Monday, June 25, 2012

"Evolution" Manual update required.


Mutation and Natural Selection facilitate Evolution. Sex accelerates it. Death implements it stepwise.

Consider any species in their wild habitat. A male mates with another female, has sex, produces an offspring. Mutation causes offspring to be physically strong and better suited to the environment. Natural Selection allows it to outlive other individuals of the same species. As the offspring spawns, mating with multiple individuals of the opposite sex, it passes on the favored genes to its children. The good gene spreads through the whole population only when other individuals WITHOUT that gene have died out - i.e. died naturally, killed by predator/competitor, accident, calamity etc.

Consider the modern day human population.

We have outgrown evolution.
We have become too populous for evolution to take its natural course.

So many people are born with so many beneficial mutations. (Richard Dawkins on how the eye evolved)
But for these genes to spread, these individuals reproduce a lot and must outlive the rest of us.
This is of course not feasible because of the following reasons:

  1. People don't just die these days, so the genetically superior individuals aren't able to outlive the rest:
    • Life expectancy is more, technology assists people who have lower than average body to liver longer and healthier
    • Murder is illegal. (animals kill for food or mating)
    • Wars, politics, road accidents and other man made dangers do cause a lot of death but they aren't selective. Many people with good genes die an illogical death.  
  2. Reproduction
    • Government laws and financial condition limit the maximum number of kids you can have.
    • Social constructs very strongly discourage producing multiple kids with multiple mates.
The above reasons, coupled with the fact that there is just too much human suffering in the world today, implores us to consider the possibility of taking evolution into our own hands - evolution at least for our own species. We can use this to our advantage: to enhance our bodies and enjoy life better, to move towards peace and reduced suffering and to flourish as one of the various species belonging to this planet.

Genetic Engineering may one day become so awesome that scientists will go around identifying people with good genes and injecting them into fetus of the next generation of children thereby manually implementing evolution. Considering the possibilities of all that can go wrong in achieving that (biological hazards) and the political gambits played by those who might have selfish (financial) interest in seeing that happen (or not happen) would send jitters through your spine. Thankfully it will be some time before that happens.

Till then there is a lot of simple non-technical things that we can do ourselves to help evolution along and help ourselves grow as a society. For starters, we can choose to abort our fetus (when pregnant) if they have been detected to be malformed - this would save the parents and the child from living a life of agony. If we become aware that we ourselves are carrying disorder causing genes, we can consciously chose not to produce babies of our own and ensure that our bad genes die with us - adoption or artificial insemination/surrogate womb are always options. Staying close to nature and avoiding harmful radiation and chemicals will help protect us and our children from bad DNA mutations.

Studying the principles of evolution can also serve as guidelines to ensure the continued prosperity in a different way. It turns out, that evolution works at many levels - it not only enhances our hardware but also our software.

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Over the past few days, I have realized that looking at various social constructs from an evolutionary point of view would allow us to analyse the root causes of various social stigmas.

At barcamp9 mumbai @mizarcle (her blog) talked about rape and made us aware that the only solution that would work is to educate little girls and boys and bring them up in an environment conducive to strengthening their moral fibre. Of course that would mean that in the ideal situation where all parents start to educate their young ones now, the resultant effect will take 20 years to completely manifest. Till then all ladies and children are on their on, because no kind of punishment has proven to be a deterrent to curb this plague.

So we have all this talk about "educating kids", but what do you actually tell them when you bring up the topic? What words do you use? Before I get to that, here's a little background first.

Rape stems from the software or personality traits built into our genes. Millions of years of evolution had selected these traits and brought them forward. These traits like Jealousy, Hunger for Power, Deception, Aggression etc. were essential in the wild. They caused the physically fit males to challenge other males and gain exclusive mating rights to multiple females to spawn multiple kids. These traits enabled the genetically superior ones to pass on their genes to the next generation unhindered by predators, competing genetically inferior individuals and environmental factors.

As the gene for smartness faded in, these other genes which cause Jealousy, Hunger for Power, Deception, Aggression etc. (lets call them "Socially Discordant Genes") did not fade out. And when men started forming societies, these genes caused problems and became the source of many social evils. Rape is one of them.
(Related:
But something funny has happened for humans in the last 10,000 years—their civilization has dramatically changed. Sudden, quick change is something civilization has the ability to do, and the reason that can be awkward is that our evolutionary biology can’t move nearly as fast. 
From: Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think)

Society is a good thing - the concept is that different people living together get to specialize at different kinds of work. (Watch Linux Torvalds opinion on this)

So coming back to what to tell kids. Religion, was used to scare people right from their childhood that living an immoral life would lead to pain after death. That no longer works. Kids now days ask lots of question and search for inherent logic behind everything they ought to do or is done to them. Science has triumphed over religion. Until we come up with a solid way to appeal to their demanding rationality, we cannot hope to make any lasting impact.

Taking my own childhood self as a reference, this is what I would tell my kids:

Beta, today let me explain to you about certain things that you should or shouldn't do and why. You remember the stuff about evolution we read in the encyclopedia the other day? This awesome body that we have has benefited from evolution. Look at all our organs - two eyes that enable us to see such minute details, ears and voice to share thoughts with each other, agile body with articulated limbs allow us to perform precise actions. Mutation is the basis of evolution. Each of us are different from each other. Some are good at painting, others good at surgery, and yet others have a knack for engineering. So in the end we can see that for the most part we all are very alike, but its just the little parts that we have that are different from each other that allow us to live in a society. As we grow up, we figure out what we are good at and make that our career. This is how a society functions - mutual understand and trust are the basis of it.
But this basic foundation of society is threatened by certain personality traits that are common to all of us - traits that evolution didn't have time to eradicate. So we must take care of those ourselves now. Evolution needs a little help from us because we have become too many. As a person grows, s/he starts treating people like they treat him/her. Its a basic reactive nature. Bad people are bad because bad things have happened to them. Some find the strength to turn around and become nice again. Its because they soon realize that the reactive nature also works the other way - "If you want people to be nice to you, you yourself should be nice to them in the first place"
So now you may ask, why aren't people nice to each other in the first place?
Well, its probably because of the socially discordant genes that we said are still within us - feelings of jealousy, superiority, hunger for power, deception, aggression etc. All these feelings were very essential out in the wild when we were still living as monkeys :) Nature was harsh and there were so many things that could kill you before you had your own kids. So these feeling enabled the strong individuals to live longer and pass on their "other" good genes along with these discordant genes to their kids.
Then we started living in societies to diminish the brunt of nature on daily living. We flourished. But those discordant feelings still fuel a lot of social evils - like rape, murder, child abuse etc. To get to the logic this far, many of us would require access to education. You are lucky that you had this chance and are able to comprehend the situation.
I have given you this food for thought. Spend some time thinking about how you are going to choose to behave with others. You are young now, as you grow, life will become tougher. It is your attitude that will decide if you reach contentment in your life - what shape your career will take, what kind of people you want to surround yourself with - how much they love and respect you, whether you will find a soul mate in your life partner, have kids of your own and your relationship with nature. You decide what out of these is the most important to you and focus on maximizing it.
That said, you will need to fend off any aggressive people who won't think twice about messing with you. You need to be physically and mentally fit and get stay grounded regardless of how sour the situation becomes. Developing that attitude will require quite some time and a way to get their is through sports. Take part in adventure sports and endurance sports. They will also help you manage the emotions caused by the discordant genes - giving you a vent. Sports help develop mental discipline and physical strength, both of which might be required in an emergency.
I think I will stop now. Lots of information to digest. For now lets just go down for a dip in the swimming pool. We will have a multi-lap race, loser does the dishes today. Let's go!!!

So that is the kind of dialogue I would have with my little one.
I think I would need to make it a bit more easier to understand - but who knows, the kids of the future might be way smarter than us. In any case I still have 10-15 years before I actually get to do this :)

Further Reading: