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Per E. Hansen

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Has humanity redefined "Natural Selection"?

The topic is more or less: "darwinism vs. humanity".

To illustrate:

1. Right now there are about 7 billion people on the planet earth and according to worldhunger.org about 925 million people live in hunger - equal to about 1 of every 7 people not eating daily - or expressed in another way - 1 in 7 are not able to provide for themselves / lack the means to survive.

2. Many people has (currently) incurable diseases like cancer, AIDS and similar. Many people will be born handicapped and live rest of their lives in a more or less "paralyzed" state compared to the majority. Doctors all over the world are trying to find the cures or fight these diseases - but does this not conflict with natural selection?

3. In nature when a kitten is born with defects, i.e. missing a leg, the mother will leave the kitten alone to die, because the mother knows that the kittens chance of survival is close to zero. As humans we do the opposite - we will try to save whoever we can even when the chances are slim or close to zero - and often we succeed.

Natural selection happens all the time in the nature and to some extent in human lives as well - if you are not fit for whatever is ahead of you, you will most likely not succeed.

Do we want natural selection, to what extent, and what do you think the implications are of choosing natural selection vs. not choosing natural selection?

Has natural selection simply been redefined in some sense, so that the main purpose of live saving technology / science is to push the boundaries of natural selection?

- and no, i'm not a new Hitler, Stalin, racist or similar - i'm just trying get a better understanding of the world.

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  • Jan 20 2012: For the sake of this argument, lets say that Earth is a closed environment, without anything getting in or out of it.

    If you think of it that way, then you can't really unbalance the system. All you can do is to change it one way or another. If you see it this way, that there is (some kind of) balance in the world, then... well, "With every action, there is equal, but opposite, reaction". Or, saying it differently, "To every gain, there is a cost,".

    We have health care and less people are dying. That's a good thing... But what is the cost?? Earlier, like you said, a person with a faulty genes (body/immunity/etc) would die of natural causes and the gene wouldn't be passed on. Now, since much more people get to live, more genes that would earlier be deemed faulty stay longer in the gene pool, giving future generations higher chance to receive it, and more sick people as a result.

    Modern medicines, that's a good thing, right? Well... Earlier plagues ravaged the population, but when they killed the last person they could (leaving only the ones that were immune) they died out with their victims. Now, that we immunize everyone, bacteria survive as well, and have longer to develop methods of survival. Suddenly we don't see a disease (like flu), but whole sets of them.

    So, have humans redefined the natural selection?? I don't think so. It's hard to unbalance a system that is millions of years old. All you can do is to change it slightly. In this instance I think we only changed the time-scale... and death-toll along with it.

    At some point people are going to die at a really large rate. Be it new, unknown disease, war, scarce natural resources. I think that overpopulation can lead to many things...

    I believe that when we, the "dominant" species, start dropping by the dozens we will experience the most just how much natural selection is still in play... Especially since we brought it to a whole new level.
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    Jan 19 2012: You should think of other human beings, medical advances and the like as part of our environment. Natural selection still occurs, the error is in thinking that all we make and do is quite apart from nature. In fact, a better way of seeing it is that we've created an environment with relaxed selective pressures. A good thought exercise is to think of where you'd draw the line with natural selection. Did we evade natural selection with either the advent of tool-making or cooperation?
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    Jan 17 2012: Natural selection has nothing to do with human beings. From the moment our species made fire, used clothing and weapons they gradually became independent from the natural system. Culture isn't nature. In our effort to fight diseases we still are working our way to total independency. The result however is that nature, the living system of our planet is distorted in many ways and more and more of its remnants will become dependent on human care until the whole system collapses.
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    Jan 17 2012: There is a great stand up comedy routine on this by a comedian Bill Burr, about how we're the only species that saves the weak. Really funny, well written stuff. Basically, all I can say is that there are two ways of looking at natural selection, "only the strong survive" or "only the smart survive". I would argue that the smart have consistently bailed out the strong throughout human history, but they are a shrinking minority in the modern world. If we're not careful, the smart are going to collapse under the pressure, and the strong are just going to start beating each other up again.
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    Jan 17 2012: I think we do have redefined natural selection, natural selection is about one think, strongs live and weaks must die, when we as a "rational" specie thought that a right to live should be granted to every human destroyed anykind of natural selection applied to humans.
    Saldy this "right" has been the responsible of global imbalace: while humans are a plague thousands of other species are now extinct.
    • Jan 20 2012: And this, is exactly what natural selection is. Humans are thriving at the expense of other animal species - so what? They obviously were not strong enough to compete with us for the limited resources, and so they are now extinct. I don't understand why people have a need to want to save endangered species.

      It is what it is.
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        Jan 21 2012: If some people worry about saving species is for una thing: convenience, you know humans have a huge necesity for resouces and we get those resouces from all the other species on earth so while we take care of those species we are also ensuring our resouces for the future, a lot of people might not worry about future but they should know there are also many generations that will need plenty of natural resouces and a eco-balanced world.
  • Jan 16 2012: To a large extent natural selection has been removed in much of the modern world, atleast in what we consider to be the classical sense of the definition.
    In modern society, natural selection tends to reflect reproduction due to the removal of the neccesity to 'survive', something which can have incredibly negative consequences for a society since its those with lower intelligent, worse judgement and lower living standards that tend to have the most children, which is typically passed on, but onto greater numbers with each passing generation.

    Theres no reason why we couldn't provide an artificial natural selection to society and it may infact be positive.
    But ofcourse I don't mean by killing people or letting them die; More of a system of persuasion using benefits within society that are only available to those who reach a certain standard of benefit to society or monetary persuasion for sterilization.
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      Jan 16 2012: Isnt "artificial natural selection" an oxymoron?
      • Jan 16 2012: Not really.
        Creating an environment that favors particular characteristics and allowing those within it to adapt accordingly is both artificial and naturally selective.
        Perhaps I could replace the word 'artificial' with 'directed' or 'forced', but the sentiment is the same.
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          Jan 16 2012: My question was more motivated by semantics than biology. I believe the word "nature" (and the form "natural") is accepted as the definition of the power, force, principle, etc. that seems to regulate the entire physical universe. The idea of directing, or forcing the functioning of the universe using unnatural (artificial) means requires a new name for a new regulating force. Directed Selection, Forced selection, or Artificial Selection is not Natural Selection. May I suggest "Human Selection"? Thanks Xavier.
    • Jan 16 2012: @Xavier

      Point taken, my next question would then be: isn't humanism the new natural selection? One way to look at it would be, that "natural selection" has evolved so much, that by "saving all species / dealing with the weak" in the process we become smarter - i.e. our technology is evolving while saving and dealing with those of "lower intelligence, worse judgement and lower living standards" - we adapt.

      When something / someone is not supposed be a certain way, we come up with solutions to it / for them - if everything was "perfect", we would have other problems to deal with.

      @edward long - no artificial natural selection does not have to be an oxymoron. If you think of natural selection in the classical term - then yes - but if natural selection also evolve - then no.