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People who study the natural history of giraffes have observed that they don't really eat from just high up in the trees. More often, rather, they eat from the lower limbs.

So why the long necks? They're actually secondary sex traits (e.g., tails of male peackocks, antlers/horns, male lion manes, and German cars).

Females giraffes choose mates with long necks for the same reason female birds choose males with pretty colors - these animals can survive, are tough, and good providers, because they can take care of themselves AND avoid death due to bad camouflage or pretentiousness (German cars).

Male giraffes even use their necks to wrestle one another in direct competition to mate with females. This also explains why females have shorter necks, similar to female birds having drab colors, and female lions lacking manes (females don't compete for the attention of males, rather choose the biggest, fastest, best singers, or ones with the most endurance). If only we could get German car drivers to smash into one another like big horn rams to gain the acceptance of the opposite sex. I'd pay to watch that.

Peter Payne

I got it. Another "aspirations" post.

Chris Marshall | Martial Development

Well, the rats would probably be embittered, and this resentment would influence their child-rearing. That is what we see in humans.

What difference does it make whether a biochemical mediator is involved? Do you have a "particle fetish"?


The way I see it, (sorry if it has been repeated already since this is the most logical reason) is that the giraffe has no (sub/super/other)concious choice in determining whether the offspring has a longer or shorter neck. It is just that giraffes with longer necks are able to reach the tree which just so happen to have leaves high in the air. Other thousands of iterations the ones that could not reach high up in the air die off to starvation, and the ones that can reach survive, by simple evolution. Looking at one individual states as you are doing is just a single realisation of the quantum multitude of actual occurances whether they be parallel or sequentially in time. Reasoning that an animal has a choice on what their offsprings genes will be is just viewing from a limited perspective not taking into account the infinite randomness of giraffes with different length necks, in an almost constant evolving state. This way it will seem that you always see the giraffe which evolved with a long neck, but you never see the giraffe with the short neck. If you could travel back in time then you could be able to view the mutations of different animals as we see them today.



where are the funnies?


What you're talking about is approximately what Lamark defended. You talk about aspirations, but if you give an example about rat's trying to reach cheese, it goes the same way as he did. He just included the aspirations in all the thrives that move evolution, and not independently.
Anyway, there are is also a theory that mixes Lamarkism and Genetics (neo-lamarkism), but it hasn't much supporters.
I think it's not an illogic idea, and I think that it may have some influence somewhere. Even though it goes against your theory that we are moist robots, therefore we choose nothing about our or others evolution! =p

Dan See

I'm sorry, but this is the most insufferable piece of bullshit I've ever read from you. Lamark's theory makes more sense than yours, and he was wrong. What does that say about your theory? I rest my case.


I can't believe no one has said it already (or maybe someone did and I didn't pay attention): What is it that makes us 'wish' for something? Maybe long ago our ancestors wished that they could wish for stuff... :D



Brad K

Environmental factors don't affect the gender of a given fetus. They affect the likelihood that a male fetus or female fetus will persists and develop.


It is insofar unlikely as the body does not have the knowledge what genes might effect which phenotype (e.g. body parts) and also how. It would not only require some kind of metainformation regarding the whole genetic material and its regulation(because a longer snout would not be cause my a mere mutation of a snout gene but it would require fiddling with whole network of genes involved in body development), but even worse it would also require predictive powers (what to tweak to get desired results).
I suppose if something like this was possible the labrats would have all grown poisonous fangs and attacked the experimentators by now ;)

However, there are e mechanisms known to effect the genetic material of the offspring, depending on what the parents experience. This mostly done via an error-prone repair/replication system resulting in the enhancement of replication errors and therefore an increase in mutation rate (this in turn might result in a longer snout, but it may also just change fur colour, or nothing at all). The result by itself is not directed as the scenario outlined in the blog, though. Another possibility would be epigenetic modification of the DNA passed on to the offspring (which has mostly regulatory influences).

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Laurence Boyce

Scott, notwithstanding your update about Lamark, your post really does suggest what I have long suspected - namely that you don't really understand evolution. You say, "I wonder if a creature's aspirations can somehow have an impact on what her genes pass to the next generation." The point is that absolutely NOTHING can have an impact on what genes are passed to the next generation. Your genes are immutable. Either find and read a good book on evolution, or stay off the topic because it's always embarrassing.


Joel Coehoorn: You say that there hasn't been enough time for the speciation we see to have evolved... what do you base this on? We have no comparative sample. It may turn out that our rate of evolution is embarassingly slow and the aliens keep flying past to see if we're actually getting anywhere yet.

But seriously folks, please stop using the term "Survival of the Fittest." It was coined by a self-promoting guy that liked Darwin's work and has a negative, and incorrect, implication that there is some kind of winners ladder that all species are trying to climb. That's just wrong. Evolution has got nothing to do with "continuous improvement", it's merely about adaptation to a changing environment. A lot of the counter-arguments for evolution are based on the "survival of the fittest" spin, and they score points because they are arguing the wrong thing (a bit like Scott's continuous assertion of cognitive disonance when people argue his posts).


Sooo.. I have no control over what I want for dinner or whether or not I pick up a spoon or not.. but I have control over the traits my kids may have? That would mean, while I have no free will.. I wish I did.... but then.. my kids would have it... so, if one of my ancestors wished they had it then I might already have it! Maybe, Scott is the only person in the world who DOESN'T have free will because his robots never got programed to wish THEY had it.

... and maybe Obama sat in church for 20 years and never heard one word the preacher said..... hmmmm... hope.. it's rubbish.



This sort of reminds me of RPG games, where as you level up you put points on stats. Some games even get you bonuses when you reach a certain level at a given stat.

Weirdly enough, it has to do with the idea you'd been stating about living in a computer. What if it's the way of the program to make us "level up"?


A female mammal's egg cells are formed before birth. The ovaries just preserve them and no new ones are formed during her lifertime. All genetic selections for her future offspring are made in the womb, long before she is conscious or has aspirations. If your theory is right, then only the aspirations of males will have effect on their children. Females are out of luck and have to rely on regular evolution.


Scott: Evolution was developed as a theory a long time before genetics were discovered. Genetics provided a base-line mechanism for evolution, explaining how the process is carried out. Research shows, however, that genes alone are not the only determining factors (I urge you to read the most excellent "Darwin's Watch" by Terry Pratchett and others. Easy read, insightful and funny). If your idea of aspiration-boosted development were to be true, it wouldn't contradict the theory of evolution, only add to our understanding of the mechanism behind it.


mr adams i dont think it works like that. im sure some idiot tried this 500 years a go. an idea like this is bound to have been tried.

also did it occur to you that the rats are all surviving so darwin wont work? yes you did, which means that it explains intelligient desgin to.

Burt (unqualified to speak) truB

Tanya G

What an interesting question. I do know that after I had become an actress in my early twenties, I discovered that my father always wanted to be one - um actor, not actress (although he does a mean Diana Ross impression). This could have been an environmental influence though. His personality and interests could have somehow shaped my own?


So, the issue is that your child's gender probability has been correlated with your food intake, rather than your desires, so you'd have to set up a test to even see if desires play a role. How can you set up an experiment?

Ask couples who are trying but do not yet have kids what gender of child they want. Come back after 1 year, and check, among those who had kids, which were the gender their child is. Weight their preferences for all the demographic traits you can think of, and see if anything is left over. If so, you're either forgetting something, or you've confirmed your theory. Time will tell.

But why go that far? After all, we've already got sexual selection. When many animals of one species desire trait Z in a mate, then trait Z will (all other things being equal) be present in higher proportions in future generations. As well as the trait for desiring trait Z. But only if the combination of trait Z and the desire for trait Z put together are more likely to result in successful offspring than indifference to trait Z combined with no trait Z.

Sexual selection kind of moves it out to second-order evolution, and same goes for your desire theory. If there's a gene Q that makes desiring trait Z more likely for trait Z to get passed on to descendants, then gene Q will flourish only if that desire is a likely predictor of the success of trait Z in the next generation.



why are men so obsessed with penis size? if it's because the woman cares, great.

"oh, you didn't like it? i'm does this mean i don't have to call tomorrow? wonderful."

it's all about my release....i'm done and i'm sleepy. night, night......


if the theory was true, men would have huge penises by now...


I don't think it works the way that Scott is suggesting.

The way I think it works is this.

You want your children to have longer necks, you pick out a mating partner with the longest neck that you can attract and mate with them. This, odds wise, is most likely to cause your children to have longer necks.

As far as female giraffes, apparently most male giraffes like the females a little shorter than themselves. This seems to be true in humans too.

Note: Most does not mean all.

I think it is as simple as that. Each male and female looks for mates with traits that they like and mates with them.


Sorry Scott...I replied earlier, but I had a cubical thought as I was working. A change in one genome can be passed on to the next generation even if it is "willed". Here is a Lamarckian principle that I think applies. If a person wants to get tan, they stay out in the sun...the body protects the skin nucleus by chaning the tone of the skin cell...well that sometimes goes too far and the radiation gets inside the cell...and you get cancer. I read a report the other day that said that propensity for skin cancer is hereditary. The propensity mind you...not the acutal skin cancer. Isn't this an example of a Lamarckian principle where one person's desire can have genetic mutationous effect?

Also, if you look at viruses and other soma genes you will see Lamarckian priciples all over the place...Mutations in one generation to an environment are passed on to the kids...even if those changes happen mid-stream in the life of the virus...not one that was "born" that way.

Also, in relation to addiciton agagin...caffene can replace thymine in some mutations that slip past the checking enzymes...hence one environmental mutation based on desire, more energy at work, results in a viable mutated offspring that will persist.

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