Tag Archives: #Evolution

O’Huigin, Domhnall: Bow before your New Masters

Reblogged from Quora:

Hypothetical Questions: Which species would take over the world if humans went extinct?

271

 

Domhnall O’Huigin, Have a look at http://twominutehate.quora.com, don’t cost nothing.

Wellitwon’tbefecking dolphins, that’s for sure. Fishy*feckers. Because:

  1. No opposable thumbs.
  2. No means of creating fire/combustion, whose use for cooking is theorised to be responsible for some of our intelligence [1] and which having is a pre-requisite for escape velocity.**
  3. No means of locomotion on land.
  4. Pseudo-fish scumbags who lie about all day, hitting the pfish chronic [2].
Pictured: Pseudo-fish scumbags. Base image source: http://www.rawstory.com/

And it won’t be chimpanzees, orang-outans, gorillas, dogs, cats or bats. Sorry crazy cat-people. Why? Because that isn’t how evolution works. Evolution does not have a goal like “become sentient, take over the planet”, evolution is a thing that happens to a population when mutations prove favourable for survival.

Monkeys* do not become intelligent monkeys given enough time: they get – as a species – to continue existing, that’s the ‘prize’.

So it is worth reiterating, absent mankind and given zillions of years of the status quo, we will never see these species take over the world.

My candidate, my boy, for taking over the crown of Top of The World [3] is possibly the most alien order of life mankind has ever encountered….I give you: the octopus!

The octopus! Yesterday! Image: Boing Boing.

 

Utterly, utterly alien, here are some fun facts about the octopus.

  • They have three hearts. Almost like Klingons.
  • They are highly intelligent and are believed to have individual personalities [4].
  • They have four pairs of arms and can move on land as well as under water. The dexterity of their arms in combination is easily the equal of opposable thumbs and being able to move on land, they have no hard and fast obstacle to mastering fire.
  • They have vertebrate-like eyes, evolved independently. Beautiful, pretty, vertebrate eyes…
  • They are supremely able problem-solvers in terms of interacting with their environment, for example in the pursuit of food but have also been observed to play. They also build houses to protect them from under-sea weather [5].
  • There is growing evidence for octopus intelligence in general terms.
  • They appear to be evolved for:

selection of vertebrate-like neural organization and activity-dependent long-term synaptic plasticity. As octopuses and vertebrates are very remote phylogenetically, this convergence suggests the importance of the shared properties for the mediation of learning and memory. [6].

So, unlike chimps, cats, whatever, octopuses*** are already intelligent, they are just not technologically advanced in terms of manipulating their environment. This doesn’t count against them though in the terms of the question, it just means they haven’t got there yet.

After all, where were we a mere 60,000 years ago? Not launching rockets into space and trying to design interplanetary craft, that’s for sure. We were hiding from Castoroides in caves and the like. So their current status means nothing as regards to the question as written.

In summary therefore, their ascendance is a matter of when, not if.

I, for one, welcome our Cthulhoid Overlords!

Bow before your New Masters, mon-keigh! Image source: http://www.greatdreams.com

* I know.
** yeah, yeah: organic bio-ships which use silk cables as Space elevators. I’ve read Hothouse too. Next!
*** look it up, it’s legit.

[1] Cooking Up Bigger Brains
[2]

rawstory.com

Puff, puff, pass: Young dolphins deliberately chew puffer fish to get high with each other
[3] Top of the woild! White Heat
[4] Personality in octopuses
[5]‘Home’ choice and modification by juvenile Octopus vulgaris (Mollusca: Cephalopoda): specialized intelligence and tool use?
[6] The Octopus: A Model for a Comparative Analysis of the Evolution of Learning and Memory Mechanisms

dePierres, Marianne: Transformation Space (Sentients of Orion IV) (2010)

Manta ray: Alexander Safonov;  Space crafts: Dale O'Dell/Alamy;  Cover design: www.blacksheep-uk.com
Manta ray: Alexander Safonov;
Space crafts: Dale O’Dell/Alamy;
Cover design: http://www.blacksheep-uk.com

I haven’t really liked the other covers of the series that are like the one above. Nor have I liked the ones similar to the one below. But in the case of Transformation Space both covers have appealed to me. The bottom one is because of the eyes of the main model. In the above cover I love the details that reveal themselves as I review the picture along with the color combination.

Dum, da, rah, dum! The end is here.

 Like this … Nova projected a grave melancholia, a vast emptiness without end that made Mira want to weep.

<you know this? little one?>

We all know. Do you feel it too?

According to answers.com the definition of melancholia is:

Melancholia brings about a form of pessimism that sees the future as blocked and unchangeable. Such pessimism is accompanied by ideas of guilt and unworthiness, which find expression through self-accusation and can even give rise to delusion. …. Mental suffering engenders a continual desire for death.

How far would we be willing to go to get out of our melancholia? At what point does the melancholia cause us to tip over the boundary of no, nos? There are plenty of stories out there about just what happens to people who end up in this valley of bleakness in their attempts to relieve the pain.

The lovely thing about fiction is that the author gets to explore such subjects. The serial Sentients of Orion has explored the issue of how far one particular non-humanesque is willing to go in order to relieve its melancholia. Because its motivations and background is foreign and more or less unknown to us, we only get to see the effects of trying to relieve its pain.

The Sacqr are one of those effects. You know, the Sacqr are seriously bad-ass. Nothing kills them, except maybe something really big stepping on them. Weapons seem to have no effect and their voraciousness has no limit. Even Rast Randall is scared shit-less by them, and Rast does not frighten easily.  Being kept sensory deprived on the Post-Species vessel almost broke her but she pulled through and used her resilience to help keep the three survivors of that trip alive through Sacqr fun:

Jo-Jo’s muscles twitched with an uncontrollable desire to spring at the creature. Attack it before it could find him, surprise and aggression as his weapon. Not crouch here, shitting his pants, waiting for its maw to open and the bone-piercing stamen to extend down and skewer his skull.

Jo-Jo remembered how it was: ‘esque bodies flung across the floor of the food court on Dowl, Sacqr gorging on their body fluids. The adrenaline that had poured through him then now threatened to overcome his self-control, but Randall kept steady pressure on his head, pressing so hard that the pain across the bridge of his nose began to overshadow his fear.

How much garbage do you have to wade through in your life to be able to keep your cool in such a situation? There are people out there who go through similar experiences every day. Syria, Sudan and Eastern Burma spring to mind. Not much fun living there these days and I imagine what they have experienced is close to what the people of Araldis went through as it was invaded. Rast Randall had fought in plenty of conflicts/wars in her capacity as a mercenary leaving her with the tools to possibly survive what the Sacqr had to dish out.

I found myself admiring the inner strength Thales was able to dig up during Transformation Space. When I first got to know him, Thales seemed afraid of his own shadow. Yet by the end of the tale of the Sentients of Orion Thales emerges as a person who has discovered who and what he is and what price he is willing to pay to remain that person. That journey is one we all need to make. Some of us do. Some of us don’t.

Once again Marianne de Pierres caught me in the trap of her words and would not release me until Transformation Space was a done deal.


2011: Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for Transformation Space


Reviews:


Transformation Space on Amazon Canada


My review of:

  1. Dark Space
  2. Chaos Space
  3. Mirror Space

Transformation space 1

 

 

dePierres, Marianne: Mirror Space (The Sentients of Orion III) (2009)

mirror space

“Love’s a bitch, ain’t she?”

Not for me, but certainly for Rast Randall and Jo-Jo Rasterovitch who have both fallen for Baronessa Mira Fedor from Araldis. When Mira is captured by the Extropists (nascent humanesques/post-species) Mira shows why Rast and Jo-Jo care so much for her. Resilience is the quality I find most describes the young refugee from Araldis. I’m not certain if resilience is something that most find attractive, but I know that I do. Part of that attraction lies in my own history and perhaps part of it has to do with resilient people radiating some sort of invisible strength. Fighting her fears and going on in spite of the traumas that come her way signifies the kind of courage the young Baronessa has.

Insignia has shown Mira how utterly alien the thought patterns of other creatures can be. Wanton-Poda is about to show her how “evolved” humanesques no longer have much in common with their roots. Indeed, their morals are amoral seen from a Western point of view. Through this, dePierres shows us just how different our own cultures can be in this mix that our global village has become. What one ethnic background considers only proper another might consider sociopathic or paranoid or cruel. Judging others based on our own backgrounds is unwise yet impossible to avoid. Again and again Mira is confronted with the need to reach beyond her own way of thinking. But it ain’t easy!

Tekton is from highly competitive Lostol. Whether the whole population is like him is impossible for me to say, but he and his cousin both seem supremely self-absorbed and willing to do anything to win over the other. Sole (the Entity/God/strange intelligence) knows to use these two qualities against them in its attempt to achieve its own goals. We don’t find out what these goals are until the end of the Sentients of Orion serial (yes, I cheated). As we see in Mirror Space, Tekton learns what being helpless is all about and finds his narcissism challenged. Perhaps there is potential for change in him.

One person who seems to have no hope of changing is Trin Pelligrini. He keeps on insisting that Mira has run off and fights Cass Mulravey for power of the survivors. His ego needs constant stroking, one reason he is so fond of Djeserit. Yet this utter and complete belief in his own superiority might be what the survivors need in order to stay alive.

In fact, characters like Trin Pelligrini, Lancer Farr and Tektor Lostol are fascinating people. I find there is something about deviant fictional characters that makes a story much better. However much I hate it whenever such a person turns up in my own life, they surely make for a deeper understanding of the human psyche. Literature serves this function, along with many others, for me.

One thing that is certain is that Marianne de Pierres has the flow needed to grab hold of me and drag me along in her story. Annoyingly, yet wonderfully, I find myself unable to resist her pull.

Orion star chart
Orion star chart (road map)

Reviews:


Mirror Space on Amazon UK


My review of:

  1. Dark Space
  2. Chaos Space

Sadedin, Suzanne: How the Woman got her Period (Quora, 2014)

Jean-Christophe Lousse, Jacques Donnez Laparoscopic observation of spontaneous human ovulation. Fertil. Steril.: 2008, 90(3);833-4 PMID:18440526
Jean-Christophe Lousse, Jacques Donnez Laparoscopic observation of spontaneous human ovulation. Fertil. Steril.: 2008, 90(3);833-4 PMID:18440526

HOW THE WOMAN GOT HER PERIOD

Contrary to popular belief, most mammals do not menstruate. In fact,it’s a feature exclusive to the higher primates and certain bats*. What’s more, modern women menstruate vastly more than any other animal. And it’s bloody stupid (sorry). A shameful waste of nutrients, disabling, and a dead giveaway to any nearby predators. To understand why we do it, you must first understand that youhave been lied to, throughout your life, about the most intimate relationship you will ever experience: the mother-fetus bond.

pregnant-women
Source: Parenting with love

Isn’t pregnancy beautiful? Look at any book about it. There’s the future mother, one hand resting gently on her belly. Her eyes misty with love and wonder. You sense she will do anything to nurture and protect this baby. And when you flip open the book, you read about more about this glorious symbiosis, the absolute altruism of female physiology designing a perfect environment for the growth of her child.If you’ve actually been pregnant, you might know that the real story has some wrinkles. Those moments of sheer unadulterated altruism exist, but they’re interspersed with weeks or months of overwhelming nausea, exhaustion, crippling backache, incontinence, blood pressure issues and anxiety that you’ll be among the 15% of women who experience life-threatening complications.

From the perspective of most mammals, this is just crazy. Most mammals sail through pregnancy quite cheerfully, dodging predators and catching prey, even if they’re delivering litters of 12. So what makes us so special? The answer lies in our bizarre placenta. In most mammals, the placenta, which is part of the fetus, just interfaces with the surface of the mother’s blood vessels, allowing nutrients to cross to the little darling. Marsupials don’t even let their fetuses get to the blood: they merely secrete a sort of milk through the uterine wall. Only a few mammalian groups, including primates and mice, have evolved what is known as a “hemochorial” placenta, and ours is possibly the nastiest of all.

Hemochorial placenta a disadvantage for humans
Source: Colorado State University

Inside the uterus we have a thick layer of endometrial tissue, which contains only tiny blood vessels. The endometrium seals off our main blood supply from the newly implanted embryo. The growing placenta literally burrows through this layer, rips into arterial walls and re-wires them to channel blood straight to the hungry embryo. It delves deep into the surrounding tissues, razes them and pumps the arteries full of hormones so they expand into the space created. It paralyzes these arteries so the mother cannot even constrict them.

What this means is that the growing fetus now has direct, unrestricted access to its mother’s blood supply. It can manufacture hormones and use them to manipulate her. It can, for instance, increase her blood sugar, dilate her arteries, and inflate her blood pressure to provide itself with more nutrients. And it does. Some fetal cells find their way through the placenta and into the mother’s bloodstream. They will grow in her blood and organs, and even in her brain, for the rest of her life, making her a genetic chimera**.

Cell free fetal DNA shedding into maternal bloodstream | Source: Wikipedia commons
Cell free fetal DNA shedding into maternal bloodstream |
Source: Wikipedia commons

This might seem rather disrespectful. In fact, it’s sibling rivalry at its evolutionary best. You see, mother and fetus have quite distinct evolutionary interests. The mother ‘wants’ to dedicate approximately equal resources to all her surviving children, including possible future children, and none to those who will die. The fetus ‘wants’ to survive, and take as much as it can get. (The quotes are to indicate that this isn’t about what they consciously want, but about what evolution tends to optimize.)

There’s also a third player here – the father, whose interests align still less with the mother’s because her other offspring may not be his. Through a process called genomic imprinting, certain fetal genes inherited from the father can activate in the placenta. These genes ruthlessly promote the welfare of the offspring at the mother’s expense.

How did we come to acquire this ravenous hemochorial placenta which gives our fetuses and their fathers such unusual power? Whilst we can see some trend toward increasingly invasive placentae within primates, the full answer is lost in the mists of time. Uteri do not fossilize well.

The consequences, however, are clear. Normal mammalian pregnancy is a well-ordered affair because the mother is a despot. Her offspring live or die at her will; she controls their nutrient supply, and she can expel or reabsorb them any time. Human pregnancy, on the other hand, is run by committee – and not just any committee, but one whose members often have very different, competing interests and share only partial information. It’s a tug-of-war that not infrequently deteriorates to a tussle and, occasionally, to outright warfare. Many potentially lethal disorders, such as ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia can be traced to mis-steps in this intimate game.

What does all this have to do with menstruation? We’re getting there.

From a female perspective, pregnancy is always a huge investment. Even more so if her species has a hemochorial placenta. Once that placenta is in place, she not only loses full control of her own hormones, she also risks hemorrhage when it comes out. So it makes sense that females want to screen embryos very, very carefully. Going through pregnancy with a weak, inviable or even sub-par fetus isn’t worth it.

Endometrium | Source: Wikipedia Commons
Endometrium | Source: Wikipedia Commons

That’s where the endometrium comes in. You’ve probably read about how the endometrium is this snuggly, welcoming environment just waiting to enfold the delicate young embryo in its nurturing embrace. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. Researchers, bless their curious little hearts, have tried to implant embryos all over the bodies of mice. The single most difficult place for them to grow was – the endometrium.

Far from offering a nurturing embrace, the endometrium is a lethal testing-ground which only the toughest embryos survive. The longer the female can delay that placenta reaching her bloodstream, the longer she has to decide if she wants to dispose of this embryo without significant cost. The embryo, in contrast, wants to implant its placenta as quickly as possible, both to obtain access to its mother’s rich blood, and to increase her stake in its survival. For this reason, the endometrium got thicker and tougher – and the fetal placenta got correspondingly more aggressive.

But this development posed a further problem: what to do when the embryo died or was stuck half-alive in the uterus? The blood supply to the endometrial surface must be restricted, or the embryo would simply attach the placenta there. But restricting the blood supply makes the tissue weakly responsive to hormonal signals from the mother – and potentially more responsive to signals from nearby embryos, who naturally would like to persuade the endometrium to be more friendly. In addition, this makes it vulnerable to infection, especially when it already contains dead and dying tissues.

The solution, for higher primates, was to slough off the whole superficial endometrium – dying embryos and all – after every ovulation that didn’t result in a healthy pregnancy. It’s not exactly brilliant, but it works, and most importantly, it’s easily achieved by making some alterations to a chemical pathway normally used by the fetus during pregnancy. In other words, it’s just the kind of effect natural selection is renowned for: odd, hackish solutions that work to solve proximate problems. It’s not quite as bad as it seems, because in nature, women would experience periods quite rarely – probably no more than a few tens of times in their lives between lactational amenorrhea and pregnancies***.

We don’t really know how our hyper-aggressive placenta is linked to the other traits that combine to make humanity unique. But these traits did emerge together somehow, and that means in some sense the ancients were perhaps right. When we metaphorically ‘ate the fruit of knowledge’ – when we began our journey toward science and technology that would separate us from innocent animals and also lead to our peculiar sense of sexual morality – perhaps that was the same time the unique suffering of menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth was inflicted on women. All thanks to the evolution of the hemochorial placenta.

Suzanne Sadedin, PhD in Zoology from Monash University.
Links:
The evolution of menstruation: A new model for genetic assimilation
Genetic conflicts in human pregnancy.
Menstruation: a nonadaptive consequence of uterin… [Q Rev Biol. 1998]
Natural Selection of Human Embryos: Decidualizing Endometrial Stromal Cells Serve as Sensors of Embryo Quality upon Implantation
Credits: During my pregnancy I was privileged to audit a class at Harvard University by the eminent Professor David Haig, whose insight underlies much of this research. Thanks also to Edgar A. Duenez-Guzman, who reminded me of crucial details. All errors are mine alone.
* Dogs undergo vaginal bleeding, but do not menstruate. Elephant shrews were previously thought to menstruate, but it’s now believed that these events were most likely spontaneous abortions.
** Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains (Thanks to Robyn Adair for the link).
*** I initially said 7-10 times based on my course notes, but haven’t been able to source that statistic so I’m assuming I misheard. One older published estimate for hunter gatherers was around 50, but this relied on several assumptions that suggest it’s a significant over-estimate. In particular, it includes 3 whole years of menstruation before reproduction (36 periods) for no obvious reason.

We can make an estimate from studies of the Hadza of Tanzania, who reach puberty around 18, bear an  average of 6.2 children in their lives (plus 2-3 noticeable miscarriages) starting at 19, and go  through menopause at about 43 if they survive that long (about 50%  don’t). Around 20% of babies die in their first year; the remainder  breastfeed for about 4 years. So this is 25 years of reproductive life, of which about 20 are spent lactating, and 4.5 pregnant. That would leave only about 6 periods, but amenorrhoea would cease during the last year of lactation for each child, so this figure is too low. On the other hand,  this calculation ignores the ~50% of women who died before menopause,  miscarriages, months spent breastfeeding infants who would die, and periods of food scarcity, all of which would further reduce lifetime  menstruation. Stats from: www.fas.harvard.edu/%7Ehbe-lab/acrobatfiles/who%20tends%20hadza%20children.pdf


Photographs added by humanitysdarkerside

Hicks, Michael R.: Final Battle (In Her Name – Redemption) (2009)

Final Battle
Cover art by Michael Hicks. Stock images from bought from Dreamstime.com and edited in Photoshop

I feel the need to warn readers of the Redemption trilogy. Toward the end of Final Battle there is a violent scene that could trigger those of you who have experienced abuse (sexual). It is relevant to the story. Now you are warned. In spite of my warning, my personal belief is that the story of Reza Gard and his way toward his destiny can be read by older young adults and, of course, ancients like myself.

Reza’s near-death-experience and meeting with the First Empress put him in a coma and there he remained for the next half-year. Final Battlefelt as much about Jodi Mackenzie as about Reza. She has some rough times ahead of her but does her very best to be a person who remains true to what she considers honorable.
Honor is not something one would equate with Thorella (Reza’s arch-enemy) or the new president, Borge. These two are men who are so caught up in their own vision of reality that they have lost all grip on the real world. Sadly, they are both highly intelligent and extremely wealthy and therefore able to adjust the world to fit their psychosis. That is, up to a certain point. Hicks writes insanity and greed well.

Now that I think about it, I have met people like Thorella and Borge although these people have been without Thorella and Borge’s means. It is not an experience I would recommend. I prefer people who live with gentler versions of reality.

It turns out Reza has a son, the first male child born to Kreelans in 100000 years who is able to function in society. The Kreelan history is a tragic one. Even if they brought it upon themselves through the choices of their ancestors, the tragedy is still a fact. Now there is finally hope. Yet something is amiss with the Kreelans. They seem to have lost all interest in fighting. One might even say that they are experiencing a mass-depression.

Reza is essential to the Kreelan race. All that he has gone through has honed him into a key that is capable of unlocking their next step in evolution.

I am going to end this review by saying: When I started reviewing Empire I discovered I had forgotten a couple of things. I opened up my e-book and that was it. Michael R. Hicks forced me to read the trilogy again. That is a pretty mean trick when it comes to me. After all it had not been long since I read it the first time. I imagine Hicks is going to pull the same stunt the next time I open up Empire. This trilogy is a definite keep.


 Reviews:


My review of Empire and Confederation

Bryson, Bill: A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)

I’m no scientist, but I love science. There’s so much weird stuff in the universe that’s confusing, and confusion is fun. Confusion makes it possible for me to look for answers. Bill Bryson is no scientist either. He’s just a regular person (well kind of) who tries to make the universe comprehensible to a regular person like myself. I guess that’s what has made A Short History of Nearly Everything a popular science book about popular science.

Bill Bryson’s usual job is as an author who writes travel books. I’ve listened to a couple of them and they are presented with talent. He seems to be a curious person who does loads of research in his chosen field.

Usually, when Bill explains why he chose to write his book about nearly everything, his says that he was bored to sleep in his youth by the scientific presentations by teachers and authors. He wanted to see if he could do better.

In A Short History Bill takes us on a journey from the start of the universe up to today, and he questions what tomorrow will be like. On the road we learn bits and pieces about theories and their creators. The bits and pieces we learn about are astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry and paleontology. For the most part Bryson uses words that are accessible. Rather than present the reader with incomprehensible equations, he uses analogies that illustrate the question being asked.

To get to the point where he felt he could write something about the subject, Bill has gone through a large and varied reading list. He has also used a large group of people to help him with his project, experts within the various fields of interest.

I find this kind of “science” interesting, so I guess I’m the target group. For anyone wanting to learn a little about “nearly everything”, this is a book to read. While little kids wouldn’t get much out of it, young adults should be just fine with Bill’s writing.

If you want to learn more about the various fields presented in A Short History, use the bibliography at the end of the book at a guide.

An illustrated edition of the book was released in November 2005. Abridged and unabridged audio versions should also be available.

  • Aventis Prize for best general science book – 2004
  • Descartes Prize for science communication – 2005
  • Nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize – 2005

Pratchett, Terry: Strata (1981)

Cover by Josh Kirby

Kin Karad works for the Company. Her job is to oversee the creation of planets. Some of the workers like to play jokes on future inhabitants. The one she has discovered this time is a plesiosaur in the wrong stratum holding a placard reading “End Nuclear Testing Now”. While she is impressed with the inventiveness of the culprit, Kin is getting tired of her life. It has been a long one.

Then she meets a mysterious person who invites her on a journey. Kin Karad decides to go and when she gets to the spaceship she discovers that she is alone, but will be picking up two companions – a kung called Marco Farfarer, and Silver the Shandi. They are told that they will be going to a flat world.

The spaceship takes off and off they go on their adventure.

Strata precedes Pratchett’s Discworld series, but we clearly see how the foundations are laid for the later series. Kin Karad and her fellow explorers are fun characters with clearly defined personalities. Plays on words and concepts are obvious from the first pages. Pratchett was a pretty good author even back in his early days.