Monday, July 20, 2009

Self-chosen Man.

For a million years or so, Mankind has been poking and scraping at things on this planet, sometimes eating them, sometimes just making shapes to amuse themselves, sometimes just destroying things accidentally. We are good at that.

And ever since then, when Mankind ate of the "fruit" of the tree of knowledge, the world has not been so innocent ever again. Before we came along there could never be Pekingese dogs. There could never be Texas longhorns. There could never be Siamese cats. There could never be popcorn. And there could not even be modern humans unless there were proto-humans who made the initial qualitative choices that led to our genetic form.

We made all of those things appear on the Earth, quite unnaturally. There was the time before when natural selection purely laid the foundations of life. If a life form was weak or unsuited for a particular niche, too bad. It was gone. And the same thing applied to early hominids. It is not clear, exactly, what the environment held against us in those days, but certainly large wild animals, very bad weather, and even very savage fellow hominids all had a hand in their doom. Some kinds of human habitats are similarly savage even today, such as in grizzly bear country, or in places where tigers or leopards still roam.

It is somewhat harder to follow the next phase of logic, which was that as hominids became ever so slightly more intelligent, even though barely above the intelligence of a baboon, their mental processes became part of the "natural selection" process as well.

Although I'm certain we did not consciously create ourselves from the raw material of lesser apes, I am sure that we made choices about who we mated with, who we slaughtered, who we befriended and so forth, on increasingly more arbitrary, qualitative criteria. I call this "augmented" natural selection.

Of course the hominids had already inherited many traits from their ape ancestors, just as we can observe in modern versions of apes. Still, there are no "human-like" apes except for humans. Chimpanzees and gorillas may share many traits, but they are clearly not performing the same kind of "augmented" natural selection which is the hallmark of human genealogy. If they did, they would have become sentient beings like ourselves. They did not.

Let's make a cruel but plausible scenario in which early man might have made decisions that effected evolution. For instance, let's assume that, for whatever reason, there was some bad weather, some limited food stuffs, and few food animals to hunt. It is also most likely that males were the dominate ones of our species in most (but not all) aspects of life. They still seem to be the most dominate today, although not in quite so pronounced a manner.

So, if the alpha male has to make choices of who gets to eat and who doesn't, what criteria might there be? The male, being as shallow as modern males, perhaps, might choose more sexually appealing females to keep and drive away the others. (I'm not sure what "appealing" meant for the earlier hominids, maybe odor, maybe looks, who knows?)

The males in the group might either have been held at "spear tip" distance, or at least allowed to remain in the group on a strict value basis, such as whether they were essential for hunting, excelled at tool making, or even if they were merely good friends with the head honcho.

Males that encroached on the alpha male's gang of females might not be so appreciated, but there may be room for sharing some of the females so long as there is a benefit to the group in the opinion of the alpha male. No matter how prodigious an alpha male might be, he still can only service so many females in a given time. So it is unlikely that an alpha male could successfully keep every single female to himself, because even if he's the meanest, most selfish hulk on the hill, he has to sleep sometime and the females could be very sneaky in their own quests.

Still, some kind of understanding about that would effect who mates with the females and who doesn't. This is another area for qualitative selection to be enforced.

Certainly, at some point along the way, the sexual habits of the humans began to reflect their intelligence, both in the conscious selection of mates and in the choices which females themselves could make amongst the children they bore. Even the shapes and functions of the sex organs became selected for.

In purely aesthetic areas, if a child was somehow too ugly, or had something "unappealing" about it, the females might neglect it, allowing the unfortunate mutants to wither away. In some animal species the females actively seek out and kill babies for many reasons, including jealousy, anger, mutation and perhaps even "having slightly the wrong odor."

Humans react to babies in predictable ways in modern times, however even the most mutated human babies might be sheltered by parents now and then. There are many cases of idiot savants, the Elephant Man, paraplegics and so forth, who would probably just die if subjected to a more natural setting. On the other hand, just as many of the same conditions would spell certain doom to those poor children, from either stark neglect or outright infanticide by frustrated, disappointed parents.

I wonder how many infants where "drawn and quartered" in the courts of ancient kings, such as with the stories of Solomon. It is not so much that Solomon actually did such things, but the fact that the women in the story about "who the real mother was" actually believed Solomon would and could do such a thing was telling.

But infant killings are rare enough and specialized enough that they are usually understandable, and usually out of necessity. One cannot keep a baby alive if it has no brain, or if the skin cannot form around its internal organs, or if its bones grow together in a knot, etc. Whether human or animal, those cases are hopeless. Yet in human society, those cases can lead to greater knowledge about the mechanics of genetics.

It could be a side effect of modern medicine, whereby keeping alive babies which were deemed hopeless in earlier times, that we will ruin our genetic heritage. But I think we have already ruined it, many eons ago. We can never be "naturally selected" again. If conditions on this planet become so terrible that only the "most fit" can survive, then the greatest majority of us are certainly doomed. I cannot even imagine what kind of person it would take, because I don't know what the conditions really will be. Many past extinctions occurred with animals which were far more adapted to harsh conditions that we are.

But, technology being a kind of "ace in the hole", it may be that it will not be the most brutish of the brutes that survive, but the geekiest of the geeks, instead. As for the females? I have no clue. But, if you notice, geekiness knows no sexual boundaries.

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