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Thread: Are you born with talent or do you adapt it over time? (Split from TOGS' thread)

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    Senior Member Absolution's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Infernus View Post
    Do you guys think its possible to be born with a talent or that you adapt it over time?
    From when, 2005?

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    Merry fucking Christmas Atmosfear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    Evolution doesn't function in humans?

    /facepalm

    Every time someone chooses someone else to have children with, that is evolution functioning.

    Medicine doesn't stop evolution. It allows people to live longer, which is only evolutionarily relevant if they reproduce (and in doing so, pass on defective genes). Allowing more defective genes into the population doesn't kill evolution at all.

    Leisure time is actually a function of sexual selection. Leisure time exists in animals that are not humans, first of all. Beyond that, leisure time contributes to the sexual selection process because an organism with time to spend doing nothing related to survival is clearly genetically fit. This tells potential mates that their genes are worth combining with their own for reproduction. This is what's known as a fitness indicator. Other examples of fitness indicators are peacock tails, and in humans, other examples are intelligence, athletic prowess, artistic ability, and compassion.

    There is no killing evolution. The best you can hope is to control it completely in a Gattaca-esque dystopian world. As long as we are reproducing, evolution is working.
    The profound decrease in infant mortality takes that entire argument and shoves it straight out the door for the birds.

    People aren't just living longer, they are living at all. More people are reaching the age of reproduction that ever before. More people who are genetically inferior. Rationality is eliminating itself from the gene pool.

    Our selective pressures are no longer genetic but are instead technological. I recognize that these are the result of evolutionary forces from the past, but pertinent to the original discussion of this thread, evolution is not bettering humans through genetics.

    You're reaching for too much from genetics because you want to believe that individual merit is important. It's disappointing to know that you cross the threshold for just about anything and aren't realizing your dreams. It's not your genes holding you back; it's your environment.

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    Official of Douchebaggery Kozzle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear View Post

    It's not your genes holding you back; it's your environment.
    Seriously, it's foolish for anyone to argue that the determinant factor in anything is 100% genetics or 100% environment. There is always an interaction between the 2.
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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear View Post
    The profound decrease in infant mortality takes that entire argument and shoves it straight out the door for the birds.
    Not really.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear
    People aren't just living longer, they are living at all. More people are reaching the age of reproduction that ever before. More people who are genetically inferior. Rationality is eliminating itself from the gene pool.
    I get the distinct impression that you just don't understand what I'm saying. Because what you've just posted here in no way says that evolution is being killed. Evolution may not be working in the same obvious ways that it did for our ancestors, but that hardly means it isn't working at all. Sexual selection is still taking place every day. Furthermore, evolution has no sentience. It is blind and deaf, stone-hearted and it absolutely cannot plan for the future. Evolution doesn't just stop existing because a species goes backwards instead of forwards.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear
    Our selective pressures are no longer genetic but are instead technological. I recognize that these are the result of evolutionary forces from the past, but pertinent to the original discussion of this thread, evolution is not bettering humans through genetics.
    On this point, we'd both need proof to establish any kind of truly serious argument. Evopsych and genetic researchers - as far as I know - have come up with quite a few ways in which sexual selection has been and continues to improve us, even if it is on an individual scale. On average (and there are exceptions, of course), the prettiest marry the prettiest and they have beautiful children. The fat marry the fat because the fat can't often get a more attractive mate. If the weight of the parents is due to genetics, the offspring are also fat. The intelligent marry the intelligent and have intelligent babies, and so on. This means we are still selecting for certain traits all the time. We don't always get what we want, and primates are unique in that they conceal ovulation (which makes longterm fitness indicators based in consistent behavior vital) as well as the fact that males can be almost as choosy as females when picking a mate, but fitness indicators are at work in any human being on this planet that reproduces. This is why rape is considered such a social taboo across almost all societies - it defies sexual selection by removing mate choice from the equation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear
    You're reaching for too much from genetics because you want to believe that individual merit is important. It's disappointing to know that you cross the threshold for just about anything and aren't realizing your dreams. It's not your genes holding you back; it's your environment.
    It's certainly possible that I'm just brainwashed by the idea of individual merit being important. I don't really think I feel that way, but it's possible. It's also possible that Gladwell and you are ignoring biology in favor of a rose-colored world in which every person can be anything they want to be, no matter what their genetic makeup is.

    I have never tried to say that hard work doesn't contribute to success. Of course it does. There is overwhelming evidence. But the advanced behavioral sciences, including evopsych, are making progress every day in showing how much human behavior is based in genes. There are even genes for work ethic, you know.

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    Senior Member Sion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gwahir View Post
    i believe the distinction between talent and skill is that skill is something that can be built with practice but talent is inherent (is that the right word? i think it is the right word) and never goes up and down
    I feel the same way as gwahir does, and elaborating on inherent, while it works, more precise would be: inherently accesible from birth.

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    λεγιων ονομα μοι sycld's Avatar
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    We're tangling a whole bunch of issues up. First this thread was about nature vs. nuture, then it became something about how much financial success is determined by genetics vs. incidences in a person's life, and now it's about whether evolution is still functioning among humans or not. Even though these are somewhat related issues, they are not identical.

    At any rate...

    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    I get the distinct impression that you just don't understand what I'm saying. Because what you've just posted here in no way says that evolution is being killed. Evolution may not be working in the same obvious ways that it did for our ancestors, but that hardly means it isn't working at all. Sexual selection is still taking place every day. Furthermore, evolution has no sentience. It is blind and deaf, stone-hearted and it absolutely cannot plan for the future. Evolution doesn't just stop existing because a species goes backwards instead of forwards.
    I think it's nonsense to say that evolution is working as it always has been. In these discussions, it seems like people forget how evolution works. It only works if fitter individuals have more offspring due to inheritable traits and if their offspring then have more reproductive success due to these traits. The fitter individuals' genes eventually flood the rest of the population.

    So are you going to tell me that there is a correlation between wealth and number of offspring? Good luck with trying to support that proposition. If anything, it seems that the opposite is true.

    On this point, we'd both need proof to establish any kind of truly serious argument. Evopsych and genetic researchers - as far as I know - have come up with quite a few ways in which sexual selection has been and continues to improve us, even if it is on an individual scale. On average (and there are exceptions, of course), the prettiest marry the prettiest and they have beautiful children. The fat marry the fat because the fat can't often get a more attractive mate. If the weight of the parents is due to genetics, the offspring are also fat. The intelligent marry the intelligent and have intelligent babies, and so on. This means we are still selecting for certain traits all the time. We don't always get what we want, and primates are unique in that they conceal ovulation (which makes longterm fitness indicators based in consistent behavior vital) as well as the fact that males can be almost as choosy as females when picking a mate, but fitness indicators are at work in any human being on this planet that reproduces.
    IF this is true (which is a big "if"), then at most this means that those with inferior genes will form a separate population from those with superior genes. But is there any evidence that more intelligent people have more offspring and thus increase the frequency of their genes in the population than less intelligent people?

    It's certainly possible that I'm just brainwashed by the idea of individual merit being important. I don't really think I feel that way, but it's possible. It's also possible that Gladwell and you are ignoring biology in favor of a rose-colored world in which every person can be anything they want to be, no matter what their genetic makeup is.
    Nobody is claiming that anyone can be successful no matter what their genetic makeup is. Show me where we said that. Don't purposefully make our statements more extreme than they are in order to derail our arguments.

    What we are claiming is that the baseline inherent ability that someone needs to posses to be successful is significantly lower than people might expect. The intelligence of an average college graduate is sufficient to make it to the highest levels of success. That's still above the population's average.

    I have never tried to say that hard work doesn't contribute to success. Of course it does. There is overwhelming evidence. But the advanced behavioral sciences, including evopsych, are making progress every day in showing how much human behavior is based in genes. There are even genes for work ethic, you know.
    I do have to concede that in these sorts of arguments, people never even admit the possibility that work ethic is or could be as genetically pre-determined as certain aspects of intelligence.
    Last edited by sycld; 12-12-2008 at 03:15 PM.


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    Merry fucking Christmas Atmosfear's Avatar
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    I don't think the threshold for work ethic is any higher than any other genetic determinant.

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    λεγιων ονομα μοι sycld's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear View Post
    I don't think the threshold for work ethic is any higher than any other genetic determinant.
    It probably isn't, but it seems as though many people treat it as though it is purely determined by nurture in discussions like these.


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    I'm going to just state my view on this so that I don't get confused about what it is later. I think that everyone is born with a disposition to prefer a certain job or task for various elements, but this disposition to enjoy or even have a slight edge doesn't guarantee excellence. There are those who, through consistent effort to improve, over enough time (as a basis, let's go with the 10,000 hours, or roughly 5-6 years of full time work) will excel at their chosen field/task, but these will succeed regardless of their genetic preference or abilities. As long as they continue to apply themselves, even if they have a slight handicap in the field, they will become leaders in it, provided they continue to truly apply themselves.

    Generally, people enjoy doing things they are good at, for any number of reasons. If there is a genetic preference for a task or field, people are much more likely to choose that and excel at it, partly because they enjoy that field (creative work vs. concrete, hands-on work as an example), and partly because they gain recognition, encouragement and support from their environment because they are good at it. Genetic preference is more of an impulse, a preference in a certain direction, but a person's own choices and amount of dedication (which, as Sole pointed out, can be genetic) to a field are what determines whether or not you succeed. Anyone who is slightly above average can reach to the greatest levels of success, either in terms of physical talent, financial success or academia, provided they apply themselves.

    I would say generally people work harder and prefer work that they receive recognition and appreciation for, and would thus be more willing to apply themselves to that field. Environment plays a large role.

    Evolution, as it affects us in these times, is more a matter of social preference and quality than who is more fit to survive. People generally make subconcious choices for their mates rather than conciously choosing (well, I want to have his babies because he has lovely blue eyes and a sense of compassion). Evolution still affects us, in a way easily compared to the movie Idiocracy, although I doubt it will ever reach that extreme. Essentially, whoever has more babies, wins, and generally the elite have fewer children on average.

    Well, that's enough pretentious BS from me for today.

    edit:

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld
    It probably isn't, but it seems as though many people treat it as though it is purely determined by nurture in discussions like these.
    I would argue that nurture could override genetic disposition in this area.

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    Quote Originally Posted by coqauvin View Post
    I would argue that nurture could override genetic disposition in this area.
    Based on what evidence?


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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    I think it's nonsense to say that evolution is working as it always has been.
    But I never said that, nor do I think so. I just think it's absolutely incorrect to say that evolution is dead or no longer relevant to our species. That's all.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    In these discussions, it seems like people forget how evolution works. It only works if fitter individuals have more offspring due to inheritable traits and if their offspring then have more reproductive success due to these traits. The fitter individuals' genes eventually flood the rest of the population.
    Well, saying that evolution "works" in a success/fail sense is a little shaky. It's really all about the species succeeding or failing at continuing itself indefinitely through the process of evolution. Sexual selection has a tendency to make big changes very quickly. Consider a species of bird whose females have evolved a taste for long tails. At first, almost all of the birds have short tails. Those who have slightly longer tails will produce more offspring because their long tails have become sexual ornaments. Those offspring will produce offspring with even longer tails. But eventually, if the tails become too long, they will impede the birds' ability to survive. If that species dies out due to this process, it doesn't mean evolution wasn't working. It just means that species failed to reign in its own sexual preferences. Evolution has also killed species by totally random and harmful mutation - that doesn't mean evolution didn't operate.

    What I was responding to was the idea that evolution somehow has stopped functioning in humans. It hasn't.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    So are you going to tell me that there is a correlation between wealth and number of offspring? Good luck with trying to support that proposition. If anything, it seems that the opposite is true.
    No, of course not. I never said anything about financial success being linked to the number of one's offspring. What I was saying is that certain genes can help one to become successful (and when I say successful, I don't necessarily mean in a financial sense). Intelligence comes from your genes. None of these traits we've been talking about are black and white - there are varying degrees of intellect or athletic prowess. There are varying degrees of fitness among members of any species.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    IF this is true (which is a big "if"), then at most this means that those with inferior genes will form a separate population from those with superior genes.
    I don't think that's true. For one thing, there are plenty of ways for less fit organisms to "trick" mates into thinking they're more fit and gain access to better choices. As social creatures, we are capable of lies and manipulation. We have fancy technology that enhances our bodies to make them appear to have come from better stock: plastic surgery, makeup, hair dyes, tummy tucks, boob jobs, steroids, etc. Even some other species engage in this kind of tricky behavior in order to get better mates.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    But is there any evidence that more intelligent people have more offspring and thus increase the frequency of their genes in the population than less intelligent people?
    Not that I know of. But again - evolution isn't sentient. It seems to us, because we are logical and rational creatures, that evolution could do a much better job if only it would plan for X or start doing Y. Evolution doesn't make active decisions. It is a mindless process that can go in any direction at any time based upon any number of different factors. Just because we aren't seeing ourselves evolve into athletic geniuses doesn't mean that we aren't evolving at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    Nobody is claiming that anyone can be successful no matter what their genetic makeup is. Show me where we said that. Don't purposefully make our statements more extreme than they are in order to derail our arguments.
    That really isn't my intention. I'm responding based on having seen Atmosfear constantly downplay genetics in favor of hard work. That attitude seems to indicate, at least, to me, this idea that anyone can do anything if they are in the right place at the right time and they work for 10,000 hours. My whole point in bringing up genetics in response to that is to illustrate that without the right genes, no amount of work can make you into something you're not. His response to that is that evolution is dead anyway and 10,000 hours can definitely let you do anything. If I have misread that sentiment in him, then I'm not even sure what we're arguing about.

    Quote Originally Posted by sycld View Post
    What we are claiming is that the baseline inherent ability that someone needs to posses to be successful is significantly lower than people might expect. The intelligence of an average college graduate is sufficient to make it to the highest levels of success. That's still above the population's average.
    If Atmosfear had said this very thing to me in the beginning, I don't think this would have become such a long-winded string of arguments. It may have been my own error in jumping to a conclusion and anticipating his meaning without carefully reading, and if I've done that, I apologize. I was under the impression that his argument was that genetics are insignificant (except in extreme cases like disability) in comparison to hard work, which I just fundamentally disagree with. It seems to me that without the genetics in place to give you the ability to do that work and succeed at it, the work itself is meaningless. That is all I have ever really tried to get across on that front.

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    Senior Member Sion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post

    Consider a species of bird whose females have evolved a taste for long tails. At first, almost all of the birds have short tails. Those who have slightly longer tails will produce more offspring because their long tails have become sexual ornaments. Those offspring will produce offspring with even longer tails. But eventually, if the tails become too long, they will impede the birds' ability to survive. If that species dies out due to this process, it doesn't mean evolution wasn't working. It just means that species failed to reign in its own sexual preferences. Evolution has also killed species by totally random and harmful mutation - that doesn't mean evolution didn't operate.
    I don't mean to nitpick.. but wouldn't it take many many years regardless to make long tails dominant?
    Genes go back many generations, and skip many generations potentially.

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    Merry fucking Christmas Atmosfear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    If Atmosfear had said this very thing to me in the beginning, I don't think this would have become such a long-winded string of arguments. It may have been my own error in jumping to a conclusion and anticipating his meaning without carefully reading, and if I've done that, I apologize. I was under the impression that his argument was that genetics are insignificant (except in extreme cases like disability) in comparison to hard work, which I just fundamentally disagree with. It seems to me that without the genetics in place to give you the ability to do that work and succeed at it, the work itself is meaningless. That is all I have ever really tried to get across on that front.
    My argument is a combination of both sycld's and this post.

    I do think genetics are insignificant. I also agree that the threshold for success is at about the level of a college education.

    I just don't see a college education as a particularly high threshold.

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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sion View Post
    I don't mean to nitpick.. but wouldn't it take many many years regardless to make long tails dominant?
    Genes go back many generations, and skip many generations potentially.
    I'm not taking about how long it takes for a gene to become a dominant gene - that's a very specific area of genetics that I'm not very familiar with.

    But the answer to whether it would take many, many years is no, it wouldn't take long for most of the birds to have longer tails. Sexual selection can work very quickly and so far, the evopsych community has attributed this to something called the runaway process. Runaway sexual selection can produce dramatic results in relatively short amounts of time because it is a positive feedback system. Geoffrey Miller gives a great explanation of what it is using the short tail -> long tail example in birds. I'm going to type it out of my copy of his book, because even though you could Wiki this, I think his explanation is really clear and easy to interpret:

    Imagine a population of birds with short tails, in which the males contribute nothing to raising the offspring. Although this makes life hard for females after mating, it allows females to choose any male they want, even a male who has been chosen by many other females already. The most attractive male could mate with many females. He has no reason to turn down a sexual invitation from any female, because copulation costs so little time and energy.

    Within the population, different males inevitably have different tail lengths, just as they have different wingspans, and different leg lengths. All biological traits show variation. Usually, much of that variation is heritable (that is, due to genetic differences between individuals), so longer-tailed males will tend to produce longer-tailed offspring. In other words, tail length varies and tail length is heritable, satisfying two out of Darwin's three requirements for evolution.

    Now, suppose that some of the females become sexually attracted to tails that are longer than average. (It doesn't matter why they evolve this preference -- perhaps there was a mutation affecting their sexual preferences, or their vision happened to respond more positively to large than to small objects.) Once this female preference for long tails arises, we have the third requirement for evolution: selection. In this case, it is sexual selection through mate choice. The choosy females who prefer long tails will tend to mate with long-tailed males, who are happy to copulate with all their admirers. The non-choosy females mate randomly, usually ending up with an average-tailed male.

    After mating, the choosy females start producing offspring. Their sons have longer-than-average tails that they inherited from their fathers. (Their daughters may also inherit longer tails -- a phenomenon we shall consider later.) The non-choosy females produce sons whose tails are about the same length as those of their fathers -- but these mediocre tails are no longer average. They are now below average, because the average tail length has been increased in this generation, due to sexual selection through mate choice. The genes for long tails have spread.

    The question is, will they keep spreading? Fisher's [the man who came up with runaway theory] key insight was that the offspring of choosy females will inherit not just longer tails, but also the genes for the sexual preference -- the taste for long tails. Thus, the genes for the sexual preference tend to end up in the same offspring as the genes for the sexually selected trait. When genes for different traits consistently end up in the same bodies, biologists say the traits have become "genetically correlated." Fisher's runaway process is driven by this genetic correlation between sexual traits and sexual preferences in offspring, which arises through the sexual choices their parents made. This genetic correlation effect is subtle and counter-intuitive, which is one reason why biologists took fifty years to prove that Fisher's idea worked.

    Of course, when the sons of choosy females inherit the genes underlying their mother's sexual attraction to long tails, they may not express this preference in their own mating decisions. But they can pass their mother's sexual preferences on to their own daughters. Since their long tails make them sexually attractive, they tend to produce not only more sons than average, but more daughters as well. In this way, the sexual preference for long tails can genetically piggyback on the very trait that it prefers. This gives the runaway process its positive-feedback power, its evolutionary momentum.

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    AI out of AI

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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    Consider a species of bird whose females have evolved a taste for long tails. At first, almost all of the birds have short tails. Those who have slightly longer tails will produce more offspring because their long tails have become sexual ornaments. Those offspring will produce offspring with even longer tails. But eventually, if the tails become too long, they will impede the birds' ability to survive. If that species dies out due to this process, it doesn't mean evolution wasn't working. It just means that species failed to reign in its own sexual preferences.
    I agree with this hypothetical scenario, but I think it's more likely that if the tails start impeding the birds' ability to survive, then those with these longer tails are going to start facing natural selection, and not only that, if there are any females in the population who are non choosy or even better select for shorter tails (and there is generally that much variation within a population), then the process will be reversed exactly. Longer tails stop being a fitness indicator. Sexual selection is fast, but it's generally not fast enough to cause extinction without accompanying rapid environmental changes that make the phenotype a huge liability. Also, traits such as longer tails generally accompany or are actually beneficial adaptations. For example, females in humans choose males for a strong jaw and the like because it indicates high testosterone levels, but this in itself is not the whole story; high testosterone levels suppress the immune system, so those that have them must have good immune systems to continue to survive. Peacocks would have simply died out if sexual selection wasn't tempered by the process of natural selection, for exactly the reason you describe. The sexual selection isn't totally blind.

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    windmills of your mind Think's Avatar
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    Also, although I'm not as hardline as Atmosfear on this one, I veer closer to him than to Sole (at least as far as mental abilities are concerned) for the following reason: Human genetics encode for plasticity. That is to say, a human child is capable of learning, for example, a whole language in it's infancy. This is not inherent, a child can adapt to whatever language it is born into, and whatever culture; grasp metaphysical notions, understand, for example, the connotations of a tie, this thing that you wear around your neck which has no reference to anything in the EEA. A human being can be scared of the most ridiculous things, because fear is not always an inherent thing (although it arguably can be with some things like spiders and snakes, if trials with monkeys are anything to go by), but something which can be LEARNED rapidly. In the face of this overwhelming capacity for plasticity that our genetics afford us, I would argue that nurture has by far the greatest say because the natural component is so open to learning, developing skills in ANYTHING. This is SLT and behaviourism's greatest lesson.
    To clarify, though, I don't take Atmosfear's "Evolution is not applicable lol" line, nor am I stating that there can't be any degree of heritable ability in some areas. I am particularly not arguing that some physiological attributes cannot give us an advantage in some areas, particularly sports and practical work.
    Last edited by Think; 12-13-2008 at 11:27 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear View Post
    My argument is a combination of both sycld's and this post.

    I do think genetics are insignificant. I also agree that the threshold for success is at about the level of a college education.

    I just don't see a college education as a particularly high threshold.


    I don't even see how someone could rationally argue that genetics are insignificant. Have you ever looked at any kind of Twin Studies? Twin Studies are a GREAT indicator of how genetics affect our development. It's almost proof (which is a pretty bold statement to make in the area of science) that genetics has a huge impact on our development. That isn't to say that environment doesn't have any impact. They both share roughly the same amount of impact on a person, some areas it is a bit greater and some areas it isn't. But to claim that either one is insignificant is a very ignorant statement to make if you have never looked into any twin studies.

    You can be genetically predisposed to being lazy, which means you WON'T put in the necessary time to achieve high success or whatever it is you would use as an example. Now you COULD find the willpower to get over your own laziness and do it anyways, but guess what, genetics also determine to a lesser or greater extent how much willpower you also have. If you are predisposed to have terrible willpower then the chances are you will fail at whatever it is you want to achieve that requires effort. This isn't an all-or-nothing situation, it is an extremely gray area. Anyone who knows anything about genetics knows that it is ALL based on probability, just like environment is.

    It's impossible to provide an absolute concrete argument for EITHER side because both are constantly mingling with each other. Ok, so you are born with predispositions but raised in an environment. That environment you are born in is typically created by your parents who have genetic predispositions for raising you in a particular way, most likely somewhat similar to the way they were raised because their parents were predisposed (genetically and environmentally) to raise them in a certain way (see the pattern here?). You can't say environment is the dominant reason because environment is shaped by the genetics of people because we are social beings and our genetics are shaped by our environment through evolution. The typical rule of genetics and environment is that genetics create the disposition and environments trigger the disposition to occur in full effect (such as schizophrenia or depression)
    Last edited by Kozzle; 12-13-2008 at 01:28 PM.
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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Think View Post
    if the tails start impeding the birds' ability to survive, then those with these longer tails are going to start facing natural selection
    Yep.

    Quote Originally Posted by Think View Post
    if there are any females in the population who are non choosy or even better select for shorter tails (and there is generally that much variation within a population), then the process will be reversed exactly. Longer tails stop being a fitness indicator.
    Well, if this is purely in a case where the sexual ornament becomes too burdensome, then that's certainly a possibility. The runaway system is meant to explain how certain traits can rapidly become widespread within a species, and it can go into literally any direction at any time, because of its positive feedback power. It can (and has - though I don't have any examples specifically off the top of my head) wipe out a species faster than it can make a U-turn, but this isn't all that common. Sexual ornaments are all about displaying excess energy and correct (even superior) wiring, so to speak. If the long tail kills you, it may not kill you until you've already passed on the gene to make offspring. It's impossible to predict exactly. Anything can happen. That's what makes studying sexual selection so fascinating, at least to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Think View Post
    The sexual selection isn't totally blind.
    Sexual selection isn't blind at all. Natural selection is blind. The difference can be thought of this way: I choose my mate because he's smarter than other males, stronger than other males, kinder than other males, and more attractive than other males. We combine our genes to create strong, smart, kind, attractive babies. By contrast, natural selection kills off half a species because of a particularly nasty cold front. One is active, one is completely passive and dependent upon environment.

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    Merry fucking Christmas Atmosfear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kozzle View Post
    I don't even see how someone could rationally argue that genetics are insignificant. Have you ever looked at any kind of Twin Studies? Twin Studies are a GREAT indicator of how genetics affect our development. It's almost proof (which is a pretty bold statement to make in the area of science) that genetics has a huge impact on our development. That isn't to say that environment doesn't have any impact. They both share roughly the same amount of impact on a person, some areas it is a bit greater and some areas it isn't. But to claim that either one is insignificant is a very ignorant statement to make if you have never looked into any twin studies.

    You can be genetically predisposed to being lazy, which means you WON'T put in the necessary time to achieve high success or whatever it is you would use as an example. Now you COULD find the willpower to get over your own laziness and do it anyways, but guess what, genetics also determine to a lesser or greater extent how much willpower you also have. If you are predisposed to have terrible willpower then the chances are you will fail at whatever it is you want to achieve that requires effort. This isn't an all-or-nothing situation, it is an extremely gray area. Anyone who knows anything about genetics knows that it is ALL based on probability, just like environment is.

    It's impossible to provide an absolute concrete argument for EITHER side because both are constantly mingling with each other. Ok, so you are born with predispositions but raised in an environment. That environment you are born in is typically created by your parents who have genetic predispositions for raising you in a particular way, most likely somewhat similar to the way they were raised because their parents were predisposed (genetically and environmentally) to raise them in a certain way (see the pattern here?). You can't say environment is the dominant reason because environment is shaped by the genetics of people because we are social beings and our genetics are shaped by our environment through evolution. The typical rule of genetics and environment is that genetics create the disposition and environments trigger the disposition to occur in full effect (such as schizophrenia or depression)
    Oh jesus fucking christ are you just trying to troll now? I didn't say genetics had absolutely no effect. I said the effect was insignificant because I don't think the threshold for success is particularly high. If you want to argue about where the threshold is or why it should be considered "high" then that's a discussion.

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    Official of Douchebaggery Kozzle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atmosfear View Post
    Oh jesus fucking christ are you just trying to troll now? I didn't say genetics had absolutely no effect. I said the effect was insignificant because I don't think the threshold for success is particularly high. If you want to argue about where the threshold is or why it should be considered "high" then that's a discussion.
    It invariably is significant, this is my argument.


    I suppose you would have to define what is your idea of success before anything went further. I would define success to be able to live without -any- financial worry. For this to occur you have to be relatively well placed. For this to happen you typically need to have a good education. To have a good education usually (except for certain fields) requires some form of graduate studies. Graduate studies (at least in Canada) require minimum 3.7 average GPA. A 3.7 is significantly higher than the average university student (which already have an average intelligence significantly higher than the average person, I believe it's 1 standard deviation, I may be wrong on this one). Not all university students will ever make it to graduate studies, the vast majority don't actually.

    If I were to quantify IQ (whether it is relevant or not is debatable) with success I would say it is roughly 130 (this is the average IQ of university professors, doctors, lawyers etc.) which is 2 standard deviations higher than the average population.

    As far as we know intelligence owes itself to a large portion to genetics (and environment, of course). I would hardly consider the average college student who gets out and starts at ~15$ an hour (I'm not sure how this works in the states, but this is what a typical college student will start at) and move up to maybe 25$ an hour by the time they retire, to be very successful, I would consider that to simply be an average standard of living.

    I don't know why you get so emotionally involved in these arguments, obviously there needs to be some clarifications on terms such as success, but from my rough view on the term success it is a significantly higher threshold than a 2 year college course or 4 year university degree. I think it has been derailed sufficiently, but if you seriously want to debate these things I would suggest keeping swearing and such out of it (I don't see the point in getting angry over these things unless it is seriously provoked) - anger typically breeds even more anger.
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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    Sexual selection isn't blind at all. Natural selection is blind. The difference can be thought of this way: I choose my mate because he's smarter than other males, stronger than other males, kinder than other males, and more attractive than other males. We combine our genes to create strong, smart, kind, attractive babies. By contrast, natural selection kills off half a species because of a particularly nasty cold front. One is active, one is completely passive and dependent upon environment.
    Aha, ok, I don't think we disagree, but I'll just clarify. The whole tails example had me thinking that you were saying that sexual selection could become completely misguided (longer and longer tails on a whim, totally at the expense of the survival value of individuals), so by saying "sexual selection is not completely blind", I was pointing out that the tails would either be advantageous in and of themselves or come alongside an advantageous gene or characteristic and serve as a kind of flag for it. Admittedly, it could be argued that peacock's tails (for example) DO come at the expense of the survival value of individuals, but they come alongside other characteristics that actually increase the fitness of the individual. Also, whilst there are positive feedback mechanisms at work, there are other very strict guidelines for mate choice. For example, human beings may develop a facial characteristic that indicates resistance to infant-killing viruses (I mean that the two genes occur simultaneously in the population, and so are equivalent in a sense to prospective mates). Now, this gene will spread like wildfire eventually, when Fisher's effect, as discussed, kicks in, but it will have quite a while lingering in the background to start with because we're "programmed" right now to choose mates with average-looking (I mean literally average, not in terms of how attractive they are ) faces. This means that the gene will be avoided by most prospective mates for a while, meaning that the population with it will only increase slightly for long enough to "prove" (through natural selection) that there's nothing totally adverse about it in terms of it's survival value until reproduction (at which point, you're right, the face could split from the body and eat it alive, and it wouldn't make much difference to the genes' survival value).
    Now if you were indicating, (as I can see it's almost certain you were in hindsight) that your stuff happens ONCE all this has happened, i.e. the "flag" feature could become attractive in and of itself or become increasingly exaggerated until it's effects are totally negative (males with higher and higher testosterone levels until we have no immune systems), then yeah, I think we agree. The only way to stop that happening is good old natural selection, really, although I daresay there's probably a couple of other systems in sexual selection that stop this from happening in more than a couple of cases.

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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    Think, I think it's important to note that a sexual ornament doesn't have to have any other purpose. There are certainly examples of traits that are both sexually ornamental and genetically beneficial in other ways, as you've clearly shown - and in those cases, it certainly makes sense for females to select for those traits. But many times - if not most times, sexual ornaments are just sexual ornaments. Instead of one trait (a large jaw) being about a very specific underlying other trait (high testosterone), a sexual ornament can exist as a window into the genome of another organism. A peacock's tail has absolutely no value except as a sexual ornament, but the fact that the peacock has a high enough energy budget to grow a magnificent tail shows that as an organism, he is genetically fit. The tail has no other use, no other purpose, and no specific underlying trait. It exists only to attract mates. The reason it works as a fitness indicator is that a very beautiful tail costs a lot of energy to grow, due to its complexity and size. A peahen who chooses a beautifully-tailed peacock as a mate is more likely to produce offspring of better quality in larger quantity, thus ensuring that her own genes will continue on for more generations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    The tail has no other use, no other purpose, and no specific underlying trait.
    I'm afraid I'm going to have to stop you there. No one knows why yet, but peacocks with superior tails are far less likely to be eaten by predators (research study by Petrie in 1992). It's not conclusive, sure, but it suggests to me it's another flag ornament, that there's a heritable trait accompanying it.

    Quote Originally Posted by solecistic View Post
    The reason it works as a fitness indicator is that a very beautiful tail costs a lot of energy to grow, due to its complexity and size.
    Ok, yeah, following you here. The handicap principle. I totally agree that this can be a large part of sexual ornamentation.

    Now, here's my position: I can totally see where you're coming from, but I feel that for a phenotype to be attractive within a population, it needs to have some sort of utility, at least to start with. I would agree that sexual ornaments can just be sexual ornaments, but I would argue that they originated for a reason. The structure of the male face, preference for an hourglass figure in females, preference for childlike features in female faces, preference for averagely proportioned faces - all of these desirable physical features have some sort of original practical purpose, even if they're mostly just ornaments now.

    EDIT: it's funny, the only thing we're really not in accord about is the bit completely glossed over in the quote from the book you provided: "(It doesn't matter why they evolve this preference -- perhaps there was a mutation affecting their sexual preferences, or their vision happened to respond more positively to large than to small objects.)"
    Last edited by Think; 12-13-2008 at 08:29 PM.

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    the common sense fairy solecistic's Avatar
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    There are a few ways that regular traits can become fitness indicators. A trait always starts out being a regular trait, of course, and like anything else, they have a variety of uses or reasons for existing. To become a sexual ornament, the trait must be able to interact with another organism's senses. Many species have certain sensory biases for a variety of reasons - for example, primate color vision evolved in part to notice brightly colored fruits (incidentally, the fruit evolved brighter colors to display its ripeness to attract primates and birds because their vehicle for reproduction is to pass through the digestive tract of those animals). Primates develop the visual bias because eating the fruit is beneficial. If a mutation occurs that gives a primate a red face, females can become attracted to that trait due to their visual bias for bright colors. This could influence the direction of sexual selection in that species.

    Of course, this is only a first step. A red face may be attractive to females because of their sensory bias, but that red face would be a fairly weak fitness indicator. Getting the attention of a potential mate is very important, but it is by no means a guarantee for access to reproduction. Primates are social creatures and live in large groups, so it's safe to say that finding a mate is not difficult. As Miller puts it, they're "spoiled for choice." It's not too useful for a species if a sexual ornament isn't a credible fitness indicator.

    So I think you're right that a trait has to have a use in order to become an ornament. But be careful not to assume that a sexual ornament must evolve to be a survival trait first - it is just as likely that the peacock's tail is coincidentally linked to lower mortality rates. It serves a much greater purpose as a fitness indicator to mates than as an intimidating display for predators - there are far less costly ways for prey animals to avoid being mangled between a strong pair of jaws.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kozzle View Post
    It invariably is significant, this is my argument.


    I suppose you would have to define what is your idea of success before anything went further. I would define success to be able to live without -any- financial worry. For this to occur you have to be relatively well placed. For this to happen you typically need to have a good education. To have a good education usually (except for certain fields) requires some form of graduate studies. Graduate studies (at least in Canada) require minimum 3.7 average GPA. A 3.7 is significantly higher than the average university student (which already have an average intelligence significantly higher than the average person, I believe it's 1 standard deviation, I may be wrong on this one). Not all university students will ever make it to graduate studies, the vast majority don't actually.

    If I were to quantify IQ (whether it is relevant or not is debatable) with success I would say it is roughly 130 (this is the average IQ of university professors, doctors, lawyers etc.) which is 2 standard deviations higher than the average population.

    As far as we know intelligence owes itself to a large portion to genetics (and environment, of course). I would hardly consider the average college student who gets out and starts at ~15$ an hour (I'm not sure how this works in the states, but this is what a typical college student will start at) and move up to maybe 25$ an hour by the time they retire, to be very successful, I would consider that to simply be an average standard of living.

    I don't know why you get so emotionally involved in these arguments, obviously there needs to be some clarifications on terms such as success, but from my rough view on the term success it is a significantly higher threshold than a 2 year college course or 4 year university degree. I think it has been derailed sufficiently, but if you seriously want to debate these things I would suggest keeping swearing and such out of it (I don't see the point in getting angry over these things unless it is seriously provoked) - anger typically breeds even more anger.
    If that's your argument, then you haven't shown it's invariably significant. You would need to show that even if the bar were exceptionally low (for example, the threshold necessary to breathe), genetics would still be of absolutely critical importance. Yeah, okay, great... you need genes that everyone has. Who gives a flying fuck? Not significant to me.

    If the threshold is the ability to get a college degree, then it's set at about 110-115, which includes a little over 16% of the population. 50 million people. Walk onto the subway and you can't throw a stick without hitting someone over the threshold. 1 in 6! The odds are too good, they aren't significant to me; everyone I know has a shot at it. Don't care.

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