September 9, 2005

The evolving brain.

The human brain is evolving rapidly, some scientists think:
It had been widely assumed until recently that human evolution more or less stopped 50,000 years ago.

The new finding, reported in today's issue of Science by Bruce T. Lahn of the University of Chicago, and colleagues, could raise controversy because of the genes' role in determining brain size. New versions of the genes, or alleles as geneticists call them, appear to have spread because they enhanced brain function in some way, the report suggests, and they are more common in some populations than others.
Oh, no. One dreads reading on. I like to read about brain research and am glad to see we are evolving better brains, but... Well, we all go anti-science at some point, don't we?

7 comments:

Sebastian said...

I'm reluctantly supportive of this kind of research. We're going to have to understand the genes that control our brains if we're to ever have any hope of understanding the genetic contribution to certain brain disorders, or possibly enhancing human brain function.

Even if some brain enhancing genes are found in some populations and not others, I don't think that can be an excuse for racism. It's probably likely, as mentioned in the article, that different populations will have different distributions of brain enhancing genes.

Racists have never really needed an excuse to tout their own superiority over those they view as inferior. I think as long as we remain intolerant of science being perverted toward racist ends, it's OK to do this kind of research.

SteveR said...
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SteveR said...

I agree with Sebastian. Science (as it should be practiced) is a pursuit of the truth. No doubt it can be used in the wrong way or our understanding of what the truth means can change over time, in any case I don't think we should avoid it.

Jeff said...

"In other words, East Asians and Africans probably have other brain-enhancing alleles, not yet discovered..."

They work hard to cover their asses, PC-wise, with this sentence being especially egregious. There are no facts here (in this sentence) at all, just wishful thinking to offset the possible "inequality" suggested by the newly discovered facts.

I suppose that it's a miracle that this was reported at all, rather than being ignored by the non-academic press.

gs said...

"Well, we all go anti-science at some point, don't we?"

<sardonic>You bet! I don't want some young turk displacing me using skills that didn't exist when I was in school. Science has been great, but taking it too far could be dangerous. Why rock the boat? And golly, my religion teaches that some of the things which scientists propose are immoral.</sardonic>

********************

"Well, we all go anti-science at some point, don't we?"

Individuals and societies differ in their risk tolerance.

As fallible humans, we all fumble the future sometimes, on purpose or not. Arguably, letting go of the future is part of aging gracefully.

At present aging is inevitable for individuals. Is cultural aging on the horizon for the USA? (Lee Kuan Yew has said we've lost the pioneer spirit and may or may not recover it.) Other societies will lead humanity into the unfolding century if America refuses.

Bruce Hayden said...

I found this article interesting. One thing that has been bothering me for quite awhile is that civilization, as we know it, is so recent. Probably at most 10,000 years, when we have been "human" for quite a bit longer than that.

The standard answer to this I think is that we (as humans) finally hit a critical mass of inventions and population density.

But, maybe, just maybe, it was because of this genetic mutation or change, some 6,000 or so years ago, and another slightly earlier one. Maybe that was the critical mass that allowed us to all of a sudden create the civilizations that we now have.

olyle said...

I honestly believe that race would not play any part in this, after all we are all apart of one race the human race when these genetic differences happen it is because of the enviroment one lives in. It is far more likely that nationailty will play a bigger role simply because the enviroments and or daily lives of individuals with in the same culture are very simlar. Take for instances in america there are many diffierents shades of peoples