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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Alien Life II

On a lighter note today, let's look at fictional alien life forms, and how the principles of evolution apply, as far as their physical appearance and behaviours are concerned. For those of you who have watched the films "Alien" and "Predator", you will be familiar with these characters, but if you haven't, don't worry; their pics are below. The first one to look at is the alien.

This might look odd, but in fact this is the young form of the alien. It spawns from a plant-like creature, and it has evolved to jump on people's faces, insert themselves into their digestive tract, where they grow and then escape through the chest, killing them. The only explanation for this adaptation is that at some point in the past the aliens used some other host for their development, which was similar to humans. Otherwise, they have adapted very quickly to humans' advancement into outer space. (The film is set in the distant future when humans are colonising the universe)

The aliens are filled with a very strong acid which destroys every material known to man, suggesting that the chemistry of the place these aliens evolved from was very different to that on Earth. Research so far does indeed suggest that there may be silicon-based life forms, rather than carbon-based. All life on Earth is carbon-based.

The mature alien looks like this, and in the film is a vicious fighter with two mouths.

As you can see the outer shell of the alien is very rigid, as well as the teeth, as the alien harbours its acidic blood. The inner mouth can "jump" out of the outer mouth in order to increase the distance over which the alien can attack. Although the alien is a fast learner, its strengths lie mainly in its fast reactions and strong body filled with deadly acid.

On the other hand, the Predator is an intelligent humanoid who uses advanced technology to defeat its prey. The predator's body, however shows certain features that may surprise.


One of these is the predator's dreadlocks. They don't seem to serve any particular function, so they may be purely aesthetic. Not to us humans, but to them, predators. Another weird thing is their mouth surrounded by two teeth on the outside which can move to trap a victim. Presumably, the predators were great chasers and killers a long time before their intelligence provided them with their guns and spaceships. Presumably, as predators use their fangs less and less, they will diminish and fade, just like humans' bigger sharper teeth have evolved into simple, smaller teeth, the ones we all have today. The predator's body is less resilient than the alien's, due to the aliens being more physically aggressive, while the predators use their technology more. Similarly, humans are the weakest of primates, simply because we no longer make use of strength.

That is why, perhaps, the film makers decided to make a joint film, "Aliens versus Predators" where the two species are faced with each other in battle.

This is it for now, come back for the next post on the human body and evolution, where we'll look at the human, the same way we have looked at these aliens, in more detail!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Just a little note ... be grateful for your knowledge and freedom

I've just had a chat with a friend from Sudan, currently working in Dubai, about evolution, and was so shocked to find that the copy of Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth" he is reading had to me SMUGGLED into the Sudan, and that he must hide it to protect his social and literal safety.

It's so sad that something so fundamental to the human race, the freedom of information and knowledge passing around unhindered, cannot be enjoyed by all, in all lands of the world. Dubai is more secular than Sudan due to its international workers, but in Sudan the laws about infidelity are strict: death.

If in the UK we are fearlessly selling Qur'ans in our bookshops along with Bibles and Richard Dawkins, the people can make an informed, personal, independent choice. What have Sudan got to fear?


Bottom line, enjoy your freedom of information, because too often it is taken for granted, in a world where it is still taken away.

I am so grateful to be an atheist and to write about evolution freely, without fear.

Positive, Negative and Neutral Sexual Selection

Positive sexual selection is the most important and obvious type. It is positive because it involves the promotion and support of a characteristic, be it good looks or ambition, sense of humour or colour. Positive sexual selection is the driving force that results in variety of organisms, as well as the variety of what those organisms make, for example chocolate corn flakes or oats and fruit. This type of sexual selection is found in so many things, a popular example of which is teenage behaviour when teenagers feel the urge to pick things to support, be it a music genre, a sexual orientation, a fashion, a sport, or a club. Positive sexual selection is what fan clubs are made of.

Know when you see something on facebook and you MUST LIKE it? You absolutely must click like? The drive behind that urge is positive sexual selection. You like that and everyone must know. Not because you want them to like you, but because you want them to like that thing. This urge might seem superficial, but in fact it is very primal.

With positive sexual selection, comes negative sexual selection. I suppose this is easy to guess. Negative sexual selection can be exampled by hate groups, protests, and all the rants about how disgusting Marmite is. A very popular form of negative sexual selection is found in politics and religion. You're on a forum, and someone has said something you disagree with. You get a really hot unstoppable urge to argue with them; you don't even know them, but it doesn't matter because you think what they said is so unacceptable it must be challenged. Studies have shown that in fact negative sexual selection is stronger than positive sexual selection. For example, saying "STOP WAR" has more impact than saying "KEEP PEACE". This may be explained by the potential danger of not acting when faced when something threatening. That is, people see it more dangerous if the wrong party gets the vote, than beneficial if the right one does.

Neutral sexual selection is just that, neutral. Nothing good or bad will happen as a result of it. You don't care about your partner being taller or shorter than you because you don't see a benefit or downside to either. Shopping at ASDA or Sainsbury's makes no difference to you, and you don't think it makes a difference to anything else. Maybe even the parties make no difference to you, so voting is pointless.

And finally, why does Facebook not have a dislike button? As mentioned above, negative s.s. is stronger than positive s.s., so in the event of facebook adopting a dislike button, people would get more bothered about topics, posts and comments, which would spur arguments and hard feelings between members, potentially making the facebook experience worse, and leading to real life events facebook may be sued for. Imagine "Boy hangs himself after tens classmates "dislike" photo". To keep things light and... positive, facebook ensures that positive sexual selection (which people generally find enjoyable) dominates the experience, through the like button.

Check back next time for a new topic on alien life, Alien Life II, in which we're going to look at some of the evolutionary principles that sci-fi films such as Resident Evil and the Alien series have used in order to create their characters/monsters.