Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why natural selection did not kill the scientists?

There are many scientific facts that are the base of modern thinking: The Earth is not at the center of the Universe, Human race is the result of evolution, The brain is the home of human psyche.
But there is one that I personally love:
The human brain evolved because of social interaction.
The best quote I found about this is in Human Evolution by Roger Lewin book:
"Biologists now believe that the intellectual demands of complex social interaction were an important force of natural selection in the expansion of primate -and ultimately, human- brains."

What it means is that in primal human tribes, the man or woman with big brains have a social advantage. They are more likely to become leaders and have more children.
Sounds logical at first, but what it really means is: it's not the need for technology, tools or engineering that push the human brain evolution, but the difficulty of dealing with our siblings.
There are other technologically capable animals, like birds, and they don't need super brains. You don't need a big brain to invent the wheel!
Trying to outsmart, to manipulate, to understand and to lead other human beings is way more challenging for the neurons network, than shaping a rock into an arrow head.

Politicians and Scientists

So, another way to put it: Politicians need bigger brains than scientists!
Wait a minute...
Something went wrong in my logical flow?
Well, may be not?
In term of genes and natural selection: Scientific nerds are a lot less successful than political leaders!
I didn't do the research about a scientific study that confirms this hypothesis, but I have a gut feeling it is true :)
For fun, I did a small wikipedia survey:

  1. Isaac Newton: No children
  2. Rene Descartes: One daugther
  3. Nicolaus Copernicus: 3 children (poor rate in the family)
  4. Galileo Galilei: 3 children (2 daugthers could not get married)

  1. Genghis Khan: had many other children with his other wives
  2. Napolean Bonaparte: Only 7 are known: "may have had further illegitimate offspring"

Not very scientific, or even a statistical sample, but fun.
In modern times the picture changed a lot since "Scientists" are becoming cool, and "Politicians" dangerous to flirt with...
Basically every where you look, the stereotypes are not totally made out of thin air:
  • Scientists are solitary nerds
  • Politicians are spreading their genes

This is the funny irony: We have big brain because we need to deal with human behavior.
The people with the lowest social skills are the one we consider having the biggest brain!

Natural selection and scientists

So, I keep having this question: Why natural selection did not kill all the scientists?
Since scientists are really bad at the reproduction game, natural selection should have eliminate them very early on.
If the behavior of finding more interest in things, machines and technology than in other human beings was in our genes: there will be no science. We will not have developed technology.
This is why I love this scientific fact: Being attracted by science is not in our genes!,
It's even more than that. Something in the development of a brain (in ones life), is transforming the original goal (being good social animal) into a logical processing machine (using logic and the scientific method). It feels like this transformation is really stealing the original purpose of the brain.
Scientists become poor social animals because their brain is used to do good logical processing!
I'll really like to know if their was some study on this transformation?
Anyway, the next question is: So, why do we have so many scientists?
My personal answer about this is: The pleasure of logic!
Dealing with logic, mathematics, solving problems is so gratifying, the brain gets hooked. Compared to the complexity and ambiguity of human behavior, the neural network make and easy choice: Logic is satisfying!


Looking at the list of poor scientists above that did not had the chance to spread their genes, I don't feel sorry for a second. Their influence on human history is orders of magnitude bigger than the thousands of humans carrying the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan. So many humans have their psyche influenced by the work of these men!
What's important today is the "natural selection" of idea, knowledge and information that influence the life of so many. Language, writing, printing and now Internet just keeps multiplying the effect of knowledge over genes.
Genes natural selection in modern human society does not mean anything. It has no ground, no reasons and no goal.
What's important is what we think, write and say.
I can see it every day in the eye of my adopted child. He is MY boy, like my other children. And what I communicate to all of them is way more important than their genes.
I never forget the scientific fact: Natural selection did not kill the scientists!

1 comment:

Ken said...

This made me thought of Brave New World.

Politicians are Alphas
Scientists are Betas.