Monday 19 December 2016

Mouse Utopia gets its own 'blog'!

I decided that the Mouse Utopia idea is sufficiently interesting and important to get its own blog address. Enjoy...


Bruce B. said...

Professor Charlton, Regarding Mouse Utopia – is it a natural selection process (relaxed selection in modern populations) or something else?

What about signals (epigenetic effects?) caused by crowded conditions and/or a perception of dwindling resources? Signals that cause a population to become reproductively dysfunctional to limit overpopulation.

In other words, is modern lunacy caused by the perception (reinforced by the media and academics) of overcrowding, impending environmental disaster, dwindling resources?

As a person with a large family, I am frequently subject of disapproval which seems to come from a perception that I am somehow taking resources from the people disapproving of my fertility. And of course these people (contemporary Westerners) are the looniest people on the planet.

Have you ever thought about this?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - No it's not natural selection but lack of natural selection; it is an illness, a genetic pathology. Therefore while Natural Selection increases genetic fitness by imporving adaptations; Mutation Accumulation reduces genetic fitness by destroying adaptations.

The specific pathologies it causes will depend on where the mutations cause damage; which genes they affect. If you read the essay, I suggest that the first affected are most likely to be social including sexual adaptations, since these are the most delicate, recent, complex adaptations - involving many systems working together.

So this argument is separate from any causality related to perceptions etc.

From a natural selection POV, large families are necessary for human to maintain adaptiveness (and health) because they allow for the strong natural selection required and present in all historical societies until about 200 years ago - but nowadays in none.

Bruce B. said...

Instead of “natural selection” I should have specified "lack of natural selection" which I took to be your (and Woodley & Dutton’s) position i.e. mutational load. I do appreciate your point about social/sexual adaptations being more delicate – crazy people seem much more common than gross physical mutations.

It seems strange that the anti-sex/reproduction pathologies are particuarly pronounced in Western European and North East Asian societies. Aren’t these traditionally the most Malthusian societies?

I’m tempted to note that these societies have existed for the longest under industrial, dysgenic conditions, but I’m not really sure that’s the case in NE Asia.

Aren’t epigenetic effects environmentally induced effects that are passed down to offspring? Just playing around with the idea that indications of bumping up against Malthusian limits might induce these sorts of effects/changes which are passed down.

Was it the fact that the mice had an easy time of it, or that they perceived their situation of overcrowding and that triggered something.

Thank you for indulging me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I wouldn't bother thinking about epigenetic effects (so called) - As Is it's essentially a fake area of biology (i.e. done for funding) - as is anything bigly-funded or that has arisen to prominence in the past 30 years.

Europe and NE Asia were both strongly selected for higher intelligence, and Europe (somehow, by some 'group' mechanism) for creativity, back in the Middle Ages. By my understanding (but not Woodley's I think) intelligence is sensitive to mutational accumulation, therefore higher intelligence renders these societies extra vulnerable to mutation accumulation.

But populations of the two regions are obviously different - then and now; and the people too.

As I have said, the actual mouse utopia experiment was badly and wrongly analysed, and should be replicated with added genetic measurements - but this needs a lot of resources to do, so that is *very* unlikely to happen. So we must interpret it as best we can.

It is important to recognise that all this is accelerated by sub-fertility (en route to extinction), which affects the highest socio-economic classes first and most severely (especially the women).

It's important to recognise that mutation accumulation is not a single master explanation for everything bad that has happened - far from it, MA is as much an effect as a cause. But it sets constraints, and is working away to change things strongly and irrevocably as one of several factors - whether acknowledged or not.