Monday October 22, 2018
Home Opinion Evolution and...

Evolution and falling levels of human intelligence: Learn from cats!

0
//
169
Republish
Reprint

By Nury Vittachi

A new island appeared off the coast of Japan and scientists are watching it to see evolution at work.

So I was told. I was a bit dubious. Doesn’t evolution take a while? The reader who sent me the report, Sunita Chau, admitted that the only biological entity on the island of Nishinoshima so far was bird poop.

I suppose one can imagine bird poop evolving into extremely primitive live forms such as bacteria, single-celled micro-organisms, and Fox News viewers, for example. She said she reckoned that nationalist politicians in some countries probably shared 99 percent of their DNA with bird poop. I think she was joking, but either way, no offence is intended to any bird poop which might be reading this.

A Wikipedia check showed that organic communities develop fast. Scientists observing Surtsey, an island which appeared suddenly in the sea near Iceland in 1963, noticed that by 1964 it had insects, by 1965 a plant, and by 1998 a slug. In evolutionary terms, a slug is a long way from being a human, but in terms of intelligence, is perhaps not that far from nationalist politicians, supermodels and the like.

To do my due diligence, I phoned a scientist, who castigated me for making the common assumption that human intelligence was the pinnacle of evolution. Intelligence is an anti-evolutionary trait, he said, quoting numerous studies. Stupidity improves efficiency (Journal of Management Studies), boosts productivity (University of Texas), and increases happiness (University of Edinburgh).

That makes sense, if you think about it. The most powerful people in human society are rock stars, builders, footballers, supermodels, stockbrokers et al, folk whose intelligence levels are too often roughly level with that of an average novelist’s colonic microfloral bacteria.

In contrast, people who actually have big brains are writing novels or teaching math and not earning enough money to rub two coins together to keep warm, let alone marry and spread their DNA.

If humans are not evolution’s zenith, what is? One colleague nominated sharks. They do nothing at all except eat, sleep, reproduce and occasionally star in movies. (My dream schedule)

A second said it was domestic dogs. “We feed them and clean up their poop in return for nothing but love and affection.” A third said cat-owners feed and clean up the poop of cats “in return for nothing but disdain and aloofness”. Cats win.

Retreating to my inbox, I found a reader had sent a web link to a news report about a woman who accidentally shot herself when trying to take a “selfie” while holding a gun to her head. It was followed by a report about officials in India asking pet-owners to paint their dogs blue to differentiate them from wild dogs. A web-search led me to a New Scientist report that several studies showed that human intelligence was falling rather than rising.

All this could be good news for the long-term survival of the human race. So let’s all do our bit. Avoid the natural temptation to overthink things. Create balance by drastically under thinking every decision you make.

Step one is to stop worrying about what’s evolving on Nishinoshima and learn from cats. Feed me. Love me. In return, I promise disdain and aloofness.

(Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. With inputs from IANS)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 NewsGram

Next Story

Joint Mission To Mercury By Europe-Japan Satellite Launches

The mission is an expensive one. It's estimated the costs borne by the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency amount to about 1.65 billion euros.

0
TESS, rover, NASA, mercury
TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

Two satellites developed in Europe and Japan are on their way to the Sun’s closest planet Mercury. It is likely to take them seven years to reach their destination.

The joint endeavour BepiColombo left Earth on an Ariane rocket that launched out of South America on Friday, the BBC said.

The probes lifted clear of the Kourou spaceport in Atlantic coast of French Guiana at 10.45 p.m. on Friday.

Mission controllers based in Darmstadt, Germany, would spend much of Saturday talking to the spacecraft, to confirm they were properly configured for the long cruise ahead.

Coming close on the heels of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe that was launched in August, Bepi is aimed at finding more about Mercury that “doesn’t really fit with our theories for how the Solar System formed”, said Bepi scientist Professor Dave Rothery from the UK’s Open University.

Parker Solar Probe, NASA, mercury
This illustration from NASA shows the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. VOA

“We can’t understand our planet fully unless we’re able to explain Mercury that has an oversized iron core — 60 per cent of its mass,” Rothery said.

Science has not yet explained why the planet only has a thin veneer of rocks. Bepi’s high-resolution data should bring us nearer to an answer, the BBC reported.

It’s the first time the European and Japanese space agencies (Esa and Jaxa) have set out for Mercury. The Americans have already been there, briefly with the Mariner 10 probe in the 1970s, and with the Messenger orbiter earlier this decade.

Messenger discovered that water-ice is held inside some of Mercury’s shadowed craters, and that its crust contains a lot of graphite (pencil lead).

Bepi will build on those. The new mission carries twice as much instrumentation and will get closer for longer.

Mercury’s dense body does not reflect its initial form. It’s possible the planet began life much further and later migrated inwards, mission scientist Suzie Imber from Leicester University.

Mercury
We know so little about the planet Mercury… The BepiColombo mission will try to unravel some of its mysteries. Flickr

 

“It’s also got huge cliffs, many kilometres tall. And those cliffs formed as Mercury shrank. We call them wrinkle ridges,” Imber said.

It is possible to directly reach Mercury in a matter of months, but the speed picked up by a spacecraft falling into the Sun’s deep gravity would make it very hard to stop at the planet, the BBC report said.

Bepi will take a more circuitous route. It will fly past Earth, Venus and Mercury itself, using the tug of their gravity to bleed off speed, so that by 2025 the mission can gently slot into position.

The toughest prospect ahead is the heat. At just 58 million km from the Sun, working at Mercury is like being in a pizza oven, Imber said.

The sides of the probes in direct sunlight will have to cope with temperatures over 400 degrees Celsius. Even those surfaces facing away from the Sun have to be protected.

Coping strategies include covering the MMO in thick blankets of insulation material made from titanium and ceramics. “The environment is extremely hostile,” explains Esa mission controller Elsa Montagnon.

Mercury
Solar system. Pixabay

 

“On Mercury, we get 10 times the solar energy we get on Earth. But then from the illuminated side of Mercury, we get about four times what we get on the Earth. So, the spacecraft are continually in a heat sandwich,” Montagnon said.

The mission is an expensive one. It’s estimated the costs borne by the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency amount to about 1.65 billion euros.

Additionally, national space agencies in Europe have paid for the instrumentation on the MMO, taking the overall budget above 3 billion euros.

Also Read: Another Space Telescope Shuts Down: NASA

This number covers the full lifecycle of the mission, from its approval (2007) to its termination (late 2020s).

Engineers have had a torrid time developing the technologies to keep Bepi safe so close to the Sun. Delays have kept on adding to the price. (IANS)