‘Unplanned’ Traits

Builds Upon: Reforming Ant Society, The Reality Show: Part 1
Reforming Ant Society Part 2

Within about 10 generations, Soviet geneticist Dmitri Belyaev was able to completely transform wild silver foxes into completely domesticated animals.

All he had done was select for the calmest tamest foxes each generation yet by the end of the process, the foxes exhibited many other traits common to domesticated dogs.  They had spotted coats, floppy ears, and curled tails.  They barked, wagged their tails, and were sensitive to human body language.

Selecting for one major criteria resulted in multiple changes.

Scientists and other logic workers pride themselves on their ability to work with rational cause and effect, but when it comes to the real world their efforts often fall short.  These persons tend to fall into the trap of pairing each cause with one effect, or a few related effects.  Complex processes tend to be regarded as a collection of discrete, independent cause and effect relationships that happen to be occurring simultaneously.  Thus, complex processes are reduced into countless bite-size syllogistic morsels.

However, the case of Belyaev’s foxes tells us that one should not rely too heavily on this syllogistic method.  Rather than one cause leading to an effect, one cause begets a variety of intended and unintended, related and unrelated results.

I suppose one could envision a crowded pool table.

A player is trying to hit a ball into one of the pockets, but in attaining this goal, pool balls are scattered all over the table.  Influencing one variable sets a host of variables into motion.  The absolute control of being able to predict everything is much harder to attain.  Under such circumstances, one is better rewarded by an overall understanding rather than a solid grasp of the minutia.  That is:

Rather than exhaustively cataloging every minute detail of every relationship only to end with a heap of disconnected ‘facts’, looking for a pattern in the scatter on the pool table has a lot more potential.

If selectors chosen by humans cause multiple unintended results, it seems that nature also would also be equally imprecise in implementing changes.  Thus if a Galapagos finch adapts to grow a different shape of beak, it would be unsurprising if this one change also resulted in other new and unforeseen traits.

Thus, the same principal that gives us tame dog-like foxes might also result in many of the evolutionary loopholes we observe in human beings that are not easily explained away as survival behaviors.

The same also with human social systems or any system at all…


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