Mittwoch, 28. Februar 2007

Religion - the most important theme

At the moment I'm reading very much about the evolution of religion. For example, I have recognized, that "The Birth of the Gods" (1964) from Guy E. Swanson (1922 - 1995), sociologist of religion, is a very good beginning for a modern theory of the evolution of religion in human societies. It is only a beginning - but I think a good one. (I have found it mentioned in this very good overview of Richard Sosis [2003].)

Question is: Why people believe in gods and why they believe in different gods and religions? I have recognized, that this is a very important theme. Societies cannot survive without religion, without religiousness. Everything is going wrong, when religiousness is missing. No understanding any more for children, for family life, for THOSE things, that are important. People without religion - atheistic people - think (often, mostly), making money is the most important thing in life. They think to have a fullfilled life within a job is the most important thing in life. So in Germany now, politicians (Ursula von der Leyen) are discussing very much about how the Germans could have MORE children. This is the key question for the survival of our society.

But as long as they think, that making money and to have a job is as important as family life, they will make EVERYTHING wrong. And this is, what politicians and people think everywhere. They do not see alternatives. So we have very terrible politics concerning theses themes at the moment in Germany (and I think in the whole western world). For example, people begin to think, that nothing could be better, than to put young children away from mothers, parents, family. It is difficult for me to understand, how so MANY and important people can think such really, really nonsense. But the reason for this is: They do not have the slightest understanding of what childhood is. Childhood is not to become as fast as possible an adult. To have an extended childhood is, what us makes different from chimpanzees! We are "Nesthocker", not "Nestflüchter". But politicians nowadays - conservative, "christian" politicians - want to reduce that differences between humans and chimpanzees concerning all this as it seems. They want to make us a different species, they want to makes us to "Nestflüchtern" once more. And that is a very different stage of brain-evolution.

Nothing will become better as long as people and politicians don't recognize, that it is religion and religious feelings that make societies survivable. Religious feelings - that is love, that is understanding of the soul of children (that is very, very different of the soul of adults). Religiousness is all that, what is missed in modern societies. It is respect for other people. It is awe for life. If you believe in gods - like so many tribes in humanity (as Swanson makes clear) you have a completly different world view than people who think making money and economic (and philosophical) materialism is the only true goal and meaning of human life.

Dienstag, 20. Februar 2007

Community genetics

A very interesting article is publicized in the new "Nature Reviews Genetics": "The co-evolutionary genetics of ecological communities". It seems, that there are some parallels to human communities and how they influence each other in history and evolutionary times. - Only as one example we can suppose a sort of "co-evolution" between the Germans and the Ashkenazi Jews in the last 1000 years (parallels in genetics and mother-tongue). Another example for "co-evolution" could be the influence between Europeans and East Asians at the long chinese border during ancient times (the beginning of chinese bronze age and other events).

Here are some sentences concerning plants and animals:

Advances in the emerging field of community genetics, which integrates genetics and community ecology, could revolutionize how co-evolution is studied, how genes are functionally annotated and how conservation geneticists implement preservation strategies.

Patterns of co-adaptation result from the process of co-evolution, which occurs whenever two ecologically interacting species exert reciprocal selection pressures on one another and the response is inherited. Although most interactions between species, including those between competitors, predator and prey, host and parasite, or host and symbiont, generate reciprocal selection pressures, the specific pattern that emerges over time varies with the nature of the ecological interaction, the genetic architecture of the co-evolving traits and the degree of co-transmission across generations.

Barley domesticated in China 7000 BC

Barley seems to be domesticated in Northern China also. And that's different to wheat, that is domesticated only in the Fertile Crescent:

Over the past decades, archaeologists have unearthed the earliest remains of domesticated barley at sites in the Fertile Crescent that date back 10,500 years. But there is also evidence for barley cultivation about 9000 years ago at sites further east in Central Asia. (...)
Evolutionary biologists Peter Morrell and Michael Clegg (...) sequenced genes of wild and domesticated barley from the two regions. (..) Morrell and Clegg conclude that barley was domesticated at least twice, first in the Fertile Crescent and then between 1500 to 3000 kilometers further east in Central Asia. (...)

Incest: Good for the Jews

In an Online Journal called "Jewcy" you can find an interesting article: "Incest: Good for the Jews - The benefits of a small tribal gene pool". An overview about current thinking concerning jewish population genetics. - But first - what does this online journal is telling "About Us"?:
"Jewcy has become a cultural icon at the forefront of a new wave of Jewish culture and pride.” - Guardian “[Jewcy] is the accoutrement of choice for a new breed of Jewish hipsters...”- Washington Post

Jewcy Media Group is an entertainment and media company devoted to helping Jews (and anyone else) find, use, share, and expand meaning and community.

With its online site, theatrical productions, and steady diet of exciting events, Jewcy is the premier Jewish media and entertainment outlet for progressive free-thinkers.


In the thick, messy context of contemporary American life, it’s a remarkable moment to be a Jew. There is unparalleled opportunity for people hell-bent on making a meaningful difference with their lives, but also an unprecedented uncertainty about the relevance of old traditions and institutions.

This much we know: we’re hungry. Hungry for meaning. For community. For continuity and clarity and inspiration. For intelligent, thoughtful analysis of consequential ideas and issues. Our affluence, our boundless access to information, our education and unprecedented acceptance into the cultural mainstream carry with them unlimited possibilities – and unlimited possibilities carry equal measures of hope and fear.

So, what does matter now? ...

In this online journal you can find the following overview concerning jewish population genetics:

Incest: Good for the Jews
The benefits of a small tribal gene pool

by Joey Kurtzman, January 1, 2007

Genetically, Ashkenazi Jews are freaks. For most of Jewish history in Europe, cherem-wielding rabbis and an unwelcoming Gentile world made inbreeding a far more appealing option than intermarriage. As a result, Ashkenazim became what scientists call an “endogamous group,” which is another way of saying that they have been sleeping with their cousins for a thousand years. And because endogamous groups often develop distinctive genetic profiles, nothing gets a population geneticist hotter than incest.

Ashkenazim aren’t the only group that has kept outsiders out of the gene pool. Most other such groups, however, are isolated, rural populations, like the Amish or the inhabitants of Australia’s Norfolk Island. Ashkenazim are the best-studied group of cousin-kissers on the planet because they’re convenient. A scientist doesn’t need to trek out to the boonies to do her research when she’s got a million Ashkenazi Jews outside her door in the same city where she lives and works.

So endogamy and cosmopolitanism go a long way towards explaining why Jewish DNA has been the source of a gobsmacking number of important genetic findings. Unfortunately, the news coverage of those findings has focused primarily on the negative: genes that predispose us to Tay-Sachs disease, breast cancer, intestinal disease…and the list goes on.

But not all the startling stories hiding in Ashkenazi DNA are bad. Freakishness has its benefits. Some of our genetic eccentricities are more Übermensch than sissy-pants, more Schwarzenegger than DeVito.

Here’s a brief tour through four of the happier genetic quirks discovered about the Ashkenazi wing of our tribe in recent years.


Yes, you still need to use condoms. But a significant proportion of Ashkenazi Jews have a mutation in a gene called CCR5, and the most common strain of HIV uses the protein produced by CCR5 to climb inside people’s cells. The mutation prevents HIV from exploiting that protein to gain access. If you get two copies of the mutant gene, then most strains of HIV will have little to no chance of getting into your cells. If you get one copy, you’re still less likely to contract HIV, and, if you do, your prognosis is better.

The number of Ashkenazi Jews who have the mutation varies among different Jewish subgroups. According to a study conducted at the Center of Neurogenetics in Paris, a whopping 45 percent of Litvaks (Jews from Lithuania) have at least one copy of the mutation. Ethiopian Jews, on the other hand, don’t have it at all.

Population geneticists aren’t sure why Jews have the mutation in such high numbers. Some of the microbes responsible for Europe’s plagues may have used the same protein, and, as one theory goes, the plagues hit Jews harder than most other European populations, leaving us with a genetic advantage today. Wearing the same heavy clothes every day and never bathing may have had its benefits.


Shicker iz a goy, shicker iz a goy, shicker iz er, trinken muz er, vahl er iz a goy!That racist old Yiddish ditty translates: “The goy is a drunk! The goy is a drunk! He has to drink, because he’s a goy!” Classy stuff.

Jews made a mint in Europe by distilling alcohol and selling it to Gentiles, and then we sang songs about what drunks they were. But it turns out Gentiles really are more likely than Jews to become drunks, and it’s not because young Jews learn how to drink responsibly by quaffing Manischewitz at the Seder table, or any of the other old, folk explanations.

Twenty percent of Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic mutation on chromosome nine that causes an unpleasant reaction to alcohol—headaches, nausea, flushing—which in turn makes heavy drinking and alcoholism less likely. This mutation is almost nonexistent among non-Jewish Europeans, but common among Asians.

It’s a model minority thing, apparently.


It’s not cause you’re not a slut, that’s for sure. The low incidence of cervical cancer among Jewish women has been a longstanding mystery to scientists. People used to think that a circumcised penis was like a magic wand, protecting Jewish women from a nasty cancer that was far more common among non-Jews. That partly explains why American Gentiles started doing like the poor biblical boys of Shekhem and slicing off their foreskins. Once all these Gentiles started circumcising their kids, the bad news came in: Low rates of cervical cancer have nothing to do with circumcision.

The low incidence of human papilloma virus (HPV) among Jewish women may partly explain their low rates of cervical cancer. And scientists have recently discovered that a genetic mutation called p53-D12 predisposes some women to cervical cancer; that mutation is rare among Jewish women.


“The world is riddled—riddled!—with dumb Ashkenazi Jews,” as Leon Wieseltier reminds us. Too true, Leon. But with the tribe’s lineup including Freud, Einstein, and Speed Levitch, and Ashkenazim possessing an exceedingly high mean IQ, Jews have more than their share of smarties. They’ve also got more than their share of neurological disorders such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s disease. According to a recent study at the University of Utah, there’s a connection: The same genes that cause diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s can also help make you a little Einstein.

The genes in question promote the growth of brain cells. Basically, if you get two of those genes, your brain cells will be afflicted by the kind of extreme and disordered cell growth associated with Tay-Sachs. Get only one of those genes and the cell growth within your brain is enhanced, meaning your grandma will never shut up about you at the mah-jongg table. Or so the Utah researchers argue.

The theory attempts to answer the question of what causes higher rates of intelligence among Jews. And as the theory’s premise is clear and testable, we’ll know for certain in a few years whether it’s the right answer. As to the question of why the gene is there in the first place, it’s all conjecture from here on in.

Some think it’s because our smartest guys became big Talmud chachams and got the girls, while the smartest non-Jewish Europeans became priests and spilled their seed into bed sheets. Or, others postulate, maybe it’s because Jews had to pursue talky, cognitively taxing professions because they weren’t allowed to own land or join guilds. Whatever the explanation may be, Jews got the smahts, baby.


Do: What do DNA and endogamy mean for Jewish chauvinism – and antisemitism? Leave your comments below.
Go: Feel certain that your family tree takes you directly back to King David himself? Then meet thousands of other crazies like yourself at the Eternal House of David Reunion in Jerusalem on May 28-30, 2007.
Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker wrote [subscription necessary] on Jewish IQ in The New Republic in June 2006. A more controversial evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald has spent a career addressing Jewish group characteristics, which he terms an “evolutionary strategy” to keep tribal chromosomes exclusive. Judith Shulevitz called MacDonald “Evolutionary Psychology’s Anti-Semite” six years ago in Slate.

The cave bear and humans in Europe

The cave bear populations of Europe changed, when anatomical modern humans came to Europe and replaced the Neanderthals around 28.000 years ago. This is the result of a new study by Svaante Pääbo and others in "Current Biology".

Immortality in biology and humans

Religions often speak about immortality. But seldom they recognize, that immortality exist! It was famous german biologist August Weismann, who made that clear. In a newspaper of Illinois /US a biologist makes some remarks about it:

... A bit later in the latter half of the 19th century, the German medical pathologist Rudolph Virchow stated positively that all cells, both animal and plant, came only from pre-existing cells though he was not sure how this came about. Then, about 1880, the process of mitosis was discovered, and the secret of how both plant and animal cells make exact duplicates of themselves was revealed.

Another very important scientist during the late 1880s and early 20th century was August Weismann, who died in 1914. Weismann was an avid supporter of Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species by means of natural selection. Prior to Darwin, the most widely-accepted theory of evolution was the one embracing the inheritance of acquired characters that was proposed by Jean Baptiste Lamarck in 1810.

Weismann set out to prove Lamarck’s theory was nonsense. For 14 generations, he cut the tails off mice and bred them. All of the offspring generated during the 14 generation period were born with tails, while their parents had been tailless.

Weismann said the body of an animal is made of two parts, the body cells or somatoplasm and the reproductive cells or the germplasm. He stressed that hereditary characters were passed on only through the germplasm. He pointed out that the somatoplasm died with each generation, but the germplasm was immortal, it went on forever. This is true.

Did you ever wonder where you came from? (...)

Though our body cells may die, our germplasm does not but lives forever if we do our biological duty and reproduce. In this simplistic sense, the physical side of man is truly immortal.

Montag, 19. Februar 2007

Germany needs a cultural shift to philosophical roots

In "The Wall Street Journal" Nobel Laureat Edmund S. Phelps asks, why Europe's economic development is not as good as the economic development of the United States: 
The nations of Continental Western Europe, in the reforms they make to try to raise their economic performance, may prove to be a testing ground for the view that culture matters for a society's economic results.
As is increasingly admitted, the economic performance in nearly every Continental country is generally poor compared to the U.S. and a few other countries that share the U.S.'s characteristics. Productivity in the Continental Big Three -- Germany, France and Italy --stopped gaining ground on the U.S. in the early 1990s, then lost ground as a result of recent slowdowns and the U.S. speed-up. Unemployment rates are generally far higher than those in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Ireland. And labor force participation rates have been lower for decades. Relatedly, the employee engagement and job satisfaction reported in surveys are mostly lower, too.
I think, this is mostly a thing of mentality. Europeans today do not work so exhaustingly as do people in the United States. Europeans often are not so enthusiastic about their work. They're not so enthusiastic by "making things running". But may be, there is more in it. May be the german mentality cannot be motivated so easily only by the goal of "making money" or by the goal of "making things running". May be, german mentality needs more to be really as motivated as people in english-speaking countries are today. They need "ideas" or better: "ideals".

But the article has more precise information about the "Big Three" (Germany, Italy, France):
The values that might impact dynamism are of special interest here. Relatively few in the Big Three report that they want jobs offering opportunities for achievement (42% in France and 54% in Italy, versus an average of 73% in Canada and the U.S.); chances for initiative in the job (38% in France and 47% in Italy, as against an average of 53% in Canada and the U.S.), and even interesting work (59% in France and Italy, versus an average of 71.5% in Canada and the U.K). Relatively few are keen on taking responsibility, or freedom (57% in Germany and 58% in France as against 61% in the U.S. and 65% in Canada), and relatively few are happy about taking orders (Italy 1.03, of a possible 3.0, and Germany 1.13, as against 1.34 in Canada and 1.47 in the U.S.).
The article ends with a thought, that resembles my own:
Perhaps the way out -- to go from unsatisfactory performance to high performance -- will require not only reform of institutions but also a cultural shift that returns Europe to the philosophical roots that put it on the map to begin with.

Michael Frayn - a neo-Hegelian?

I like Michael Frayn because of his "Copenhagen". He had done a good scientific work also by writing it. Now he has written a philosophical book (500 pages!). Title: "The Human Touch - Our Part in the Creation of the Universe". I have read until now only a review in the "New York Times". Frayn tries to renew a somewhat form of philosophical idealism in the footsteps of Hegel. I don't think, that he will convince me, but his book seems to be an interesting one:

... Frayn, though, is no neo-Hegelian lotus-eater. He has a healthy respect for the power of external reality to constrain our world-making. Indeed, what makes “The Human Touch” so rewarding is the subtlety and humor with which he examines “the great mutual balancing act.” There may be something godlike in the way we “bring into their various forms of existence all the receding ontological planes of the world we inhabit,” but we are also at the mercy of that world’s whims. A brick to the head and the whole show comes to an end.
As to whether Frayn will push philosophy in an idealizing direction, I’m not so sure. The last time I asked a couple of philosophers what they had against idealism, they chucklingly replied that if it were true, they’d have made a world in which they were twice as rich.

Samstag, 17. Februar 2007

About brains, hearts and gonads

Reading Gene expression of Razib Khan often gives opportunity to think things anew. Here are some new thoughts of mine about religion:

Humans have a brain, humans have a heart and humans have gonads. Scientists often forget that "thing between" - because THIS is a really complicated thing.

I think, it is too often overlooked today, that religion (and philosophical metaphysics of any sort) in former days had mostly to do with that "thing between". Both of the two other organs, people thought in former times, should be ruled by the heart. So - for example - in former days it was not so important for people to believe in a PERSONAL god (because this is mostly a theme of the brain), but it was important for them to have a good heart and to be a good person in everyday life and family life. And they were aware, that being a good person with a good heart HAS (often) very much to do with certain metaphysics. Because metaphysics can give you motivations to behave (very) altruistically.

Today we too often only take our brain, when we try to understand religion and metaphysics. And we forget the function of religions and metaphysics concerning hearts, and that means mostly: concerning feelings of love and hate. I think, this is a main function of deception and self-deception also. And deception and self-deception is not only a thing of individuals but also of communities, societies, even epochs.

If humans have too much (one-sided) gonads-activity, the "things between" will mostly be forgotten. And if humans have too much (one-sided) brain-activity the "things between" also will be forgotten.

Freitag, 16. Februar 2007

Vikings - Destroyers of forests?

Vikings on Iceland: Destroyers of forests?

Birch and willow forests like this one at Lake Mývatn used to cover much of Iceland's interior. Viking settlers cleared the forest for their pastures and burned the trees to make charcoal. The forests have never recovered. It is estimated that 90 percent of Iceland's pre-settlement forest is gone. (Sigurgeir Sigurjónsson)

Mittwoch, 14. Februar 2007

Polygyny and Patriarchy good for women?

In Germany we have famous Rainer Langhans, former boy-friend of Uschi Obermaier of the times of 1968 "and all that", who has his "harem" in Munich even now. One man with three or four women. But everyone has his own houshold and his own freedom to come and to go with whom he or she wants. They're discussing a whole lot about all that between each other - and sometimes in talk-shows - and (I think) they will discuss till life ends. Rainer Langhans has no children. So one more dead end of evolution, that the cultural revolution of 1968 has produced.

But we can observe other social experiments on that line. The current "Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute" has a review of a book called "Desert Patriarchy" (author of the book: Janet Bennion) about polygyny within the Mormons. And it is said:

... Mainstream Mormons are proud of their polygamous ancestors, but often find the concept repugnant in the present day. Wider secular society tends to associate polygamy only with poverty, ignorance, and child abuse. It is therefore particularly interesting that Bennion has demonstrated the success of such communities in recruiting women from the wider world (Mormon and non-Mormon) to live as plural wives. Such women, she argues, are seeking an escape from the contradictory demands of paid work versus motherhood, from high divorce rates and the associated poverty and isolation of unpartnered women in secular society. They are also seeking a life of spiritual and practical challenge, which offers its own satisfactions. The heavily patriarchal structure of Mormon fundamentalism actually produces communities in which women have an unexpected if ambiguous degree of automony. Since men are outnumbered and often absent, women constitute powerfully cohesive female networks.

And the last sentences:

'Desert patriarchy' closes with Bennion's call, as she contemplates the gains as well as the losses of the patriarchal lifestyle for the women who live it, for social science to acknowledge the complexity in such situations of apparent female subordination. In providing three important case studies in this enterprise, this is a thought-provoking book which will be widely read.

So, nothing is said here about birth-rates.

Dienstag, 13. Februar 2007

My question for Richard Dawkins

At the moment I'm reading Richard Dawkins' "God Delusion". And there is a lot of stuff in it, that needs to be thought through. I have read also a lot of interviews with Richard Dawkins concerning the themes of his book. But one questions seems never to be asked yet and I would be very interested, what Dawkwins would have to say about it:

Is atheism an evolutionarily stable strategy?

(For the term evolutionarily stable strategy [= ESS] look here.) And this is one of the core questions of this blog also. For example on pages 263, 264 Dawkins gives good examples for "New Ten Commandments". And one of his own would be - he says: "Value the future on a timescale longer than your own." So this is, I think, thinking in evolutionarily stable strategies, if it comes to humans and their societies. So, to what sort of result he might come, if he would do that by looking at birth rates of atheists world wide and in his own country and at birth rates of monotheist's world wide and in his own country? I think, no one can say today, that atheism is an evolutionarily stable strategy.

So one of the big questions could be for the future: What sort of world view (for societies, for human groups) will be an evolutionarily stable strategy from a modern atheistic point of view, that has completely abandoned all that confused and confusing monotheism of the last two millennias? This is one of the main (or core) questions of this blog.

I want here try to formulate a very provisional thesis concerning all that: Because the world itself (matter, the universe, laws of evolution) is not "atheistic", "meaningless", without sense, standing still as humans in those pure "atheistic" attitudes and world views is not in accordance with the laws of nature, not in accordance with the laws of the human psyche. Deep in nature's laws and structures we can find sense, we can find beauty, we can find religiousness - if we LIKE to do that - and even (or mostly) from a pure scientific standpoint of view. A lot of scientits do that at the moment. And this Richard Dawkins says for himself very often in one way or another. He cites for example Albert Einstein for that very experience and a lot of others on several occassions. But only stating that and standing still in a pure "atheistic" world view might not be enough, because - to say it simply: it does not seem to change birth rates.

I think, the problem is, that every day life and culture of human societies TODAY do not mirror the emotions and experiences of scientists in THEIR every day life. Every day life and culture - and mostly mass media - are trying to ignore the very fact, that life and the universe for itself is MORE than boring "sex sells (- with or without cultural values)". (This only as one example of predominate cultural values of today.) And by that this societies lose simply their connections to the basic laws of nature and survival. Because for true human values sexuality is MORE than pure "sex" (- for example). This universe is NOT made "to make money", but may be, it is more "made for" questioning, what it is made for.

And if humans and societies give the answer: "There doesn't exist any answer to this very question, it is silly to ask this question, the deepest sense of nature and the universe is mere and meaningless chance" - then nature's and the universe's laws seems to "tell" humans: You are meaningless for us, we do not need you any longer. If YOU do not ask for the deeper natural laws of survival of human societies, nature has not any longer any "interest" for YOU. I do not speak here in terms of a "deity" or something like that, I simply think in terms of materialistic natural laws. They can "tell" you something also. And if you do NOT listen to what they say, may be, you're making a very deep fallacy. Does there exist a term for the very opposite of the famous "naturalistic fallacy"? I think, that should be termed and defined also as a fallacy. May be: the atheistic fallacy? Google gives no answer at the moment to that term.

Possibly, the natural laws are telling us: We, the natural laws, are "made", that someone like you exist to give answers to those questions and not only in the scientific communitiy (ivory tower), but also in everyday life of societies. Human societies have gone too far away from meaning, from beauty and awe, that are compatible with the universe and that are NOT compatible with values like "sex sells". The last mentioned value destroys our sense for beauty and awe even concerning our most beloved friends, neighbours, children and spouses (or possible spouses).

Our talk-shows, our apathy concerning the most worsest deeds of human history in the last 100 years, concerning most huge atrocities and genocides and criminality against human societies, against our atmosphere, against animals and plants, against the love of homeland of humans, against the most deepest cultural values and contents of the western world (Abendland) - isn't all that a mirror of something?

Montag, 12. Februar 2007

Human traits and their evolution - a new book

The OMIM-databank ("Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man") is full of scientific literature concerning data and theories about the evolutionary causes of the worldwide distribution (frequencies) of inborn human traits - of EVERY inborn human trait, we know about today. Only very few popular science books exist today, that try to give the public an understanding at least of the tip of the iceberg, that is formed by that databank - that is humanity's knowledge about itself. So a lot of reason exist to welcome books, that are publicised in that field. We have to thank "Gene Expression" once more for giving a hint to a new book in this field:

A review of Survival of the Sickest, by Sharon Moalem with Jonathan Prince


Most of the chapters are centered around the population genetics of a disease. This is fascinating material, and Moalem (along with his co-author) does a wonderful job presenting it. Each chapter starts with an observation--a high prevalance of Type I diabetes in Europeans, the frequency of a genetic disease called hemochromatosis, or the geographic distribution of favism, for example--which sets the stage for a series of anecdotes that eventually leads the reader to his evolutionary hypothesis (for the examples given, these hypotheses are adaptation to cold and resistance to the plague and malaria, repectively). Some of these anecdotes are worth the price of the book alone (though, it must be noted, I didn't pay for my copy, so I suppose I can't judge)--there's an investigation of the biology of a toad that allows itself to freeze solid each winter that is particularly remarkable, and the section on host manipulation by parasites would make Carl Zimmer proud. A large number of human traits are touched on from this perspective--apart from the ones mentioned above, traits like skin color, alcoholism, taste, and even skull shape get mentions[1].

While these chapters are the highlight of the book, an alert reader may notice a couple hints that perhaps the science isn't definitive on some of these stories: first, the oft-added qualifier that a given theory (for example, that the high rate of hypertension in African-Americans is due to selection for salt retention on slave boats) is "controversial", and second, that there are a number of theories for some of the observations. The prevalence of diabetes, for instance, is attributed to metabolic systems unaccustomed to carbohydrate-rich diets (pg. 26), a selective sweep for better cold response during the Younger Dryas (pg. 46), and transgenerational epigentic effects, the so-called "thrifty phenotype" hypothesis (pg. 166). These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, but a reconciliation of all of them would certainly have been desirable.


[1] Moalem gives a cursory look at the concept of "race" with regard to these traits, but essentially chooses not to discuss it, preferring to cite a Nature Genetics editorial from 2001 as saying that "population clusters identified by genotype analysis seem to more informative than those identified by skin color or self-declaration of race". Regular readers know that much has changed since 2001; in particular, there doesn't seem to be much of a distinction between genetic clusters and clusters based on self-declaration of race [Tang et al. 2005].

Donnerstag, 8. Februar 2007

Children have inborn morality - and adults?

Some scientists claim (here Marc Hauser), that humans have an inborn morality. As far as we talk about children, I'm easily to convince, so the first part of the following story sounds very convincing for me:

Last week, Harvard professor Marc Hauser dropped in to his daughter Sofia's kindergarten class and presented the children with a moral dilemma. You must all keep your eyes closed for 30 seconds, he told them. If none of you raises your hand during that time, you will each get a sheet of stickers when it's over. But if one of you raises your hand, only that child will get all the stickers.

The task brought immediate cries of protest, Hauser recalled. "But that's not fair!" some children exclaimed, shocked at the idea that one child could hog all the stickers.

Some might say that the kindergartners, in their short lives, had already learned much about the nature of justice. But Hauser goes a step further: Morality, he argues, is influenced by cultural teachings but is also so deep and universal an aspect of human existence that it is effectively "hard-wired" into the brain, much like the instinct for language.

The last sentence is:

(...) As for the kindergarten class and the sticker dilemma, not a single child raised a greedy hand -- and they shared the stickers equally.

We know also, that children in the age of three "cannot" lie and they "have to learn" to lie until the age of five or so. The same may be true with their reaction "That's not fair!" here. And the same may be true some years later, when they will smile about such an experiment - as adults do. Adults are another species of humans.

Europeans in China (220 BC)

From time to time we receive new facts about european genetical influences in China, most probably mediated by the Tocharians living from 2000 BC to 400 AD in the Talimakan desert at the north-western border of China. Evidenced by hundreds of mummies in Urumchi museum. But a lot of other european-derived populations also existed in the eurasian steppe around the boarders of China.

In summer last year "Archaeology" magazine had an interview with Victor Mair, one of the specialists concerning european influences in bronze age China, where new facts were mentioned (not very precise - but you have to take what you can get).

Are new DNA findings a surprise or just one more piece of evidence for China's early connections?

According to a news report from China, DNA analysis indicates that at least one of the workers who constructed the tomb of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, was in fact of west Eurasian ancestry. ARCHAEOLOGY talked to the University of Pennsylvania's Victor Mair about this announcement and its implications for understanding ancient connections between China and the West. (...)

DNA analysis from archaeological remains can be very tricky. What can you tell us about the researchers involved with this case?

For the present time, I will say this about the genetics research that forms the basis of the recent announcement. First of all, it was done in the very best population genetics lab in China, that of Prof. Jin Li at Fudan. This is a state of the art facility. I have visited it several times, and I can attest that the equipment and skills of the researchers there are at a world standard. I know Xu Zhi and Tan Jingze, both of whom were quoted in the reports. These are careful, serious scientists. Incidentally, early DNA specialists from Jilin University in northeast China are also working on the Tarim Basin mummies at the moment. I have visited that lab too, and I am certain that it will be the source of equally remarkable news before long.

Was just this one set of remains tested?

Of the 121 shattered skeletons, 15 were tested, but so far only one of them appears to have a west Eurasian genetic profile. It is said that his genetic features mark him as belonging to T-genodeme, which unmistakably belongs to a western haplotype. Specifically, Chinese geneticists say that this links him with people living to the west of the Pamirs: the Parsi (Persians) in India and Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkmenistan, and the Persians in Iran. (...)

Religion, fertility and modern intellectuals

"Religiousness" may be at a deeper level the "missing link" of current sociobiological theory. Because religiousness shows the best correlations with fertility in all human cultures.

I said this some weeks ago in a comment to Razib Khan's Blog. I think it is too important not to repeat here. Razib asked "Does it?" and I gave this study by Michael Blume (pdf) as an evidence for this thesis.

Even if the Templeton-Foundation and a lot of other organizations are funding very much science concerning scientific approaches to religion, this thesis of Michael Blume has not found so much attention yet in the scientific communitiy (as far as I can see).

Now I had some disagreement with Razib (in the comments: here and here), because I try to apply the mentioned thesis to world history as a whole. I like Razib Khan very much, because he is looking for truth like me in a lot of areas like me and because he knows a lot of things better than me (for example human genetics). We had some disagreements yesterday concerning some interpretations of historical processes. And the deeper reason for this disagreement - I think now - may be found in what famous Jürgen Habermas as a typical atheistic intellectual has said about himself - that he is "religiously unmusical".

Since Habermas has talked together with the former Cardinal Ratzinger (now pope Benedict XVI.) about the necessity of religion for our society (in the year 2004), this "being unmusical concerning religion" may have a new importance for the public discourse. Surley, at the state of science now we cannot "measure" the inborn or learned ability for being "religiously musical" very precise. But to speak about this is becoming important more and more, I think.

Truth may not always be "polite". All the more if it comes to religiousness and morals. So I think we cannot avoid to have sometimes a little bit "impolite" discussions about impolite truths. This has something to do with our own infertility and atheistic attitudes as well, I think. We're reasoning very "politly" about rises and declines of cultures - and in the time we're doing that, the great culture of the western world, in which we live, is declining and declining mostly by birth rates and mostly by low birth rates of the IQ-elites that we think we represent.

So, I think, there are reasons sometimes to become a little bit impatiently - even if you are in pure scientific discussions and even if you have pure scientific attitudes. I think, it IS science, that can make you sometimes impatiently and impolite. So I try to formulate the following thesis: Atheism is a force that can make people "religiously unmusical". And then people do not understand any longer at a deeper level, why people do not have enough children and why cultures rise or decline because of that.

Mittwoch, 7. Februar 2007

Emotions in history

Emotions can rise high discussing the greater aspects of world history: Why rise of culture? Why decline of culture? Why first agriculture around 10.000 BC? Why cultural change around 400 AD? A lot of details have to be taken into account, if you want to get the story right.
And because history is made by the emotions of humans, it is possible, that discussion about (such) causes of history can also rise emotions. ;-)
So there were some quite interesting discussions on "Gene Expression" about those questions (here and here), that I do not want to repeat here.
But surely, possibility to continue discussion exists.

Ok, only to put an answer to Razib's last argument. Razib says: It is possible to say to this, that we know about peasant "revolts" all over Europe before and after the peasant's war of 1525, but never again and never before in that scale, ranging from Saxonia to Austria to Alsace, Tyrol ... . For some of the peasant leaders it was meant to be a national (mostly political) revolution. That's right. But all that couldn't have taken place without the massiv attack of Luther against the pope in Rome and his famous "Freedom of a Christian" ("Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen"). This gave the peasants the arguments and the "emotions" for longing for political and local freedoms also against the local authorities, against the nobility, against the bishops. In that scale it was never seen before, never seen again.

Samstag, 3. Februar 2007

Why agriculture?

Razib Khan is discussing the factors that gave rise to agriculture in humankind. Several years ago I have made very extensive studies about the first agrarian societies in the Levant (12.000 to 8.000 years before present) also, so I have to say something about that:

Beliebte Posts

Registriert unter