I always enjoy coming across curious bits of information in passing, like the ones presented in the comic. They serve as sparks for further questions and research and ultimately a little better understanding of reality as it has been discovered. It’s also obvious how easy it is to transition from one question to the other, while leaving extremely complex and involved areas of research in between.
The mentioned Extended Phenotypes refers to the idea of an organisms genes being able to express themselves in the world outside of the body they are held in. Birds nests, beaver dams, spider webs, termite mounds (and even parasitic behavior that takes control of a host) are some examples of this type of gene expression. The idea was introduced in 1982 in Richard Dawkins Extended Phenotype and the point of interest for today’s comic is that these artifacts are produced without the benefit of conscious thought or intelligence as we define it in ourselves. So when I first heard that early Humans (mainly Homo Erectus*) made (Acheulean) Handaxes repeatedly and without change or technological advance for a million years, I figured they might have been done the same way a bird makes a nest. I thought this because it could have been a potential clue that the things we hold novel like consciousness and intelligence might just be complex illusions resulting from processes of emergence. I’m pessimistic like that. These theories aren’t exactly solid, but one suggestion I found to be interesting, and contrary to the idea that these handaxes were produced sans-intelligence, was by Professor Steven Mithen** (which can be read here). It suggests that the formation of these handaxes was dependent on prior adaptations resulting from increased brain mass and bipedalism and enhanced by the ability to form rudimentary plans, as well as the ability to speak to oneself (as a means of enhancing thought, rather than communicating with one another).
Meaning if we*** want to find evidence that we are just complex zombies, we’re going to have to look elsewhere.
But there’s no need to end on a downer. Here’s a new hypothesis: There’s an inverse correlation between ease of pet mobility and adorability.
I forget who, but a wise man once said,“There is nothing happier than a three-legged dog.” It’s a curious statement, but have you ever met one? Think of it in relation to their current predicament: They don’t care one bit, and depending on which leg was lost (roboticists actually study animal amputees to get a better idea of how to build robots who can adapt to limb damage) they can run just as fast as before. That animal resilience has always impressed and fascinated me. No moping or existential malaise here. Just business as usual. I suspect (highly unsure about this—needs research) it has something to do with them having less of a conscious attachment to their limbs—as when our cat chases its tail or the famous creeping dog leg. If anybody has any insight on these lapses into “alien leg syndrome,” I’d love to know.
Similarly, One of the cats once ate something—the vets hilariously diagnosed him with “dietary indiscretion”—and it had to be removed via surgery. He was young, so the incision practically ran the length of his abdomen (I can only imagine a surgeon with huge hands now). But not even a day out of the hospital, he wanted to run around and jump on things as if nothing had happened. I can only hope that I have such Terminator-like resilience if I ever get hurt.
I forget who, but a wise man once said,”There is nothing happier thn a three-legged dog.” It’s a curious statement, but have you ever met one? They don’t care one bit, and depending on which leg was logst, they can run just as fast if notas befpre. Crrazytown. -
This post was brought to you by Tellurium (Te).
In case anyone is too lazy to do the math but still interested, a million years is not actually a billion-jillion hours as stated. It actually depends on who and where you are: It’s Eight billion seven hundred and sixty six million hours if you’re American, Eight Thousand seven hundred sixty six million hours if you’re European, and one unit of waiting length at the dentist’s if you’re a kid.
*It’s worth pointing out that Homo Sapiens are not direct descendants of Homo Erectus.
**I recognized that name while reading and remembered that, a few years before we started Sci-ence, I drew the cover to a foreign (Greek) translation of one of Steven Mithen’s books. Prehistory of the Mind. (though I never got a comp. and they misspelled my name–what-up! >:C)
***The royal ‘we’.