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Where did our natural defences go?


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#1 JudasRimmer

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 07:25 PM

Hey all,I was wondering about this for a while. As a species,we're pretty lousy when it comes to surviving in the wild against typical predators like bears and lions etc. We have no fangs or claws,relatively poor physical strength even compared to our nearest ape* relatives and average eyesight/hearing. We can't even run very quickly,and not that far either. Pretty much any animal from the size of a dog upwards could kill a man should it so desire.

That's before you consider all the internal design flaws and weaknesses of the body,such as unprotected stomachs [no ribcage] and throats,no separation of breathing/eating passages etc. It's a product of drunken engineers at evolution's Xmas party. The only thing we have going for us is our brains,but what good would they be until we changed from nomadism to fixed settlements and therefore organised defence and "civilization"?

The question is-why did we lose such useful features long before the safety of civilization would have made them redundant and therefore ready for evolution to remove them? We should only have started to atrophy in the last few thousand years,but we lost all that stuff far before that. I don't consider brains to have rendered brawn un-necessary as soon as we started to walk on two legs,so why have we lost our strength and natural defences so prematurely?

[*apparently chimps will happily rip their enemies apart limb-by-limb. Could we do the equivalent? In a man-vs-gorilla deathmatch,who would you bet on? I'll have 1,000 quatloos on Kong!]

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#2 UoR11

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 10:21 PM

We also have tremendous endurance. Humans walking can run down just about any land animal given time. They're faster in sprints, but not over the long haul.
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#3 Cybersnark

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:31 AM

We also have opposable thumbs (initially needed for grabbing branches and hauling ass away from the non-climbing things on the ground more than for tool use). And those unarmoured midsections and necks give us agility and flexibility (and really, we're hardly the only life-forms on Earth with those particular weak-spots).

Can't explain the loss of the tail though. That's just unfair.  :trance:

Of course, I alo tend to think that what we today consider "average" for humans (i.e., non-athletes, non-specialists, those without years of training and conditioning) is far below what a caveman would consider "optimal"(*). We tend to confuse discomfort with pain and pain with the absolute limit. Consider all the literature/folklore about people pulling off "superhuman" feats in the midst of crisis, then consider that, to our pre-civilized ancestors, every day was an ongoing crisis of Battlestar Galactican proportions. Then add the lack of evolutionary pressure; the cold hard truth is that, because we're civilized, a lot of people who shouldn't be trusted with sharpened sticks manage to survive and reproduce and go into politics.

(* I don't mean just physically, either; human eyes, ears, and brains can deliver a lot more information than most people realize [indeed, sharper senses can actually be a handicap; any useful information gets drowned out by the noise]. I consider the brain to be as vital a survival tool as any claws or fangs --one of the reasons I believe that any life elsewhere in the universe must also tend toward sapience.)
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#4 Nikcara

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Posted 19 May 2011 - 06:47 PM

Some of the adaptations you mention actually had a use - the fact that we can choke on our food because of air/food passage placement also makes us capable of much more nuanced sounds, and therefore much more nuanced language.  This may not have mattered too much in other species, but humans have the capacity to plan and cooperate, so having nuanced language made it easier to plan complex activities like hunting and how to get to the best gathering places.

Also, as hinted at before, pre-civilized humans were actually much stronger than we give them credit for.  It's not that we're incapable of re-attaining that state, but frankly no one wants to be carrying big rocks, running down prey, and sprinting up trees all day every day while on a very strict diet.  Going to the gym 3 times a week makes you stronger than the average city-dweller.  It does not make you as strong as a construction worker (for example).  And even construction workers get weekends and drive places they don't feel like walking to, so even they wouldn't be as strong as a "wild" human.

There are also lateral adaptions - things that may or may not have really helped us to survive, but we have them anyway and they change our behavior.  Like the fact that human males lack a penis bone (humans used to have them).  It basically makes copulation take longer, which increases male/female bonding but increases the risk of the man not finishing and decreasing likelihood of conception (we seem to have overcome THAT problem).  So it's a plus/minus thing.

Things like wisdom teeth are just nature laughing at us.  Not all evolution is actually useful.  Some of it just sorta happens because it can.
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#5 Christopher

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Posted 19 May 2011 - 10:20 PM

View PostJudasRimmer, on 15 May 2011 - 07:25 PM, said:

That's before you consider all the internal design flaws and weaknesses of the body,such as unprotected stomachs [no ribcage] and throats,no separation of breathing/eating passages etc.

The belly and throat would be more protected in a quadrupedal creature.  We've only been walking upright for a few million years -- a fairly brief time, evolutionarily speaking.  Besides, being upright carries its own survival advantages, like being better able to see approaching predators and know what direction it's safe to run in.  And nearly the whole time we've been upright, we've been tool users, able to defend ourselves with our hands and ingenuity.

And the need for a lack of ribs over the abdomen should be obvious -- how could a baby grow in the womb if there were ribs preventing it from expanding?  One of our greatest survival advantages is our big brain, and that makes for a big fetus.


Quote

The only thing we have going for us is our brains,but what good would they be until we changed from nomadism to fixed settlements and therefore organised defence and "civilization"?

That's oversimplifying.  The main thing we have going for us -- and the main thing that made our brains develop so much -- is that we're a social species.  It's a mistake to define our strength solely in terms of what the individual can do.  Our primary survival strategy in the wild was cooperation.  A group of intelligent animals working together in a planned, coordinated way can accomplish a great deal.

It's also shortsighted to think of sedentary civilization as the only viable way for humans to live.  That's an ethnocentric assumption of societies who've chosen to live that way, but there are plenty of others who chose to remain nomadic because it was a better alternative in their environments.  Indeed, the most famous nomads, the horse nomads of Central Asia and the Great Plains of America, generally started out as sedentary agrarian cultures and subsequently adopted a nomadic lifestyle once they gained horses, because horses gave them a new, powerful way of exploiting an environment that agrarians couldn't.  It's not primitive or inferior, just a different application of technology and innovation.  And if you're thinking in terms of defense, horse nomads have historically been far more effective warriors than "civilized" peoples.  And populations who can move around freely, retreat as needed, and live off the land are better able to defend their survival than populations who live in one place and need supply lines to sustain them if they go elsewhere.


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I don't consider brains to have rendered brawn un-necessary as soon as we started to walk on two legs,so why have we lost our strength and natural defences so prematurely?

Strength isn't the only natural defense.  We're too conditioned by sensationalist nature shows to buy into the "nature red in tooth and claw" myth, to see natural existence as a constant bloodbath.  That's a distorted, grossly oversimplified image played up to make nature documentaries more exciting.  Physical strength or aggression is just one survival strategy out of many.  Lots of species survive by other means: speed, stealth, deception, cooperation, prolific breeding, etc.  Our ancestors weren't species that relied on extreme size or power as a primary survival strategy.  We evolved as endurance runners, and we evolved to cooperate in groups.  Also, hominids have had some degree of tool-using capability for millions of years, well before Homo sapiens came along.  That would've reduced the need for brute strength pretty early in the game.

As others have stated, prehistoric humans were a lot stronger and tougher than modern humans.  Since becoming civilized, we've developed thinner bones, smaller jaws and teeth, weaker eyes, etc.  In a very real sense, we've domesticated ourselves.


View PostCybersnark, on 16 May 2011 - 09:31 AM, said:

Of course, I alo tend to think that what we today consider "average" for humans (i.e., non-athletes, non-specialists, those without years of training and conditioning) is far below what a caveman would consider "optimal"(*). We tend to confuse discomfort with pain and pain with the absolute limit. Consider all the literature/folklore about people pulling off "superhuman" feats in the midst of crisis, then consider that, to our pre-civilized ancestors, every day was an ongoing crisis of Battlestar Galactican proportions. Then add the lack of evolutionary pressure; the cold hard truth is that, because we're civilized, a lot of people who shouldn't be trusted with sharpened sticks manage to survive and reproduce and go into politics.

I think that's more of the "red in tooth and claw" myth.  Actually, studies of surviving hunter-gatherer societies (the closest analogues for prehistoric humans/hominids) show that their lives are fairly cushy and relaxed in a lot of ways compared to ours, with their minimal needs easily met by their environment.

Another part of the myth is the overemphasis of the "hunter" side of hunter-gatherers (which is partly due to sexism, since men did the hunting, but also due to the fact that hunting tools like stone arrowheads survive in the archaeological record while gathering tools like reed baskets don't).  The fact is, we evolved from herbivores.  As our brains and protein requirements grew larger, we evolved into scavengers, using tools to break open bones left by predators and get at the high-calorie marrow inside, and then eventually into hunters as our tool use gave us the ability to gain more protein by hunting and let our brains grow even bigger.  But even so, our primary source of sustenance was still plant matter, with meat providing no more than 1/3 of the calories in the prehistoric diet, and that was only if the hunting was good.  (Which is why the meat-heavy, vegetable-light American diet is so horribly unhealthy for us -- it's not what our digestive systems are evolved for, so it's like putting the wrong fuel in the tank.)  So it's not like our ancestors had to constantly struggle against fierce animals in order to avoid starvation.  They had plenty of food growing all around them.  And it's not as if they were in a video game with monsters attacking them every minute.  Predators are cautious, and it probably wouldn't have taken much tool use to convince them to focus their efforts on easier prey.

Edited by Christopher, 19 May 2011 - 10:24 PM.

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#6 G-man

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Posted 20 May 2011 - 11:37 AM

Then there was the other advantage that big brains conferred ... we, as a species, are adaptable.  Consequently, we have a big survival advantage when it comes to climate change; unlike those more optimized beasts.

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#7 Christopher

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Posted 20 May 2011 - 03:02 PM

View PostG-man, on 20 May 2011 - 11:37 AM, said:

Then there was the other advantage that big brains conferred ... we, as a species, are adaptable.  Consequently, we have a big survival advantage when it comes to climate change; unlike those more optimized beasts.

And again, not just big brains but the behavior that led to big brains: social cooperation.  This is why most cetaceans are highly social and thus intelligent -- because the ocean is a hostile environment for air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals, and intelligence, communication, and cooperation enable cetaceans to survive better in hostile conditions than they could as isolated individuals.

On the question of tails, lots of primates are tailless, including all apes and some Old World monkeys.  And only New World monkeys have prehensile tails.  Apes diverged from Old World monkeys around 30 million years ago, so tail loss goes back far, far before anything close to human ever arose.  The loss of the tail is an adaptation to the tendency of apes to hang vertically from their arms and brachiate through the trees, rather than climbing on all fours.  A tail just doesn't serve much purpose in that configuration.
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#8 Nikcara

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 04:06 PM

^The tail may not have been necessary or even that useful, but it would still be awesome to have a prehensile tail.

Sadly, evolution selects for "functional" and not "awesome"
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#9 G-man

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 02:41 PM

Unless you're a purple pixie  :trance:

/s/

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Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.
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#10 D.Rabbit

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 10:13 PM

Our metabolisms have their own defense mechanisms.
Say the body needs 2,500 calories a day for normal maintenance and we can only get 800, the metabolism slows down.

Cutting back on calories when you diet does not work after the first short while. The body compensates. So if your only getting 2,000 calories, the body will take 500 of them and store them as fat, because it thinks it's starving.
It's a great self defense trick.
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#11 JudasRimmer

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 08:41 PM

Thanks for your replies everyone,there are a few things that are clearer now. :) I totally forgot about pregnancy being the reason for not having an extended ribcage - quite an important thing to forget! [looks embarrassed]

Dave.

#12 Rhea

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Posted 02 June 2011 - 11:28 PM

View PostJudasRimmer, on 27 May 2011 - 08:41 PM, said:

Thanks for your replies everyone,there are a few things that are clearer now. :) I totally forgot about pregnancy being the reason for not having an extended ribcage - quite an important thing to forget! [looks embarrassed]

Dave.

Thanks for bringing this up. II haven't  had time to post anything that would do the topic justice, but t's fascinating to consider.
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#13 Rhea

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Posted 02 June 2011 - 11:38 PM

View PostChristopher, on 19 May 2011 - 10:20 PM, said:

Another part of the myth is the overemphasis of the "hunter" side of hunter-gatherers (which is partly due to sexism, since men did the hunting, but also due to the fact that hunting tools like stone arrowheads survive in the archaeological record while gathering tools like reed baskets don't).

Also, in hunter-gatherer societies it's simply a fact that women have babies, and you can't hunt while dragging a baby around, so women do the "gathering" part of the jobs.. And procreation is hard-wired into our brains - procreation is survival in hunter-gatherer societies.

Edited by Rhea, 02 June 2011 - 11:39 PM.

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
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When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.  - RAH

#14 JudasRimmer

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 07:01 PM

One other thing that is somewhat related-evolution has tended to give us duplicates of most of our important organs,such as eyes,ears,lungs,kidneys etc for redundancy. However we only have one heart-the most important organ to keep us alive. Why do we not have two hearts as well? It's not impossible-the octopus has two-so why have we [and the other mammals presumably] only got one? It's like building a reactor with only one cooling system and crossing your fingers!

Dave.

#15 Raymond

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 06:01 AM

Our natural defence, ie. our immune system, is being systematically destroyed by unneccesary vacines - almost from birth.

Chicken-pox and measles, for example, are natural childhood inconveniences which are overcome quite easily and in overcoming them the immune sytem strengthens.  Today, children are receiving vaccinations to prevent these li'l inconveniences.  Who dreamed this up and why?  And why do so many parents go along with it?  It defies all logic and reason.  The only gain here is material gain for the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance companies.

Fifty years ago cancer was rare - today it is rampant.
"Cancer Research" is big business. A business which will cease to exist once it is realised that cancer is not only easily preventable but is also easily cured. This is not new.

Essentially cancer is a fungus.  Most vegetables and fruits, especially the citrus fruits, produce their own anti-fungus substances.  When these are part of our diet we, also, are similarly protected.

Enter fungicides.  Farmers and agri-corps (cannot call the latter farmers) don't like fungii which damage crops.  So we now have wholesale spraying of fungicides with the result that crops, having no need, no longer produce their own natural defences against fungii.  So we don't get our natural defence through our diet either.

All these chemical concoctions such as herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and artificial chemical additives such as preservatives, flavour enhancers, colourings and so on - these are destroying our natural defences.

Not to mention Prozac.  Well, not so much Prozac, but its main ingredient: flouride.  It may be useful to ask why the main ingredient of a psyche-drug is, without the people's consent, put in the people's water supply.

(For anyone who doesn't know, the first time this was done was in the Russian prisoner camps and later the German camps for one reason: to keep the inmates quiet and dumbed down.)

Add to all the above the ongoing unneccesary worry, stress and fear which the majority experience (of course, seeing as how these are heavily promoted) is it any wonder illneses such as cancer and diabetes are increasing?

It seems the more money pumped into the health industry the more folks become sick.  But then, this is to be expected, after all, a health industry cannot make a profit out of healthy people.

And then there's the likes of Monsanto ...

If what I have written makes you laugh, cry, feel angry, sad or depressed, don't worry, watch the TV and you will find commercials for pharmaceutical concoctions which will relieve you of all these symptoms.

  :blink:  


#16 Rhea

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 07:56 AM

View PostRaymond, on 27 June 2011 - 06:01 AM, said:

Chicken-pox and measles, for example, are natural childhood inconveniences which are overcome quite easily and in overcoming them the immune sytem strengthens.  Today, children are receiving vaccinations to prevent these li'l inconveniences.  Who dreamed this up and why?  And why do so many parents go along with it?  It defies all logic and reason.  The only gain here is material gain for the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance companies.  

I'd like to call attention to this part of your post. It is simply not true that the only gain is to big pharma, although it is a popular point of view these days.
These  are far from little inconveniences. I worked in the public school  system, and I saw a number of young students in preschool special ed  come close to dying because of compromised immune systems. What if YOUR  child had received a kidney or liver transplant?  They would have  compromised immune systems from all the drugs necessary to keep them  alive after the transplant.  All it would take would be a stroll through  the park for your child  to be exposed to measles or  chicken pox. If you're lucky, your child wouldn't die.
      
And let's talk about healthy kids. In one one of our school districts  parents (almost all of them well-educated) refused to vaccinate their children against  chicken pox or any other childhood diseases. "Let 'em get it and get it over with." The result was  three children with hearing impairments, two children with visual  impairments (one blind), and three dead children in a population of a couple hundred from chicken pox alone, simply because  the parents had read on the internet that the risks far outweighed the  benefits. Parents who refuse to  immunize their children always seem to believe it won't happen to their  children. These parents believed that, and a throw of the dice proved  otherwise.
. Imagine if almost all the parents in a large area refused to vaccinate their children. Yep, some "l'il inconveniences."
  
I 'm 60, so I remember what life was like prior to these vaccines being  made available, and how many children I knew who died or who were left  with various impairments from diseases like chicken pox and measles. I  was lucky because I was a healthy child who survived all the usual  childhood diseases. Some of my friends were not so lucky.. I assure you  that if I were a parent I would run, not walk, to get my children  immunized.

I suppose you could argue that this is evolution in action, but if you were one of the parents whose child survived impaired or worse, died, I don't think you'd appreciate that argument.

Who dreamed this up? Maurice R. Hilleman, for one:

http://www.washingto...-2005Apr12.html

Quote

Dr. Hilleman created eight of the 14 most commonly used vaccines,  including those for mumps, measles, chicken pox, pneumonia, meningitis,  rubella and many other infectious diseases. He developed more than three  dozen vaccines, more than any other scientist. His measles vaccine  alone is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths worldwide every year.

A scientist of uncommon versatility, Dr. Hilleman made  significant contributions in both the laboratory and the clinic. His  work is credited by scientists for virtually wiping out many of the  dreaded and deadly childhood diseases that remained common just 40 years  ago. He also figured out how to combine the shots for measles, mumps  and rubella into one shot, followed by a booster, an advance welcomed by  needle-averse children.  

Edited by Rhea, 28 June 2011 - 08:15 AM.

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
- Robert A. Heinlein

When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.  - RAH

#17 Mark

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 09:41 AM

View PostJudasRimmer, on 15 May 2011 - 07:25 PM, said:

Hey all,I was wondering about this for a while. As a species,we're pretty lousy when it comes to surviving in the wild against typical predators like bears and lions etc. We have no fangs or claws,relatively poor physical strength even compared to our nearest ape* relatives and average eyesight/hearing. We can't even run very quickly,and not that far either. Pretty much any animal from the size of a dog upwards could kill a man should it so desire.

That's before you consider all the internal design flaws and weaknesses of the body,such as unprotected stomachs [no ribcage] and throats,no separation of breathing/eating passages etc. It's a product of drunken engineers at evolution's Xmas party. The only thing we have going for us is our brains,but what good would they be until we changed from nomadism to fixed settlements and therefore organised defence and "civilization"?

The question is-why did we lose such useful features long before the safety of civilization would have made them redundant and therefore ready for evolution to remove them? We should only have started to atrophy in the last few thousand years,but we lost all that stuff far before that. I don't consider brains to have rendered brawn un-necessary as soon as we started to walk on two legs,so why have we lost our strength and natural defences so prematurely?

[*apparently chimps will happily rip their enemies apart limb-by-limb. Could we do the equivalent? In a man-vs-gorilla deathmatch,who would you bet on? I'll have 1,000 quatloos on Kong!]

Dave.

Mark: We didn't need much more than our larger brains, language and social cooperation skills  to make our less-useful bits more useful, and our less-strong bits become stronger than our competitors. Besides, don't you think mankind has proven it' superiority over most other animal lifeforms on Earth?
I'd bet on a man or woman using their less-muscular body parts to pull the trigger of their Smith & Wesson to render any angry gorilla about to kill us, suddenly less capable. Also, we're underusing our superior intellect and underestimate our animal brothers by thinking it's "us vs. them". Usually, a wild animal won't kill a human unless they have a good reason (are cornered for territory, or protecting their young, etc...).  The hungriest lions or bears wouldn't kill more humans than they could eat in one evening. However, humans on the other hand have been known to wipe out entire species within relatively short time periods...the Passenger Pigeon, for instance.
Passenger Pigeon:

Quote

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the  world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.[5] At the time, Passenger Pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second only to the Rocky Mountain locust. Some reduction in numbers occurred because of habitat loss when the  Europeans started settling further inland. The primary factor emerged  when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves  and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive  scale. There was a slow decline in their numbers between about 1800 and  1870, followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890.[6] Martha, thought to be the world's last Passenger Pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.


So along with our bigger brains, came bigger ambitions, and greed. Thank goodness chimpanzees don't have our brain, vocal, and other social abilities. It's been proven chimpanzees are very greedy, and each one will only act in cooperation with other chimps if they think it will help themselves in some way. In a recent study, 2 chimpanzees were given the ability to get food, but only by working together. The first time they went into the experiment, the two chimps worked together to get the food, but because of greed and domination by one of them over the other, only he got the food. He was unwilling to share the food with his buddy who helped him get it. When the second round of the experiment took place, both chimps went into test room together, but the one who wasn't benefiting by getting the food, refused to help the more dominant get the food.
Humans are the only known great-ape that is willing to work in cooperation with his fellow humans for purely non-personally beneficial outcomes. For instance...
...think of the firefighters in New York who went into the World Trade Center buildings trying to help their fellow humans get out alive, knowing that there was a good chance they themselves wouldn't survive. Humans giving their own lives to help other humans. Think of how nations send aid to other nations for humanitarian aid, knowing there can never be a benefit for the sending nations, except the knowledge that they tried to help their fellow humans.

Edited by Mark, 28 June 2011 - 08:28 PM.

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#18 Raymond

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 05:36 PM

Rhea, I accept some of what you say.
I'd never sanction any organ transplants though.

Anyway, all this will soon be academic for when the currency collapses, chemical meds will be unavailable.

This will not only impact on those dependent upon chemical drugs for their physical health - think how many people there are who manage to live what is called a "normal" life only because they take daily doses of psycho chemical concoctions.

It will be interesting watching it all unfold.

Note: I make a point of calling these meds "chemicals" to distingush them from natural remedies.


#19 Christopher

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 08:20 PM

View PostJudasRimmer, on 24 June 2011 - 07:01 PM, said:

One other thing that is somewhat related-evolution has tended to give us duplicates of most of our important organs,such as eyes,ears,lungs,kidneys etc for redundancy. However we only have one heart-the most important organ to keep us alive. Why do we not have two hearts as well? It's not impossible-the octopus has two-so why have we [and the other mammals presumably] only got one? It's like building a reactor with only one cooling system and crossing your fingers!


Well, the heart is protected by its central location, by the ribs and tendons and muscle surrounding it, etc.  So it's not totally defenseless.  And animals' hearts were probably damaged far less often before there were bladed weapons and bullets and KFC Double Downs to threaten them directly.  Anything destructive enough to stop or pierce a heart -- say, a fall from a height or other sufficiently forceful impact -- is probably going to kill an animal anyway.

So it's just a matter of taking a different option for protection: shielding instead of redundancy.  Evolution isn't about honing things to perfection, just ensuring you live long enough to pass on your genes.  A heart protected by ribs and tendons and stuff is, statistically, likely to keep an organism alive long enough to procreate, so it's a sufficient adaptation.
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#20 Raymond

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 09:22 PM

It's not all good design - running a toxic waste channel right through a pleasure centre wouldn't get past the planing stage today.




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