Friday, 29 June 2012

Early Humans eat bark – So what are the evolutionary implications?

Australopithecus sediba
(image Lee Berger)

One of the problems I have is as I no longer have open access to a university library and because of pay walls I have to depend on secondary reports in magazines like the New Scientist

The recent work on dental plaque of Australopithecus sediba published in Nature shows that, among other things, they ate bark, and had a diet different to most other hominins. The News Scientist article implies that this is a mystery – but surely in the light of other research on evolutionary pathways variations in diet between different hominins should not be a surprise. Everything points to different groups splitting apart and evolving independently for a time, almost certainly because they were living in different habitats and exploiting food sources in different ways. However they were still able to breed when they came together and it is likely that many of the genetic differences between us and apes may have come about in this way – with gene tic differences between us and our ape forebears having independently evolved in different sup-species.

If this is the case the more different environments our ancestors exploited, and the more different food sources they used, the greater the variety of gene-change options available for our own development. For instance in the past there had been theories that our early ancestors might have spent some time living in an aquatic environment. This seems unlikely if we restrict our thinking to a single descent path – but the new branching and recombining model of our ancestral tree may well end up include input from some yet to be identified sub-species which specialised in fishing!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Observations on Heyes' paper “The Evolution of Human Cognition”

Cecilia Heyes' paper “New Thinking: the evolution of human cognition” has just been published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and is available online. It is the introductory paper to a special issue where the other papers are behind a pay wall.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

What are we waiting for?

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
And why am I wearing
 a suit for the first 
time in years?

These dogs wait quietly at the feet of their owners 

And can that really be me wearing a suit and tie?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Carnival of Evolution #48 - An Open Letter to P.Z. Myers

Hi there P.Z.

I am writing to you because I see you as someone who is enthusiastic about debunking religion, is interested in evolution, feels strongly about academic freedom, and treats the establishment view of political correctness with the contempt it deserves.

I am also writing to ask why my submission to the Carnival of Evolution – An Evolutionary Model of the Brain's internal language – was not included in Carnival of Evolution No 48, as I would have thought that what I am trying to do was very relevant to your publicly expressed interests.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Step outside the box to understand the Evolution of Intelligence

Brainstorm 12

On the Earth, at least, humans are exceptional life-forms when it is judged by their ability to understand and control the environment in which they live. It seems obvious to us that we are more intelligent than other animals – but in saying this we are the ones who are defining what “intelligence” is – and if we are true scientists, we should start by asking how objective we are.

The purpose of the brainstorms on this blog is to look at the foundations of our so-called intelligence and to ask whether, at the biological level, our basic brain mechanisms really are significantly different to other animals. The approach I am taking is to assume that the thought processing mechanism in the human brain is virtually identical to our nearest animal relatives, and that our intelligence is due almost entirely to a larger brain capacity and culture, driven by language. ...

The New Scientist on the Gene Changes that make us Human.

As I am interested in looking at the possibility of an evolutionary model of human intelligence which assumes that the basic brain mechanisms in humans are little if any different to those our animal relatives I read the New Scientist article ”Lucky You: Evolution is a game of chance. Clare Wilson uncovers some of the winning mutations that helped us hit the jackpot.” with considerable excitement, as a check list to see if I had missed something important

Six areas were considered in the article.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Intelligent Birds – A Review of “Gifts of the Crow”

With one significant reservation I really enjoyed this book. I love watching birds visiting the feeders in my garden, especially the magpies, and knew that the crow family included some of the most intelligent birds. I am also, as can be seen by other posts on this blog, very interested in animal intelligence, and what it can tell us about human intelligence. This book contains some wonderful accounts of, for example, the ability of crows to recognise individual people, and the account of ravens surfing the Colorado winds makes one wonder what other things they can get up to which have not yet been documented. Details are brought together of many accounts of apparently intelligent behaviour, together with descriptions of well planned experiments, which combine to make you realize how smart some birds really are. For those who want to explore further there are extra notes and an extensive bibliography. If you are interested in animal intelligence or bird behaviour this book is a “must read”.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Did the Human Brain evolve to solve complex problems

The New Scientist of 26th May included an article entitles The Argumentative Ape contains some interesting ideas about persuasion but but I am unsure about the foundations of the article and as a result I have posted the following comment after the article on the New Scientist site:

Don't use the term "Bird Brained" as an insult

Two items in this week's NewsScientist caught my eye as being particularly interesting. The first was a study by Bhart-Anjan Dullar of Harvard University which has been comparing the shape and capacity of adult and juvenile dinosaurs with those of extinct and modern birds. He suggests that the bird's skull has features more like juvenile dinosaurs and suggests that by retaining juvenile features longer allows the brain to grow more, for the same reason that human skull development retains juvenile features to allow the brain to continue to grow after birth.  

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Real Innovation can leave you outside the Box

I recently found an old blog by Ron Bieber which quoted Niccolo Machiavelli in the context of being innovative:

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.