“Ancient Aliens” can go eat a bag of dicks

I did not enjoy making this video at all, not because of the content, because of all the copyright bullshit YouTube put me through. I use a few very short clips from the History Channel show, Ancient Aliens, specifically to criticize the stupidity therein, and I guess the History Channel is very protective of their idiocy, and the thing kept getting flagged. I finally said screw it, demonetize it, I’m not going to let that channel of lies and foolishness push me around.

So here it is, for what it’s worth. I hate the History Channel, alien pseudoscience, and Giorgio Tsoukalos even more now.

Do I include a sorta partial script of what I said, below the fold? Yes, I do.

I was slumming a bit and watching a bit of a very silly program, Ancient Aliens, on the History Channel. Don’t worry, I’m not losing my mind, I’m just one of those people who needs a little background noise when I’m working, and really, anything on the History Channel is pure noise…although every once in a while something percolates up through my auditory nuclei to trigger a cortical reaction. In this case, I was doing some grading when I heard this introduction.

[clip announcing a discovery out of Kazakhstan 0-33s]

Oh, hey, I remember that paper! It was terrible. Ancient Aliens got it wrong, though. SchCherbak and Makukov didn’t look at the genome at all – they looked only at the genetic code, which is entirely different but are often confused by lay people. That’s the first clue that either no one read the paper, or did and didn’t understand it. They also didn’t find a precise code or mathematical patterns or a symbolic language.

[clip of David Whitehead]

Who? I had to look him up. He’s a talk radio host who calls himself the Truth Warrior, who has lately been deplatformed because he kept pushing nonsense about the coronavirus. He’s a twit. He doesn’t understand biology. I don’t think he understands the difference between the genome and the genetic code, either.

The real thrill, though, is the appearance of this well known clown.

[clip of Georgio Tsoukalos – 45s-1:17]

There are a few problems with his interpretation. No, the genetic code is not assumed to be random – just looking at it, we can see simple patterns. He also gets the probability wrong: the odds of the specific genetic code we use occurring by pure chance is not 1 in 10 trillion, but 1 in over 10 to the 115th power. Again, though, that’s irrelevant because we know it isn’t pure chance.

He also makes an assumption that we’ll find evidence of ancient aliens have meddled in our DNA, when exactly the opposite has occurred, and what we’ve found instead is evidence of common descent and our relatedness to other earthly organisms. He might be surprised to learn that the shCerbak & Makukov paper, even if its interpretations were entirely correct (they aren’t), reinforces the idea that all life on earth is related.

First, though, let’s clarify a significant distinction: the genome vs. the genetic code.

The genome is the sequence of nucleotides in the entire nuclear chromosome set. In us humans, that’s about 3 billion nucleotides, those As, Cs, Ts, and Gs lined up in the DNA. We sequenced the human genome in the late 1990s, and we can do fun stuff like comparing the arrangements of nucleotides in our cytochrome C gene with the cytochrome C genes of chimps, flies, frogs, and bacteria. It’s obvious from the context that that’s what the goofballs on Ancient Astronauts are thinking of.

The genetic CODE is altogether different, and was worked out 40 years earlier. The code is how a trio of nucleotides in DNA, called a codon, is translated into an amino acid in a protein. This is the genetic code.

What the genetic code says is that the RNA is read 3 nucleotides at a time, and that each triplet specifies an amino acid. So UUU is translated to Phenylalanine, at the top left, while GGG, bottom right, means Glycine. That’s it! It’s a way to encode 20 possible amino acids (and some punctuation) with four possible nucleotides. Figuring this out was a triumph, and it allowed us to determine the sequence of a protein from the sequence of nucleotides in a gene.

A subsequent discovery is that all organisms on earth use this same genetic code (there are a few special case exceptions). So UUU in a human codes for phenylalanine, and UUU also codes for phenylalanine in an avocado or a mushroom or yeast. The translation process is universal! That makes sense, because a mutation that changed the code would change how every single gene in the organism would be translated. The code is basically locked in from the very first organism that evolved it, and this is further evidence for common descent.

Shcherbak and Makukov do not dispute that, and in fact embrace it. Every living thing on earth uses the same code, no problem. The question is…why this specific code? Why does UUU code for phenylalanine, and not lysine? Why is there a pattern, where for instance every codon that starts with CC encodes proline, with the third nucleotide making no difference? Why are there exceptions, like with the UU pair coding for two different amino acids, phenylalanine and leucine, depending on what the third nucleotide is?

Those are actually good and interesting questions, and biochemists have been trying to answer them for a while. I’d suggest that it’s evidence that the original code consisted of two nucleotide pairs, which was only sufficient for 16 possible combinations, inadequate to specify 20 amino acids, and that the third nucleotide in the codon was only later incorporated to add additional specificity. There are also interesting ideas floating around that the associated RNA dinucleotides were actually catalytic elements specific to synthesis of their associated amino acids, but that’s not what the Shcherbak & Makukov paper are suggesting.

Instead, they argue that the genetic code was specifically set up by intelligent designers to have particular mathematical properties, peculiar properties that are not an essential part of any code, but were placed there to get the attention of any intelligent species that evolved to puzzle out the code. They call it the “Wow!” signal. It doesn’t carry any useful information other than one message: it’s a signature of artificiality, nothing more. It was designed to have a particular mathematical meaning that says it’s just too pretty and elegant to have been a product of chance.

I disagree, obviously, and I don’t think they made an adequate case – and that any code could get the kind of post hoc rationalization they give it. It reads like a very silly and rather pompous paper that uses numerology and odd twisty diagrams like this one to make a strained claim with only handwavey evidence.

But here’s the problem with the way Ancient Aliens tries to use it: it’s a universal code. All life on earth uses the same code. You can’t use it to claim there is a special destiny written into our genome, because clams and spiders all carry the same code as we do! The code is entirely neutral on the fate of subsequently evolved genomes.

What Shcherbak and Makukov instead try to claim is that this is evidence of a singular panspermia event early in the history of Earth, that we were seeded with organisms with this unique code because the code is resistant to evolutionary change and would be a marker to any species that later evolved to let them know who their maker was. I don’t think it’s sufficiently special to do that, however, and would favor the idea the our code is a product of chance and biochemical necessity.

However, I did think of one science fictional premise for it. If the code is arbitrary and an esthetic and mathematical choice by a designer, and if it is locked in by hard selection as soon as an organism adopts it, then it could be a useful brand marker to lay claim to all the descendants of the original designed stock. The Xordaxians could have designed our specific code to distinguish us from any worlds seeded by their competitors, the Nihilanths. They were planning very far ahead, so they’d know if they landed on Earth 4 billion years after the seeding, they’d know if they saw UUU coding for phenylalanine, rather than, say, arginine, that meant we were “theirs” and not the Vorlon’s.

Anyway, the real message here is that the numerology of Shcherbak and Makukov does not make the point they think it does, and that the writers of Ancient Aliens, and their talking heads like Whitehead and Tsoukalos, are friggin’ idiots. But you already knew all that, right?

All right, that’s it for this week. Now normally I’d leave you with some lovely drone footage of my part of the world, but my part of the world has been afflicted with cold and high winds lately, so I chose to stay indoors where it’s warm and calm. Instead, you’ll just have to enjoy the names of my patrons floating by. You should enjoy that, these really are wonderful people. Should I remind you that I do have a patreon account, at http://patreon.com/pzmyers, and I would greatly appreciate it if you’d drop a tip in there. I’m cheap, I don’t ask for much, but it does help counter some legal expenses we’re trying to smack down.
Also, feel free to leave suggestions for further topics I should address. YouTube is so full of anti-science nonsense, I’m more overwhelmed by the vast numbers and magnitude of the foolishness here, so you help me narrow it down.
I am still planning to start another series where I just talk about the cool science stuff I enjoy. I even have a name picked out: “Evo Devo Diary”. The only thing holding me back right now is work obligations. I’m trying to finish up a long painful semester, and just the workload for my day job is keeping me worn out.


  1. cartomancer says

    Do what Jim Sterling does – just put in so much other copyright-infringing stuff that the video gets caught in limbo as many interested parties try to claim it for themselves and none of them gets the revenue.

  2. says

    This stuff is waaayyy over my head, but I have one question:

    Atoms have only a limited number of ways to form molecules with other atoms, and elements with low atomic number are more plentiful than high numbers. Do you think RNA and DNA base types may be the only ones possible because of that? That life elsewhere might be partially compatible or similar?

  3. Thomas Scott says

    I’d rather eat a bag of Dick’s than a bad of White Castles (and I’ll bet that you would too)!

  4. dangerousbeans says

    @Intransitive no. very small molecules exist in limited structures due to the properties of the atoms (eg water), but once you get up to amino acids or nucleotides you’re not dealing with small molecules any more. Amino acids have molecular weights in the 100s, nucleotides up around 500, and proteins can be huge (botulism toxin for instance is ~150,000).
    That’s just weights, we haven’t got to chirality and structure yet
    So it’s seems like a completely incompatible biochemistry is possible.

    Also apparently there are artificial nucleotides used in PCR

  5. says

    As for future topics?

    What about bad science of the past? There have to have been some popular bad science movements in the past. I mean, I would expect a single video to address an entire movement or series of books from the 1900s/1910s that all dealt with the same thing, instead of a each video tackling only a single book or paper within that movement.

    Sure you do one video to critique one episode of Ancient Aliens, but 50 years from now, the future PZ might only do one video to critique the entirely of the Ancient Aliens series. (Although if future PZ is still a biologist, FPZ might focus on the claims in one episode that are more in the realm of biology to find the examples necessary to critique the whole concept/series).

    I hope that got the idea across. Psychoneurological structuralism might be one example. There is no separate evolved brain region for each sensation you experience, and you certainly don’t add them up in the way structuralism proposed (2 sweet + 1 flower + 1 tang = Strawberry, or whatever) but curiously there “circuits”, albeit unique to the individual’s experience and formed via plastic customization rather than hard wiring as a result of genetic inheritance, that sometimes correspond to a specific experience/sensation of something.

    So what did they get wrong? Why was it wrong? What science did they ignore to promote their bad ideas (since we’re still assuming this is “bad science” — which might not include Psychoneurological structuralism when it originated since we probably didn’t know enough from 1880-1900 that the hypothesis should have been dismissed out of hand)?

    All that might be pretty interesting.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    Another problem with this is how to determine what a “designed” mathematical sequence would look like, as opposed to a naturally occurring one.
    I’m no mathematician, but I know that “wow” sequences show up all the time in nature, like the Golden Mean or the Fibonacci sequence or various fractals. So if a particularly elegant or interesting pattern shows up, that seems a lot more like evidence of the math that underlies everything, and which we do not yet fully understand, then aliens.

  7. Alverant says

    I’m going to say that YouTube’s takedown notices are a joke and designed to be exploited to prevent criticism. I would bet money that if you praised AA they wouldn’t have flagged it. Fair use no longer applies.

  8. PaulBC says

    @6, @9 I think even if you found alien life based on DNA, it would have a completely different genetic code, which I believe is determined by the transfer RNA that bind to 3-base codons at one end and amino acids at the other. If you had a different set of transfer RNA, you could have a different encoding. (But what determines the transfer RNA and ensures that we always get the same set? I am not a biologist. I ought to look that up unless someone can give me a quick answer.)

    It would certainly be interesting have some alien life to compare. Even unicellular life would help with a lot of questions about what parts are “necessary” or at least “typical” of living things. I would imagine that information-bearing polymers with a reliable means of copying would be the basis of much life in the universe (at least in earth-like conditions). I doubt nucleotides are the only ones that work for this.

  9. wzrd1 says

    There are quite a few tightly conserved sequences in the DNA across many species, happily, we don’t get idiotic notions of Wow! signals being blathered about them, ignoring that they’re tightly conserved because that’s the most effective and stable configuration possible for important structures.

    Eventually, move onto the terrors that come out of Mother Nature’s bioweapons labs. Like a variant of an insulin molecule that’s great at stunning and killing prey, molecules that foul calcium channels up as defense or similar.
    For, finding a means to survive and thrive has an intelligence all of its own, without conscious volition, just plain dumb good fortune in having the right mutation to give one an advantage.

    Well, I’m off to check the dradio to see if the Battlestar has fixed the hot tub for Eccentrica Gallumbits visit…
    And remember, all this has happened before and will happen again, as the world is rife with idiots.

  10. says


    (But what determines the transfer RNA and ensures that we always get the same set? I am not a biologist. I ought to look that up unless someone can give me a quick answer.)

    I don’t know, of course, since IANAB, but let’s do this thing the best we know how.

    Let’s say that tRNA is itself coded for in the genome — either directly or the machinery that makes the tRNA is coded in the genes of an organism.

    Now, there could be a mutation that results in the production of novel tRNAs, but if that happens, that’s not a mutation in a single gene. Since the new tRNA is going to affect at least a quarter of all 64 codon => amino acid correspondences, then 1 in 4 amino acids is subject to change. Of course, sometimes this won’t matter too much. For instance, if the tRNA was meant to bind to one codon and now binds to another, but it still binds to the same amino acid and the genetic code had both of those codons corresponding to the same amino acid anyway. It’s also possible, however, that the mutation is such that it actually changes the genetic code.

    In that case, a huge number of codons will now be translated into the wrong amino acid.

    Now of course there’s a safety margin here as well, since not all genes are necessary (breaking the eye color gene left us with blue eyes, it didn’t render us blind or dead) even if they’re generally helpful (the eye color gene was there because having extra pigment in the iris can prevent long-term degenerative damage to both the iris itself and also to the retina). This safety margin is further enhanced because changing a single amino acid doesn’t always change the function of the protein — that’s how we have alleles (two versions of a single protein that both function, but function slightly differently) and differing alleles that produce slightly different qualities in the resulting organism are how we get evolution.

    So okay, not every gene will be necessary, so some can break while the organism still survives. And not every gene will be broken by swapping out a single amino acid.

    But SOME genes will be broken by a single amino acid swap, and because most genes are a lot, lot longer than just a few amino acids, more genes will have more than one amino acid changed. With 100 codons in a protein, since there are around 25 types of tRNA, you might have 1 in 25 codons putting in the wrong amino acid, which is 4 errors in that single protein, that isn’t even that long. The shortest proteins are, if I understand Google correctly, on the order of 40 amino acids long. So on average, every one of the smallest proteins will have 1.5 errors. EVERY. ONE.

    Of course that’s merely an average. Some small proteins will have 0 errors while others will have 5 or 10 or 12. Large proteins are worse. Large proteins might contain up to 1200 amino acids (and thus require 1200 codons), again, IIUGC.

    1200/25= 48. So very large proteins are going to average 48 errors per protein.

    This isn’t 50ish errors in the genome we’re talking about. This is 50ish errors in every single protein.

    The inevitable result is that LOTS of proteins are going to be broken.

    That implies that it’s highly unlikely for an organism to have a mutation in its tRNA production that wouldn’t cause reproduction to entirely fail. A human egg wouldn’t ever become more than a blastocyst. It would just be toast.

    Now, smaller, more primitive organisms have fewer genes, but I would guess (just a guess!) that a larger percentage of those genes are essential for survival. So a 500-gene organism isn’t necessarily a lot better off than a 20,000 gene organism.

    As a result, tRNA production will be at least as strongly conserved as your most stringently conserved, most biologically essential gene. In practice, it’s probably a lot more conserved than that, since a break in the genetic code means a break in a lot more than one gene.

    For a final time, IANAB, but I see some good reasons that plausibly indicate why tRNA production might be tightly conserved (and thus the genetic code itself would be tightly conserved). It may turn out that the why of the conservation is very different from what I’ve presented, but for the reasons I’ve articulated here I would definitely expect that natural selection would inevitably play a strong role in conserving the genetic code and the tRNA molecules that function as the coders.

  11. microraptor says

    The History Channel and its sister station TLC are prefect examples of why the idea of for-profit educational programming doesn’t work.

  12. John Morales says

    microraptor, heh. You’ve (whether inadvertently or otherwise) just implied The History Channel is an example of “educational programming”; on that, opinions vary.

  13. wzrd1 says

    @John Morales, I can still remember way back when they did have quality history related programming.
    Then, like many other specialized channels (like TLC and SciFi) began to scope creep and eventually discard any notion of remaining true to their origin and programming in general turned straight into shit.

  14. GerrardOfTitanServer says


    I remember back as a kid when the History Channel was affectionately known as the World War 2 Documentary Channel.

    To Crip Dyke

    There is no separate evolved brain region for each sensation you experience, and you certainly don’t add them up in the way structuralism proposed (2 sweet + 1 flower + 1 tang = Strawberry, or whatever) but curiously there “circuits”, albeit unique to the individual’s experience and formed via plastic customization rather than hard wiring as a result of genetic inheritance, that sometimes correspond to a specific experience/sensation of something.

    I’m not sure if I understand you correctly, but I think you’re actually wrong and the idea that you’re attacking has some merit.

    This reminds me of a talk that I saw long ago by VS Ramachandran on synesthia. Synthesia is when a person’s brain has a “short circuit”, and for example, when they see the number “5”, they see it as red, and when they see the number “6”, they see it as blue. There’s some cross activation from the part of the brain responsible for “seeing” or “understanding” 5 which “accidentally” lights up the area of the brain responsible for blue. It’s really fun stuff. (Number-color synesthesia is apparently the most common kind, but there are other kinds.)

    The interesting part of this discussion is that not everyone with number-color synesthesia has the same number-color associations. However, it appears that it’s also not just random chance. Some numbers and colors are more likely to be associated than other combinations. This is weakly suggestive of the idea which I think you’re attacking. I know it’s very weak evidence, but it does suggest that our experience color, and by (bad) extrapolation, our experience of taste, is not completely plastic, and does have some sort of genetic root.

    I know that I’m completely out of my league here, but I thought I’d throw this here, in case you didn’t know about.

    Also, sorry if I completely misunderstood you, which I think is decently high in this case.

  15. says

    The hypothesis I’m writing about allows zero plasticity and also predicts that complicated sensations/perceptions are simply additives of a specific whole number of base sensations/perceptions.

    It had as its idea that just as a limited number of elements combined in whole numbers with other elements to form all the molecules we know, any sight or sound or smell or taste, even any emotion, was just the right combination of basic sensations/perceptions. I was hinting at this without fully explaining it when I wrote that they hypothesis generated equations of experience like:

    2 sweet + 1 flower + 1 tang = Strawberry, or whatever

    That’s an example in kind however. I don’t know if they considered the taste or scent of strawberry to be a base “element” of experience of it there was a recipe that they thought could be used to calculate the experience of strawberry, but this is just to give you the idea of what this kind of structuralism entailed & how it operated.

    Between the zero-plasticity concept and the limited number of “elements” of experience that are identical from person to person concept, the whole theoretical structure came crashing down in the early 1900s.

    I haven’t really delved into it, but when I was taking undergrad psych many years ago this was an example used to show how psychology had moved toward evidence & experimentation from past “narrative hypotheses” like those of Freud. IIRC, William James was instrumental in the creation of the experiments that originally falsified the core structuralist claims. Of course, it’s been a long time & this isn’t my area, so it could have been William James that proposed the hypotheses that were later debunked. I’m 90% sure he was involved in the falsification, but there’s still a chance he was the one whose theories were being falsified (by someone else). In any case, William James. East coast of the USA. Early practitioner of psychology & someone who wanted to put it on a firmer, more scientific footing. I remember him being a pretty interesting guy when I was reading about him 3 decades ago.

  16. microraptor says

    John Morales @17: When the History Channel first began broadcasting, it had a wide assortment of high-quality educational shows and was hailed as a channel who’s educational value rivaled that of PBS. But then things started to go downhill and the need to attract viewership for advertising revenue meant that they started compromising the quality of their content by showing such stupidity as Ancient Aliens, cryptids, and that silly show about the Las Vegas pawnshop. The end result being that the History Channel no longer has any shows that actually focus on history or provide any actual educational benefit, thus demonstrating that for-profit educational television is a dumb idea that doesn’t actually work in reality.

  17. wzrd1 says

    Honestly, given the number of synesthia vs other sensory-neural issues, I suspect synesthia is more a synch error in processing, resulting in muddled content arriving outside of the context sensitive timeframe and being processed in.
    I’m dyslexic, but drilled to have learned to process information in a more normal way. Oddly, I see through what others all universally see as “invisible” camouflage. That’s a difference in processing and dyslexia is not a frequently acquired trait.
    The point being, the brain isn’t a microcomputer or even a mainframe, it’s built upon multiple evolved and interacting compartments, all requiring precise timing that we’ve managed to partially uncover, I suspect that the entire fabric is a lot richer in details than is currently comprehended yet, but we’re now possessing the start of tools to actually begin to do so, such as fMRI and similar fast signaling detection tools, where crude EEG’s only gave essentially two dimensial tools in a 4 D environment, as dime is indeed a dimension we must navigate and realize the delay in processing.
    As an example, I have moderate to growing severe hearing loss, it takes me at times, a couple of seconds to figure out what was most probably said, based upon context, conditions and what comes out within context and questions are asked to clarify to ensure accuracy.
    If time synch is broken, heaven only knows when processing would end and oh, colors begin.
    Given we’ve also observed pain data processed by increasing parts of the brain in chronic pain, as it persists.
    That same neuroplasticirty can play into processing information that’s previously out of context, otherwise, plasticity breaks down and damage can’t get mapped around. It’s not like we have a magical learning circuit, it’s a neural network.
    If synch breaks down, processing gets delayed out of context and there can be some pseudorandom or even potentially, predictably timed out of context arrivals between compartments.
    And our bodies are rife with compartments of various sorts. Immune privilege being of current interest.

  18. sjwslayer says

    ““Ancient Aliens” can go eat a bag of dicks”
    Classic P*ussy Myers. Keep it up. I see the sjw cool-aid you drank a long time ago has and continues to serve you well. With the mad eyes and the smirk
    of a demented old freak who, once respeced, now no one would touch with a 10 foot pole. You worked very hard for this.
    Don’t ever look at yourself in the mirror or try to see yourself through the eyes on any normal person. We don’t want to see you hanging from the ceiling.

  19. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    [His Story] channel, shortened the name by overlapping the ‘s’s, like [SciFi] went [SyFy]

  20. sjwslayer says

    You would think that little fag wouldn’t you? Im sure you’re as dumb as your mad ‘prophet’ here.

  21. PaulBC says

    @30 Do you have some sort of point? I get that you don’t like PZ Myers. Was there something you wanted to say about “Ancient Aliens” or did you just pick a random thread to start spewing. Curious. (Not really.)

  22. PaulBC says

    Crip Dyke@15 I agree that genes for transfer RNA would have to be among the most highly conserved because everything breaks if you don’t preserve the encoding. Are there variations that change their shape but preserve the code? What if you had an extra one that encoded a different amino acid for some codon, but was just incredibly inefficient? I guess that would still be enough of a mess but there must have been some point at which these things were in flux.

  23. says

    GerrardOfTitanServer (#19) –

    And for the first couple of years, Discovery was the James Burke channel with lots of good science miniseries of the past. Too bad they never showed any Jonathan Miller stuff.

    I remember back as a kid when the History Channel was affectionately known as the World War 2 Documentary Channel.

  24. PaulBC says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@19 I always found that if you called it the Hitler Channel, people knew what you meant. The big H logo doesn’t help.

  25. Aaron says

    Hate to say it, but if the end result was that the video got demonetized, then you’re still being pushed around. You’ve just been forced into the situation of accepting the bigger wrong of giving the History Channel some of the profit from the labor creating your fair use content, or the “lesser” wrong of not allowing anyone but YouTube to make that profit.

  26. says

    RNA (DNA is made from RNA) would not neccesairly evolve if you turned back the clock. There are 10+ individual reactions in the purine pathway starting from ribose with 3 phosphates attached like PRPP just to get to IMP which then splits to either AMP or GMP.
    The less complex pyrimidine pathway builds the ring up and then puts it on PRPP to make OMP which then goes on to UMP which is then made into CMP. dTMP is made from dUMP.

    If the pathways are any guide the junctions with other pathways suggest how the system evolved. The path to A and G branches and merges with the cofactor Thiamine at the point where the first ring is closed. Thiamine is involved in making ribose as well other carbon chain chemistry.

    Also amino acids are part of the base part of the nucleotide. Glycine is the first thing attached to the PRPP after a single NH3. Aspartate is part of the pyrimidine ring.
    Other observations, a product of the pathway that makes Histidine is an intermediate in Purine biosynthesis, PRPP is part of late stage Histidine biosynthesis…

    The basic nucleotides can be modified by dozens of different kinds of modifications that seem to fine tune functions as well as make functions possible (methylation, hydroxylation, even ribosylation). I did my graduate work on ribosome biogenesis and rRNA modifications. An organism would not tolerate a mutation to the basic biosynthesis of nucleotides, but are tolerant to many mutations that affect the secondary modifications.

  27. says

    Correction. Organisms are less tolerant to mutations to purine and pyrimidine biosynthetic machinery. Mutants are generated for study on a regular basis.

    Secondary modifications that appear in all organisms have been prevented in model organisms, often with little apparent effect.

  28. Ichthyic says

    ” Turns out to be less biology than environment”

    this is incorrect. I have personally seen the neural scans comparing synesthetics to neurototypical… there is a large difference, and that difference in processing exists LONG before letters are even recognized as symbols.

    you must be misinterpreting what the study you cite is showing, or something else is going on there. synesthesia is a real, physical, genetically based difference. it IS entirely possible that plasticity could mimic it in appearance though, as the brain has been shown to be “rewirable” to an extent.

  29. says

    Re the History Channel.

    I remember in the 90s watching a great documentary about the Silk Road with gorgeous cinematography capturing the landscapes through which travelers passed and significant exploration of how the trade of goods & ideas affected the development of the cultures that lay at either end & along the path of the Road. That was fantastic. Co-sponsored by NHK, IIRC. If History Channel still made shows like that, I’d love them.

  30. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    @40 I’m not saying that synesthisa isn’t a real thing, I’m just saying that there is some evidence that in some cases there is some environmental influence on the form it takes, i.e. which letters /numbers get associated with which colours.

  31. PaulBC says

    @42 I would expect the association to be entirely idiosyncratic because there is nothing intrinsic at all about letters: they have to be learned and the learning happens in all different contexts. So it’s interesting (and surprising ) to me that the colors even correlate statistically.

    I don’t think I have synesthesia but I do have many associations that cross boundaries. For instance, I think of odd numbers as pointy, and even numbers as smooth. Is that normal? It sort of makes sense to me. The pointy part is the remainder when you divide the odd number by 2. I used to decide on whether I like shoes based on the face they were making at me. This one is a little more obvious, and similar I think to the way many people see the front grille of a car with headlights. Of course, people see faces in everything.

  32. Owlmirror says

    I don’t think I have synesthesia but I do have many associations that cross boundaries. For instance, I think of odd numbers as pointy, and even numbers as smooth.

    Why wouldn’t that be synesthesia?

    I think it’s been suggested that low-level associations like these imply that some synaesthesia is, possibly, (nearly-)universal. The bouba/kiki effect is common enough that there seems to be a very common association of phonemes with shapes, for example.

  33. PaulBC says

    @45 Oh, that’s cool. I never even heard of the bouba/kiki effect. I agree on the names (though I didn’t do a blind test). Those are also great illustrations of pointy (odd) and smooth (even). Maybe I’ll start calling numbers kikis and boubas now.

    It’s interesting it was done in India. I feel that I can usually guess right if an Indian name is male or female (kind of the same hints as in Latin-based names, like ending in “a”). This comes up looking at resumes. Of course, it’s not perfect, and it goes without saying that it does not affect my hiring recommendation. It is not true of Chinese names, at least in my experience. I wonder how many cultures and languages have been tested for kiki and bouba.

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