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    • Convergent evolution is when organisms independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches. It is a clear indication of the influence of environmental factors on morphology over time. My guess is there are some interesting and perhaps useful things to unpack if we were to extrapolate how environmental factors also shape things like our individual cultures and identity.

      Here's an example of the convergent development of a female penis in insects that is thought to be a response to ensure the continuation of the species under pressure from a lack of resources.

      Researchers find evidence of independent evolution of female penis in cave insects

      "...researchers from Japan, Brazil and Switzerland has found evidence that suggests female penis-like appendages in two types of cave insects evolved independently... Both live in caves where food is scarce. Because of that, males appear to be more interested in finding food than in mating. This has led the females to assume the role of pursuer and initiator. And to prevent the male from escaping before his sperm has been collected, the female has evolved a hook that latches onto the male, keeping him in place for two or three days."

    • Insects schmimsects... 🙂 I wanted to know about that insane-looking Tasmanian Wolf!

      What I learned was it was also called a Tasmanian Tiger but its real name was Thylacine.

      I guess the Europeans shot them all in the late 1800s and early 1900s except for this last one in a zoo. 😢 Man it sure looks like a dog or wolf to me.

    • Convergent evolution, laws of physics, similar building materials... I often think of how these things may have shaped life out in the universe in such a way that there could/should be creatures fairly similar to humans and other things on our planet. It's kind of a comforting thought, though Star Trek and other science fiction beings are often much more similar to humans than I'd expect in reality. I do realize that it's a limitation of budget and so on that kind of restricts the producer's choices. If there is life out there, do you think much of it is simlar to Earth's creatures? I guess it would depend on where the life is found - gravitation, atmospheric pressures and so on. I'll try not to think of what kind of penises might be found out in the universe :)

      Oh a quick comment on how environment may influence our cultures, etc. Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel touches on how the environment influenced the development of the world's cultures and how things are today. Bruce D. Smith's The Emergence of Agriculture talks a bit about such things as well.

      Something related but the reverse of what you are refering to is the recent scientific discussion that life on earth may in fact have affected the rate of plat tectonic movement. Apparently certain organic materials may in fact have lubricated the plate movement. Some many interconnections that it's virtually impossible to tease out all of the influences yet it's fun to try.

    • Joe Carter

      I am with you on an expectation that the morphology of sentient biological-esque creatures across the cosmos would reflect a wider range of body types based on influences from local environments, far more so than Star Trek depicts. One thing I think is crucial about any life form that does a similar thing to what we do is some kind of hand or other type tool appendage(s) as a means to develop the kind of refined builder manipulator status we have to harness the otherwise capricious tides of nature. To put it glibly, dolphins need better hands to cross the bridge to civilized society, so would any alien. Perhaps a more steady planet would produce a dodo bird like creature, less able to adapt because of the lack of need, but perhaps social and conscious... I don't know. I think it would be interesting to unpack the possibilities along those multi variate lines. Perhaps symbiotic entanglements between dovetailed functional interdependent systems, compartmentalized activities that work together without necessarily understanding their participation in the full picture. Emergent traits based on that model seem to be the norm in nature from microbes to ants to cells and organs in humans, to humans as part of larger systems. For instance, we don't know if our cognitive functions might not be part of a present means to release carbon and a future species apoptosis function once we sufficiently released the carbon for recycling onto the larger bio-economy. That may be a dead end speculation, but my point is nature appears to have these perspicacious schemes embedded in the function all the time, by what means I am not sure.

      On the morphology of the culture environment dance; I think Jared Diamond is on to something, as are people like Marvin Harris who drew a connection between abstract cultural maps and environment. I see influences from things like harsher climates, the necessity to hunt, along with the level of difficulty and reliability of the hunt and things like seasons that required temporal planning and so on when compared to picking fruit off trees as factors in the development of both behaviors and the corresponding abstract value structures which would mimic those realities in token form. Exposure to droughts, climate changes, the need to adapt are all reflected there in culture. To Jared's point, the hunter-explorer-conqueror-empire builder connection might come from a co-opted branches that grew out of those necessities. It seems the most plausible explanation to me. I also think the parasite-stress hypothesis is worth unpacking more than it has been to see where it leads.

      I did see that paper on plate tectonic movement once and was fascinated. Then I lost track of where it was. Do you have a reference, I'd like to revisit it. I think things like coral reefs that can have a stabilizing effect on shorelines which in turn helps them and the like are threaded throughout the biological economy. I do not see why it would not extend to plate tectonics. Microbes certainly drove Earth's mineral evolution on which further biological possibilities were born, not the least of which is the emergence of gum chewing O2 converting glorified dung beetles that we happen to be. :)

      One note on written language. I think, like the case of the allele that prevents malaria also causes sickle cell anemia when it is passed on from both parental lineages, writing comes with benefits and costs. On the cost side, I think writing has preserved certain ideas long past their useful shelf life. Stories once told by the fireside that served as a means for cultures to navigate the realities they existed in in the past would also morph over time to keep pace with shifting social environmental conditions, but are sometimes used longer than their "sell-by" date as a result of that powerful technology to conserve information.

    • I agree with your comments in the first half of paragraph one. Later in the first paragraph are you speculating that there's some underlying higher purpose to our intelligence that is really to release CO2 in order to lead the way for future life? It sort of seems like you are suggesting that evolution is being driven by a larger organism with foresight into the future. Not only that but it suggests that evolution is not independent but controlled by a prime mover of sorts. I hope I'm wrong on what you were speculating. Pretty far out ideas and ones that would make for some good science fiction writing though I deny the possibility of such things. I've probably misinterpreted your ideas. It is possible that you simply meant some kind of reversal of the oxygenation event early in Earth's history whereby photosynthetic microbes changed the atmosphere to an aerobic one. Our current release of CO2 could lead to an extinction event in other words.

      In paragraph 2 I'd agree with you but go further and suggest that it all started with the availability of large animals and suitable food that could be domesticated. It may be a stretch but the argument seems well supported. It may be a case where it's easy to create a just-so story afterwards in order to tweak things that don't quite fit into the narrative.

      Any technology that preserves past information has the potential for impeding future progress but that's not such a bad thing. Are we in a race to somewhere? The burning of the library of Alexandria probably has slowed the scientific and technological progress more than any stale idea in a book - say like the Bible...

      Journal Reference:

      Whitney M. Behr, Thorsten W. Becker. Sediment control on subduction plate speedsEarth and Planetary Science Letters, 2018; 502: 166 DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2018.08.057

    • Joe Carter

      You said: "It sort of seems like you are suggesting that evolution is being driven by a larger organism with foresight into the future. Not only that but it suggests that evolution is not independent but controlled by a prime mover of sorts." For the record, I am 100% agnostic. Asserting a maker as "necessary" for what we see as the natural world strikes me as pushing the necessity for a maker back a layer while avoiding the contradictory question that assertion begs, which is; "If complex self aware beings need a complex self aware maker to exist at all, doesn't the maker also need a maker?" ergo infinite regress. Anyway, answering that question (if there is one) may be above my pay grade, but it's certainly less valuable to me than leveraging what is here and now to the fullest advantage. If we leverage the tangible opportunities within our grasp to the fullest extent, then I would be happy to devote more energy to things like that.

      I do think our penchant for framing reality in story form as we see in cultural traditions throughout the world is probably a useful adaptive trait given the limits of our cognitive abilities and the limits of collected knowledge in the context of the things we needed to understand and negotiate, especially in the past. Stories strike me as a form of shorthand for the otherwise overwhelming complexities involved in understanding the nature of things, including ourselves in abstract form. A less than perfect lens, but better than no lens at all. We conflate the map with the territory, and the literal with the metaphor to our detriment. I am glad we are getting a clearer picture now as we convert this story conveyed through nature into a more reliable set of predictable processes by way of scientific inquiry with which we are more reliably able to anticipate and act with effective precision. This evidence based inquiry gives us a stronger "voice" in the choir of relationships that conspires to define our experience.

      We can be more intentional and effective without as much speculation using science, but just as the presuppositions embedded in our traditional stories caused blind spots that hurt our progress toward being more effective at accurate perception and corresponding intentional acts, (like a Skinnerian pigeon pecking a dot in the belief that it causes food) so do some of the assumptions we currently use in science blind us as far as I can tell. Prominent among these assumptions is "the mind is solely in the brain and has no presence or expression beyond the brain's field of vision" or something similar. That assumption may be true, but it is a tautology as far as I can tell - an assumption. (Unless you have solid evidence I am unaware of to rule it out) Again, this is no assertion of the contrary, it is a sincere attempt to understand the nature of nature with a full awareness and integration of what we don't know along with a full respect to what we do know. I do not know how to get to “mind exists only in the brain” without assumption.

      Yes I am speculating. I do not know a lot of things, but I do know that inside my field of vision (which could be in error) is a range of possibilities that I can entertain as possible without asserting as fact, which could then be measured by evidence as valid or not. To me, this willingness to entertain ideas within the scope of the possible is the life blood of discovery. I simply draw the parallax lines of possibility wider than you appear to. I am attempting to step outside the conventional lines of assumption to see if there's anything there. I am well aware of how "far out "that looks, and that it may be a fools errand. As for exploration, that is where the greater danger of failure and opportunity exists. I am fully aware I could be in error. If I am trying to smuggle in a presupposition, it is by way of my own ignorance, not by way of intentional nefarious ideological priming. I do not know how to make this any plainer than I already have – repeatedly.

      I am speculating on what I perceive to be within the realm of possibilities, that natural systems may have intelligence embedded within them on different orders of magnitude than this narrow band of perception and response capabilities we label consciousness in a human context. Our field of perception and response capacities inside our brain is a scant fraction of an otherwise far more ubiquitous property of perception and response threaded throughout natural systems in many ways. Our own biology, apart from the thin veil of consciousness in our brain, also has anticipatory skills and action capabilities on many levels. Our fight or flight systems are a highly sophisticated orchestra of perceptions and corresponding actions based on what our biology sees as necessary to deal with a perceived threat. Consciously we could report these processes and label them with our meager net of abstractions, but the origin and current state of their presence, their anticipatory nature, along with their capability to act in relation to that perception, like that of our immune system, sex drives, breathing and suckling reflexes, and a host of other things that are aligned around nourishing and defending the continuation of biology (not necessarily species) through time seems like a fairly plain fact to me. Our abstract descriptions of these already present features is the new kid on the block.

      What it all means, I am not sure, but dismissing all but our brain as the mindless reactionary flow of the elemental waters appears to beg the question; "If we deny the capacity for natural systems to perceive and respond with anticipatory capability in forms other than what we see in our brain due to our ability to frame them as processes, wouldn't this also be sufficient to deny our own consciousness due to its reactionary process based nature?" Laying claim to consciousness based on reactionary process alone in ourselves while simultaneously denying its possibility on other self similar scales seems at least as presuppositional as asserting divinity without warrant and then conforming all evidence to fit that assumption.

      As far as my speculation, yes it could be reversal of the oxygenation event early in Earth's history. It could also be an isomorph of the sophisticated dance of cellular and organ development such as we we see in a fetus in utero, complete with strategic expressions of apoptosis in service of a final state of development that is more suited to a future environment that will occur outside the current womb which at some point will no longer be able to sustain development. Apoptosis may happen on a species or ecosystem level under the same principles expressed in seed form in more localized areas such as embryological development. By what means this apparent expression anticipatory based action occurs, by happenstantial reaction or by anticipatory and intentional teleological means of some kind, or some blend, I do not know. It may be something else entirely. I am fairly certain it is natural, whatever it is.

      I do not hide from the fact that as far as I can tell, I use foresight based on a limited perspective to govern my actions with respect to the future. I am guessing I am not alone in this unless I am unwittingly solipsistic in nature, and since I am part of a larger self similar natural world, and since this anticipatory act is part of my nature, therefore I do not artificially (and without merit in my view) discount the possibility of self similar traits on other scales, in other forms, which might be present throughout nature, especially since we appear to be representative of the common traits in natural systems.

      I would also afford the perspective you appear to be comfortable with if I am not mistaken; that everything congealed without any kind of foresight and only appears cognizant and anticipatory by fluke, and that authentic foresight is only the possible emergent domain of conscious beings (or perhaps a delusion). Complex dynamic adaptable systems are dynamic in relation to the orientation toward a goal of continuing as part of a larger relationship economy. If we go on a mission to go to a store or build a house and find obstacles, we can negotiate them and stay on task. I am pretty sure that's a representation of a pervasive aspect of nature on many levels. Again, origins uncertain, hence speculation.

      Yes, I was referring to the fact that our limited abstract self awareness may ironically be the engine of our own extinction by the leverage it yields us to affect the environment coupled with the inability to understand and or discipline ourselves to act within our means may be a result of influences beyond our understanding, potentially of a farming-esque, tending till the slaughter, kind of action. Whether that possibility of extinction would come as a result of the brute force of our myopia, thrusting our historical traits on an ecosystem that cannot sustain the tax, or by some larger developmental aspect of evolution at work which we do not yet understand, I do not know.

      Yes it is speculation to say it may be governed by natural systems pushing for outcomes that are outside our direct field of our awareness. My guess is the same way a lemur probably does not fully understand all the things it does that are aligned around the continuation of it's individual and collective community, nor its full context to the larger body of life, why would we be exempt from this potential for a limited perspective toward those things we participate in without understanding their full weight and impact? I see no solid reason, although it may be possible.

      Consider the Jewel Wasp's use of cockroaches as part of its reproductive cycle. When a fertile female’s eggs are ready she hunts a cockroach. Once found, she first gives the roach a precision sting in a very specific area of its nervous system causing a 2 to 3 minute paralysis of the roach’s legs. She uses that time to administer even more refined stings to prevent the roach from walking spontaneously, disable its escape instincts and change its metabolism. The roach can still stand, jump and walk if prodded, but otherwise it stands there waiting for direction because the connections between the cockroach brain and motor signals have been surgically severed. The roach begins grooming itself and the wasp chews off half of each antennae and then digs a burrow. She leads the roach into the burrow using an antenna as a leash, lays an egg on the roach’s abdomen, seals it in the burrow to keep other predators out.

      The wasp egg hatches into a larva and begins to feed on it, chewing a hole large enough to crawl inside. It strategically eats while preserving what the roach needs to live until the larva is fully developed. It also secretes several kinds of antibiotics to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The wasp larvae protects the roach with one hand as it saps nourishment to grow with the other. Once fully formed, it bursts out of the exoskeleton to look for food, a mate and, if it’s female, to hunt roaches on which to lay eggs. There's some anticipatory expressions in there, again my guess is this anticipatory behavior is forged by natural systems.

      Although we are more capable to describe the processes that exist in nature than we once were, my perspective is that this ability to describe process is a necessary, but not necessarily a sufficient means to arrive at a full explanation of nature. I have found many an orthodox mind too willing to accept unquestioned presuppositions as fact, even defend them because of the clear image they render, without noticing the presence of the presupposition at all. The fact that these apparitions of presupposition generate such a convincing image to the people who peer through them is a human condition, it is not isolated to religious presuppositions alone.

      Thank you so much for the continental plate article. I hope my walks on the fringes of science do not continue to trigger inferences of nefarious ID or something. I really don't know. I do find the whole pile of energy applied to the apologetics domain from both camps a waste of time. To me it is similar to arguing over the sprinkles on the cupcake while the kitchen's on fire. There's more important things to do right now.

      I could be missing something(s)

    • Of course our narrative, whether it be in oral tradition or written, is always going to be fraught with bias and errors (I agree with you there) but writing it down at least allows people to create definitions and clear ideas that can then be tested, attacked, deconstructed and built up better. Thus far we have no other way of creating knowledge that is scientifically verifiable. Do you have another idea? Merely saying our current way of knowing may be error ridden is not reason to merely throw it on the junk heap and accept any new idea that comes along. Just because it's a new idea doesn't mean it's more likely to be true, in fact it's more likely to not be true. Yeah we are all familiar with Thomas Kuhn's paradigm shifts but it doesn't support readily accepting new untested ideas so easily.

      When I said "prime mover of sorts" I wasn't suggesting you were a believer of God but rather pointing to the notion that you seemed to imply that humans are merely a step along a path to a greater next step and that it's already laid out and accounted for. That humans are 'made' for another purpose. It implies something is involved that has foresight. Are you not suggesting anything remotely close to this?

      Sounds like you are supporting dualism despite you saying "it is no assertion of the contrary". The mind, although more than the sum of the parts, is solely created from the material of the brain. To suggest otherwise is to be a dualist. Maybe I've missed something in what you're suggesting. As the claimant you must be the one to provide evidence not me. You're going to need some serious evidence to support the notion that there is a mind indepedent of the brain and it's material parts. There is evidence to support the mind coming from the brain but none to support your claim. You may be playing an intentional distractive 'game' where you suggest something as a distractor and then say you aren't claiming such. If you merely want to say that our current 'assumption' is limited and there must be more to it then simply say so. Again, I'm saying this as a strictly scientific criticism. While people currently on the leading edge of the study of consciousness and the brain don't have absolute proof of exactly how consciousness and 'mind' are created, there is enough evidence to support the strong case for the mind coming strictly from the brain and not extending beyond it other than in a metaphorical sense. Are you going to speculate or suggest an alternative to the current accepted scientific consensus or just say it's wrong and that we a likely missing something? I'd truly like to hear what you are offering as an alternative. A definitely agree with you that we don't know the full story here and I'm sure you'd agree that the human brain is probably the most complex thing we are aware of.

      You said "but I do know that inside my field of vision (which could be in error) is a range of possibilities that I can entertain as possible without asserting as fact, which could then be measured by evidence as valid or not." Do you care to share what your range of possibilities is? Keep in mind that scientists know there are many things our brain constructs quite incorrectly. In other words we have many inherent faults within our brain that create a reality that in fact does not exist. It's all great and good to speculate broadly but you should at least state some of the speculations you are suggesting rather than just say there is likely more and we are thinking too narrowly.

      Scientists are well aware of the numerous abilities humans have that we sensed we had but didn't have the scientific support for but now do. The simplest of these is the physiological fact that humans don't see a direct representation of external reality. We also have some ability to 'see' behind us. As we come to know more such things we are merely stretching what is known rather than becoming aware of some ability that extends beyond ourselves and our own physical corporeal space.

      Consciousness in some ways is thought to be an illusion of sorts. In short we are constantly changing and who we were yesterday is not necessarily who we are today, despite our perception to suggest otherwise.

      You say:" in service of a final state of development that is more suited to a future environment that will occur outside the current womb". In service of what or whom? Again the way you are saying it suggests you may be speculating of some unstoppable thing that is happening and happening for an intentional reason. Certainly things occuring now will affect the future. That's no new discovery but to imply that it may be intentional or deterministic is a stretch. Well that is unless you are a hard determinist. I've made such an argument in philosphy class but I like to think there are many possible futures for our Earth. Again having free will - whether as an individula or a planet may be wishful thinking but scientists act as if the future is not determined. I'll stick with them on this one. You said "anticipatory and intentional"..."means". That's now speculating beyond what we can call science is it not? Wow you apply foresight at a planetary scale. That's taking Gaia to a whole other level.

      I'm not going to fall down the rabbit whole and argue if foresight is only possible of conscious beings especially because the whole notion or concept of consciousness is so fraught with ambiguities, speculation and uncertainty. Greater thinkers than I have spent a lifetime studying this question and we still seem far from a consensus on the matter.

      Our limited self awareness may lead to our own extinction. Sure I can absolutely agree with you on that one. Deer over reproduce and this leads to not enough food and a drop in the deer population. Without the foresight, deers lead to their own demise. Nature to the rescue and culls the deer population. The rise and fall of predator and prey populations are a simple example of the lack of foresight animals have. Humans are animals and we could be leading ourselves to the population bomb as Ehrlich put it. Technology however has allowed us a limited foresight. Whether or not we can control ourselves as a species, given our inherent evolution influence of the selfish genes is anyone's guess. There is though, in my mind, no need to suggest that any of this is predetermined or led by some larger super organism such as Gaia.

      I agree with you about anticipatory systems being created by symbiotic relationships evolved over time but again it does not mean there is some larger than life organism with foresight guiding the whole process. While you may not state it that way it's in many ways implied and sometimes you even speculate that it may be true - who's to know.

      You often use our ignorance of things to make wild speculations without any support other than that it might be true. This is allowed of course and even encouraged to stretch our minds and open up the possibiities but I think you're using much of it in a way to discount current knowledge and understanding of science. If it's mere speculation and fun then keep at it as I sure enjoy reading your speculative journeys and probably agree with more of what you say than disagree :) To disagree and to argue is to clarify thought and challenge the edge of knowing. I love a good debate so long as it's focused on the information and not the sharer of such things.

    • I am done trying to clarify with you. It is not working. If you address me in posts I will simply ignore you. Sorry we do not seem to be able to connect in a meaningful way.

    You've been invited!