Posts tagged ‘evolution’

How Science Explains America’s Great Moral Divide

Link: How Science Explains America’s Great Moral Divide


From a longer interview at Scientific American, Jonathan Haidt offers this explanation of how modern human culture, especially American moral/political culture, is the result of our unique evolutionary path, part bee and part primate:

For the last half of the 20th century, the dominant idea in the social sciences was that people are selfish. Economists thought that people were only out to maximize their self-interest, political scientists believed that people voted entirely for their self-interest, and biologists told us that we were driven by selfish genes, which make us generous only when it will help our kin or our reputations. Self interest is of course a very powerful force, yet it leaves out our deep and passionate desires to be part of a group, to lose ourselves in something larger than ourselves. It leaves out so much of the psychology of religion and self-transcendence.
This is why I say that one of the basic principles of moral psychology is that we are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Most of our social nature is like that of other primates – we’re mostly out for ourselves. But because our evolution was shaped by a few hundred thousand years of intense group versus group conflict, we are also very groupish. We are descended from groups that had fine-tuned mental mechanisms and cultural rituals for binding themselves together into communities able to work together, suppress free riders, and achieve common ends. When we do these things we are more analogous to bees than to chimps. But for us, it’s just temporary. We have brief collective moments, and we can do great things together in those moments, but eventually, self-interest returns.

A fine explanation of that conflict that seems to be at the heart of so much political tension: Is this about me, or about us?



A sense of scale is an important thing to keep in mind, to serve as a reminder of the stunning grandeur in this view of life. Although it should be noted that it’s an elephant bird femur (now extinct), not an elephant femur.

Sort of like this bacteria-diatom-amphipod infinite zoom GIF.


Hummingbird and elephant’s femur, 1951, from LIFE magazine’s archival photos of bones by the great Andrewas Feininger.

Also see Patrick Gries and Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu’s stunning black-and-white images of animal skeletons


I know it doesn’t look that “giant” here, but I highly recommend checking out the larger version and getting your evolutionary trace on.

This isn’t my favorite Tree of Life diagram, though. That title goes to the Hillis Plot, which is just beautiful.


The Great Tree of Life – giant infographic lets you trace any branch back through time to see how it connects to any other of life’s major branches. More on the history of using tree-like diagrams to depict evolution.

( chartporn)

Always a bit humbling to realize how insignificant we are on graphs like this. Short of actually destroying the planet, it will adapt regardless of what we do, and we will probably end up as another dead end. On the other hand, do we want to be the ones to finally mess it all up?

Also, I suppose it’s common sense that mass extinctions would be easily distinguishable. But the clarity across all domains of each extinction (especially 250-, 200-, and 65-million-years ago) is amazing. According to the Shiva hypothesis, we may be due for another one soon…besides the one we’re causing ourselves.


The genome of Monosiga brevicollis, the choanoflagellates photographed above, was recently sequenced.

Choanoflagellates,single-celled, aquatic, eukaryotic microbes are currently biological giants in unlocking the key to the evolutionary transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms, particularly in animals.

Sponges, or animals of the phylum Porifera , serve as the most primitive extant group of animals. (You can see this on this  previously posted phylogenetic tree of the history of life). Interestingly enough, aquatic sponges possess flagellated feeding structures  called choanocytes, which are nearly morphologically identical to the single-celled organisms we call choanoflagellates.

Photo Courtesy: National Science Foundation

A cool picture, that demonstrates an even cooler possibility: being able to eventually map the entire rise of modern life through genomic studies.


Bill Nye on the danger of not believing in long-term evolution.

Evolution 101

Link: Evolution 101

Berkeley evolution page, with all sorts of great lessons and outlines and stuff. Check it out!

Evolution in Your Life

Link: Evolution in Your Life


When you hear the word evolution, you may think of iconic images of Darwin and the Beagle, representations of the “tree of life,” pictures of apes and the DNA double helix.

But do you realize just how thoroughly the subject seeps into our everyday lives?

To give a sense of this, we asked five experts in different fields to briefly describe an example. Listen in, and find out how evolution and the process of natural selection–the survival of those creatures that are best adapted to their environment–gives us dogs, makes us such good runners, and even helps us solve crimes.