Thursday, November 05, 2009

Evolutionary Origin of the Little Things...

...that we do with our hands.

Last night I noticed how I was playing with my keys as I was discussing sociology with another person. My thoughts were directed at the subject matter and I payed no attention to other things. My mind was among Marx and arguments about any usefulness of literature in sociological research. And a few times I realized that I was playing with the keys in my hands. I was just doing some random repetitive things to them while talking or listening.

And I could not help to wonder why. Why was it that when I was thinking about something, I had to do something with my hands? In fact, why is it that many other people subconsciously begin twisting a pen or turning their bracelet/watch or playing with hair whenever they are contemplating? Or reading/writing? Or speaking in front of public? What causes this seemingly illogical behavior?

My best guess is: evolution.
First, I am not a psychologist, but I can tell conscious from subconscious activity and these minor movements with a bunch of keys were definitely subconscious. I did not realize I was doing it for most of the time. Furthermore, such things have occurred whenever I (or other people I have seen, for instance my 9th grade English teacher who used to play with her bracelet) were busy thinking about something. Whether it be reading, writing, arguing, watching a video of something, or simply dreaming.

Second, it was manual physical action. In all cases, we either chew the pen/cil or our nails or hair or we twist and turn some small objects that are around or even shuffle a deck of cards (don't ask). Inductive reasoning leads me to conclude that human beings have this tendency of engaging in actions with their hands or possibly teeth.

So, there is a connection between thought and manual activity. When we give in to thoughts, some natural tendency kicks in and compels our hands to do something, whatever it is. What, in turn, could cause that? This is where evolution comes into our considerations.

We, humans, have evolved as users of tools. Basic tools have been a part of the hominids' existence ever since Homo habilis walked the earth 2.5 to 1.6 million years ago. Ever since then, our family, the hominids, have been coerced by the merciless process natural selection to employ tools in order to enhance the population's capabilities of survival. Tools then became spears and bows and hatchets and nets, but the important thing is that there was pressure from natural selection to make those half-apes of prehistoric times use tools.

Now, using tools is a manual activity. The Homo habilis grabs a rock and cleans up some of the meat it found. Later hominids, more reminiscent of us, begin forming the tools to make spears or nets. But it is also an activity that requires thinking. The primitive man has to figure the length and the shape of the spear tip, or the knots of the fishing net. He has to use his imagination and reasoning capabilities to make or use the tool against prey. Thus, there has been a certain connection between thinking and manual activity connected with tools. This connection has existed for millions of years in our evolutionary history.

The exact reason, according to this explanation, then, is that natural selection has forced humans to be more attentive on the tools they were making or using. It stands to reason how - whoever failed to make a good hatchet or to thrust the spear well was less successful with hunting and getting food and staying alive. In case of fighting predators, less successful in maintaining personal safety and fighting back. Thus, the process of natural selection has applied pressure against our species as it evolved and has led to the thinking process to be somehow bound to using one's hands. It has been going on for 2.5 to 1.6 million years now. And still lingers.

Alternatively, the subconscious manual activity that I have observed could serve a different purpose. First of all, it is subconscious. This means that the hands are doing one thing, while the brain is processing information about another. In my case the hands are tweaking the keys, while the brain is tweaking sociology. What does this lack of relation imply? It implies that natural selection could have, au contraire, given us the ability to split our activity into two. While the hands automatically do something monotonous and not requiring our attention, our brains are free to tackle other issues that we face and imagine possible solutions. Back in the days this would have looked like the man sharpening his spear, thinking about where to hunt next.

I realize that this is a rough and incomplete explanation. It does not account for chewing pencils or gum. It may also be arguable from evolutionary psychological point of view. But it is worth mentioning.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Blurs in Nature

I remember someone saying that he believed that humans are a distinct species from all others (as a statement of belonging to the religious right in the USA). He is so wrong. There are no clear lines in nature.

For example, what makes you think that humans are distinct from chimpanzees? Usage of technology? They use sticks and straws, too, and they can be trained to push buttons for rewards. Different body? They are definitely hairier and more hutchback-looking than us, but the basics are the same. Different emotions? I do not think so at all. We are so similar to chimpanzees that they are like smaller, less advanced versions of humans. True, there are other monkeys, like macaques or baboons, but monkeys like the chimpanzee are an example of a blur between the two.

Also, where is the line between a dog and a wolf? Surely, dogs are rather friendly, but there's an German Shepherd dog standing over the two edges.

Even groups like birds and dinosaurs blend into each other. Dinosaurs are big and scaly and birds are smaller and have feathers, but then again, there exists the Archaeopteryx. It is a blend between a bird and a lizard, with lizard's fingers on its wings and teeth in its mouth, while still having feathers. It is a bit of both, marking where evolution continued.

Yet, the most basic fact that disproves the notion that nature likes clarity would be viruses. Are they living or are they inanimate? They do not display all the properties of a living thing, but they certainly know how to survive (using other cells) and they are like tiny machines whose only function is to make copies of themselves. Which does sound like what a living creature does.

Knowing all this, I have no choice but to disagree. I am sorry, but evidence suggests otherwise.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Technology, development, and other blasphemies

Armageddon, the movie. It was about a huge asteroid coming towards Earth and the Americans sending people that landed on it and blew it apart. Veeery dramatic (and discriminating, having in mind the way that the Russian guy on Mir was portrayed).

Anyway, I was thinking. It illustrates how technology helps our species survive. True, it was just a movie, but the principle is the same - technology makes it possible for people endure the vagaries of nature, the more developed the technology, the more helpful. Primitive clothes or weapons made life warmer and more full of food. Modern clothes, buildings, cars, or fertilizers make life even more warn and full of food. Not to mention that modern space engineering can make human existence protected even against giant rocks flying through space, it's simply a matter of money to make an armadillo or something similar.
If it weren't for the debris, I guess the US militaries may had even aimed ICBM's at the thing, lol

The big point here is that the way that technology, gadgets and gizmos and science, help humans survive and make human life easier, fulfills the biological purpose of our species. When we use and develop technology, we work for our survival - we are doing the right thing.

In our modern world, we can see many negative effects of technology. We can see global warming, pollution, or 1984-style surveillance. Yes, that is technology, but No, that is not a reason to stop its creation and improvement.

It is not about what it can do, but what people actually use it for. Think about nuclear energy. The same thing that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki now gives the French most of their electricity. Biochemistry and sophisticated laboratories may allow people to make biological weapons (think about Resident Evil and the T-virus), but with that knowledge we can also make a little virus that helps the human body somehow, say, by dissolving clumps of cholesterol in the blood vessels. It ALL depends - controversies and dilemmas and questions and protests - on how we use it.

At which point, people start asking the question "Are we ready for it?"/"Are we mature enough for such toys?"/"Does mankind possess the wisdom to control things like biological weapons or nuclear energy or such powerful communication technology (Facebook included)?" When a normal person reflects back to the 20th century, s/he is most likely to conclude "no." This is perfectly logical - after all, some of the machinery and chemistry that science has given man have proven disastrous for our home, Terra. Things can't go on like this any longer. For heaven's sake, stop! Quit that researching job of yours in General Motors, Jake, and come pray at our local evangelical anabaptist of the seventh-and-a-half-day antipresbytarian church, where you won't harm the planet any longer.

This is the wrong option, the less progressive one. This is destructive, pessimistic and, worst of all, not progressive. The better, more progressive and more suitable for the fulfillment of the biological purpose option is still making fancy stuff, but not using it for evil. People nowadays seem to have problems understanding this. Maybe it's the consumerist society, it makes them think that individuals will always pursue their personal gain, even if it is harmful for others. Things would be much better if everybody was aware that "good" is that, which most contributes to the fulfillment of the biological purpose, and that the context and the most complete prediction of the consequences determines which is the best option.

For example, if a girl wanted to become a prostitute, it would be less moral than if she continued her education, because an educated person is more beneficial for a society than a moron. However, if she needed the money for her sick relative, who had some invention in mind but not the means to make it available to the others, it would be more moral than staying in school (assuming that she is old and is quitting school in one or two years anyway: I'm trying not to make it paedoph... nevermind, haha)
However, if the invention this guy was making was some sort of weapon, going for prostitution would be largely immoral.
However, if the invention was needed by some organization that was trying to assassinate the current totalitarian leader of the country and the weapon was some super-accurate sniper or something that could do the trick - then the scales are turning back to the moral side.
Et cetera ceteraque.
Context is pretty much everything and it is up to our powers of reasoning to figure out which is the best option.

P.s. Longer than I expected. Well, I was reflecting... analyzing how much tl;dr text I poured a few months ago. I thought that it needed clarification. So, here it is.