12 Nov

It’s clear that the human brain is a real feat of evolution. We can talk, we can walk and talk at the same time, we can socialize, we can be awkward while socializing, we can invent computers so we can blog about the awkwardness of socializing…. we’re pretty complex.

So supposedly, there was a time when there wasn’t any life on earth. Then there were these carbon molecules that were just like, “Oh hey, bro. Wanna party?” And that night they went hard. And then stuff happened. And the next morning, one of the carbons wakes up to realize he’s made a huge mistake: there’s a new life on the way. Soon enough, there was a cell. (That carbon wound up paying cell-support for the rest of his life.)

Anyway, this cell somehow evolved and then there were bacteria, and one of the bacteria evolved into a different bacteria… and then some billion years later, there were all kinds of fish and dinosaurs and shit like that. Then there were mice and flying squirrels and eventually there were chimps and platypuses and people. Then came aliens, smurfs, and gnomes. (But those aren’t important right now.) Then the dodo birds disappeared.

I’m not trying to teach evolution here, so please don’t quote me in your next research paper. The point of this little lesson is that it took a LONG time and a LOT of evolution to get to us.

And so, we think we’re boss.

But you know? I think the bacteria had the right idea all along. (Our bacteria ancestor who evolved was probably just a crazy mofo.)

I mean what’s not to love? Say you’re a bacteria. You can spend all your days living in a hot spring, developing a resistance to antibiotics, and terrorizing your host. You can look like this. Or this. You also will be present at all the biggest and best bacteria parties, where you’ll just eat, drink, and have tons of sex. You can pretty much just bro around all day long. All day erry day.

As a person, we’ve got these big brains. And what do we use them for? Well if you’re me, you use it to imagine what it’s like to be a bacteria. Meanwhile, the bacteria are busy being bacteria. Bacteria: 1, Rachel: 0.

Although bacteria are not actually smarter than us, the certainly have more street-sense than we do. They know how to survive danger, they know how to defend themselves, they know how to work hard, and they know how to party hard. Bacteria know what they’re doing.

I really have nowhere else to go with this… I was just bored and wanted to put this out there.



11 Responses to “Evolution/Devolution/Revolution/Volution…?”

  1. chabelkhan November 12, 2011 at 9:54 PM #

    Amusing read.

    Chabel Khan.

  2. sd November 13, 2011 at 5:36 PM #

    ‘…where you’ll just eat, drink, and have tons of sex.’ wait, bacteria are college students? I’m confused.

    ‘…and then some billion years later, there were all kinds of fish and dinosaurs and shit like that.’ this may just be the best description of evolution I’ve ever read. either this, or that south park episode.

    but yeah, you got the right idea. some people have this misunderstanding – probably a relic of good ol’ Aristotelian essentialism – that evolution is a hierarchy/‘chain of being’ or ‘scala naturae’ (yay Latin) where you have bacteria at the bottom, then plants, then animals above that, and humans (which are, of course, totally NOT animals, all evidence be damned) waaay up at the very top. cause you know, we’re cool like that. which, don’t get me wrong, is a nice worldview and all, but there’s only tiny little problem with it: IT’S WRONG. bummer, right?

    turns out, evolution does not necessarily imply increased biological complexity (even assuming humans are the most complex organisms, which is debatable, unless perhaps you’re only referring to the brain). sometimes, simplicity is the way to go, like certain species of fish that live in dark underwater caves and have gradually lost their eyesight over the generations. That’s why the concept of ‘devolution’ is nonsense – there’s nothing to devolve *to*, because *all* genetic change is evolution. in what sense are we ‘more evolved’? bacteria have been around longer, so technically they’ve actually evolved the most. and strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ traits. an organism that is well-adapted to one environment, such as a polar bear with thick fur living in the Arctic, can have a selective DIS-advantage (in terms of its probability of survival & reproduction) in another environment, like the desert. (don’t even get me started on the bullshit concept of ‘race,’ which is biologically meaningless, or how this misinterpretation of evolution has been used to rationalize and justify some really fuckin’ sick shit like Social Darwinism.)

    we are not the most numerous species by any stretch of the imagination. nor are we the only species to use tools and modify its environment – for instance, chimps, and even octupuses (!), do that too. and in the case of a global nuclear holocaust or another mass extinction à la the K-T event that killed off the dinosaurs while they were partying like it’s 65 million BC, who would survive? sure as hell not those large, squishy humans. nope, it’d prolly be bacteria. bacteria and cockroaches. sucks, doesn’t it.

    there is not some pseudo-teleological ‘goal’ to evolution, because when it comes to the future, evolution is blind. we are not the center of the universe, and we are not the end-point or apex of life on earth – our apparent deep-rooted psychological need for this to be true notwithstanding. it seems that every true scientific revolution has also brought with it a hard kick to humanity’s collective groin. (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. sometimes we need to be humbled. we’re not as badass as we think, although we do have some pretty kickass accomplishments.)

    sadly, despite all this, even some science textbooks still have misleading phrases like ‘from bacteria *up to* humans.’ you’d think they’d know better. #facepalm

    I’ll leave you with this… fun fact(?). don’t quote me on this, but I once read that we share about half of our DNA with bananas. yup. enjoy your fruit salad.


    [end of rant/essay/procrastination session]

    • SaucySays42 November 13, 2011 at 8:10 PM #

      hey sd!

      lemme try and clarify.
      1. never take me literally. you’ll get yourself in trouble.
      2. you’re right. this sounds an awful lot like chain of being. personally, i do not believe in chain of being. (doesn’t fit with my cold-hard atheism.)
      3. i also do not think that we’re the “best” organisms in any sense of the word “best.” that doesn’t compute. organisms are suited for their niches… there’s no absolute “best” anything. (like what you said about the polar bear). for instance, there are some very simple worm-type organisms that can exist in pools of sulfuric acid. we would fail miserably in a pool of sulfuric acid. (but the worm would probably also fail in an office cubicle). while the worm is structurally less complex, the worm has evolved to fit it’s environment… of acid. it’s no “better” or “worse” than us.
      4. following #1, never EVER take my titles literally. they are generally the afterthought at the end of a post, when i realize “shit. i can’t publish this without a title!” and hence the titles are born. this title was chosen purely because it contains only words that rhyme with evolution. (and i’m not even sure volution is a word… i made that up for shits and giggles.
      5. DNA is a whole other ordeal. your banana story is probably true.
      6. what i meant to say in my post is not that bacteria are “less evolved” than we are or that they are “worse” than we are or even that they are simpler than we are (even though they kinda are…); i meant that in terms of ancestry, the bacteria are much more similar to whatever common ancestor we share. it’s not that the bacteria today are the same as what existed millions of years ago. no, the bacteria today have been evolving for millions of years, and the strains from millions of years ago have died out. still, the bacteria today look a lot more like the bacteria from millions of years ago than we do.

      i hope that makes sense!
      thanks for your thoughtfulness, sd! i always appreciate it.

      • sd November 13, 2011 at 11:28 PM #

        first off, congratulations on making it through that wall of text. and haha, don’t worry, I wasn’t taking you literally. yes, obviously the title was word play. I wasn’t actually disagreeing or arguing per se with anything in particular in your post – which was quite amusing btw. my comment was more rhetorical. so, no need to clarify. (regarding #6 though – good call. phylogenetically, bacteria did branch off earliest and appear, for the most part, to have retained their basic structure, so the last universal common ancestor probably didn’t look too different.)

        like I said, I think you got the right idea. which is commendable, because this is one of those topics where a lot of people who don’t know the first thing about it think they have it all figured it out. it’s like, you wouldn’t argue quantum mechanics with a physicist if you haven’t studied the subject, or chaos theory with a mathematician if you don’t know shit about math, but bring up evolution and suddenly every Joe Blow is an expert. YES, because spending 30 minutes on youtube totally counts as ‘research.’ (I’ve always thought creationists are the best argument against creationism :P) it’s a weird fixation, because there are other branches of sciences which are equally if not more ‘threatening’ to certain beliefs systems – neuroscience, for instance, which completely destroys any notion of a ‘soul.’

        and yes, it IS fun and interesting to imagine what life would be like as something other than H. sapiens. (wow, even our name, ‘sapiens,’ smacks of arrogance. sure, we’re smarter than your average primate – well, some of us, anyway – but still.)

        I gotta say, I’ve kinda enjoyed this discussion. take care.

        P.S. just for ‘shits and giggles,’ since I have absolutely nothing better to do at the moment than waste time online while eating candy and blasting rock music (except of course, a shit-ton of homework and 2 midterms coming up, but let’s not talk about that because everyone knows avoiding reality makes it go away, right?), I looked it up and, believe it or not, it turns out that ‘volution’ really IS a word. unless, of course, there’s some massive conspiracy and merriam-webster is lying to me. (yeah, that’s probably the more logical explanation, occam’s razor and all. which reminds me, I need to shave.) damn, guess you’re not as witty and original as you thought. :)

  3. chabelkhan November 14, 2011 at 5:08 AM #

    “…neuroscience, for instance, which completely destroys any notion of a ‘soul.’”

    Not entirely true, SD. It depends how we define “soul”; neuroscience suggests it is very likely we are made out of one substance, but it does not eliminate the possibility of property dualism. It does, however, shoot down Cartesian (substance) dualism quite well. You need to qualify that statement a bit better of what you mean by “soul” (“soul” for some could mean mental properties). Furthermore, you cannot completely destroy the possibility of anything; it can, however, be abysmally unlikely. I suggest reading some Hume and possibly reading up about property dualism.

    Regarding your statement about “pseudo-teleological” evolution, it must be clear there there is no ultimate telos to evolution. It is merely biological permutations with no end goal. Environmental change precipitates genetic change. Change in genetic terms is mutation which is evolution (evolution being the factual part of the equation and the articulation theory of evolutionary genetic transmission, natural selection, is still lacking all its nuances). It is clearly non-teleological. I am not sure where you got this “pseudo” terminology from. I find it ironic that you take aim at the terminology of the original poster, Saucy, and yet you blatantly use a neologism in your own post which undermines your entire argument with ambiguity.

    I think that was a lucid enough response regarding my gripes with your posts.

    No problem, Saucy :-)

    Chabel Khan.

    • Anonymous November 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM #

      Chabel Khan,

      I appreciate your input. This is certainly a lively discussion. :D

      Yes, I was indeed referring to the soul in the Cartesian dualist sense. I am aware that there and other competing ideas in the philosophy of mind, such as monism, epiphenomenalism, etc., and that the so-called ‘hard problem’ of consciousness may well be an entirely separate issue that neuroscience would not, even in principle, be able to address. So you’re right, I was being rather loose with my terminology; then again, this isn’t a formal paper.

      My main criticism of any ‘non-physical’ explanation is that it doesn’t actually explain anything. It merely pushes the problem back further and adds extraneous variables. So while neuroscience may not be able to tell us yet (or ever) what it is that actually makes us conscious, I think it does make the prospect of the answer being anywhere outside our brains rather miniscule. If you or anyone else wants to define ‘soul’ as simply being one’s mental life, emotions, personality, etc., then fair enough. And, except for those things that we can rule out from the very start as being logically impossible, of course ‘you cannot completely destroy the possibility of anything’ in the literal sense (I was using it more figuratively), but like you said, there are things we can say are false beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e., the probability of them being true, while not nil, is extremely small) – like the moon being made of cheese. I’ll have to read up on property vs. substance dualism. Thanks for the suggestions.

      The traditional teleological argument, as I understand it, appeals to ‘God’ as providing purpose and direction to nature. So it’s primarily a theological argument. What I meant by ‘pseudo-teleological’ – and what I probably should have explained – is that, while certain (faulty) interpretations of evolution, while they do not explicitly bring in theology or the ‘guiding hand’ of God, still retain a sense of teleology. You’re right, it SHOULD be ‘clear there there is no ultimate telos to evolution,’ but some people (even some biologists) still make that mistake – if not in their actual views, then at least in the way they describe them. That was my point. I should indeed be more careful with neologisms, as their meaning may not always be obvious to everyone. Also, you nailed it on the difference between evolution (the fact or observation) and natural selection (the theory, or at least part of it, that we currently have as the best empirical explanation for that fact) – I think the term ‘theory of evolution’ can be misleading, as it does not articulate this distinction.

      Like I said, my ‘arguments’ weren’t actually directed at the poster, but were of a more rhetorical nature, intended to stimulate discussion. If the rantings of my sleep-deprived, hyper-caffeinated mind gave a different impression, I apologize. I was not in any way criticizing her terminology, and I realize she was using words like ‘devolution’ for comedic effect, which I think she achieved very well – I mean, ‘cell-support’? Classic.

      I’m not looking to start an internet fight with anyone, as I think that’s pointless. I do, however, appreciate the constructive criticism – something the world needs more of, rather than false praise or empty insults.

      Best regards,

      • sd November 14, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

        Excuse my typos. I wrote this in a bit of a hurry.

        • SaucySays42 November 16, 2011 at 11:40 PM #

          Two strangers in a comment-debate on my blog: I feel like a real part of the internet now! Thanks you two :)
          I’m glad something I wrote could lead to further discussion (even though eventually unrelated discussion. Even better.)

          Stay smart,

      • SaucySays42 November 16, 2011 at 11:44 PM #

        And thanks SD about the word “volution!” I learn something knew everyday! (Now if only spellcheck would learn it too and stop underlining it… *adds to dictionary*)

  4. chabelkhan November 25, 2011 at 3:03 PM #

    My apologies for the belated reply; I have been busy studying and have neglecting follow-ups with my previous comments/traipsing around WordPress.

    “So you’re right, I was being rather loose with my terminology; then again, this isn’t a formal paper.”

    If you are going to write comments that are the length of formal papers, and expect people to read them, you should entertain in your mind that people might want to reply to them with criticisms or discussion.

    Consciousness and its causation is not really the problem (there is overwhelming evidence to suggest it is a physical thing); however, it is this “hard problem” or “explanatory gap” we now battle with. Ectoplasm theories are not taken very seriously nowadays, and nor should they be. As you said, they simple wish to add a superfluous paradigm in the equation that allows them to generalise an explanation of a complicated phenomena. All I was arguing is that traditional substance dualism is dead, not property dualism. Your original statement did not make a clear distinction and it was a technical gripe I made due to the fact in modern debate most people who profess dualist sympathies are not in any shape or form similar to Descartes regarding the mind-body problem.

    Additionally, regarding falsity, there is a distinction between inductive and deductive arguments and how they correspond with the conceivability principle. We are talking about inductive statements here, I believe. But, essentially, yes, we are all on a level playing field here and I have no qualms with what you have said. My qualms was with your semantic pedantry and then me attempting to show you how your own language is lacking specificity; most people’s language does, even my own. It is a very general occurrence.

    “The traditional teleological argument, as I understand it, appeals to ‘God’ as providing purpose and direction to nature.

    Which translates to “design” having an overall objective, or goal. If we are going to argue a deity’s involvement, you would be a fool to be so philosophically obtuse to deny the possibility of a god-like being; however, pragmatically, and logically, I can see why you would cull of the possibility of any formal conception of god to be abysmally unlikely. Biologists, at least none I have read, make statements like this alluding to teleological arguments. Is this in textbooks or is this in actual biology literature? If we are talking about textbooks, I can understand why they would have this slant; it is easier to describe evolution as moving towards a ‘superior’ adaptation to cope with the environmental conditions. However, we and the organism itself have no idea what that will look like or what the mutation will entail . I think the teleological problem may evince itself in literature because it attempts to show evolution in a continuum and as progress or active (we assume this means moving towards something). But, as I keep coming back to, it was your neologism and ambiguity you propagated with it that was my problem (please note the past tense).

    I was not intending to start an argument, per se, with you. I was attempting discussion; you are obviously knowledgeable and I respect people who can pick their brains. Do not take my blunt, possibly abrasive, technique in discourse personally. I am like this face-to-face (when engaged in serious discussion; see me out when I am drinking and relaxing at a pub, and you will get a completely different me).

    To illustrate my peculiarity, it is seven in the morning here and I am drinking hot chocolate in my underpants writing this comment about the philosophical implications of deductive versus inductive reasoning, evolutionary philosophy, consciousness and semantic perversion.

    Hope all is well (and my apologises to Saucy for, once again, commandeering her blog; although, she seems to be responding positively to the experience ;-)).

    Chabel Khan.

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