter to my claim in the article. I think it does have a purpose, as stated in the last half of the story. How would you counter my claim?

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

My original point (none / 0) (#102)
by levesque on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 12:15:41 AM EST

one of the primary principles of evolutionary biology, that evolution has no purpose or plan

I agree. I claim it makes no more sense to claim that the purpose of evolution is "to reproduce oneselve" than to claim the purpose of evolution is "to process matter to build and fuel oneself".

[ Parent ]

You need to read up (none / 0) (#103)
by Sgt York on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 01:14:10 AM EST

on evolutionary theory a bit. It doesn't matter how much you eat or whatever, if you don't reproduce, you die. Eating is a means unto an end, not the end itself.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

lol (none / 0) (#108)
by levesque on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 01:28:02 PM EST

This is what I don't get:

But to me it always flew in the face of one of the primary principles of evolutionary biology, that evolution has no purpose or plan


It is random

What is random and how do you interpret that word

it has no destination or goal


it is simply a force of nature, like the wind.

"The primary princibles that evolution has no purpose or plan" is a force of nature?

The wind does have a "purpose" of sorts [...] evolution has a purpose

A lot of words have different meanings in every day conversation and in the sciences and your usage is not consistent. When you state "evolution has a purpose" there is nothing that has lead us there scientifically..

[ Parent ]

subject lines suck. (3.00 / 2) (#110)
by Sgt York on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 02:09:44 PM EST

By random, I mean not predictable.

In the sentence you refer to, I am stating the common claim in basic biology classes, that evolution is random. The antecedant to that "it" is immediately preceding the pronoun; I thought it would be obvious.

However, this is an oversimplification that often results in misunderstanding. The generation of new genetic code is random. The rate of generation of new genetic code can be predicted to an extent, but the nature of the changes cannot be predicted. This is similar to something like radioactive decay. If I know how much U238 I have and know the half life, I can predict how much I'll have at the end of a week. However, I cannot predict which atom will decay next or even when the next atom will decay.

Mutation is random, but evolution is not. You can't predict what the next mutation will be, but you can often predict what selection will happen on a new mutation. Evolution acts on the existing heterogeneity of a population. This existing heterogeneity is the result of heterogeneity of the genetic code, which arose randomly. However, the selection on that heterogeneity is predictable.

For example, take a night predator. If a mutation results in a higher density of rods in the fovea (giving better night vision by sacrificing color for sensitivity) that will be selected for. If a mutation results in the loss of the retractable nature of the claws (harming stealth), that will be selected against. You can't predict which of those changes will occur, but you can predict how natural selection will act on them.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Re (none / 1) (#112)
by levesque on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 10:38:19 PM EST

Last night I nearly finished a long responce expanding various points in your last and previous comments. I put it aside thinking I would review my comment and finish my last point in the morning. For some reason, before going to bed, I recalled your comment and saw it in the light of our mutual inability to communicate efficiently what we were talking about. The absurdity of the situation made me laugh, so this morning I started a fresh comment with lol and a new angle. No offense intended.

[ Parent ]
I dunno (none / 0) (#79)
by /dev/trash on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 08:33:12 PM EST

Tetanus is still around and I hear it hates oxygen rich conditions.

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
Nice job. I've been thinking about the term... (none / 1) (#80)
by claes on Tue Jul 10, 2007 at 09:42:06 PM EST

"Survival of the Fittest", sociobiology, and the end of evolution. In some ways "Survival of the Fittest" is a tautology (is that the word?). If fitness is ability to survive, then the fit survive by definition. So I'm not sure we're post-evolutionary (soon to be as overused as postmodern), since some will survive, and by definition they are the fittest. The change is in the level of control we have over our genetic information. Before all we could do was pick out the partner that looked the fittest, but now we can actually tinker with the stuff.

Not sure what the point is. 'been thinking about limits to human intelligence, and intelligence in general too. Not sure where that's going either.

We're not post-evolutionary (none / 1) (#104)
by godix on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 04:33:52 AM EST

for the simple fact the traits humanity has only been caring for it's 'weak' for a blink of an eye in evolutionary timescales. Evolution works on the timeframe of millions of years. Our supposed post-evolutionary actions have been around for a few hundred years, or a couple thousand max if you're being really generous in your definitions.

Besides, the post-evolutionary theory is easily shown to be false. First off it's claimed we're intelligent enough to protect our weak when really intelligence has little to do with it. After all, John Wayne Gacy is said to be quite intelligent. It's compassion that causes us to protect our weak not intelligence. Sadly enough; the simple fact the holocaust, Rwanda, Stalins purges, the rape of Nanking, Pol Pot, Timor, the cold war, China's one child policy, the threat of nuclear annihilation, etc. have all happened within the last century should easily show humanity isn't compassionate to each other long enough to affect evolution. Hell, we're barely compassionate long enough to affect our society much less our genetic makeup.

- An egotist is someone who thinks they're almost as good as I am.
[ Parent ]

Oooh... (none / 1) (#86)
by swifty on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 01:57:35 AM EST

..you touched my thr-ala-ala.

Freiheit ist immer auch die freiheit des anderen.
Hmmm... (none / 0) (#94)
by Verteiron on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 05:38:49 PM EST

..my ding-ding-dong.

[ Parent ]
Wow. It took you all that (none / 0) (#98)
by Jonathan Walther on Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 10:10:59 PM EST

It took you all that long to find out that the purpose of life is to "multiply and become many"?

Alas, you are still bound to the Kabbalistic worldview, which states that the universe is billions of years old and light years across.  You need to get rid of that superstitious belief before you can progress in knowledge.

(Luke '22:36 '19:13) => ("Sell your coat and buy a gun." . "Occupy until I come.")

Church of Origin (none / 0) (#99)
by Rahyl on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 12:07:54 PM EST

You write/work for the Church of Origin?



Evolving in a circle (3.00 / 3) (#105)
by mrogers on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 07:54:32 AM EST

"The source is random, but the destination is not."

The destination might not be random, but it's not static either. Coping with large amounts of atmospheric oxygen wasn't a design goal of early organisms because there wasn't any atmospheric oxygen: that corrosive poison was released later, by plants (in violation of the "must not be set to destroy its own environment" principle - natural selection takes a very short-term view of such things).

At any given time, the "destination" of an organism's evolution is determined by the environment, a significant part of which consists of other evolving organisms. That means that every evolutionary change moves the destination. The destination can even move when no changes occur, due to the exhaustion of resources and the build-up of waste products in the environment. In theory, an ecosystem could evolve in a circle, or a strange attractor, or non-repeating chaos. Far from being an optimisation problem with fixed criteria for success, evolution is a dynamical system in which the criteria for success are as unstable as any other component. The best analogy I can think of is the game of Nomic, in which a move consists of changing the rules of the game.

Excellent (none / 0) (#109)
by levesque on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 01:46:00 PM EST

Far from being an optimisation problem with fixed criteria for success, evolution is a dynamical system in which the criteria for success are as unstable as any other component


[ Parent ]

Agreed (none / 0) (#111)
by Sgt York on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 02:14:16 PM EST

My point is that the general idea "adapt to maximize for environment" will persist. The environment is certain to change, sometimes (perhaps even normally) due to biological action. But selection will still act to maximize adaptations for the environment. The environment is the design criteria I am talking about. Not the source of the design criteria, but the criteria, themselves.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Polar steam? (none / 0) (#106)
by dogeye on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 05:15:16 PM EST

As someone who sells steam for a living, I would like to mention that it is relaxing as well as polar!

This is budweisr (none / 0) (#113)
by weedaddict on Sun Jul 15, 2007 at 06:22:12 PM EST

this is beer

Reality has a certain cynical bias - Cattle Rustler
what do you call independent discovery of dumbness (none / 0) (#114)
by manjal on Fri Jul 20, 2007 at 09:18:05 AM EST

like when a bunch of people invade a country that never attacked them, wind up sending a bunch of testosterone addled teenagers over with big guns who wind up killing a bunch of civilians, the people you are helping wind up hating you, and you spark off a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people die, and millions leave their homes fleeing the violence?

and like, other countries do the same thing? and then, after that, years later, you do the same thing over again?

its like you have various different organisms (countries, time periods), and the same bullshit stupid stuff keeps getting done over and over.

what do you call that in evolutionary biological terms, if a shark, say, liked to rub its nose against ship propellors, and you discovered some bird that liked to do the same thing with airplanes?

Do nation-states evolve? (none / 0) (#116)
by Russell Dovey on Tue Jul 24, 2007 at 06:26:00 PM EST

I'm not sure they do. Since humans have not had time to evolve significantly during the history of civilisation, the raw material that determines the "fitness" of a nation-state changes only with accumulation of knowledge; overwhelmingly by trial and error, but rarely through creative thinking by an individual.

Even though we perceive human civilisation as having progressed over time, it can't be through evolution; there hasn't been nearly enough time, and the basic mechanism of change isn't random enough.

This could be why you can learn all you need to know about politics by reading Cicero.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

And thus, we see that religion = no imagination. (none / 0) (#115)
by Russell Dovey on Tue Jul 24, 2007 at 06:04:32 PM EST

I had the same epiphany that you just outlined when I read The Blind Watchmaker. Evolution isn't a random chemical process that attempts to render meaningless a divinely-created glorious universe, as is persistently argued by supporters of religious explanations for life.

It turns out that when you compare the emergent, endlessly complex and creative dynamics of evolution to the idea that "God did it, so he's AWESOME and TOTALLY EXISTS", there's no contest.

Especially when someone points out (as Dawkins, among others, did) that while one could then say that "God set up evolution in the first place, so he's AWESOMER and TOTALLY EXISTED", this would not only be totally lame, but to answer the question of where God came from in the first place, you have to turn to evolution to get an answer that makes sense! BOOYAH.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

Polar Opposites | 115 comments (75 topical, 40 editorial, 0 hidden)
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