Tag Archives: evolution

Ancient nightmare

I’m shit-scared of spiders.  I’m so scared of them that if I find one in my house, I know it has to die, because I won’t be able to go to sleep ever again while knowing it’s out there, slowly stalking me..  So even though this is awesomely cool, it does give me a bit of a shiver.

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Got milk?

There’s an intriguing article over at Slate, which speculates that Western civilazation may owe a lot to milk.  Although not entirely convincing – the evidence provided by the author is not exactly overwhelming – the idea is interesting to think about and I would be interested to find out more.  The argument is summarised as follows:  The transition from a foraging to a farming society, which lead to a dramatic decrease in the different types of food eaten by our ancestors, had a detrimental impact on their health.  Human remains from this time show alarming signs of disease linked to nutrient deficiencies.

And then something changed.  Although all our ancestors used to be lactose intolerant, a genetic mutation arose around 10,000 years ago which enabled adults to drink unprocessed milk.  This extra source of nutrition gave them such an edge that the mutation quickly spread through the population, boosting health and increasing life expectancy.

This is a fascinating idea, but I wonder if it would stand up to scrutiny.  As the author himself points out, our lactose intolerant ancestors were perfectly capable of digesting yoghurt and cheese, and in fact appear to have done so.  Personally, I like it, mostly because I still love nothing more than a nice tall glass of chocolate milk.

Reading: Masters of the Planet – The Search for Our Human Origins

I recently read this book by Ian Tattersall.  It explains the science around human evolution, tracing back our family tree to the split from the other apes.  It’s an entertaining and informative read, full of real science but still accessible for a layperson like me.  It explores the question of what makes us uniquely human, and concludes that it’s our ability to think symbolically that catapulted us from just one hominid species among many to rulers of our world.  It delves into the way our evolution shaped the contrary beings we are today, capable of understanding the extreme complexity of the natural world, capable of creating moving, beautiful works of art, and capable of horrendous savagery.  I would add this to the “highly recommended” pile.

If you don’t understand it or respect it you can’t use it

 I wish this could be true.  In fact, I sometimes feel that people who don’t respect science and have never bothered to understand it should not be allowed to benefit from it at all.

If you don’t believe in evolution, why should you benefit from the medicine that has been developed because of our understanding of genetics? If you think the world is 6,000 years old, why should you get to use the electricity that is generated with fossil fuels that took millions of years to form?

It drives me crazy that people think they have a right to regard established scientific fact as an opinion that they get to disagree with.  Millions of people seriously believe that their personal opinion should weigh as much as the work of scientists who dedicate their entire lives to studying the world we live in.  And those same people happily, greedily make use of the marvellous technological advancements which that research has bought us.  It makes me sad.