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    • CommentTimeOct 14th 2010
    What about SCHISMATRIX? Probably the best and most interesting novel in that respect.
    • CommentTimeOct 15th 2010
    Hmm, since you're keen on paleo, might be worth having a look at some fossils. Cambrian explosion life-forms are mid-blowing in their diversity and general bizarreness. Give some thought to the whole form giving rise to function bit too.

    Seriously, what's not to love about these guys?

    For some great fantasty bio-tech, Dresden Codak has awesome ideas, well worth a look.

    Genetics-wise, there's so much we're on the cusp of now, it's really just extrapolating current emerging science to being common-place. Stem cell medicine, engineered bacteria, immune enhancement, etc. are all ideas that are already becoming reality, with some interesting (& gruesome) potential (organ farming, anyone?). It's also worth considering the ecological implications of extrapolated bio-tech (GM agriculture, algae farming for bio-fuels, bacterial energy plants, nano-tech, etc.).

    Have fun, and if you need an ecological advisor, shout!
    • CommentTimeOct 15th 2010 edited
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeOct 15th 2010

    I used to name my test servers after Burgess Shale fauna. There are still a few around: Opabinia, Anomalocaris, and Pikaia.
    • CommentTimeOct 15th 2010
    Greffins book is strange, it's extremely good, but at times it feels like it wants to be three different books. One is a retrospect of his life growing up as a punker intellectual, full of dismay at what the punk scene in the 80s ultimately devolved into and his rather astounding life as an academic. (He was involved in the dig that discovered Tiktaalik, and his account of his first time leaving the US to do field research in the Amazonian basin is amazing.) The other part is an Dawkins stile argument against religion, though argued from a far more personal vantage point. The third, and the one that applies most to this thread, is there are parts where he stops the whole narrative of the book and will explain certain functions of evolution, he actually argues against natural selection as the sole determining factor in evolution. (sexual preference of females for one) And challenges the idea that Evolution has some sort of ideal guiding principle.


    Those guys are frighteningly awesome. Also, I fucking love Dresden Codak, it's really one of the best drawn web comics out there, more people need to read it.

    re: Internaut

    You know, it never even occurred to me that there would be a, seems kind of obvious in retrospect Thanks, these are extremely useful.
  1.  (9043.26)
    he actually argues against natural selection as the sole determining factor in evolution. (sexual preference of females for one) And challenges the idea that Evolution has some sort of ideal guiding principle.

    I'm generally not a big fan of emphasizing sex selection, because I think it's an endgame thing that starts to matter after natural selection has shaped a species into its niche. Thing is, in trying to respond with that statement I wrote this whole long thing that I think might turn into a blog post and maybe a story. Thanks for the inspiration.

    One thing, though: I think one of our species's greatest advantages is that it can tend to look beyond sex, put it off for a little while even, in order to make something truly and inherently awesome. That ends up paying off with more sex and better survival, usually, and it's that interplay that I think is pretty cool about us. I also think it's something that a person could write some pretty thematic fiction about.
    • CommentTimeOct 16th 2010
    Well I would also argue that Sexual selection is actually still natural selection. Social systems are very similar to ecosystems. People who are better adapted to survive in a social involvement are responding to the same imperative and mechanisms as an ecosystem. It dose cause some problem, when survival in a social system runs contrary to survival in an ecosystem. I would hold the case of the Irish Elk up as an example of this, and to highlight the effects sexual selection can have. In the Irish Elk, females preferred members of the species with larger antlers, which caused there antlers to grow to truly enormous sizes, this was ultimately problematic because it leads to massive neck strain among other problems. Eventually because the huge antlers where so big, the species lost it's niche and went extinct. This is the advantage of humans, we have the ability to foresee such problems.
      CommentAuthorJohn Skylar
    • CommentTimeOct 16th 2010 edited
    Well, I don't think our genes are actually capable of forseeing such problems. For example, some women get intense back problems because their breasts are too large. There isn't even a reason for a woman's breasts to be "inflated" when she's not actually nursing; we're the only species where it's all the time. But, we do have the ability to correct for such things using our wits, via breast reduction surgery for example.

    I think the clearer example of sex selection is birdsong, actually. Elk antlers have a defensive purpose and could be used against predators, whereas birdsong is pretty much inherently detrimental to the survival of the singing bird. The females notice you, but this is the equivalent of getting noticed by wrestling alligators. You're going and painting a big sign on yourself that says "hey I'm really tasty and I'm RIGHT HERE," just to reproduce.

    For people the social-ecosystem equivalence is strong because we can use social prowess to get others to help us survive, making social traits part of our natural selection fitness. Less so for sparrows, so to start singing their hearts out is pretty much deleterious from the get-go, but they evolved the trait anyway, just to show off how awesome they are to their potential mates. I think that drives a clear spike between sexual selection and natural selection.
    • CommentTimeOct 16th 2010
    Well it does. And neither I nor he are saying that Natural Selection doesnt effect evolution, it would be madness to say it didnt. More, it's just that traits passed down to ones ancestors are determined by more then just natural selection. Sexual selection is one example, but there are others. I was reading an article the other day that proudly proclaimed that "That Darwin has been proven wrong" thinking at first that it was some sort of creationist article I clicked on it ready to refute it. But as I read it, while the title was defiantly fallacious and spectacular, it's contents where actually rather interesting. It posited that geology had a greater effect on animal population and decent, then natural selection. While I dont agree with the article in it's entirety, geology definitely plays some roll in decent, as does sexual selection. Another fact is, just blind dumb luck. Doesnt matter how fit you are, or how well adapted to your environment you are, there's always factors outside you control that can undo your entire species. (Mega-Mammals where very well suited to there ice age environments of freeze and then thaw, but it was just there dumb luck that they where also tasty -if you follow the theory that they where whipped out by early man - if you dont, then it was just there dumb luck that the ice age retreated and killed off almost all mega-mammals.) It's also dumb luck if you happen to be well adapted to an island environment, and suddenly some foreign boats men bring along there pet cat, (I've heard it posited that a single cat may have whipped out the entire population of the Dodo.) or a volcano erupts killing 90% of biodiversity on the island. Evolution is a fickle process, and I dont think any one process can be used to explain it in whole, honestly, there are effects and process to it that I am sure we havnt even begun to understand. Although I will say this, really, when push comes to shove, it's all still natural selection, because it's all still nature, so I think how we posit the word nature in this context is incorrect.
  2.  (9043.30)
    but it was just there dumb luck

    So is everything. That's why it's natural :). It becomes artificial when the hand guiding it is no longer invisible/nonexistent.

    That's really the beauty of natural selection, isn't it? It says there's no such thing as luck. There's variation, there's adaptation, and there's your environment. If you've made yourself adaptable enough to survive anything, you're not lucky. You're a quantified badass, the "fittest." Maybe it looks like luck, but when you get down to it, the most adaptable creature beats the volcano.
    • CommentTimeOct 19th 2010
    I suppose, but the classical definition of fitness has to do with how many children you sire, and I dont think that that's correct. I think we need to change our definition of Fitness, it encompass a whole lot more factors then it did when the model was made back in the 1940a.
    • CommentTimeOct 19th 2010

    Fitness should address adaptability and range for a group so we see the best traits expressed. If there is only one survivor - that's a big fail.
  3.  (9043.33)
    Yeah, I'm hoping Romeo will provide more of an explanation of how our definition of fitness needs to change. It's an interesting suggestion, I just don't know what direction he wants to take it and I'm curious.