Monday, September 26, 2016


Even change changes and even evolution evolves.  The actual world and our understanding of it is a dance: the world shifts and we take a step.  The choice is elimination of us and “our kind.”

The human brain has evolved in Rube Goldberg fashion, patches and fixes of all sorts, each new move based on the pre-existing moves, but we experience ourselves as single identities (well, most of us do) in a society of others.  The 19th century in the Western world was very preoccupied with sorting: labels and boxes, mostly according to appearances.  So the big breakthrough of evolution at that point was the individual vs. the group.

Suppose there is a rabbit with more peripheral vision because of bulgier eyes and suppose there is a rabbit who can run faster and farther than any others.  The idea is that he will survive better and therefore his children will survive and eventually through the generations, his descendants will be the majority of the rabbit population.  But suppose the other rabbits think bulgy eyes are really ugly and suppose that far-seeing rabbit runs so far that there are no other rabbits around.  No descendants. No evolution. 

But that’s only one kind of evolution.  It pits the individual against the group and encourages sorting into those who fit better versus those who are oddballs.  Not much attention is given to the ecological or economic or molecular pressures of the world.  (We forget that we are ejecting manmade molecules everywhere there is air or water.  Many of them are variations on estrogen.) 

Now the opposition is between the phenotype (the embodied animal), and the genotype (the molecular game plan for that species and individual.)  We can now detect a swarm of influences in the world and in the body: the epigenome which the environment can turn on or off; the internal ecology of microbes passed among people by contact; the isotopal metalome which affects the atoms that make up molecules; prions that affect the proper “folding” of molecules which prevents their normal action.  And climate change which we ourselves created.  All of these mean that evolution — indeed, survival of human beings in all their versions — is a whole different phenomenon.

The upshot of this is people working across scientific disciplines:  geology, biology, climatology, virology, physics, and coming to a whole different understanding. which has not been realized in our self-organizing.  We seem to have a choice between doing the same old things or wildly throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks.  If you want to assign the two strategies to the two POTUS candidates, be assured that I do.  

If you want to think of Jonathan Edwards and his sermon about how we are all spiders dangling by our silken threads over the open woodstove, I do.  I just don’t connect it to human notions of virtue or some big Hand doing the dangling.  We don’t literally dangle over hot coals, but we are much closer to oblivion that we think.  The younger people seem to address oblivion with obliviousness.  Some have learned to think of humans as insectoid infestations of a pretty planet.  Self-hatred is not a way to evolve.

In the past people’s evolution might be “contained” (technical term referring to the boundary between one aspect and another) by a mountain range or an ocean, turning geology into tribes suited for their particular valley or forest.  Now that we can and do break open the containers with roads, airports, and cyberspace, our responses as individuals are not always keeping up with the suddenness or shearing of the new information.  We have exceeded our ability to evolve socially, particularly in terms of our institutions.  But we can do that a lot faster than evolving biologically.

Some of this evolution is forced by the economy based on the geology — mining, for instance — now being exhausted.  No more coal.  Or coal at an environmental price the rest of the world — which we now realize is connected — just doesn’t want to pay.  We outsiders are willing to snuff their mining-based culture.  They cannot change their genome or phenome quickly enough to adapt, and their whole culture is based on staying there and doing the same thing.

How did it happen that a cherished community, the arts and freedoms of San Francisco, was destroyed by the Internet industry?  What were the little transactions of economy and value-shift that dispersed the previous community?  Some would say the very values of being free spelled out their doom.  Some would say it was age: freedom is a young person’s game but they aged and then they needed security.  Maybe it was the state of the buildings themselves, that they were only hospitable to arts crowds at certain stage of deterioration and then the necessity of repair and rebuilding made a demand that only the techies could meet.  Maybe it was an echo of the earthquake and fire that forced the rebuilding of SF on certain terms and in certain ways.

Process has become a point of focus.  When the genome was decoded, everyone thought that there’d be a gene for eye color, a gene for height, and so on, because Mendel’s experiments on peas were in those terms.  But much of the genomes is about “turning on,” “turning off,” the timing of the turning, and then a lot of “if--then.”  An instance relevant to our current obsession with gender is that in the gestation of a new being in the womb, 

The mother’s mRNA and proteins control the first three weeks.  Then there’s a switch over to the embryo’s DNA.  I’m guessing that could easily be a point where the embryo is lost due to faulty DNA in the embryo or just a bungled hand-off.  Some people think the attrition is as high as one-fifth of conceptions.

“At eight weeks most of the features of the adult are visible, when it is referred to as a fetus. During the first few weeks, it is neither male nor female. However, a small group of cells, called the "indifferent gonads" begin to form, that are capable of becoming ovaries or testicles. At the same time, other internal features of both sexes develop, the Mullerian (female) ducts and the Wolffian (male) ducts.

“The gonad contains supporting cells and others that will, in time, produce hormones, the so-called gonadotrophins, androgens or estrogens, depending on the direction of development.

“The gamete producing cells, which will in the future, produce the ova or sperm, originate in another part of the embryo and migrate to it.”

So here’s another point when things change and there might be a mismatch.

“For a male embryo, at around the sixth week, the SRY gene, on the Y chromosome promotes a protein called the H-Y antigen. The effect of this is to bind to the DNA molecule itself, in a number of specific places, causing it to bend, in turn affecting the action of a number of genes.

“About nineteen different genes are probably involved, on either the X chromosome or the autosomes.

“. . . A hormone called Mullerian Inhibiting Factor, as its name implies inhibits the further development of the female sexual features, which degenerate.”

The Y chromosome acts as a fork in the road.  If the fork is a little confused, “bends” the DNA a little more or a little less or the wrong place, the results might be an atypical person.  This is the time of penis-size determination and probably where the object of desire is suggested.  The individual’s suite of skills and capacities may begin to particularize at least in potential.  

Then the question becomes how will the culture react?  What will the environment do to these potentials?  ALL of this is EVOLUTION.  One boy is big, heavy and aggressive — is there a war or football?  One boy is gay, musical, and quiet — is there an arts scene?

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