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Are human actions part of evolution?

  1. Mar 18, 2016 #1
    Me and my friend were talking about human activities. She said that humans are creating pollution, killing so many animals creating an imbalance in food chain, global warming etc. In short we are making it worse for ourselves and other species. My reply was whatever humans do is a part of evolution (like we inherited the traits like selfishness to do these things and there is really not much we can do about it) and humans are not doing anything worse. Our actions may affect the evolution of ourselves and other species which is a different story. Is my argument correct?
     
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  3. Mar 18, 2016 #2

    Drakkith

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    Offhand I would agree with you. I find it very interesting (and not entirely unjustified) that we usually separate nature from ourselves. If one of the things evolution has done is to increase the intelligence of a species, it does make sense, at least to me, that whatever that species does with their intelligence could be considered a part of evolution in some manner.

    However I have to admit that I have only a small amount of knowledge about evolution, so don't take my opinion as anything close to fact.
     
  4. Mar 18, 2016 #3
    One would think that HBs inherited a drive to reproduce. Nevertheless contraceptives were developed and are widely used.

    While HBs may not be "doing anything worse" it seems not too much to ask for humans to show more foresight as to consequences than is shown by bacteria.

    To put it bluntly, "inherited traits" is a poor excuse for wanton destruction. I personally don't feel compelled or even inclined to do any such thing.

    By the way, wolves limit their reproduction rather more severely than do human beings, so such restraint is not unique. I would hope that humans would be able to show self-control at least equal to that practiced by wolves.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016
  5. Mar 18, 2016 #4
    How is that an excuse? These traits might be more severe in those who do the destruction and you may not be inclined to do such things because your genes may not carry these traits. The population which is able to outlive and reproduce is going to spread those specific characteristics to its offspring. For the sake of argument, if most humans today are egocentric, would mean that selfishness is more successful in propagating itself to a species' offspring than altruism is. However whether this ecosystem would survive is a different story.
     
  6. Mar 18, 2016 #5
    Can you tell me how it can be justified if not entirely unjustified?
     
  7. Mar 18, 2016 #6

    Ygggdrasil

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    I don't think these are mutually exclusive. Organisms have certainly evolved to adapt to changes in the environment caused by human activities. However, many of these changes to the environment are happening at a very rapid pace, making it difficult for many organisms with long generation times to adapt. Extinctions, even mass extinctions, are certainly part of nature, but we should also remember that humans are subject to extinction as well.

    Perhaps this goes beyond biology to philosophy, but ultimately individuals and societies should be held responsible for their own actions. Human nature, if it is encoded by genes at all, is certainly subject to modification by cultural and environmental forces, so we should not think of our behavior as something beyond our control.
     
  8. Mar 18, 2016 #7
    Yes, I agree with all the above. But my question is are these activities of humans part of evolution? She was arguing they are not.
    Disregarding those environmental forces which are not under human control, the cultural forces are again from the variety of traits of human genes fighting for survival. isn't it?
     
  9. Mar 18, 2016 #8
    I'm not exactly sure what your question is, but perhaps the answer you're looking for is that, yes, everything is a relevant factor when it comes to evolution. Social evolution affects biological evolution and vice-versa. We have evolved a tendency toward selfishness but we have also evolved a sense of altruism and a protest against selfishness also. So there is something you can do about. You don't just have to throw up your hands and resign yourself to prospect that the world going to hell is an inevitability because humans evolved a "selfish gene." You can combat greed and harmful policy with more words and energy in another direction. That's how competition in natural selection works, at all levels.
     
  10. Mar 18, 2016 #9
    Evolution happens because some organisms adapt to changes in environment while others don't.
    It makes no difference to evolution what causes the environment to change. and evolution is not judgemental.
     
  11. Mar 19, 2016 #10

    Ygggdrasil

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    Very few human behaviors are innate. Our brains have evolved such that most of the connections form in response to lived experience and thus our brain wiring comes primarily from learning. Culture is something that societies can control and change.
     
  12. Mar 21, 2016 #11
    I do not think it's a matter of evolution in any sense of that word, other animals adapted to changes in environment symbiotically with balance and have a purpose, where as humans, "we change the environment" technological advancement for creature comfort and convenience. So if this is evolution what is the purpose? Are we the planets self destruct mechanism?

    Just a thought.
     
  13. Mar 21, 2016 #12

    jim mcnamara

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    Richard Dawkins in 'The Selfish Gene': the meme is defined as a culturally mediated behavior that is subject to Natural Selection.
    E O WiIson in 'Sociobiology' and later in 'Social Conquest of Earth' states studies that support Dawkins, goes beyond what Dawkins has to say, and gives examples of social behaviors that have been and still are being selected for. Humans are hypersocial.

    If you have not read these books - please do not make up stuff and post about what a 'meme' is, or how social structures and interactions can be subject to Natural Selection. Please cite something respectable if you want to do that. Those "definitions" I gave are NOT detailed, they are a 10000 foot view. And are meant to advance discussion, not stop it. Example: the two author's positions go counter to several of the above posts, which seem to say that social interactions are not subject to Natural Selection.
     
  14. Mar 21, 2016 #13

    Drakkith

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    Human beings are not the only creatures that change their environment. For example, ants can build huge underground colonies by changing their environment (digging their tunnels and nests) to suite their needs. This would obviously be detrimental to many other organisms that already inhabit that part of the soil, such as earthworms and other insects. We also aren't the only organisms to have introduced drastic changes to the entire biosphere, though we are likely the only species to have done it by themselves and over such a short time period. Just look at the oxygen catastrophe 2.3 billion years ago which devastated the obligate anaerobic organisms that existed at the time.

    I don't think that's correct. Entire species (or higher orders) can become extinct because of a sudden encroachment of another species into their territory, either because the new organism is a predator or because of the increased competition for food and other resources. Organisms also commonly adapt by becoming a parasite.
     
  15. Mar 21, 2016 #14

    Ygggdrasil

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    To clarify my post, I will say that human cultures and societies are not subject to biological evolution because "human nature" and culture are not encoded genetically. Societies and cultures change over time and it can be useful to think of these changes as occurring through natural selection, but these processes are only analogous to biological evolution as there are a number of important differences (for example, experiences can cause people to change their minds, but not their genes).
     
  16. Mar 21, 2016 #15

    Drakkith

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    Would it be accurate to say that evolution does affect culture and society, but since it acts over a timescale of hundreds of thousands of years its effects in the short term (a few generations at most) are negligible and thus it is rarely considered to have any effect at all? We usually don't talk about changing society over the course of a geological eon after all.
     
  17. Mar 22, 2016 #16

    Ygggdrasil

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    Yes, biological evolution is likely not responsible for most cultural and social changes as these occur on too short of a timescale for biological evolution to have an effect. Human biological evolution may be able to explain some cultural and social shifts over geological time periods, though I am not aware of any strong evidence supporting or refuting such claims. Transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies and other such shifts likely caused genetic changes, but to what extent genetic changes enabled such a cultural transition is unclear. Genetic differences likely do not underlie most cultural and social differences between different extant human populations (though some can probably be attributed to genetic changes, such as the prevalence of lactase persistence and the use of dairy in various foods).

    Evolution in general, however, does affect culture and society. For example, in Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that the co-evolution (or lack thereof) between large mammals and humans explains why most domesticated animals came from Europe, why similar animals in Africa cannot be domesticated, and why similar mammals in the Americas were hunted to extinction.
     
  18. Mar 22, 2016 #17
    I agree that we are just another part of the great evolutionary process and our greed and neurotic behaviours are part and parcel of that bundle. However, we also have the ability to see the error of our ways and the technological abilities to fix it. Hopefully that fix includes all the other animals who have evolved right along side of us. So it's Six of one; a Half-Dozen of the other.
     
  19. Mar 22, 2016 #18
    I was specifically talking about the unnatural unorganic means by which we as human haven't phyically evolved to adapt....strictly mentally and intellectually speaking, our chemically and electrically powered advancements (heating cooling fossil fuels) have polluted the environment. I understand other creatures create micro climates to help them survive but only humans can boast that we have entered and survived all earthly possible environments and some not so earthly (space)

    I also wasnt talking about natural extinction events....in some cases thats just the natural order (natures way). When i say species adapted to an environment with balance and purpose sometimes that includes out performing other creatures naturally. Not killing them for sport or with pollution making the environment uninhabiable. In those cases the encroaching natural even the higer evolved animal may still symbioticly help that environment. Lets say the species was an invading hord of plant eating insects ...they then devistate the plant environment but lets say there are a few insect eating frogs and bats and birds in the area....now food is abundant their numbers increase the insects decrease which then draws the preditory animals that feed on frogs bats and birds.....it balances the wheels on the bus tha go round and round. Our preditors are disease and each other. And we as a species are constantly finding ways to try and defeat these problems and usually we create more then we solve....thats all im saying.
     
  20. Mar 22, 2016 #19

    Drakkith

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    So when an organism moves earth, stones, and wood around to build a shelter from the environment and predators it doesn't count as "unnatural"? Beavers cut down trees and build dams to protect themselves. Is that so different from me building a house? The method is certainly different. Evolution didn't endow me with strong teeth and jaws by which to chew down a tree. But it did endow me, and the rest of our species, with a brain and the intelligence to gradually develop complex societies and technology, through which I am now able to build a house.

    One could argue that our actions are merely "natures way". Imagine if an alien species, a million years further along in evolution and technology, visited our planet. Would they look down upon us as we look down upon a gibbon or a lemur? Would our actions be attributed to "natures way"? Or would they hold us accountable and as being "above nature"? I certainly don't have an answer for that, but I think it's interesting to think about.


    I think you've created an arbitrary distinction between humans and other creatures. As you've stated it, it pretty much couldn't be any other way, as no other species has the ability to create and use technology more complicated than a stick. And most can't even do that. But the question is, what does evolution have to do with all of this? My stance is that since human beings are a product of evolution in the first place, our actions are just as much of a product of evolution as a peacock's colorful tail and mating dance are. But we also uniquely possess the intelligence to understand the consequences of our actions and the effect we have on the environment, which is also a product of evolution. With that comes the ability to judge ourselves and our actions and decide what is good and what is bad.

    But, again, I'm not a biologist or philosopher, so I might be talking a bunch of nonsense here. As always, someone correct me if I'm wrong.

    I just ordered that book off of Amazon. Thanks for telling me about it!
     
  21. Mar 22, 2016 #20
    I think there are some misconceptions here based on what is commonly called the naturalistic fallacy. In reality the natural world is neither "balanced" or nice or purposeful. Animals and plants regularly pollute their environment, if you think about it that's how wine is made, plants are masters of chemical warfare, probably much better than we are, animals do kill for fun and many animals live short brutal lives characterised by fear, long periods of hunger and an early painful death. When humans take animals into captivity it almost immediately doubles their lifespan ( a very rough average). Evolution has provided us with a range of abilities that have allowed us to spread across the world, live in most environments, reduce hunger and disease and reduce many of the natural risks of living. We are probably the most social animal on the planet, which has played a massive role in our success but I suspect our greatest abilities are in language, flexibility, and the ability to pass on information all of which link to human culture. I think we like feeling so important and powerful that everything that happens is as a result of our actions but remember that the earth changes whether we are here or not. 99% of every species that has ever existed are now extinct, very few had anything to do with us. You could think of humanity from a non human viewpoint, perhaps we are the product of the plant wheat, an insignificant plant from the middle east that with a small evolutionary twist became such an important food source to us that it now dominates the entire globe, or maybe grasses generally, we look after most of them.
    People seem to like feeling guilty it provides a back handed compliment to ourselves, the idea of a human caused extinction event is a case in point, we have little idea of the number of species on the planet, there are hundreds classified every year but we do know that there are more species on the planet now than at any time in history. We certainly introduced new species to island populations in the age of exploration but you might want to think about how many species you can name that have become extinct in recent history and how many have benefited from human interventions, I think you might be more successful with the second question.
     
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