Archive | Evolution in Action

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A Sense of Fairness is Genetic

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Jerry

It has long been demonstrated that when self-interest is absent, kindergartners have a sense of fairness.  Now, arguably even before the notion of self-interest, it has been shown that 19 – 21 month old children already have a sense of fairness.

Three researchers from the universities of Illinois and Pennsylvania believe they have proven one of two possible conclusions.  The first is that the sense of fairness is one of the innate and universal conditions with which we all come equipped or the second is a behavioral rule acquired by infants derived from observing or participating in everyday social interactions.  The researchers have left both as possible sources.

However, since the study conducted is on children younger than ever before, the researchers tend to believe the former or that a sense of fairness is innate and universal.  This is because the tests conducted were on 1½ year olds who barely have developed language and have almost no social interactions outside those with siblings and parents.

The outcome of the research is described as follows, “In Experiment 1, 19-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute two items equally between two individuals; in Experiment 2, 21-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute rewards equally between two individuals when both had worked, but not when one had worked while the other had chosen not to.”

The report continued that, “The same behavior on the part of the experimenter – giving one item to each individual – was thus viewed as expected in the first context, but not in the second.  Together these results suggest that, by 19 – 21 months, infants show context-sensitive expectations about the allocation of resources and dispensation of rewards, at least in simple situations.”

Even the site in the brain for fairness was found in 2010.  This plus the conclusion that a sense of fairness, representing equal reward for equal effort, is innate in all of us raises the issue of how and when self-interest, causing us to take a larger share, was introduced into personalities.  Simple observation shows that self-interest and making/getting more than the other guy is the much stronger motivation as life progresses.

When does this type of self-interest begin?  Is it the parent’s first admonishment that we should not allow another child to take our toy?  Is it the result of all the competitive situations we put our children in?  Does it start when we let a sibling take a larger piece of something?  Is it reinforced by the endless personal greed in competitions fostered by being in business or by playing the market?

In any case it is clear the society and its parents should foster and emphasize this sense of fairness and discourage the type of behavior that allows a disproportionate share to be seized by the greedy.  Fairness in the distribution of assets and rewards should be a singular objective of both individuals and of societies.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents.

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/2/196

http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/infantlab/articles/sloane_baillargeon_premack2012.pdf

http://www.livescience.com/9847-brain-fairness-spot.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-moral-life-of-babies/

 

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Ongoing Battle For Sentient Animals

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Jerry

Researchers have identified a group of animals that have greater intellectual and emotional faculties, for example human beings, elephants, porpoises, great apes, and a family of birds known as Corvids.  (See Beyond Animal, Ego and Time Chapter 6, Human Uniqueness).  Society tries to protect human beings while some animal activists try to protect these other species, more lately the great apes.

After considerable progress, activists are pleased they’ve all but stopped experimentation on great apes in the U.S.   Recall the National Institute of Health (NIH) ended the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories.  It has retired the majority of its 360 chimps used in medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all wild and domesticated chimpanzees subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.  Although skirmishes continue in the U.S. the public pressure remains.

The situation in the European Union (EU) is marked by continuing controversy.  The EU issued a directive regarding medical research using non-human primates like chimpanzees.  While the 2010 EU directive was thought to give balance to the issues of minimum animal welfare, intensity of pain to be inflicted and ended most research involving great apes, it contained a provision that explicitly allowed ongoing research with great apes.  It said that research could continue if researchers could not use any other species of animal.

Activists perceived this was somewhat of a loss with EU governance groups and have now redirected their efforts to the local political level.  The EU directive required member states to enact these rules by the start of 2013.  It also said these states could not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by making the state’s law stricter than the EU directive.  Activists have delayed adoption of the directive in several states and are getting cities and municipalities to pass new restrictive laws and regulations to defeat the spirit of the directive at the local level.

In addition there is a petition that began to be circulated in the EU in November of 2012 that already has over a million signatures.  These signatures are being validated.  If they prove genuine, the European Commission and Parliament must hold hearings.   This would lead to another round of open and public debate on the issues.

Now another frontier has been opened up in the saga to protect chimps and great apes in the U.S.   A group called the Non Human Rights Project has filed court suits looking to free four chimps from their captivity.  The intent is to acquire “legal personhood” for these animals.  While New York lower courts denied the suits, they are collectively on appeal.

An article entitled Lawsuits Seek ‘Personhood’ for Chimpanzees in the December 2013 issue of Science magazine identifies Boston attorney, Steven Wise, as one of the people leading the charge.   “In 1993, Wise attempted to sue on behalf of a dolphin that had been transferred to a Navy facility, but the judge ruled that, as nonpersons, animals don’t have the legal “standing” to sue.  (More recently, a federal judge dismissed a 2011 lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when it tried to argue that Sea World had violated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by keeping orcas as “slaves.”).”

It is doubtful American courts will grant ‘personhood’ to nonhuman primates anytime soon.  These efforts however, maintain the pressure on society to recognize there are species of animals that are much closer and have similar cognitive and emotional capabilities to humans.  This should lead to greater adoption of laws and regulations that at least create new categories of rules to take their awareness into account.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents used to prepare this posting.

http://www.nature.com/news/biomedicine-the-changing-face-of-primate-research-1.14645

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6163/1154.summary?sid=3efaff36-1beb-48fc-b483-465cc7f49507

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/chimpanzee-personhood-nonhuman-right/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-do-nonhuman-mammals-fit-in-our-moral-hierarchy/

http://science.time.com/2013/12/10/courts-say-chimps-arent-people/

 

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Genetic History: Some Have Made Their Mark

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Jerry

Genome sequencing is rapidly advancing our knowledge of genetic contributions to the human species.   Recent genetic studies indicate interbreeding between Africans who initially migrated around the world and made up the largest part of the modern human genome, with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and an as yet unknown branch of hominid that contributed to our genetic code.

This new knowledge is demonstrating the evolutionary tree of modern humans includes new ancestral groups.  We see their presence in our genetic code.  This is becoming readily apparent from largely mitochondrial DNA, as well as nuclear DNA, extracted from archeological sites widely distributed in Africa, Siberia, Northern Germany, and Eurasia.

A recent article in Nature shows a likely gene flow that puts the contribution of the unknown ancient population in perspective.  It is from a recent article in the January 2, 2014 issue of nature magazine by Ewan Birney and Jonathan K. Pritchard.  It contains a chart showing first the genetic input of an unknown archaic population was followed by the main human tree splitting into two, with modern Africans separated from Neanderthals and Denisovans and a later branching to two separate  directions for Neanderthals and Denisovans.

This article stated “One surprise was the first clear evidence for interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans; another was the discovery of a second type of archaic hominin in Eurasia in addition to Neanderthals.  This group has been dubbed Denisovans.”  Continuing, the article states, “Most provocatively, Prufer et al. find evidence for levels of gene flow into Denisovans of sequence that is different from that of any known group, implying that there is at least one more, so far undiscovered, archaic-hominin group.”

This new information suggests some unusual conclusions can be drawn.  We have dramatically expanded our abilities to extract genetic information from all sorts of ancient remains.  The genetic material used for these studies is from single individuals in the distant past in each population group.  It is clear their presence and existence is indelibly inscribed in our own genetic code.  This knowledge of them has survived the passage of time.  These individuals, who ever they were, have created a lasting impact.

Use the following links to obtain more information regarding this subject matter or to access the source documentation.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7481/full/nature12847.html

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7481/full/nature12886.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/neanderthals-incest-interspecies-sex-revealed-by-genome-1.2474245

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/neanderthal-bone-highlights-human-inter-breeding-190309785.hmtl#VaOhuje

http://discovermagazine.com/2013/march/14-interbreeding-neanderthals#.utwoy5udc6u

 

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Empathy, Compassion and Hope at Work

Posted on 15 November 2013 by Jerry

We are jaded about reports of scores of people hurt in this or that shooting rampage.  In cases where a bad situation is averted, we either never hear about it or we don’t get enough information to know what happened.  A viral 911 tape, see first link below, drew our attention to Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who talked a man out of using his assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammo in a grammar school.  Her story and the tape are a perfect example of the power of empathy, compassion and hope.

She displayed great empathy when she established a one-to-one relationship with the potential shooter.  She displayed compassion when she described for him her own life and how she survived periods of personal darkness to come back into the light.  She demonstrated hope when she assured him there was a way out of this situation for him.  Not only was she capable of seeing the similarity of her past personal challenges and the situation the gunman was facing but she was also able to elicit her same feelings in the man she persuaded to give himself up.

That the rampage was avoided, that the bookkeeper talked her way out of a bad situation are not the lessons we should take from this incident.  Empathy, compassion and hope are all emotions that are informed by intellect.  Recognition of the shared circumstance of the lives of two living creatures is what creates these emotions.  They represent the possession of self-recognition and the projection of one’s own feelings onto another, putting oneself in the other’s shoes so to speak.

These higher emotions are a product of the evolution of self-aware life forms.  They are largely learned emotions however. Everyone feels the most basic animal emotions of fear, anger, aggression, etc.  The higher emotions like empathy, sympathy and compassion or predictive emotions about future outcomes such as hope or despair all are developed. Unfortunately too few of us practice feeling these emotions or teach our children and others to feel them.

When you listen to Antoinette Tuff what you hear is her movement from fear to compassion for another human being who is in pain and afraid he has taken the situation too far.  You can hear Antoinette’s dawning empathy as you listen to the tape.  Be patient with the long silences. Hers is not a feigned emotion but a real understanding of what the other person is feeling.   This is what makes the tape so exceptional.

If more of us were aware of our higher emotions and used them more frequently the world would be a better place.  Unfortunately we seek the exhilaration of our most base emotions when we watch movies, when we should be preselecting movies that will help us develop higher emotions such as empathy, compassion, sympathy, hope and optimism.  The same is true for what we should be teaching our children.

We also need to be more conscious of to what we expose ourselves and our children.  The news channels are always reporting the negative events in excruciating detail with far less attention to stories that promote the best in all of us.  We need to change our consumption patterns and be active consumers of all that is good in human kind.

Chapter 7, An Evolutionary Imperative in the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time discusses the evolution of higher emotions and their dependency on self-awareness.  See pages 69 through 75.  Go to http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/ .

Use the following links to obtain more information or access source documents for the article:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/08/22/antoinette_tuff_911_call_listen_to_the_full_tape_of_ga_school_clerks_call.html

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/the_story_the_right_hates_antoinette_tuffs_courage/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean_meshorer/tragedy-stopped-by-uncond_b_3795865.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1336.summary?sid=6dbc41b2-5bfb-4125-878c-7c7a8dc8f5d6

http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/

 

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“Bird Brain” Not an Insult, Chimps Freed

Posted on 23 August 2013 by Jerry

Calling someone “bird brained” used to be an insult but that is changing. Although their observed physical reactions are the same, new brain PET scans of birds demonstrate crows react differently when viewing various threats.  In an experiment birds were injected with a die that left traces of brain usage, they were shown various threats, anesthetized and given PET scans to see which areas of their brain had been activated.  When watching a researcher wearing a mask sitting with a dead crow in his lap they activated their hippocampus and cerebellum, the learning and memory areas of their brains.  This was different from their reaction to seeing a hawk, a traditional threat.

Researchers believe the differences came from the bird’s intent.  John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington in an article appearing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B when discussing the masked person with a crow in his lap said, “The crow wasn’t just responding to a danger when he was watching you.  He was learning the features of your masked face.  That’s why we think his hippocampus was activated.”  This and other characteristics of sentience have prompted behavioral researchers to call crows, belonging to the Corvid family, “feathered apes”.

As reported in a July 2013 issue of PLOS ONE, a team led by Alice Auersperg at the University of Vienna demonstrated that captive cockatoos were capable of sequential step-wise problem solving.  In an experiment, when confronted with a series of five locks that had to be unlocked to allow a bird to get to a visible treat, all ten birds figured out the solution to this sequential problem and successfully adjusted their behavior when the locks were sequenced in a different order or removed entirely.

Other research showed that New Caledonian crows share the same capabilities as ravens, African gray parrots and keas (a New Zealand parrot), all of which can all solve the problem of getting a treat hanging out of reach from a perch using the same stepwise method.  The article previously mentioned in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B described the experiment and said “They pull up the string with their beak, then step on the segment with their feet, freeing their beak to pull up more of the string, and so on, until they reach the treat.”

This article also references a 2004 report where an international team of neurobiologists and ornithologists stated “the brains of birds have structure, including an advanced forebrain, that are analogous to those of mammals.”  Once again the research is expanding the scope of animals and birds that have sophisticated problem-solving intellect.  We have been slow to learn the lesson that we are not the only animals that can think the way we do or feel the complex emotions we feel.

There is an exceptional article that appeared in the July 2013 issue of Scientific American entitled When Animals Mourn that describes research indicating that we share our mourning the death of one of our kind with dolphins, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, cats and mallard ducks.   This speaks to the widespread nature of love and mourning in the animal kingdom.

Turning to the role of chimpanzees, the closest human relatives with which we share 98% of our DNA, it was predicted in an earlier posting on this blog (see NIH Moves Chimps From Chumps to Champs in December of 2011) that is was clear the National Institute of Health (NIH) would progressively end the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories in the U.S.  The NIH has now announced the agency will retire the majority of its 360 chimps used for medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all chimpanzees, wild and domesticated, subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.

This means almost a complete end to what has been one of our most abusive behaviors.  Many people have come to decry the pain and suffering we have inflicted on these sensitive animals.  Research methods and alternatives now exist to make use of chimpanzees in medical experiments completely unnecessary and a thing of the past.  This represents meaningful progress for the human species.

Use the following links to obtain more information and/or see source documents:

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1765/20131046.abstract

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0068979

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6141/22.summary

http://scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=when-animals-mourn

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6141/17.summary

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/350936/description/chimps_in_captivity_may_soon_join_endangered_specief_list

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