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Tagged with “evolution” (43)

  1. The Man Who Tried to Feed the World

    Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work as a wheat breeder. The disease-resistant, dwarf wheats that he developed were the foundation of the Green Revolution, banishing global famine and turning India into a food-exporting nation. Many people have hailed Borlaug as a saint, a saviour of humanity. Others have blamed him for everything that is wrong with the modern global food system. The truth, naturally, lies somewhere in between, which is brought out in a new documentary about Borlaug and his work.

    The documentary airs on PBS in the United States next week. I got the chance to see a preview and to talk to Rob Rapley, the writer, director and producer.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  2. Paul Ehrlich: The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment - The Long Now

    Becoming a Benign Dominant

    To track how humans became Earth’s dominant animal, Ehrlich began with a photo of a tarsier in a tree. The little primate had a predator’s binocular vision and an insect-grabber’s fingers. When (possibly) climate change drove some primates out of the trees, they developed a two-legged stance to get around on the savanna. Then the brain swoll up, and the first major dominance tool emerged—language with syntax.

    About 2.5 million years ago, the beginnings of human culture became evident with stone tools. “We don’t have a Darwin of cultural evolution yet,” said Ehrlich. He defined cultural evolution as everything we pass on in a non-genetic way. Human culture developed slowly-the stone tools little changed from millennium to millennium, but it accelerated. There was a big leap about 50,000 years ago, after which culture took over human evolution—our brain hasn’t changed in size since then.

    With agriculture’s food surplus, specialization took off. Inuits that Ehrlich once studied had a culture that was totally shared; everyone knew how everything was done. In high civilization, no one grasps a millionth of current cultural knowledge. Physicists can’t build a TV set.

    Writing freed culture from the limitations of memory, and burning old solar energy (coal and oil) empowered vast global population growth. Our dominance was complete. Ehrlich regretted that we followed the competitive practices of chimps instead of bonobos, who resolve all their disputes with genital rubbing.

    “The human economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Earth’s natural systems,” said Ehrlich, and when our dominance threatens the ecosystem services we depend on, we have to understand the workings of the cultural evolution that gave us that dominance. The current two greatest threats that Ehrlich sees are climate change (10 percent chance of civilization ending, and rising) and chemical toxification of the biosphere. “Every cubic centimeter of the biosphere has been modified by human activity.”

    The main climate threat he sees is not rising sea levels (”You can outwalk that one”) but the melting of the snowpack that drives the world’s hydraulic civilizations— California agriculture totally dependent on the Sierra snowpack, the Andes running much of Latin America, the Himalayan snows in charge of Southeast Asia. With climate in flux, Ehrlich said, we may be facing a millennium of constant change. Already we see the outbreak of resource wars over water and oil.

    He noted with satisfaction that human population appears to be leveling off at 9 to 10 billion in this century, though the remaining increase puts enormous pressure on ecosystem services. He’s not worried about depopulation problems, because “population can always be increased by unskilled laborers who love their work.”

    The major hopeful element he sees is that cultural evolution can move very quickly at times. The Soviet Union disappeared overnight. The liberation of women is a profound cultural shift that occurs in decades. Facing dire times, we need to understand how cultural evolution works in order to shift our dominance away from malignant and toward the benign.

    In the Q & A, Ehrlich described work he’s been doing on cultural evolution. He and a graduate student in her fifties at Stanford have been studying the progress of Polynesian canoe practices as their population fanned out across the Pacific. What was more conserved, they wondered, practical matters or decoration? Did the shape of a canoe paddle change constantly, driven by the survival pressure of greater efficiency, or did the carving and paint on the paddles change more, driven by the cultural need of each group to distinguish itself from the others.

    Practical won. Once a paddle shape proved really effective, it became a cultural constant.

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02008/jun/27/dominant-animal-human-evolution-and-environment/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. Where did language come from? - Big Ideas - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

    Human evolution is a million-year story.  Yet language only appeared in the last 100,000 years. Psychologist Michael Corballis believes that language evolution is far older and more complex. He describes the connections between language and thinking and argues that we underestimate the cognitive ability of other animals.

    https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/where-did-language-come-from/10404342

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. Design Matters with Debbie Millman: Steven Pinker

    Debbie talks with Steven Pinker about the miraculous evolution of language, the most arresting question he has ever fielded, and his new book, Enlightenment Now—which breaks down why we actually have good cause to be positive about the state of the world today.

    https://www.designmattersmedia.com/podcasts/Steven-Pinker

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  5. Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is? | TED Talk | TED.com

    Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is trying to answer a big question: Do we experience the world as it really is … or as we need it to be? In this ever so slightly mind-blowing talk, he ponders how our minds construct reality for us.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived | Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:08 pm on 20 September 2016 | Radio New Zealand

    Each of us carries an epic poem in our cells. DNA tells the story of our murky origins, shaped by evolution, to our current obsession with tracing our ancestry.

    That nucleic acid has the genetic information needed to make all living things. But it’s not the whole story, not even close according to former geneticist, now host of the BBC’s Inside Science.

    Adam Rutherford says the human genome should not be read as instruction manuals, but as epic poems.

    His new book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived separates the myths about what DNA can and can’t tell us about ourselves, where we came from and where the human race is going.

    He uses a metaphor to help people get their head around what DNA is – that of sheet music and an orchestra.

    “More often than not people have referred to DNA as a blueprint or an instruction manual.

    “Sometimes that can be quite misleading because if something’s a blueprint it implies that all the plans are laid out and it has this association with biological determinism – what your genes are is what you will be.”

    And he says we now know that’s not true.

    “The sheet music for a piece of music is the same whether you buy it in 1906 or 2006 but the interpretation of that is down to the conductor and the orchestra and all of the annotations, the layering and the performance.

    “This feels like a better way of describing nature and nurture which results in the symphony which is us.”

    As to forking out hard earned money to find out your ancestry, through DNA profiling don’t bother, he says.

    “We now know about ancestry that we’re all incredibly inbred, the last common ancestor of all Europeans was only about four or five hundred years ago.

    "If you pay them to tell you your ancestors were vikings, it’s true, but only because everyone is. The truth is all of us have ancestors who were vikings and Jews and Indians."

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/201816861/a-brief-history-of-everyone-who-ever-lived

    —Huffduffed by adactio

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