Structuralism does not imply that evolution runs on rails

I got a guest spot on Jackson Wheat’s channel, where he’s rebutting a guy who claims that structuralism means that evolution will inevitably lead to humans — that intelligent bipedal mammals are an ideal form that life will converge upon because it is encoded in the natural laws of the universe. That isn’t what structuralism implies at all! Gould and Lewontin’s spandrel paper is not saying that cathedrals are inevitable, but that some architectural features will emerge as a consequence of physical constraints rather than by design.

Jackson explains it all, and I intrude near the end to say a few pro-structuralist marks while totally repudiating the idea that evolution runs on invisible rails that mean certain forms are necessary.

Adventures in building science gear

I’m eager to start surveying and collecting spiders, so I prematurely made a Berlese funnel, a kind of filter for collecting small invertebrates from soil samples. I say “premature”, because I made it just before last week’s big blizzard hit, so everything inside refroze, and I’d also overloaded it with too much gunk. So reset: cleared it out and tried again with a smaller sample and warmer weather. It worked!

No spiders, though. Other little critters. I’ll be hesitant to jump into any leaf piles in the future, I tell you what.

I’m complaining about evolutionary psychology again

It’s kind of an irresistible target.

A few things that I mention:
The evolutionary psychology FAQ at UCSB
(Warning: it’s a sad, ugly, long document, but worth perusing if you want ammunition against evolutionary psychology.)

Chapter 7 of Darwin’s Descent of Man
(Warning: it’ll be a shock if you haven’t read 19th century literature in scientific racism before. Darwin held all the biases of his time.)

The critical points:

Evolution is more than just selection, and includes mutation, recombination, and drift.

Natural selection has a cost; it puts an upper bound on the number of elements subject to selection.

Populations have a substantial amount of genetic variation.

Most of that variation is neutral, or nearly neutral.

Mutations that have a small effect are invisible to selection.

Who wants to live forever?

Jennifer Raff has written an informative summary of what you can actually learn about ancient ancestors from those DNA tests.

  1. Your DNA is not a good snapshot of your whole family tree more than a few generations back. You have many more genealogical ancestors than you have genetic ancestors.
  2. Any given individual in the past (including all of the ancient people referenced in the Primeval DNA test) is extremely unlikely to have passed along their DNA to anyone, including you.
  3. Any person in the distant past—be they anonymous peasant or famous monarch—who passed on their DNA into present times might be your ancestor, but he or she will also likely be the ancestor of everyone else in the world. In other words, as geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford explained in his post on the subject for The Guardian, “we are all special, which means none of us are.”

I like to turn all that around, and consider our descendants. 1) You’re going to be genetically disintegrated and your bits scattered among your descendants, if any; 2) most of us will not have our specific DNA represented in any distant descendants; and 3) if you do leave descendants, your genes will be dispersed among huge numbers of individuals. Sorry, everyone, there really isn’t any such thing as genetic immortality. I blame sex.

Enjoy your life now.

I think I could use an evening of frogs

We’re in the midst of a blizzard, the UMM campus is closed, but the show must go on. An evening of frogs and films by Katie Garrett is still taking place tonight, so if you’re nearby, do try to make it. If you’re not nearby, you’d be crazy to travel in this weather, so don’t.

Frogs would be a denial of our current weather situation, so I think I’ll be going.

There can be only one?

This image illustrates hominin history over 4 million years, highlighting a recent discovery in the Philippines. Is anyone else as horrified by it as I am?

It illustrates 8 species of Homo in the last million years. The fossil record is spotty, so there are probably more…and the record prior to a million years ago is going to be even weaker, and the number of species is going to be even less representative of reality. Our family was a wonderful flowering bush of diversity, and now its been pared down to a single twig, us.

That’s an illustration of failure. We should be worried, especially since we’re actively exterminating even our distant cousins, taking an axe to the whole family tree. We’re working towards only supporting one primate type on the entire planet, which seems a little selfish and short-sighted.

Wildly exaggerating dinosaur technology as a recipe for attention

It’s happening again. I’m seeing the idea of dinosaurs being resurrected in the lab in the news again. It happens all the time. I saw it in 2009; in 2013, they were predicting it would happen within 5 years (what year is it now?). Ever since, there are these frequent outbursts of “scientists say they can recreate living dinosaurs!”,
over and over and over and over again. They always say “scientists”, plural, but if you plow through that deluge of articles, it always turns out to be one scientist, singular, and that scientist is Jack Horner. One man is constantly making this claim, usually with references to Jurassic Park so that credulous reporters will understand it.

Let’s stop, OK?

In theory, we may someday be able to genetically modify extant organisms to give them attributes associated with dinosaurs — sharp teeth, long claws, long tail, etc. — but they will not be recreating dinosaurs. They would be creating organisms of no practical utility and only the most tenuous connection to dinosaurs. They would be big ugly variations on modern birds, which could nominally be called “dinosaurs”, but we don’t need Frankenstein’s lab to do that…just go look up emus and ostriches.

Horner’s skills are in paleontology. Doing this would require expertise in genetics, molecular biology, and development. He doesn’t have that. He just keeps getting up in front of journalists and lay audiences and announcing that can do that. I think he has just enough smarts that he recognizes an eventual possibility, but not enough knowledge to appreciate how difficult what he wants is.

He’s a perfect example of the cocky ol’ white man confidently declaring that something will be done, while not knowing how to do it, and the press throws all skepticism and concern for evidence to the winds because, well, how can you doubt the credibility of a successful white man? If anyone else said this (and no one else is), they would be dismissed as a crackpot.

But hey, he’s got a reference: a 1990 science fiction novel by a Luddite whose primary point was that science was overrated and technology was evil. That’s pretty much it.

If you think Horner is prescient and wise, I’ll just remind you that, in his late 60s, he married a 19 year old undergraduate student (which did not produce so much as a reprimand from his university, surprisingly. Or not.)

I repeat: making a monster chicken might be possible with a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of molecular/genetic expertise. There is no motivation to do so, no big initiative to make it happen, no cutting edge team of biotechnologists working away in a secret lab to “recreate” dinosaurs. There is one old guy making extravagant claims to gullible audiences.

Stop treating this as news, please.

The new generation of sexbots aren’t as enticing as I expected

If you think this is horrifying…

…wait until you see the closeup.

The glowing red light and the strange peristaltic motions of the device are really disturbing. But you can buy this machine right now for $5000, I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know.

1) Apparatus Introduction

It merges modern digital technology, automatic control technology and simulation technologies, with semen collection and premature ejaculation desensitization training function.

2) Apparatus Features

(1)The device can simulate the environment of women’s vagina which makes the patient feel comfortable in the process of collecting semen.

(2)Provide a full range of visual, auditory and olfaction stimulation

Wait, what? OLFACTION, too?

(3)Exclusive semen-collection sheath can eliminate contamination of semen

(4)All-round isolation measures to prevent cross-infection

(5)All-round air bags make semen-collection true experience.

Air bags. In case it crashes, I guess.

(6)Good human-machine interface and easy to operate

(7)Support SD CARD,USD external expansion

3) Therapeutic Functions

1. Ejaculation therapy

It can simulate vaginal environment, and through massage, twitching, sucking, vibration, etc., act upon the human penis, which can make semen collection be fast and safe. So it is the best clinical collection equipment of semen.

2. Premature ejaculation desensitization training

The strong currents impact and rub the glans penis repeatedly in order to reduce the excitability of nerve endings so as to passivate the nerve of glans penis, sulcus coronarius, and the surface of the penis, and regulate the sex nerve center in order to minimize nerve sensitivity, improve ejaculatory threshold to treat premature ejaculation.

3.Sex-psychological evaluation:

Sexual psychologicalevaluation, with the international general psychological questionnaire to understand the real performance of sexuality activity,so as to provide reference for effective treatment.

4) Technical Parameters

1,Massage frequency: 0—1.5Hz

2,Motion frequency: 0—2.5Hz

3,Motion journey:30-50mm

4,The adjustable range of sperm-collecting barrel walls:10-30mm

5,Cavity with constant temperatures<36°C

6,The illumination of glow is more than 800lux

7, LCD multimedia acoustic image system

So…vaginas are supposed to glow at 800 lux? You learn something every day.

I bet this machine never says “no”, either.