Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Juvenile and Adult Animals Look Different

Ever wonder why juveniles and adults can look so different, especially in fish and birds?  And in humans, what's up with all the hair we grow post puberty?

The Differences:

Blue Headed Wrasse

Blue headed wrasse reproduction is a little different.  The individual on the right is a super male and the one on the left is an immature female or male (but reproductively mature).




Frigate Bird

Baby of right, adult on left


Little Black Dresses
This is kind of a weird thought, but I've wondered before if  we wear black to be sexy  because it subconsciously is connected to the darkness of pubic hair.  Maybe not.  But maybe.

The Possible Reasons Why

  • For Adults
    • Reproduction
      • Handicap Principle - Think about it.  If a display was easy to fake everyone would evolve to have it.  It's got to be hard and costly to be honest.  Testosterone in humans has been linked with shortened life spans--it's costly.
      • To Look Different From Women
        • To be noticed in a crowd
      • Delicate Hormonal Balance
        • Sexual displays will often use really complicated genes, because it says to the female that if large stretches of their genome are unmutated that the rest is probably ok too.
      • Age Display
        • Healthy
          • Being healthy into old age is a great sign of good genes.  Age indicators like a silver back, a beard, baldness could serve as showing age to show good genes.
        • Status
          • Resources
            • Many social species use status to gain resources and then gain mates. That takes time and having age indicators might be used to indicate the possibility of status, knowledge and resources.
        • Desirable genes
          • A female wants a male that will give her sons desirable traits so they in turn reproduce.
  • For Juveniles
    • Camo
    • Stay out of the way of the reproductively mature males
      • If other males see you as a threat you may not make it to the age of maturity.

Pictures from here, here, here, here, here, here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pride's Role in Morality

Our moral dilemma decisions are answers to questions, whether we realize it or not.  Some questions are simple and unconscious: What will please me the most?  What do other people want me to do?  What ought I to do?  It's good to take notice of these subterranean musings and start to take control of them posing our own questions to direct ourselves.  I've started to use one and it's the prompt for this blog.

What decision will I be most proud of?

I've read a good bit from certain religious authors who say that pride is the greatest of all sins, the essence of all sins, the source of all sins.  That's never really sat right with me for a number of reasons.  One of which is that there's so many definitions of the word 'pride' and another reason is that 'pride' has been such an integral part of moral decisions (both actively and just in retrospection).

So, what I'd like to do, with your help, is to dissect out what good and bad pride are, if there is indeed such things.

“I feel good about this” Pride
  • Taking pleasure in something meeting a standard--a decision, a person, an event, your self
  • The 'this' could be
    • Others
    • An action/decision
  • Past oriented
  • Standard--an internalized one
  • Continuum:
    • I beat myself up about my decisions--I don't care about my decisions--I feel good about my decisions
    • Results
      • Likely repetition of behavior since internally rewarded
      • Conscience is strengthened when followed
      • Endearment to others whom you're proud of
    • Attribution
      • You did this
        • Results in endearment and affection
          • Often relationally salubrious
      • I did this
      • My circumstances are responsible for this
    • Helpful questions
      • How is my positive feeling pride affecting my view of myself?  Others?  My standard?
      • How can I motivate myself to repeat the positive action without being puffed up or comparative to others?
    “I’m better than that” Pride 
    • Thinking highly of yourself
    • The 'this' could be...
      • An action, like a vice
        • Often positive
        • If I give an example like, "I'm better than male prostitution for crack,"  it would seem to imply that I'm better than the people that do those things.  Not necessarily if you also firmly believe that the people doing those actions are also far better than that and deserve way more.
      • A situation
        • Can be good--like not turning into a door mat
        • Can be bad--like not serving others because you're too good for it
    • Future oriented
    • Standard--internalized
    • Continuum
      • I deserve punishment/worse than others--I don't deserve anything/the same as others--I deserve rewards/better than others
    • Results
      • Having standards of treatment
        • It is bad for other  people to be allowed to walk all over you.  You lose by being trampled on and they lose by becoming more immoral
      • Isolation from others because of an unwillingness to serve
      • A resistance of evil
    • Attribution
      • I get my worth from how I'm treated
      • My treatment is indeterminate of my worth
    • Helpful Questions
      • What would I want others to do for me?
      • Am I being hawty/conceited/arrogant?
    “I have no flaws” Pride

    • Thinking you have no flaws
    • Standard
      • Fictitious internal one
    • Past/present oriented (and future?)
    • Continuum
      • I am evil/despicable/a failure--I accurately see my flaws--I have no flaws/I'm perfect
    • Results
      • Inability to grow or see flaws
    • Attribution
      • I have made myself perfect
      • I am among the privileged perfect by circumstances or divine appointment
    • Helpful Questions
      • What flaws do I avoid seeing?  
      • What am I in denial about?
      • How can I grow?

    “I’m better than you” Pride

    • High estimation of social ranking/importance/better than others
      • Less bad and/or more good in comparison
    • Standard
      • Others
    • Present oriented (and past?  future?)
    • Continuum
      • I'm worse than others--I'm the same as others--I'm better than others
    • Results
      • Isolation
      • Judgmentalism
      • Inability to grow or see flaws
      • Over estimation of ability--disappointment destination/impending failure
    • Attribution
      • I made me better than you
      • God/genetics/life made me better than you
    • Helpful Questions
      • Is it possible my good is from my circumstances and my bad is from me?  
      • What should I own up to?
      • Is there a circumstantial explanation for others actions that might elevate my opinion of them?
      • What better standard might I use other than those around me?
    • Appreciate the good within you
      • It doesn't have to be conceit if what you're appreciating is moral good, justice, righteousness
        • Are you appreciating in others the same good, though?
    • Realize there is much you can't take credit for
      • I think of Newton who said that he couldn't take any credit for the discoveries he made.  He, "Was standing on the shoulders of giants."  The distance he saw was only because of the height of others.
    • Recognize your flaws
      • It's the only way you can grow
    • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Phil 2:3

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Emoting and Evolution

    Ever wondered...
    • How facial expressions evolved?
    • Why we smile when we're happy rather than grimace?
    • Why we laugh?  Make grunting noises at unexpected or out of place events?
    • Why do we expel water from our eyes when we're sad? 
    Seriously.  It makes no sense. 

    The way we emote is arbitrary.  Imagine an alien coming to Earth and interacting with a human for the first time.  A human representative approaches the creature and smiles warmly to signify a peaceful demeanor and intentions.  However, to the alien, bearing one's teeth (or equivalent masticating anatomy) is a severe threat (as it is with many animals and primates!!).  The opposite message intended is received.  Am I the only one that thinks it weird that smiling could result in the obliteration of the human race?  The only reason I bring that up is to remind you that the expression of emotion as we know it, and take for granted, is emphatically not universal, inevitable or necessary.  

    But it is intensely personal.  

    It is immensely powerful.

    Think about this: would you rather have no face or be a quadriplegic?   

    These displays are deeply biological and surprisingly cross cultural.  There have been studies that have shown pictures to remote tribes and asked what emotion the face exhibited and there was near unanimity in the answers.  Other studies with infants, dogs and primates have further demonstrated how widely recognized our emotional displays are.

    One fundamental desire that evolution often has that I should point out is the desire to keep groups together.  Individuals are vulnerable to starvation, attack, parasites and predators.  Social animals have complex means of cementing relationships to avoid fracturization such as morality, emotional bonds, communication, grooming, synchronized behavior, etc.  The below is just one manifestation of how our ancestors used communication (and quite possibly one of the first forms) to operate as a collective unit.

    You'll notice, as Darwin himself did, that many emotional opposites are expressed by opposite facial contortions--anger has eyebrows down and lips tight while happiness has eye brows up and lips wide open, et cetera.

    Darwin also used the term 'serviceable habit'.  The idea is that the display was once just simply a motion in service of a behavior.  Examples help.  The anger display is bearing one's teeth and lowering the eye brows.  Teeth were exposed when our ancestors were about to bit and eyebrows might help focus, shield light, protect eyes, etc.  The disgust display was once in service of vomitation.

    • Joy/Happiness/Smiling
        • To put it plainly, our ancestors that could show they were happy had more kids than those that couldn't
          • Either or sexual selection reasons--people like happy people
          • Or, for natural selection reasons 
            • Cement bonds
            • Perpetuate prosocial behavior
            • It's been pointed out that chimpanzees use teeth bearing to express submission.  It's interesting to think how we've changed (and chimps use the ancestral form of facial expression), chimps have changed (and we're ancestral) or our common ancestor had something totally different to express happiness and/or submission.
            • To express a success--like the finding of food, social/battle victory

    • Sorrow/Sadness/Crying
        • Garner emotional support
        • Express defeat ("I give up.")
        • Express pain ("So stop hurting me.")
        • Express a need--such as an infant
          • This might  be a big avenue that caused the evolution of crying--a child's whine
    • Laughter
        • This is one that's very similar in chimpanzees
        • Releases tension
        • Establishes hierarchy--by making someone the brunt of a joke
        • Ever noticed how crying can sound like laughing?  Or that sometimes you tear while laughing?  I might imagine that the contexts are so different and readily apparent that there isn't much selective pressure to distinguish the two.  Funny coincidence, though.

    • Blushing
        • Darwin had a tough time with this.  Why would someone want others to know that they're embarrassed?
        • Perhaps as a visual apology

    • Fear
        • To warn others
        • To show defeat

    • Surprise (Separate from fear)
        • This one's tough for me to think about.  The most I've gotten so far is that maybe it's a display filler--like it buys a person time to process an event so that an inappropriate display isn't chosen.  For example, something shocking happens and it might be very socially inappropriate to show anger when happiness is expected so showing a surprised face first buys time to decide to then smile.  Maybe...

    • Anger 
        • Inspire fear, submission
        • Challenge others

    • Disgust
        • To express disapproval without a desire to fight
        • To warn others of the insalubrious  
    Relatively easy to fake:
    • Smile
    • Laughter (at least the chuckle-at-your-boss's-dumb-joke king)
    • Anger 
    • Disgust

    Relatively hard to fake (as in you have to be a highly skilled actor to do it):
    • Embarrassment
    • Fear
    • Real laughter
    • Crying
    The ones that are easy to fake are ones that our ancestors needed to learn how to lie about. There may have been selective pressure to pretend to have an emotion that you don't really feel in order to advance social status or cohesion.

    Emotional displays I wish evolution gave us (Please think about how awesome it'd be to see the below):
    • Honesty/sincerity (As in, I wish it were harder to fake.)
    • Empathy
    • Understanding
    • Gentleness
    • Patience
    • Female arousal
    • Love
    • Gratitude

    Pictures are from here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Itchiness and Evolution

    Why do we itch?


    How does it work?


    Should you resist the itch to itch?

    Possible reasons that evolutionarily this strategy arose:

    • Remove skin infected with fungi and/or bacteria
    • Remove scabs to make way for fresh skin
    • Remove ticks, lice, misquitoes, etc (which can be disease carrying)
    • System gets highjacked by (conceivably so as to spread itself)
      • Scabies
      • Chickenpox
      • Cutaneous larva migrans
      • Herpes
    • To exfoliate off toxic plant residue
      • Is it our body saying don’t touch this or more likely the plant saying don’t touch me?
    • General maintenance, cleaning grooming
      • For sanitary reasons
      • To look good
    • I wonder if it was more important when we had fur?
      • Ever see a croc scratch like a dog?
      • Maybe fur provides:
        • Protection from too much scratching
        • A reason to clean
          • Think about it, which gets dirtier--tile or carpet?

    How it works:
    • Unlike pain which causes a recoil from the impetus we are drawn towards the itch to deal with it (kind of a no-brainer, but worth contrasting with pain to show they work differently)
      • When it the itch is scratched they stop firing
    • Itchiness and pain have considerable crossover
      • You have nerve endings that both feel itchiness and pain
      • Your spinothalamic neurons not only deals with itchiness, but also temperature, pain and crude touch.
      • The more pain you're feeling the less your able to feel itchiness
      • There have been numerous studies that expose people it irrating and itchy substances (chloroquine and hisatmines) and then proceeded to burn, poke, vibrate, and shock them. Turns out you can't itch and hurt all at the same time thus suggesting some significant crossover.
    • Itching also uses the pleasure zones of your brain
    • Itching can be contagious (just like yawning)
      • Have you itched since reading this?
    • It can also be psychosomatic 
      • Don't believe me? Just try thinking about bugs crawling on you and try not itching.
    • Histamines (protein triggers) are released when you itch
      • Histamine increases the permeability of the capillaries to white blood cells and some proteins, to allow them to engage pathogens in the infected tissues.
        • They're also involved in digestion by causing smooth muscle contraction and gastric acid release
        • If that wasn't enough they also help regulate sleep (hence why antihistamines, which bind on certain histamine receptors to block them [as an antagonist] cause drowsiness)
      • Histamines are released by
        • Mast cells - tissue cells that both release histamine and heparin 
          • Both regulate blood flow to affected area h
            • Histamine as a vasodilator 
            • Heparin as an anticoagulant
        • Basophils 
          •  Special kind of white blood cell representing only 0.01% to 0.3% of white blood cells in blood

    Is itching bad?  Should you not scratch that itch?  Does itching infact, "Just make it worse!"?

    • Yes
      • It could stimulate the release of more histamines which could further the spread of the itch
      • Evolution gave your body reasons to itch that are no longer relevant 
      • Scratching can get so bad that the skin barrier becomes broken
    • No
      • Maybe your body wants you to itch to remove a thin layer of skin (yes, we over do it sometimes which is bad)
      • It does quiet your screaming itch neurons by scratching
    • Maybe
      • Listen to your body's cries, but don't become a slave to outdated evolution
    Pictures from here, here, here, here, here.