Category Archives: Evolution, Science


2017-03-10

Latest On Neanderthals — Aspirin, and Kissing a “Modern Human”?

by Neil Godfrey

Speaking as we are on various types of humans in the evolutionary kaleidoscope here is a new Nature article on the latest research on Neanderthals — as read on ABC’s Science News:

Ancient dental plaque shows some Neanderthals ate plants and used drugs

Mushrooms were part of their diet, and meat eating (e.g. eating woolly rhinoceros) followed vegetarianism, just like pre-Flood vegetarianism of the human race and post-Flood meat-eating (kidding — about the biblical Flood myth).

But I’m amazed at what we can learn …..

What’s more, DNA analysis of the dental plaque from the El Sidrón Neanderthal teenager showed he ate plants to treat illness.

The teenager, who had a dental abscess on his jaw and evidence of microbes that cause gastro intestinal illnesses such as diarrhoea and vomiting, ate poplar bark, which contains the active ingredient in aspirin, and Penicillium, the mould that produces penicillin.

“So it is likely he would have been trying to self-medicate,” said Dr Weyrich.

And in the midst of reading about how our technologies are being used to record our personal information and accessed for spying, it seems even geneticists can snoop on the private activities of long extinct Neanderthals:

Swapping spit with humans

Neanderthals and ancient and modern humans also shared a number of microbes that can cause dental and gum diseases — although Neanderthals did not have cavities or gum disease.

The team sequenced the draft genome of one gum disease microbe, Methanovrevibacter oralis, from the 48,000 year-old El Sidrón cave teenager.

“What we find is that it looks like [the microbe] was introduced from humans about 120,000 years ago, about the same time that humans and Neanderthals started interbreeding,” Dr Weyrich said.

She said this indicated interactions between Neanderthals and humans were much more intimate than previously thought.

 


2017-03-06

Lost Tribes of Humanity

by Neil Godfrey

Brought myself up with the latest discoveries on human origins last night with BBC doco The Lost Tribes of Humanity. It told me that everything I had been taught about Neanderthals at school was wrong, and enlightened me on how to pronounce this other type of human I’ve come across in my reading from time to time, the Denosivans, introduced me to the term “hominin”, and backed my wife’s suspicion that I probably do carry around Neanderthal DNA in my genome.

Neanderthals

  1. Neanderthals did leave artistic remains. The marks left on rocks were tested for various options such as side-products of cutting other things like skins on the rock surface and the eventual conclusion was that the marks were made as deliberate designs. (I learned they had no art.)
  2. Neanderthals adorned their bodies. Remains of certain bones indicate that wings were cut for feathers, not for meat. Feathers in abundance points to body decoration. (That was new.)
  3. Neanderthals buried their dead.
  4. They were not wiped out by the arrival of Homo Sapiens. The two types of human lived side by side for thousands of years, probably learning from one another.
  5. Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. Most people of non-African origin have some Neanderthal DNA; about 1 to 2 percent on average of their DNA is Neanderthal. (I was taught the two could not interbreed.)
  6. The above fact indicates that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals very early in their trek out of Africa — probably when they first met Neanderthals in what today is the Middle East. This scenario would explain why modern humans across the globe contain Neanderthal DNA — with the exception of most Africans.
  7. Possibly up to 50% of all the Neanderthal DNA is still extant today, collectively, in modern humans. (We each contain around 1-2% of Neanderthal DNA but we don’t all contain the same DNA bits.)

Denisovans (D’nEESovins)

  • Races native to Australia and Papua New Guinea contain up to 5% of the Denisovan genome. Denisovan DNA is also found among the peoples of India, Himalayas and China. Up to 60 to 80% of Denisovan genome may be spread around in modern humans.

“The Hobbit” / Homo floresiensis

I was following the controversy surrounding these bones when they were first discovered in Indonesia and for a time was unsure if we would find we had a new type of human species or modern human inflicted with something like dwarfism. But the jury has apparently long been in by now and they definitely have been classified as a distinct variety of human.

Interestingly their small size was not the effect of being cut off on the island (animals so cut off tend to become smaller, presumably because less resources are therefore required to survive) but they were found to be small before their settlements were cut off by rising seas.

Though they have left remains indicating their human-ness their brains were the size of chimp brains. Sounds bad for a human, perhaps, but then as someone else pointed out recently on another program, we now know from our technological advances that it is not the size of a computer that matters so much as how it is organized. Even “bird-brains” can be very intelligent.

Archaic Africans

This group was new to me. We know of their past existence in Central Africa entirely from DNA samples among people of African descent — beginning in a laboratory in San Francisco of all places. They split off from the earliest human line then connected again some millennia later with the line leading to us.

So we don’t even need to dig up fossils to learn of the existence of other species or tribes of humans.

Interbreeding can have been through a range of activities, including adopting orphaned babies and raiding for mates.

My science fiction fantasy: Will we one day be able to piece together all the different bits of remaining DNA from Neanderthals and Denisovans and Archaic Africans and somehow put them together again the way Humpty was sort of reassembled — not literally in laboratories, god forbid, but on paper/digital files — and get some idea what those other branches of hominin were like compared with our pre-mongrel ancestors?

 


2017-01-03

The Australian Magpies

by Neil Godfrey

I loved this program when it was first broadcast a few months ago and appreciated the ABC’s Radio National “re-releasing” it as a podcast. I always love watching magpies and so often notice fascinating behaviours. For some years many times I went outside to hang the washing out the same magpie would fly down and perch on the clothes line, looking intently at me as if to greet me and spend some time with me. In Australia we easily take their beautiful song for granted so I was pulled up with some surprise when an overseas tourist expressed amazement at the sound.

Anyone interested who hasn’t yet heard the program, do listen to

The colourful life of the Australian Magpie

The opening seconds is all you need to hear their sound.

Other details that fascinated me:

  • they are listening for the sounds of grubs etc beneath the grass
  • they recognize individual human faces
  • in the event of the loss of the male partner the female soon accepts another male replacement who continues to care and provide for her chicks
  • their black and white colour is no camouflage but functions as a highly visual signal for territorial purposes

 


2016-09-15

Trees really do need hugs

by Neil Godfrey

green-man-266953_1280I kept thinking I was listening to a madman, that the interview was a practical joke, that a highly imaginative author was discussing his ideas for a fantasy movie or children’s story. Trees really do talk to each other? have feelings? memories? recognize and teach their young? learn? please don’t tell me they have brains….!!!!!

But a brain? For there to be something we would recognize as a brain, neurological processes must be involved, and for these, in addition to chemical messages, you need electrical impulses. And these are precisely what we can measure in the tree, and we’ve been able to do so since as far back as the nineteenth century. For some years now, a heated controversy has flared up among scientists. Can plants think? Are they intelligent?

In conjunction with his colleagues, FrantiSek BaluSka from the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany at the University of Bonn is of the opinion that brain-like structures can be found at root tips. In addition to signaling pathways, there are also numerous systems and molecules similar to those found in animals.34 When a root feels its way forward in the ground, it is aware of stimuli. The researchers measured electrical signals that led to changes in behavior after they were processed in a “transition zone.” If the root encounters toxic substances, impenetrable stones, or saturated soil, it analyzes the situation and transmits the necessary adjustments to the growing tip. The root tip changes direction as a result of this communication and steers the growing root around the critical areas.

Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben

I just said ‘Don’t tell me that.’

Right now, the majority of plant researchers are skeptical about whether such behavior points to a repository for intelligence, the faculty of memory, and emotions.

That’s a relief.

Among other things, they get worked up about carrying over findings in similar situations with animals and, at the end of the day, about how this threatens to blur the boundary between plants and animals. And so what? What would be so awful about that? The distinction between plant and animal is, after all, arbitrary and depends on the way an organism feeds itself: the former photosynthesizes and the latter eats other living beings. Finally, the only other big difference is in the amount of time it takes to process information and translate it into action. . . . .

You can listen an interview with the author, Peter Wohlleben, at The Secret Life of Trees. Since hearing that program yesterday I found that any web search on the name Peter Wohlleben will bring up a wealth of other articles, videos, what have you. His book:

trees

 

 

 


2016-09-14

Human Languages Use Similar Sounds for Common Words

by Neil Godfrey

Amazing . . . can’t wait for further research to confirm or refute . . .

Sound–meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages

(or doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605782113)

Or you can read a short version on the news site where I first learned about it:

Linguistic study proves more than 6,000 languages use similar sounds for common words

Or under a title I thought most apt:

A nose by any other name would sound the same, study finds

Here’s a list of the sounds taken from the original PNAS article (symbols are described here):

signal-summary

Nor can I resist the nice map from the same article:

map

Trying to think through the significance(s) should it be confirmed. . . . .

First, a universal grammar. . . . now this?

 


2016-09-12

Bayes, Schizophrenia, Autism and Brain Chemistry

by Neil Godfrey

A fascinating essay, even if speculative, by Scott Alexander on the brain chemistry behind Bayesian, deductive and inductive reasoning, and light it possibly sheds on conditions like schizophrenia, autism, and being stoned.

It’s Bayes All The Way Up


2016-06-07

Male and Female and Shemale created He them

by Neil Godfrey

bearded dragonWhat on earth was God thinking?

When is a female a female? And when is a male a male? These are the questions that scientists continue to ponder after the latest research on an Australian lizard that reverses its sex when exposed to high incubation temperatures.

The study shows central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) that are born with male chromosomes, but can lay eggs, have other strange characteristics.

Super-female bearded dragons are ‘more male than male’

“A bearded dragon can have male sex chromosomes but be a functioning female. Yet it can be more male-like in the way it looks, in its temperature and in its behaviour. They are more male-like than the actual males,” Professor Shine said.

 


2016-01-25

What Is Euhemerism?

by Tim Widowfield
chromolithograph Caricature of Thomas Henry Hu...

Chromolithograph Caricature of Thomas Henry Huxley. Caption read “A great Med’cine-Man among the Inquiring Redskins”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Note: This post reflects my perspective. Neil is not responsible for any of the following content. –Tim]

We have Thomas Huxley to thank for the word Darwinism, which he coined in 1860 in a review of On the Origin of Species. In modern times, of course, creationists have misused the term, applying it to any theory of natural evolution, and even to the study of abiogenesis. They continue to embrace the “ism” since bolsters their assertion that evolution is a kind of belief system, just as irrational as religion.

What is Darwinism? 

Simply stated, Darwinism is the theory of biological evolution by means of natural selection. Technically, the terms Darwinism and biological evolution are not entirely synonymous, since theories of evolution existed before Charles Darwin. I recall being taken aback when I first read that Charles’ grandfather Erasmus had written a poem suggesting all forms of life were interrelated and had evolved to their present state. And well before Charles published his book, Jean-Baptiste Larmarck had proposed a theory of evolution based on the idea that organisms acquire traits during their lives, and later pass them on (somehow) to their offspring.

Darwinism differs from other competing theories of evolution in its mechanism for change. It makes no sense, then, to apply the term to other theories that posit some process other than gradual modification through natural selection.

Nor is it technically correct to call today’s modern synthesis “Darwinism,” since it embraces two other important foundational concepts, namely mutation theory and Mendelian genetics. So those who would today call an evolutionary biologist a Darwinist betray their ignorance of evolution, Darwin, and biology in general.

A less familiar term, euhemerism, from time to time suffers similar misuse. How should we define this word? We might explain it, following Dr. Richard Carrier, as “doing what Euhemerus did.

But then we have to ask, “Well, what was that?”

read more »


2015-04-18

The Oldest Oral Traditions in the World

by Neil Godfrey
280px-Palm_Valley_NT

Palm Valley — Wikipedia

How old can an oral tradition be? How long can a social memory exist?

Surely much depends on the stability of the social organizations that sustain them. But can we imagine a story surviving through generations over 7,000 or even 30,000 years?

Scientists studying certain species of palm trees curiously surviving in Central Australia may have coincidentally confirmed Aboriginal stories that must date back at least 7000 years.

It had until recently been thought that palm trees in Central Australia were survivors from Gondwanaland, from before the time Australia split off from what is now Antarctica, South America and Africa, and a time when Australia was covered in rainforest.

Months of genetic testing by University of Tasmania ecologist David Bowman and a Japanese team eventually confirmed that trees that had long been thought to date from Gondwana ancestors are not nearly so old at all. They in fact date from the time humans inhabited the continent.

The results led him to conclude the seeds were carried to the Central Desert by humans up to 30,000 years ago.

Professor Bowman read an Aboriginal legend recorded in 1894 by pioneering German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, which was only recently translated, describing the “gods from the north” bringing the seeds to Palm Valley.

Professor Bowman said he was amazed.

“We’re talking about a verbal tradition which had been transmitted through generations possibly for over 7,000, possibly 30,000 years,” he said. read more »


2015-02-11

Darwin Day — and exploding some myths about Charles Darwin

by Neil Godfrey

12th February is Darwin Day.

There is an International Darwin Day website that is currently making a special pitch at Americans for recognition. For good reason, no doubt, given that today’s newsletter from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science contains the following (with my emphasis):

As a universal figure of such profound importance, his birthday should be a national celebration — a day to honor the advances brought about by reason and science. 

But a resolution to this effect, introduced in the U.S. Congress, has little support outside a handful of Democrats. Frighteningly, Darwin is still considered a controversial figure, especially among conservative Republicans.

For anyone who does not yet know, just about everything we have that Darwin produced is available in digitized format at Darwin Online.

And I happily live in a suburb where the Beagle crew called in back in 1839 and work at a university that eventually took the name of Charles Darwin.

But here’s the highlight of this post, brought to us by Freethought Blog The Ace of Glades:

Darwin was no racist, and Hitler was no ‘Darwinist’


2015-01-03

Culture Wars: Do Non-Human Animals Have Cultural Behaviours?

by Neil Godfrey

culturallivesAn interesting discussion has appeared in Salon.com. It’s an excerpt from The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by Whitehead and Rendell. Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

There are now, however, enough solidly demonstrated examples . . . for the study of social learning to be accepted as a valid and growing field within mainstream animal behavior science. . . While behavioral ecologists may question the evidence and suggest alternative explanations, they are generally not appalled by the very notion of chim­panzee or whale culture.

The fiercest critics come mostly from anthro­pology and psychology. Here, it is the very concept of animal culture that is anathema, not the nature of the evidence. It is part of the paradigm in most of the social sciences, insofar as the social sciences have paradigms, that humans are unique in having culture or, at least, in being overwhelmingly cultured. Culture in other species, if it exists, is an epiphenomenon, not ter­ribly important. It is the challenge to this paradigm that is being resisted.

And finally

We have got ourselves an idea of what we mean by “culture.” We have seen how controversial the notion that nonhumans might have culture is in some quarters. We have also seen how quickly things are changing in the way we understand these issues. read more »


2014-10-26

The Argument from Design Meets a Third Contender, and Bayes

by Neil Godfrey
William Paley

William Paley

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.

But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.

Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in that second case as in the first?

For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g., that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed in any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. (William Paley, Natural Theology, p. 1)

William Paley’s famous argument for creation by a designer consists of two distinct arguments joined together:

  • Artefacts like watches and living organisms like eyes have special functions. Watches to tell the time; various kinds of eyes to see in various types of environments: “each such entity exists because of its function” (p. 42);
  • Such functionality implies a designer both conscious and intelligent.

Biologists accept the first argument.

The second proposition seems right given the axiom that a cause must precede every effect. The effect is the ability to see. It must therefore follow that the eye was caused to exist for this specific function. In other words we have a teleological argument for the existence of eyes. They appeared for the purpose of enabling sight.

According to Paley there are only two alternatives. A complex organism, such the eye, must have come about either by

1. a conscious designer

or

2. blind chance aided by no other mechanism

read more »


2014-04-12

Priorities

by Neil Godfrey

While we clog our synapses with irrelevant ancient texts let’s hope Guy McPherson has it wrong . . . . .

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uy0pli8E9ic]

.

And part 2 with some pretty good priorities . . . . read more »


2014-01-02

Universal Floods and Australian Dreamtime Myths

by Neil Godfrey

firstfootprintsI have almost completed reading First Footprints: The Epic Story of the First Australians by Scott Cane. It is based on the recent TV series of the same name. So few Australians know much about the history of aboriginal Australia and reading/viewing a work like this inspires one to call out for making such knowledge a core part of every Australian school’s curriculum. It not only has the potential to encourage an unprecedented respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, but also the hope of deepening our understanding of the way our environment changes and challenges its inhabitants over the long term.

The story starts with the staggeringly incomprehensible eruption of Mount Toba in central Sumatra, Indonesia, around 74,000 years ago. It dropped up to three metres of ash over much of India and Pakistan. It pushed out a 40 metre tsunami that was registered in the English Channel. “It blew 3000 cubic kilometres of volcanic rock into the air, beyond the world’s atmosphere and at least 40 kilometres into space at a rate of about 10 million tonnes per second.”

http://folks.co.in/blog/2012/12/18/indo-europeans-2-natural-history-of-languages/

http://folks.co.in/blog/2012/12/18/indo-europeans-2-natural-history-of-languages/

Darkness covered much of the world; forests turned to grassland; extinctions occurred; temperatures fell; and a world already facing droughts from an emerging ice-age plunged into even more devastating “mega-droughts” and perhaps the coldest the earth has ever been in the past 125,000 years.

The human population suffered horribly — reduced, perhaps, to a population of 50,000 people in which there were as few as 4000-10,000 breeding females. (p. 13)

The first evidence for human settlement in Australia comes in the wake of this event. Human survivors downwind and east of the eruption may have been the first to arrive; or perhaps the first settlers belonged to those who began their trek from Africa and followed the southern Asian coastline till they reached here. The founding population of Australia came in a wave of around 1000 people — according to genetic research.

Spreading_homo_sapiens_la.svg

From Wikipedia

They were met with megafauna: 3 metre high kangaroos, 7 metre long “lizards”, 2 metre high “geese”, herds of “wombats” standing 2 metres at the shoulder, lions lurking in trees ready to pounce on prey below. One way to control wildlife threats was to burn the forests and long grass around their dwellings and so remove the cover for the predators. Aborigines have continued to use fire for the same purpose into modern times — clearing out the long grass to remove threats of snakes and expose the holes where edible goannas hid. Later more sophisticated “fire-farming” was developed and changed much of the landscape of Australia into liveable “gardens” of plots that were regularly recycled for hunting and foraging.

I’d love to talk also about the nomadic feats of these early colonizers, all that we can learn about them from their rock art, and the way they used “Dreaming” (collections of tales of myths) to hold their communities together and to even guide them across vast distances like topographical maps. But the real reason I began this post was to talk about something of interest to those of us who have grown up with the Bible as our “foundation stone” of “true myths”.

The Dreamtime and the Flood Myths

18,000 to 15,000 years ago retreating glaciers ushered in a “wholly new” (Holocene) era of a warmer and wetter world. Sea levels rose. read more »