Freitag, 30. März 2007

Oseberg woman stems from the Middle East

The grandmother of Harald Fairhair, first king of Norway, had a servant, whose ancestors were coming from an area in the Middle East. This is supposed by a new ancient DNA research of one of her tooth (see here and here). It is supposed, that the two women, that were found in the famous Viking Oseberg ship, which was excavated 1904, and which is dated to 834 AD, were this grandmother (at death around 80 years old) and her servant (at death around 50 years old). More in the text:

... "Our results so far have been very interesting. Further analysis of the remains of both women would hopefully allow us to establish whether the two were related. What we already know is that the ancestor to the younger woman came from the the area around modern day Turkey and Iran," said Professor Per Holck. He has also found that their diet was heavy on meat, but that they ate comparatively little seafood. The full findings will be presented in an article in the British magazine "European Archaeology" later this year. (...)

"This is the first DNA profile we have from a Viking skeleton," says Lena Fahre, archaeologist and spokeswoman at Midgard Historical Centre. (...)

Until now, the common assumption for many years, though less and less in vogue among historians and archaeologists, has been that the older woman in the grave was Queen Åsa, mother of Halvdan the Black, and grandmother of Harald Fairhair, the first king of the united Norway, and that the younger woman was her servant, who went to her death with her mistress. Dendrochronological analysis, or tree-ring dating, of the timbers used to build the burial chamber, shows that they were felled in the autumn of the year 834 AD. ...

Montag, 26. März 2007

The impossibility to understand quantum physics deterministically

A very nice review has appeared in "Nature" about a very nice book (Uncertainty - Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science - by D. Lindley) concerning the first discussions of quantum mechanics. An excerpt:

In Uncertainty, David Lindley tells the intriguing tale of how Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr (among others) struggled to create and understand the new quantum physics. Lindley organizes his tale around the issue of indeterminism, which Max Born raised in 1926 in the paper that introduced probability as fundamental to interpreting the quantum world. Within a year, at the end of his paper on the uncertainty principle, Heisenberg declared determinism (or causality) dead, a pronouncement that brought probability, chance and uncertainty into the quantum domain in a fundamental way.

Lindley tracks the rise of chance from its roots in statistical reasoning (brownian motion and entropy) through to Bohr's 'jumping planetary model' of the atom and beyond. He selects important episodes from this 'old' quantum theory and then retells them in a lively and insightful manner. This provides the background for Heisenberg's theory of matrix mechanics and Erwin Schrödinger's wave mechanics. The author tells how Bohr encouraged, derided, cajoled, inspired and browbeat all sides to orchestrate the Copenhagen synthesis to meet his own physical intuitions and philosophical likings. Lindley captures the passion of the struggle, showing both the public controversies and the sometimes harsh private judgements (for example, writing to third parties, Heisenberg and Schrödinger each described the other's work as repulsive, and worse). ...

Ashkenazi Jewish subgroups and founder events

Ashkenazi Jews "constitute a model population for the search of disease-causing mutations and disease-susceptibility genes".

A new genetic study about Ashkenazi Jews now confirms "the interpretation of little or no gene flow of the local non-Jewish communities in Poland and Russia to the Jewish communities in these countries" over the last 1000 years. "The differences between Jews and non-Jews are far larger than those observed among the Jewish communities." So, the study says, Ashkenazi Jews are "an isolated population that has undergone a recent bottleneck".

But its main result is, that researchers claim to have found a difference in haplogroup frequencies (mostly of mitochondrial haplogroups K and H) between Ashkenazi Jews from Russia and Ashkenazi Jews from Poland and Romania.

And because the differences are not caused by non-jewish genetical influence it is most likely that they reflect founder events, researchers say. So they claim the results are "consistent with the view that the ancestry of the Ashkenazi Jewish population is a result of at least four different founder events."

Sonntag, 25. März 2007

"Post-metaphysical" thinking is not so post-metaphysical anymore ...

At first I have choosen another headline for this post: "Post-metaphysical thinking becomes metaphysical again". - But no, everything is a whole lot more subtile, as I saw later: "Post-metaphysical" thinking is "religiously informed but nevertheless not 'metaphysical' "!!! Ok - whatever that might mean and whatever the difference might be. You can find a reasoning about all this in the "Journal of Social Theory" in an article called "Habermas' Theological Turn".

Ah, no, here we have a better phrase: "... post-metaphysical and post-Christian (thinking) which does not mean un-Christian (thinking)"! - Ah!? - Yes?! - I did'nt know that before. It is always time to see things anew ...

In the abstract we can find, that the article is basically positive towards this new "theological turn" in the "post-metaphysical thinking" of our famous Jürgen Habermas: "... These difficulties and inconsistencies in Habermas's recent thinking remain instructive and ought to continue to engage the interest of scholars concerned today with the question of how far the philosophy of the social sciences can and cannot accommodate commitments to theism in the practice of research."

Some more sentences from the article itself (bolded phrases not in the original text):

... Habermas writes that religion provides "orienting pictures of unspoilt forms of life" that offer "an at once limiting and disclosing horizon", images that "inspire and encourage us" in our repeated efforts at cooperatively bringing about the good, and thus offer "regenerative power" for a "dwindling normative consciousness" (5: 218, 235). Bound up with this seems to be Habermas's sense that the critical social theory needs something more than itself, some minimal postulate of teleological finality, something stronger and ethically even thicker than the statement in The Theory of Communicative Action that processes of "reaching an understanding" (Verständigung) are the "inherent telos of all speech" (1981, vol. 1: 387). It now seems that Habermas recognizes something like a theological lacuna, a lack or blind spot in his own work. He appears to hold that an orientation to the true, the right and the good as the outcome of the conversation of humanity, in the spirit of the philosophy of C.S. Peirce, requires a more emphatic sense of its debts to metaphysics, even as it seeks to "transcend" metaphysics.

However, what exactly is this theological lacuna, and what kind of filling does it need? In his work from the 1980s Habermas tended to align the term "post-metaphysical thinking" with the term "post-traditional" and generally with a "post-religious" outlook (Habermas 1988). In his current work he no longer aligns these terms completely but instead allows for the possibility of a post-metaphysical thinking that is still religiously inflected in some sense. In the following I first want to consider some problems in his aligning of these terms. ...

So, we may ask: Do we really need theism "to inspire and encourage us", to give us "regenerative power", "teleological finality"? We have other possibilities also. Why is Habermas only thinking about theism, when he is thinking about "debts to metaphysics"? I think, Kevin Mac Donald gives some hints in his "A Culture of Critique" about the theistic connections, roots, background of the famous atheists of the "Frankfurter Schule"-teachers of Jürgen Habermas. He may be influenced by this very deeply also.

Samstag, 24. März 2007

"Only in the contemplation of beauty is human life worth living."

A good article in "European Journal of Philosophy" about Plato's "Symposion" with the same title as this posting. Here is the abstract:

"Socrates' speech in praise of erōs in the Symposium (201d–212c) is perhaps one of the most influential passages Plato ever composed. It is also one of the most discussed, and any attempt to add to the huge literature that surrounds it needs some justification. My reason for returning to it is not so much a desire to offer yet another interpretation of what Plato really meant to say about the relationship between erōs and its inherent attraction to to kalon, which I will translate as ‘beauty’. What I would like to try to do is to see how much of what Plato says here can be read not just as an inspired (and inspiring) flight of the imagination but also as something we can actually believe—a solid, knowing and accurate description of the phenomenology of love and beauty."

Mittwoch, 21. März 2007

Group selection - a very simple thing ...?

Does one crucial heritable trait like intelligence can change inborn altruism inside of a society?

I think: Yes. If you are more intelligent than another person, you can be more efficient with your altruistic deeds. And if a whole group is more intelligent than another group this gives this group an advantage.

But we know: Nowadays inborn intelligence of human groups does not "per se" correlate with fitness. Sometimes yes - for example in modern Israel, for example (broadly spoken) in the Western Hemisphere between 1500 and 1900. But often (today in the Western Hemisphere): No. So let us say: There is a difficult connection between intelligence and fertility in humans.

But IF human groups act mostly like the Western Hemisphere between 1500 and 1900 and like modern Israel today it is clear, that we would say, that more efficient altruism would evolve by group selection, because it is different fertility of genetically different groups that shapes human variability of traits at any given period.

And I think this is what happened in human history and evolution mostly. Aszkenazi Jews where seperated enough from other groups for thousand years and were able to evolve (by this) a "more efficient altruism" than all the other human groups have today AND they had another fertility rate than Sephardic Jews. This has not happened by extinction of (other) groups - only by separation.

I think there are a lot of other heritable traits that influence altruism in this way or another. We do not have "one" gene for altruism ...

(Razib Khan had some thoughts about group selection and motivated me for this post.)

Freitag, 16. März 2007

"Are Christians More Tolerant than Jews?"

As it seems a provocative article in the new american-jewish online-magazine "Jewcy": How modern american Jews think about their own and about "Goyish" people.

I think, one of many attemps now and in the future to explain ashkenazi-jewish IQ-evolution and ashkenazi-jewish cultural and political influence in 20th century. Before that "Jewcy" spoke of Kevin MacDonald as "worth a read" concerning those themes.

Jane Goodall

A review of a new biography about her in "Science". - Nothing new, but it is always good to be remembered of this very great woman, who combines science with strong responsibility and strong and honest "religious" feelings concerning nature and environment. We need many more of those scientists.

(I'm a member of "Roots & Shoots" and like to recommend that.)

Dienstag, 13. März 2007

Economies develop different - in Europe and Asia between 1500 and 1850

The wealth of a society and the state of its economic development at a given time can be measured by some data like the wages and prices of that time or urban shares of the population. In an article of "The Economic History Review" (Feb. 2006) there were given some data concerning wealth of societies in Europe and Asia between 1500 and 1850. Result is, that the divergence in economic development between Europe and Asia began 1500 and not 1800 as was proposed previously in the book of K. Pomeranz "The Great Divergence" (2000).

But you can see also in this data, that there were a lot of deep divergences inside of Europe as well. London and South England are ranking before the Netherlands and they are ranking before Paris, France, North Italy ... Krakow, Gdansk ... And there is a lot of deep local change and/or stagnation also.

Here is the abstract:
Contrary to the claims of Pomeranz, Parthasarathi, and other 'world historians', the prosperous parts of Asia between 1500 and 1800 look similar to the stagnating southern, central, and eastern parts of Europe rather than the developing north-western parts. In the advanced parts of India and China, grain wages were comparable to those in north-western Europe, but silver wages, which conferred purchasing power over tradable goods and services, were substantially lower. The high silver wages of north-western Europe were not simply a monetary phenomenon, but reflected high productivity in the tradable sector. The 'great divergence' between Europe and Asia was already well underway before 1800.

What is religiousness?

Razib Khan has given me motivation to try to translate my current thoughts about religousness into English:

May be in general religiousness is the experience of those aspects of our reality, that are per definitionem not precisely to be defined by human reasoning alone - for example: what is beauty? what is goodness? ... - or that are not precisely to be defined by our pure three-dimensional thinking in terms of time and strict relationships of cause and effect - for example: what is matter, what is an electron, what is light, ...

If we see a sunset at the seaside, by physical and neuroscientific thinking we can EXPLAIN the causes of this experience. But at the same time we know, that those aspects, that make this experience a very, very special experience for us, are not "explained" at all by all this scientific explanations alone. There are more aspects of reality beyond the "pure reason" of which the boundaries have been shown by Immanuel Kant.

And for those experiences beyond "pure reason" humanity and our cultures have artists, poets, musicians, dancers, architects and so on, who try to give valid testimonies of this area of experiences of humans. But often they are not proud because of that. Beethoven for example says:

"The true artist has no pride; unhappily he sees that Art has no bounds. Obscurely he feels how far away he is from his aim, and even while others may be admiring him, he mourns his failure to attain that end which his better genius illumines like a distant sun."

Other human beings, fascinated by the great things, that human artists can produce, like to imitate them WITHOUT having talent for that or without having discipline for that or humility or whatever is necessary to produce great and valid art. They use the wrong tools to give valid expressions of these experiences, they have unpure motivations for speaking about these areas beyond pure reason. And most badly: They use their strict three-dimensional, time- and causality-thinking to give testimonies about areas of human experiences, about that no valid testimonies can be given by this tools and methods (as we know since Kant).

Often their motivations are very "unpure". They see, that they can gain power, influence and prestige by speaking about that areas. - And this was the time, when tribal religions and world-religions came into being.

My impression is: Those "religions", that have the most resemblance to the area of arts, that have a lot of beauty in their (often childlike) phantasies and mythologies, that have a lot of humanitarianism, kindness in their thinking, give a better and more valid expression about the area beyond "pure reason" than those religions, that are predominant today.

The more humankind has gained true scientific insights, the more religion has tried to give testimonies LIKE science and its three-dimensional thinking and the more it lost its ability to give true and valid testimonies of the area, human religiousness comes from.

Modern world religions are only a very last (and bad) phase of all those human religiousness, that is possible. And in general the arts have better tools to give expression of modern "religiousness" than monotheistic religious communities of today.

And if we ask: What makes human experiences (beyond pure reason) "special", I think one often forgotten answer is: "personality". It is the fact, that each human being is unique. If your life comes to an end, one unique possibility of human experience comes to an end.

Posted by: Ingo | March 13, 2007 04:57 AM

Montag, 12. März 2007

The evolution of senescence - in 271 species of birds

At the moment we have no good and validated (generally accepted) theories of the evolution of senescence. A study in "Journal of Evolutionary Biology" (May 2006) discuss several of these theories and has found amoung 271 bird species no correlations between longevity and degree of breeding sociality (!) - but between longevity and age of first reproduction.

Relative longevity (...) increased with age at first reproduction, but not with degree of breeding sociality.

The results were partly contrary to the expected theory:

The objective of the present study was to test the prediction arising from evolutionary theories of senescence that the rate of ageing and hence the maximum record of longevity should increase in species with delayed onset of reproduction. (...) Hence, we should expect the rate of senescence to be slower in colonially than in solitarily breeding species of birds. In addition, colonially breeding species of birds should start to reproduce at an older age than solitary species.

(...) The main findings of this study were (...) (2) Colonially breeding species did not senesce at a slower rate than solitarily breeding species. (3) Species that started to reproduce relative late in their life senesced at a slower rate than species that started to reproduce early.

(...) I found no general relationship between evolution of senescence and evolution of coloniality in birds.

Freitag, 9. März 2007

The Neolithic of the Southern Levant

A new overview is given about the Neolithic of the Southern Levant in "Evolutionary Anthropology". Mostly not new data - but people outside the area of specialists often do not know very much about this crucial phase of human history. So it should be useful. - See also this.

Mittwoch, 7. März 2007

Clovis-Culture lasts only for 200 years?

Before reading "Science" I was very sceptical concerning this news. But the data seem to be very uniformly:

... Of the remaining 11 sites, Waters and Stafford found that five had been recently dated by higher-precision techniques. The pair decided to redate the others, succeeding in all but one case. The results, Waters says, "were a real surprise." All of the new dates--as well as all of the previous acceptable dates--occurred within, at most, a 450-year band. Indeed, they say, Clovis probably existed for as little as 200 years, between 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years B.P.--a cultural flowering both somewhat later and considerably shorter than thought.

... other cultures, including one in Monte Verde, Chile, dated to 1000 years before Clovis.

... Meltzer stresses that the dates used are from a minority of North American sites, most in the west, whereas most Clovis points have been found in the east. Until more data are compiled, he says, researchers "can't know whether this is a real effect or simply a consequence of sampling."

Dienstag, 6. März 2007

How does evolution "work"?

A new book about the ways of evolution ("The Plausibility of Life") has some thoughts worth to think through (Natalie Angier in NYT):

... I am, nevertheless, a multicellular organism of reasonably complex structure, and we complex bioforms can’t help but appreciate novelty. We are the fruits of it. If not for evolutionary novelty — that is, the periodic and often radical overhauling of an existing cell type, body plan, limb shape or brain design into something new and useful, or at least entertaining — we might still be so many daubs of blue-green algae decorating an Australian rock. ...

... biological novelty. Under its tutelage, early groups of cells made the leap from the sleepy expulsion of oxygen as waste to the aerobic consumption of oxygen to grow at a hastier pace; and groups of single cells learned to pool their talents into multicellular collectives of specialized body compartments that could then go out and hunt other multicellular collectives; and fishy fins became amphibious feet and crept onto the beach, and some land-weary feet changed their mind and flippered back to the sea, while still other limb bones lengthened and found skin flaps for flying, and, hey, this airborne business is pretty handy, let’s rearticulate the forelimbs of three separate lineages and take wing as a pterodactyl, a bird, a bat.

As scientists see it, these and others of nature’s fancy feats forward are clearly the result of large-scale evolutionary forces, but the precise mechanisms behind any given innovation remain piquantly opaque. For some researchers, the conventional gradualist narrative, in which organisms evolve over time through the steady accretion of many mincing genetic mutations, feels unsatisfying when it comes to understanding true biological novelty.

“The standard Darwinian view always sounds like a better theory for making improvements than for making inventions,” said Dr. Marc W. Kirschner, a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. If incremental, additive genetic changes were responsible for all the boggling biodiversity we see around us, he said, how can it be that humans have hardly more genes than a microscopic nematode, and that many of those genes are nearly identical in roundworms and humans besides?

In their recently published book, “The Plausibility of Life,” Dr. Kirschner and Dr. John C. Gerhart of the University of California,Berkeley, offer a fresh look at the origins of novelty. They argue that many of the basic components and systems of the body possess the quality of what they call “evolvability” — that is, the components can be altered without wreaking havoc on the parts and systems that connect to them, and can even produce a reasonably functional organ or body part in their modified configuration. For example, if a genetic mutation ends up lengthening a limb bone, said Dr. Kirschner, the other parts that attach to and interact with that bone needn’t also be genetically altered in order to yield a perfectly serviceable limb. The nerves, muscles, blood vessels, ligaments and skin are all inherently plastic and adaptable enough to stretch and accommodate the longer bone during embryogenesis and thus, as a team, develop into a notably, even globally, transformed limb with just a single mutation at its base. And if, with that lengthened leg, the lucky recipient gets a jump on its competitors, well, g’day to you, baby kangaroo.

Dr. Kirschner also observes that cells and bodies are extremely modular, and parts can be moved around with ease. A relatively simple molecular switch that in one setting allows a cell to respond to sugar can, in a different context, help guide the maturation of a nerve cell. In each case, the activation of the switch initiates a tumbling cascade of complex events with a very distinctive outcome, yet the switch itself is just your basic on-off protein device. By all appearances, evolution has flipped and shuffled and retrofitted and duct-taped together a comparatively small set of starter parts to build a dazzling variety of botanic and bestial bodies.

The combined modularity and bounciness of body parts suggest that life is spring-loaded for change, for outrageous commixtures, the wildest fusion cuisine. And who knows whether our organismic suppleness, our deep evolvability, isn’t related to our mental thirst for the new, and our hope that behind the door lies the best surprise yet?

The Anglo-Saxons ... Genes, Mind and Culture ....

Nicholas Wade gives a good survey in the NYT about current thinking of geneticists about the population history of the British Isles since their recolonization after the Ice-Age. Geneticists seem to agree, that most of current people in the British Isle are stemming from this recolonization after the Ice-Age and not from later migrations bringing agriculture (4000 BC) or by the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons or the Vikings. (But Bryan Sykes seems to make greater differences between small neolithic and big celtic genetic influence on current populations.)

The geneticists Stephen Oppenheimer, Bryan Sykes, Christopher Tyler-Smith, Mark Thomas, Peter Forster and others mostly disagree at the moment about the Anglo-Saxonian genetical influence. And there is another - may be - new insight:

English is usually assumed to have developed in England, from the language of the Angles and Saxons, about 1,500 years ago. But Forster argues that the Angles and the Saxons were both really Viking peoples who began raiding Britain ahead of the accepted historical schedule. They did not bring their language to England because English, in his view, was already spoken there, probably introduced before the arrival of the Romans by tribes such as the Belgae, whom Caesar describes as being present on both sides of the Channel. (...)

Germanic is usually assumed to have split into three branches: West Germanic, which includes German and Dutch; East Germanic, the language of the Goths and Vandals; and North Germanic, consisting of the Scandinavian languages. Forster's analysis shows English is not an offshoot of West Germanic, as usually assumed, but is a branch independent of the other three, which also implies a greater antiquity. Germanic split into its four branches some 2,000 to 6,000 years ago, Forster estimates.

Addendum: Razib Khan and others are sceptical concerning the last thoughts. Me too. But you should never say never.

Montag, 5. März 2007

Beginning of agriculture in China by migrations from Europe?

Last year in the journal "Archäologie in Deutschland" there were given hints by Detlef Gronenborn (pdf., german language), that archaeological connections exist between the first european farmers (the Linearbandkeramiker) and new detected archaeological cultures in Russia (Elshan-Culture) and Northern China. (More from Detlef Gronenborn here - also in English.)

Now it seems that we have ancient genetic data for this connections as well. And that would mean, that these connections were'nt only cultural but also genetic. This would be a very great surprise.
The Phylogeography of Haplogroup N1a

Gokcumen O et al.

Recent studies have revealed a complex geographic distribution of haplogroup N1a. This rare and distinctive lineage is widely distributed across Eurasia and Africa, but always found at very low frequencies. However, despite its rarity, the genetic diversity within N1a has remained relatively high (h=0.9605). The reduced median network of N1a haplotypes not only reflects this level of diversity, but also exhibits several relatively well-defined branches. The distribution of N1a is intriguing because of revealing previously unrecognized connections between populations. What makes N1a even more interesting is the prevalence of this lineage in ancient European populations. Haak et al. (2005) found that 25% of their European Neolithic samples belonged to N1a and dated to ~5000 BCE, whereas the frequency of this lineage in contemporary Europeans is only ~0.2%. In addition, an Iron Age skeleton from Kazakhstan had an N1a haplotype, suggesting the existence of this lineage in the Altai Republic in ~500BCE (Ricaut et al. 2004). Indeed, we found several haplogroup N1a mtDNAs in indigenous Altaians and Altaian Kazakhs. To further elucidate the phylogeography of this lineage in Central Asia, we sequenced the whole mtDNA genomes of our N1a haplotypes, and analyzed the resulting data with several quantitative methods and simulation programs to estimate their expansion times and spatial distribution in Eurasia. Our findings suggest that there are two well-defined sublineages within N1a, and that the dispersal of this haplogroup could be associated with the Neolithic expansion and with prehistoric interactions between Central Asian and European populations.

What sort of people will have babies in the future?

In a new article people like Bruce Lahn, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Peter Richerson and Daniel Dennett are asked, what they think at the moment about the (past and) the future of human evolution. Daniel Dennett has a good point:

... "The question to ask is this," said Dennett at Tufts. "What features are shared by most of the people having babies that survive to have babies of their own?"

And I think, the answer is very simple. As far as we know the best and most robust factor, that correlates with fertility in humans nowadays is religion, Mr. Dennett! - You aren't surprised?

But Daniel Dennett has more interesting things to say:

... "In different environments, different pressures may well dominate. If pandemics or huge shifts in the environment occur, this may create bottlenecks, through which only a lucky few can pass their genes.

"Perhaps tolerance for mercury in the diet, or an ability to digest kudzu, or a pronounced fondness for living underground in the dark will be strongly favored after some catastrophe."

However, Dennett added, "Since evolution is an amplifier of noise - unpredictable insertions into the prevailing patterns - it is a mistake to extrapolate current trends with much confidence."

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