Suppose Evolution is the Real Answer

Cryozombie

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Suppose man is evolved from ealier species as has been put forth by science...

Why our current form? While we are adaptable and have a great survival instinct, could we not have been "better".

Two legs doesnt seem like much of a balance thing... why not at least a tail to help even things out?

Note, I'm not looking for a "Science vs Creationism" debate... but rather veiws on why we would have evolved into a complex yet fairly imperfect form we are now, and what "improvements" we could have developed had to make us "better"... camouflage, venom, claws, ability to regrow a bitten off limb, etc...

and why?
 

Archangel M

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According to evolution simple survival is proof of being "the best" isn't it? Not to mention attaining the top of the food chain.

Brains and tool use apparently trumps venom and claws in the long run.
 

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Suppose man is evolved from ealier species as has been put forth by science...

Why our current form? While we are adaptable and have a great survival instinct, could we not have been "better".

Two legs doesnt seem like much of a balance thing... why not at least a tail to help even things out?

Note, I'm not looking for a "Science vs Creationism" debate... but rather veiws on why we would have evolved into a complex yet fairly imperfect form we are now, and what "improvements" we could have developed had to make us "better"... camouflage, venom, claws, ability to regrow a bitten off limb, etc...

and why?

Why not?

Evolution is a very very long series of random changes. If something works to give an advantage, the organism with the advantage will often have more living offspring and the change is kept and passed on to future generations; if not, the organism tends to have fewer offspring, and that change is discarded on a long timescale.

This is an oversimplification; there are also dead ends and misfires, and some very basic adaptations appear to have evolved independently in vastly different species.

You seem to be looking for a guiding hand that led us to be better than other species that competed with us and lost/became extinct along the way. The advantageous adaptations are essentially random; some build on each other, while others may in fact contradict one another as circumstances change over many thousands of years.

As a species, we have a number of advantages that one could argue have lead to our domination of the planet, chief among these being a rather large brain that facilitated the development (among other things) of complex spoken and written languages, and very dextrous hands with opposable thumbs to allow us to use and manipulate tools (from clubs to the keyboard I'm typing this on).

Wanting mutant powers like the X-Men (camoflage, venom, claws, regeneration all fit into this category) is fantasy at this point... obviously there was never a clear advantage to be had from such adaptations in our development or the random mutations that would have led to these (totally cool) attributes. We can still hope for the benign gamma ray burst or the bite of a radioactive spider of course...
 

Thesemindz

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Well, if the aquatic ape hypothesis is correct, perhaps we didn't develop those attributes because they weren't benficial to a semi-aquatic mammal.

Personally, I'm not convinced that we have reached the end of evolution either. Once we begin to inhabit other planets we will probably see a divergence in the evolution of man. Humans who live on high gravity planets will probably evolve in a slightly different direction than those who live on low gravity ones. Other factors, such as the implementation of cybernetic enhancements, atmoshperic qualities of different inhabited planets, and exposure to the light from other suns will most likely also effect the way humanity evolves.

In a few million years, we may appear as divergent within our own species as we seem to be from those animals from which we "may" have evolved.


-Rob
 

JDenver

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I remember reading one futurist who postulated that, several hundred years from now, C-sections will be mandatory, which will facilitate the further enlarging of our brains.

As has been posted, intelligence, and the capacity to make tangible future predictions, have trumped the ability to bite or fly.

Also, I take a hugely optimistic view of our standing posture. We're one of the only creatures (THE only?) who's spine is vertical to the ground. It reaches from heaven to earth. This facilitates our spiritual pursuits.
 

tellner

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Suppose man is evolved from ealier species as has been put forth by science...
OK. Let's suppose this is so. There's a bunch of misunderstandings and assumptions in the message. It's not your fault. Science is badly taught for the most part.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there's no Grand Destiny that says species "give way" to "higher" or "more evolved" species. Evolution just means change. Some populations of a species may change over time until they are so different from other related species that we say "Let's call them something else". Other populations might resemble there ancestors more closely. It says nothing about who is more "advanced" or anything like that.

The descendants of some fish colonized dry land. It didn't mean that fish populations still in the water suddenly got their pink slips.

Why our current form? While we are adaptable and have a great survival instinct, could we not have been "better".

The second thing to realize is that evolution doesn't design. It doesn't optimize. Things that successfully produce offspring successfully produce offspring. Things which don't don't and are removed from the board.

Evolution throws up some wonderful features. It also throws up a bunch of horrible kludges that just happen to give their possessors enough of a leg up to do slightly better than whatever else is out there. Many times it's a slight change in the rate at which something develops. A tiny alteration in the development of the jaw and teeth in lizards produces bird beaks. Teeny genetic shifts in the rates at which cells are laid down produce a huge variety of beaks.

Stuff also gets reused. Lots of enzymes result from slight genetic variations on existing ones. They have make reactions in cells happen at different rates which can have dramatic effects on overall biochemistry. It probably wouldn't be the way you'd design it if you had a purpose in mind. But what happened worked. It allowed the individuals who had the trait to be slightly more successful at passing on their DNA. So it stuck until things changed that made the individuals with the trait a tiny bit less successful at the Great Game.

Two legs doesnt seem like much of a balance thing... why not at least a tail to help even things out?

In our the ancestors of todays Great Apes lost their tails. I don't know the history of how it happened. There is probably someone who could give you an good biochemical and anatomical rundown on how it happened. In any case, by the time our ancestors started spending more time on the ground they didn't have tails anymore. No population of our ancestors a) re-evolved tails and b) did better enough because of it that they had more descendants than other proto-humans who didn't have tails.

Note, I'm not looking for a "Science vs Creationism" debate... but rather veiws on why we would have evolved into a complex yet fairly imperfect form we are now, and what "improvements" we could have developed had to make us "better"... camouflage, venom, claws, ability to regrow a bitten off limb, etc...

and why?

The simple answer is that we did well enough with what we ended up with.

Complexity is a red herring. It only gets brought up because the Creationists like to blather on about how impossible it is to evolve complex structures. In fact, what we often see is a reduction in the number and functions of earlier less specialized structures. Insect antennae, legs and mouth parts are all essentially the same structure with slight developmental differences that make them more suited to specialized tasks. Silverfish are closer to the ancestral stock. Their legs are more numerous and less specialized. Many early insects had extra winglets. Earlier ancestors had more body segments.

Another part of the answer is that there is a biological cost to any new structure. If the cost reduces reproductive success enough or pure dumb luck wipes out those who have the genes for the trait it doesn't get conserved. Evolution doesn't have any way of knowing what you're great to the fifth grandchildren will be doing. It only tells you whether you've managed to have children.

Consider the eye. Creationists ask "What good is half an eye?" The answer is, quite a lot. Very primitive creatures have light-sensing structures. If there's light, being able to detect it is useful. In some otherwise very similar species there are slight biochemical differences which cause the light-sensitive spots to be formed close together. The increased discrimmination has advantages. The development of a clear cuticle over the eyespot results from very small chemical and developmental changes. And in fact there are many lineages which have the first adaptation and closely related ones which have the second. And so on. Stephen Gould did a masterful telling of that story in one of his essay collections.

It doesn't mean that there are no other structures which could function as eyes. Trilobites ended up with eyes made of calcite crystals. It doesn't mean there couldn't be better eyes. In fact, given the hit-or-miss nature of evolution that's almost certain. It means that our ancestors developed structures which functioned as eyes well enough to get by.

Or you can look at the wing. In vertebrates the wing developed at least three different times. With bats it came from longer fingers with big webs between them. Pterosaurs got a long fourth finger. Birds developed the most specialized structures so far with reduction in the number of digits, reduction in the bones in the remaining ones, fusion of the wrist and other modifications. Three different wings which all work well enough but which are all clearly modifications of structures in flightless animals.
 

Ken Morgan

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Success as a species means reproduction; its not about our physical health. Once you do your part and propagate the species a few times, provide for your young, its over, your part is done, nature doesnt care about you any more.

There are over 6.5 billion of us on the planet, and a handful in orbit around the planet, damn good for a species Id say.
 

Marginal

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Suppose man is evolved from ealier species as has been put forth by science...

Why our current form? While we are adaptable and have a great survival instinct, could we not have been "better".
All "better" means is better for whatever ecological niche the organism happens to arise in. It's not a directed process at all.

"Blind algorithmic process" is how Daniel Dennet describes it in Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
 

arnisador

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The team that wins the Super Bowl is the best team* of all current teams, not the best team of all possible teams.

* Yes, I know some of you will take issue with the Super Bowl as a selector of the best team!
 

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It's been touched on a few times, but it probably bears reiteration and out right statement: Evolution is not 'survival of the fittest'. Evolution is 'survival of the good enough'.

The majority of mutations are 'neutral' - they provide no particular help or hinderance in the current context of the creature's survival. Only when the environmental pressures change do these mutations prove to be beneficial or detrimental adaptations. For example, there is a rare set of genes that causes certain immune cell receptors to not be created. Ordinarily, this is mostly meaningless. The immune system still functions as normal, perhaps slightly less robust. Except that it also confers resistance to smallpox, possibly the black plague, and HIV. Not an insubstantial aid when these diseases are rampant.

More mutations are significantly detrimental. These die, and are not propagated.

Others are both detrimental and benefical. The same mutations that cause sickle cell anemia provide for resistance to malaria. There is a bacterial mutation that allows a certain bacterium to eat nylon ... and it weakens the metabolism so much that it will be out competed any time there is not nylon for it to eat.

However, all that matters is this: It works, and the next generation is brought forth. That is the criteria for a 'successful' mutation. When the watchmaker is blind and random, you can get some really odd watches... but they'll still track time.
 

Lisa

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I think as we "evolved" sometimes we took the right side in the fork on the road when perhaps we should have taken the left. Over the years we traveled down a road that allowed us not to use some of our "useful" things like perhaps our tails, they became obsolete. Our environment molded us into what we are today.
 

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Personally, I'm not convinced that we have reached the end of evolution either.

By definition, there is no such thing as "the end" of evolution. Evolution does not point towards a goal, but is simply a number of randomized changes that occur over extremely long time periods (often as a result of environmental stress or competition) that result in an animal (or person) who doesn't much resemble it's distant ancestors.

As Tellner points out, this can also happen significantly in isolated populations, or populations that fill particular niches better than their competitors such that a single species can undergo enough changes to be considered two or more different new species.

Evolution is always ongoing. It's just that the time periods for significant "permanent" change are so long that we can't see it in the short lifespans we have.

Of course, I do point out that the fact that I don't have any wisdom teeth (and never did) makes me the next step up in evolution (as human jaws have gotten smaller). Of course, my wife claims this trait just makes me a fool. But whatever.
 

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For many animals our 'normal' abilities would be super powers. Bipedalism, depth perception, color perception, vision period, opposable thumbs, etc., not to mention higher brain functions. Whether or not something is better is relative the perception of what is normal. We do many things better than other animals, but when they do things we are unable to we perceive those as 'better'. Sure it would be fun to have camoflauge, or claws, or regrow limbs, but in terms of survival and spreading the species I don't think there's a more significant proof that we have a monopoly on 'better' already.
 

Bill Mattocks

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By definition, there is no such thing as "the end" of evolution.

I agree; but I would add that humans seem to have opted out of evolutionary mutations-as-survival-advantages to some extent. The defectives procreate. And I include myself - bad eyes, bad teeth, a couple inherited minor diseases that should have doomed me and served to make humanity stronger by killing me before reproduction. Human intelligence seems to have given us an unusual position vis-a-vis evolution.

Evolution is always ongoing. It's just that the time periods for significant "permanent" change are so long that we can't see it in the short lifespans we have.

Not entirely true. We have seen in our lifetimes the evolution of such things as viruses and bacteria and insects and such that have evolved resistance to man-made antibacterial agents, insect killers, etc. One of our biggest health risks going forward is the emergence of MRSA-type problems - resistant to most if not all antibiotics.

Of course, I do point out that the fact that I don't have any wisdom teeth (and never did) makes me the next step up in evolution (as human jaws have gotten smaller). Of course, my wife claims this trait just makes me a fool. But whatever.

I wish I didn't have any wisdom teeth. Having them did not make me feel smarter.
 

celtic_crippler

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Natural Selection is the mechanism of evolution and several examples have already been given.

Natural Selection Summarized:
  • organisms produce more offspring than the environment can support
  • oganisms vary in many characteristics that can be inherited
  • excessive numbers of organisms lead to a struggle for survival
  • organisms whose characteristics are best adapted to the environment are more likely to survive and reproduce.
  • the unequal ability of individual organisms to survive and reproduce leads to a gradual change in the characteristics of a population over time.
Evlolution is real and does occur, just not overnite. Simple proof is available by looking at the anatomy of several animals that have vestigial or homologous structures.

For example: Most people do not realize that snakes still have skeletal projections that at one time were functional limbs.

Of course, the most famous example are the finches that Darwin studied while exploring the Galapagos Islands. Each finch had a different beak best suited for the type of food it preferred or was available in their immediate envirnonment. Some were better suited for eating berries, some insects, some seeds, etc, etc. There are 14 species of finch based on feeding habits-beak type.

In short, evolution does not necessarily equal better. It just means the best suited for survival in the current environment.
 

Bill Mattocks

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Suppose man is evolved from ealier species as has been put forth by science...

Which I believe is correct.

Why our current form? While we are adaptable and have a great survival instinct, could we not have been "better".

As others have said, 'good enough' is good enough. 'Better' doesn't have any meaning - if what you've got going on is good enough to survive and reproduce, you win.

Two legs doesnt seem like much of a balance thing... why not at least a tail to help even things out?

First of all, we have tails. Just FYI:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tail#Human_tails

Tails versus no-tails would appear to be something that might be and advantage or a disadvantage to animals that can make some use of them for survival.

Considering modern man - if a child were to be born today with a tail, I do not see how it would enable that child to outcompete children without tails. On the other hand, assuming it was not simply removed at birth by a doctor, and the mutation bred true, I don't see any reason it would be a disadvantage for survival or reproduction, either.

Note, I'm not looking for a "Science vs Creationism" debate... but rather veiws on why we would have evolved into a complex yet fairly imperfect form we are now, and what "improvements" we could have developed had to make us "better"... camouflage, venom, claws, ability to regrow a bitten off limb, etc...

and why?

In modern humans, we have a different set of conditions that influence evolution.

Consider a virus. If the environment they live in changes, they may die if they cannot adapt. Any adaptation that emerges is a mutation - also known as evolution if it breeds true. So in a very short period of time, an evolutionary change can occur that is an advantage over the main line, and the main line dies, whilst the mutation survives and thrives and becomes the main line.

However, mutations don't just happen because of environmental need. They happen all the time. It's just that most of them either represent a disadvantage (and they die or fail to breed) or they are not sufficiently advantageous to be 'more' useful for survival and breeding than the main line. They may survive side-by-side with the existing main line, or they may die out, simply due to lack of numbers and the math being against them.

Now consider humans. If a child was born with six fingers, would it be an advantage for either survival or breeding? If not, although it is an evolutionary change, it is not particularly likely to replace us (the main line). Gills? Super-strength? Taller? Shorter? Longer life?

Now, one thing that might be useful at some point in time is resistance to higher temperatures (global warming), the ability to eat more processed sugars and exposure to carcinogens without suffering ill effects, and so on. Although even those are difficult to presume, because for the most part, the advantage doesn't become clear until well after breeding age.

Consider the samurai crab - interesting story in directed man-caused evolution:

http://cis.poly.edu/~mleung/CS4744/f03/ch06/SamuraiCrabs.htm
 

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