Two things about evolution

I think we all know the game “two things about everything”?

Two things about boxing:

Hit.

Don’t get hit.

Two things about economics:

Incentives matter.

There are always opportunity costs.

So, two things about evolution. But this is just a proposal, needs some work perhaps.

“The animal with the most grandchildren wins.

8 great nephews equals one grandchild.”

The thing is, not sure if I’ve got Haldane’s multiplier about brothers and cousins right there. Anyone actually know the correct multiple? 4? 16?

26 thoughts on “Two things about evolution”

  1. So Much for Subtlety

    J. B. S. Haldane said he would die for three brothers or nine cousins. Because brothers share half your DNA. So you are equal to two brothers. Three is worth dying for – as it is one and a half of you.

    Your brothers’ children, on the other hand, only have a quarter of your DNA. Your brothers’ children’s children have an eighth. You need eight of them to break even.

    However your grandchildren only have a quarter of your DNA. So you need four of them to break even.

    So somewhat to my surprise, great-nephews are half the value of a grand-child. I probably calculated that wrong.

    What is interesting that the two people most responsible for this are J. B. S. Haldane – a Communist who renounced his British citizenship to move to India – and William Hamilton – who was not a Communist. Not by a long shot. To the extent that apparently Richard Dawkins, who edited the first two volumes of his collected works, refused to edit the third.

  2. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    The Haldane quip leads into many far more (academically) interesting questions, such as, if you would die for three brothers, would you also die for three sisters? Or maybe dying in the place of one brother might be worthwhile if he is a stud who beds three different women a week, while dying for ten might be a bad idea if they are all gay.

    I used to play these thought experiments with genetics students, back in the day when universities were not quite hotbeds of politically-correct group-think. I have no doubt that would get reported to the femi-LGBTQA-Z now.

  3. Don’t think that works, Tim. You need to take into account different generational timespans. A fruitfly can have more grandchildren in a couple of days than an elephant will have in a century.

  4. SmfS: if you have grandchildren you will be unlikely to be reproducing any more sprogs; they represent your genetic contribution to the future. Given small family sizes, I think a modern western grandparent would die for one. (Of course if family size is of the order of litters, the grandparent could reasonably expect one of them to die for the grandparent.)

  5. if you have grandchildren you will be unlikely to be reproducing any more sprogs

    Unlikely true, but teenager pregnancies can make it happen. Nephews older than their uncles (vary by gender as appropriate) are not altogether unknown, even if they are rare.

  6. > if you have grandchildren you will be unlikely to be reproducing any more sprogs

    Tell that to an aphid.

    We’re talking about evolution here, so the ephemeral social preferences of one subsection of one species in one brief period of history are not relevant.

  7. >”8 great nephews equals one grandchild.”

    I can’t believe this idiocy is still going. Even as sociobiology it’s a ludicrous overstatement.

  8. Am I the only one who is absolutely baffled by the idea of thinking your DNA continuing is something to give a stuff about? Yeah I know it’s the basis of all life as we know it, etc. but do normal people really give a shit about this? Because for me I am about as interested in seeing my DNA continuing as I am in what colour a shed wall will be painted after I die.

  9. Tim,

    Exactly, yes. Humans have transcended instinctive behaviour. Which is why attempts to explain evolution by referring to human behaviour or vice versa always go awry.

  10. > Survival of the fittest.

    An oversimplification that doesn’t really work unless you’re talking about survival of genes, not of organisms. Soldier ants, for instance, are clearly very fit for purpose, and do not survive or procreate.

  11. bloke (not) in spain

    @TimN
    You & me both.
    I am the only child of an only child. I’ve regarded it a life’s mission to continue damage limitation. Entirely successfully, so far. I’ve exceeded my target.

  12. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    @Tim, you aren’t the only one baffled by it, but that is what your DNA gives the stuff about. It doesn’t help that talking about your DNA “wanting” to propagate sounds anthropomorphic, giving the DNA itself agency (while you, the diploid phase, are actually the agent), but it’s a straightforward way of putting it.

    @SQ2, the soldier ants are more or less successful at ensuring the propagation of their fertile counterparts. Sterile clones can be useful, in the same way as eunuchs.

  13. BIGIHK,

    > the soldier ants are more or less successful at ensuring the propagation of their fertile counterparts. Sterile clones can be useful, in the same way as eunuchs.

    Yes, I obviously know that. My point was that the phrase “survival of the fittest” is a very bad way of describing that situation, as the organism that is fit and the organism surviving are not the same organism.

    It’s also a poor phrase to use since the standard use of the word “fit” has changed since Darwin’s day. People tend to believe it means “survival of the strongest”, which I think does a lot to support opposition to Darwinism.

    How about “Survival of the best adapted family”? Less catchy, but quite clear and comprehensible.

  14. Walking down my local High Street today, it looks like survival of the fattest. Which is what socialised health care encourages.

  15. So Much for Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong – “The Haldane quip leads into many far more (academically) interesting questions, such as, if you would die for three brothers, would you also die for three sisters?”

    Depends if you are rich or poor. If you are rich, die for the brothers. If you are poor, the sisters. A rich boy can have many children with many supermodels. A poor girl will have a number of children with a fairly strong degree of certainty.

    Ljh – “SmfS: if you have grandchildren you will be unlikely to be reproducing any more sprogs; they represent your genetic contribution to the future.”

    True. Although Rupert Murdoch seems to prove it is possible. Just not likely.

    “(Of course if family size is of the order of litters, the grandparent could reasonably expect one of them to die for the grandparent.)”

    It makes no sense for grandchildren to die for grandparents. Which is pretty much what we see. The older generations sacrifice for the younger who give little back in return.

    Tim Newman – “Am I the only one who is absolutely baffled by the idea of thinking your DNA continuing is something to give a stuff about? Yeah I know it’s the basis of all life as we know it, etc. but do normal people really give a shit about this?”

    I bet they do even if they do not consciously acknowledge it. Countries with large numbers of immigrants make p!ss poor soldiers. Countries that are genetically coherent tend to be better. At a sub-conscious level I am sure it makes a difference. You can’t have a high-trust racially diverse society.

    “Because for me I am about as interested in seeing my DNA continuing as I am in what colour a shed wall will be painted after I die.”

    It is true we have evolved to like sex, not having children as such. In the old days the two went together. But I still think it is a thing for most people.

    Squander Two – “Humans have transcended instinctive behaviour. Which is why attempts to explain evolution by referring to human behaviour or vice versa always go awry.”

    No they have not. They think they have but they haven’t. Human beings are still remarkably uniform across the planet. The differences are minor and hence likely to be genetic in origin. Humans like to think they have got over their biology but that does not mean they have. Evolution has been the best explanation for human behaviour in recent times.

  16. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    @SQ2 – It is both the genes and their phenotype that is more or less fit for the environment.

  17. bloke (not) in spain

    @TimN
    Depends what the criteria for non-piss poor soldiers.
    Japanese were profoundly monocultural & excellent soldiers. Probably the best the war produced. Certainly better than the Brits & the Yanks. So were the Germans, for that matter.
    Look where that got ’em.

  18. Bloke (not) in Spain.

    Where id that got them?

    The first with towels on the best sunloungers?

    So we surmise that you are still pissed off with not having the best spot?

  19. So Much for Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “Norwegian and Thai soldiers are better than American or British? Nah.”

    I would put my money on Norwegians over Americans any day of the week. A good criteria for a sensible American military writer is one that admits British special forces are better than American ones. Americans were, as a German once famously said, like the Italians were to the Allies.

    Not sure about the Thais.

    bloke (not) in spain – “Japanese were profoundly monocultural & excellent soldiers. Probably the best the war produced. Certainly better than the Brits & the Yanks. So were the Germans, for that matter.”

    Japanese soldiers did not have the kit Western soldiers did. That makes any comparison hard to make. I mean, they were more or less a Third World country and when Western soldiers complain about a lack of body armour, OK, but we are talking about a lack of artillery. They did not get much of a chance to show themselves at their best. Even so, they clearly out-soldiered the West.

    “Look where that got ‘em.”

    Being a good soldier is not the same as having smart politicians.

  20. SMFS,

    > No they have not. They think they have but they haven’t. Human beings are still remarkably uniform across the planet. The differences are minor and hence likely to be genetic in origin. Humans like to think they have got over their biology but that does not mean they have. Evolution has been the best explanation for human behaviour in recent times.

    You’re conflating so many different things there, it’s difficult to know where to start. Instead, I’ll just repeat what I said: Human beings have transcended instinctive behaviour. I’m sure there’s some reason why you might think this can be contradicted or indeed has anything to do with observations about explaining world events in evolutionary terms or how similar humans from different bits of the world are, but buggered if I know what it is. Meanwhile, what I said is rightly considered a trivial fact about humanity. Unless you want to posit an instinct for writing novels or etching atomic-scale microprocessors onto silicon.

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