Human interference polluting the genome??

Anselmo & all,

I think it’s very relevant to consider the accumulating adverse genetic change due to human intervention. The principal process of evolution is not yet well understood yet though. “Punctuated equilibrium” requires a mechanism for relatively rapid change of the whole genome rather than a selective drift of individual genes, and as yet there are no testable hypotheses for how that would work.

I think Tim Beardsley’s use of the terms ‘divergence’ and ‘degeneration’, applying general terms to specialized things, does not accurately characterize what they refer to, and so are easily misunderstood. I’d prefer to use genetic ‘pollution’, some of which is human caused, though that’s not a perfect term either.

There’s no question that it is occurring, of course, in that lots of people who would not be reproducing for either biological or economic ’fitness’ reasons remain in the gene pool. Many of our healthcare and economic interventions effectively reverse our natural genetic handicaps with overriding social values.

One interesting point is that that may well directly cause an increase in genetic complexity (‘pollution’) and real economic burdens to absorb, like increased healthcare costs, how it matters to the ‘genetic health’ of the species may be complex. Our usual interpretations many not apply, though.

The statistical Darwinian model, on which nearly all discussion of genetic change is based, actually fails to explain some of the key evidence and seems to have no actual physical mechanism by which to operate (probabilities don’t describe individual couplings, for example). It’s our metaphor of convenience, though, so we have been using it to organize our discussion of the evidence, but need to be open to other possibilities .

Take for example, the enormous variation in the kinds of domestic pets. It provides dramatic evidence of extreme genetic adaptation to induced environmental change (breeding selection), but no species change is induced, as far as I know. So genome organization is evidently highly flexible and also highly stable.

What that provides is crystal clear evidence of genetic homeostasis for species design, something that the standard statistical model relies on being completely absent. That’s a particularly good reason to remain open minded, along with it generally being good to openly question the mechanisms you theorize as you look at new kinds of evidence.

So, we do see human interventions inducing a variety of accumulating genetic change, much of it seeming deleterious without societal intervention. That may itself be a new form of genome for us to live with though. Sustaining that increased variety in the genome may also make synergies leading to larger organizational change more likely, at the same time it seems to make individual outcomes more often harmful.

Do we *want* to become a whole new species? Lacking any testable science for what influences that, or what it would mean to us, you either call upon ‘fate’ to decide, or just hope and trust that our genetic resilience will hold… It might well also be a new kind of systemic influence like global warming, and likely to trigger all kinds of instabilities we have very little understanding of at all.

The principle that progressive trends have mechanisms that will upset themselves as their imbalances collide with other things in their environments still holds. It identifies another grand experiment on ourselves with our having no way of identifying the dangers.

There are many kinds of physical progressions at play, and the ones the standard model of evolution gives us to imagine are mostly either not happening or not the ones that would matter.  Finding evidence that is strong enough to upset our comfort with what we think we have neatly explained is maybe the one unqualified good.

Phil Henshaw


Re: Subject: Thougths From the “onelife” site

From: Anselmo Pedroni

Sent: Saturday, July 05, 2008 4:23 AM

Hi! It appears that there are others around with similar concerns on a nasty combination of overshoot /dieoff and genetic degeneration issues.

Among other sites dealing with that problem, I found this one:


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