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View Diary: Racism has a new name: HBD (371 comments)

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  •  I disagree (5+ / 0-)
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    themis, linkage, chantedor, cynndara, StrayCat

    with your assertion that the gross oversimplification I presented is a "totally flawed concept of how the universe works". Yes, it's flawed -- I made that abundantly clear. But you are arguing that it's worse than an oversimplification. The problem here is that I'm explaining something in layman's terms, and those terms are necessarily simplified.

    I could have explained the point in greater detail, incorporating your point, but that would have lengthened an already verbose essay. Even your short explication has a few confusing elements in it.

    By way of analogy, consider Newtonian physics. It's wrong; quantum mechanics and special relativity have demonstrated that Newtonian mechanics is conceptually wrong. But it's an excellent approximation at most of the scales we work with; it works well. In the same manner, my gross oversimplification is conceptually wrong, but still works adequately for non-technical reader.

    •  Unlike Newtonian mechanics, quantitative genetics (12+ / 0-)

      Is that it communicates a false understanding of how genetics works and what "caused by genetics" actually means. Yes, quantitative genetics is gret for breeding new strains of corn, but in terms of developing a political understanding it creates te idea that something with a genetic cause is immutable, which is dangerously wrong.  As a professor of mine used to say, bad eye sight may have a genetic component, but this does not mean we do not know how to make eyeglasses.  

      Similarly, saying that behavioral differences are "genetic" communicates a false impression that they are immutable, or even proximal it cause by genes, neither of which are necessarily true or even likely to be true.  All it says is that two populations with different genetic makeups are different, which is a radically different statement that. How people understand it.  We must be careful not to reinforce public misconceptions

      Hay hombres que luchan un dia, y son buenos Hay otros que luchan un año, y son mejores Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida. Esos son los imprescendibles.

      by Mindful Nature on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 10:21:19 AM PST

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      •  I suggest (7+ / 0-)

        that you know the subject so thoroughly that two ideas that look far apart to you are indistinguishable to the non-technical reader.

        Every time you write something about science, you have to carefully gauge the likely level of knowledge of your audience, then aim the level of the presentation towards the lower middle of the range. In the process, you'll attract the tut-tuts of the more knowledgeable and the "huh?"s of the less knowledgeable. It is a perennial problem.

        •  SUre (7+ / 0-)

          Before going any further I do want to make clear how much I enjoy your writing and your raising the issues.  I look forward to more of it.   Be back soon

          Hay hombres que luchan un dia, y son buenos Hay otros que luchan un año, y son mejores Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida. Esos son los imprescendibles.

          by Mindful Nature on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 11:57:13 AM PST

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        •  The problem here (10+ / 0-)

          which is not unique to this diary is that the concept of heritability is inherently confusing to people without training in quantitative genetics but understanding what it means is crucial and central to any use of it in these kinds of arguments.

          As Mindful Nature points out a heritability is measure of the proportion of the variation in a characteristic (e.g. IQ) in a particular population at a particular point in time.

          Most importantly (and utterly and completely crucially) a heritability value for a trait tells you nothing about the extent to which genetics plays a role in differences between 2 different populations.  Hypothetically you could have a heritability of zero in each of two populations (no genetic variation within each population) but all the variation between populations could be due to genetics.  Or, alternatively, you could have a situation in which the trait is completely genetically determined within each population (zero environmental variation) but the difference between populations is solely due to the environment.

          Of course these are unlikely extremes but all these arguments about genetic differences in IQ among races are not supported by the data, even if you were to assume that a) IQ is a valid measure and b) that the heritability is accurately estimated.

          "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

          by matching mole on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 03:36:47 PM PST

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          •  Ecological fallacies (8+ / 0-)

            generally come down to pretending that group averages or other aggregates statistically behave the same way as do individual measurements. There is no logical reason that they should; between-group variation and within-group variation are two completely separate phenomena and if they have the same causes, it's only by coincidence.

            In particular, even if you can establish a causal relationship between, say, an individual's IQ score and his performance on some other measure, you cannot assume the same relationship will hold if you replace the individual's IQ score with the average IQ score of, say, his racial or ethnic group. If you stop and think about, you can see how absurd that assumption is because the individual can belong to any number of groups, all of which have different average IQ scores. Which one do you pick?

            Classic illustration due, I believe, to Lewontin: you plant a bunch of corn of different varieties (contrary to popular belief, corn is not a monoculture or even close to one) in both high- and low-introgen soils. In each type of soil, almost all the variation in the height of the plants will be due to the varying strains (within-group variation) but the high-nitrogen plants, regardless of strain, will on average be taller than the low-nitrogen plants (between-group variation).

            Writing in all lower-case letters should be a capital offense

            by ebohlman on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 04:37:01 PM PST

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            •  Control for environmental variables - still differ (1+ / 0-)
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              The thing is that hereditarians are well aware of this. Hence various studies which control for socio-economic factors, and looking at whether there is some 'x-factor' that is depressing scores in one group. See David C Rowe's work in this regard.

              Group differences still remain. And I don't see why the existence of these differences is a surprise? There is ample evidence that different cultural and geographic environments can favor different physical and behavioural traits - that could lead to population changes over time (see 'The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution' or economist Greg Clark's work on pre-Industrial England).

              •  You're right (1+ / 0-)
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                The differences that we see are not a surprise, but not for reasons of genetics. I believe that the differences we see in IQ test scores arise from the assumptions about intelligence that are built into IQ tests. If we had tests that measured a person's facility in discriminating figure from background in images, we'd also see group differences -- but they would not be predictive of success in academia. They'd be predictive of something else. In like fashion, if we had tests that measure the perspicacity of one's intuitive reasoning skills -- whatever that is -- we'd also get big group differences. But in the end, do any of these tests really amount to anything significant?

                •  Those other skills (1+ / 0-)
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                  that you refer to could also be due to genes or selection for different environments. Here's an example - Australian Aborigines have very good visual memory. And it turns out they have particularly large visual cortex:

                  Sherilee has an astonishingly accurate visual memory. She scores 100 per cent on tests designed to measure how much individuals can remember of what they see. The only clue to the cause of her remarkable ability is her race: she is an aborigine, and aborigines have a proven ability to remember the exact location of objects that far exceeds that of other ethnic groups. They can find their way across deserts, locate water holes and identify animal lairs with an uncanny accuracy. They also perform about 50 per cent better on visual memory tests than, for instance, Caucasians.

                  What is the aborigines’ secret? To some evolutionary psychologists, the answer is relatively straightforward. The aborigines were, for about 4,000 generations, or 80,000 years, hunter-gatherers in the deserts of Australia.

                  That is enough time for natural selection to have worked on increasing the accuracy of aborigines’ memory, because if you could not find your way through the desert, or to the waterhole, you would starve, and so would your children. In the competition to stay alive, an accurate memory would – to put it mildly – have been an advantage.

                  Are today’s aborigine children the inheritors of that process? It has certainly been speculated that their extraordinary visual memories are the result of genes selected over thousands of years by evolution.

                  By Clive Harper, a professor of pathology in Sydney, may have discovered evidence that it is more than just a theoretical possibility. He found that the visual cortex – the part of the brain used in processing and interpreting visual information – was about 25 per cent larger in aborigines than in Caucasians.


                  In terms of your question, I think that on the one hand tests and group comparisons are harmful if people are using them to put others down. In terms of social science though and understanding societal outcomes I think they clearly have some use. For example, in terms of educational outcomes should we expect all groups to have similar stats? It doesn't seem realistic. But people invariably make these comparisons and you then have to look at causation.

                  An alternative would be to not look group outcomes (eg. I understand in France they don't collect ethnic data)?

                  •  Good point (1+ / 0-)
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                    I was unaware of the matter of visual memory in Australian aborigines, but it makes perfect sense to me. I certainly have no problem at all with the concepts of evolutionary psychology and the idea that human cognitive skills evolved in response to environmental challenges. My beef is with the notion that all human cognitive capability can be measured with the results of a single test.

                    I'd much prefer a test that discriminated among the various mental modules: one test for spatial reasoning, another for verbal reasoning, and so on. IQ tests already straddle these, but they amalgamate the results; I think we'd learn more if we treated them separately.

        •  True, but misleading (0+ / 0-)

          "that you know the subject so thoroughly that two ideas that look far apart to you are indistinguishable to the non-technical reader."

          That's technically true, but it is highly misleading, because it doesn't excuse your rather blatant mischaracterization of the facts.

          It's always wrong to say that "the Sun goes around the Earth" no matter how non-technical you're trying to be.

          •  Quibble away (1+ / 0-)
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            You are seriously wasting electrons on a quibble over the use of the word "genetic"? And you claim that my statement, which I declared to be a "grand overstated generalization" is misleading? I'd love to see how you expand on that statement without contradicting many of your own writings.

      •  twin studies and blind from birth show (6+ / 0-)

        that behavior can indeed be completely genetic.
        Twins put up for adoption from birth show similar likes and dislikes as adults.  Blind people (from birth) show almost identical facial expressions and habits.  So genes do certainly influence behavior that has nothing to do with environmenht.

        "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

        by liberalconservative on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 04:10:11 PM PST

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        •  identical to their parents or siblings (1+ / 0-)
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          "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

          by liberalconservative on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 04:10:52 PM PST

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          •  Blind Relatives Prove Facial Expr... Are Inherited (3+ / 0-)
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            northsylvania, MichaelNY, FarWestGirl

            "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

            by liberalconservative on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:10:14 AM PST

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          •  Yeah, but... (1+ / 0-)
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            ...much of our behavior is imposed by society.

            If I separate Black male twins who grow to be deep-voiced and 6 feet tall, they will spend their lives getting treated as tall Black men get treated -- with all the cultural baggage that implies. They will show a "genetic propensity" to get frisked by police in certain neighborhoods.

            If the twins are redheaded, green-eyed females, they will get treated differently.

            15 years later, my longitudinal "study" shows that my redheads have a "like" for green sweaters and a "dislike" for occupations that involve being out in the sun all day.

            Did you know that White Males have a genetic predisposition for leadership? After all, a White Male child is much more likely to become a CEO, General, or Political Leader than a Black Female. (/snark)

            Nurture trumps nature. We know it's true, but we don't want to believe it -- because believing it means we have hard work to do. And nobody likes hard work!

            •  It's the degree that concerns us (1+ / 0-)
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              Yes, of course social factors strongly influence behavior. And genetic factors also influence behavior. The issue is, what is the degree to which genetic factors influence behavior. The best guess these days is that 50% of behavior is influenced by genetic factors. However, as I note above, this is a grand generalization that grossly oversimplifies a complicated matter.

              •  Here is where I might be having trouble. (1+ / 0-)
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                It's with the "50%" figure.

                This is an actual number that is being used to describe a qualitative condition, "behavior".

                What does 50% mean? Does it mean that a given behavior is 50% likely to be due to a particular gene? Is it from a regression output?

                If a kid gets sent to the principals office, are we saying that if his genes have been average (for a homo sapien) he would have had a 50% chance of not being sent?

                I am reacting badly to this (otherwise interesting diary) because the precision of a number is being mixed with our imprecise measures of "behavior". Our dependent variable is pretty fuzzy:

                1) That guy over there has "behavioral issues".
                2) You have "personality traits".
                3) But me? I got style, baby!

                And since nobody is looking at DNA strands, we don't even have an independent variable!

                What does the 50% mean?

                •  Remember, it's a generalization (0+ / 0-)

                  The truth is, as I wrote, vastly more complicated. I'll repeat here a link I gave a moment ago elsewhere to an article describing genetic influences on career choices. That provides just one specific example. There are many more; hence my generalization. But each instance is different in some manner.

            •  Nurture trumps nature? (1+ / 0-)
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              MM...Prove it.

              Gene expression is limited by environmental influences....What you are talking about is changing human attributes through Pavlovian conditioning experience. Genetics affects a great deal of our human condition. Misguided interventions can in fact do more harm than good.

              Educational experience based on non-consensual behaviorism is authoritarian mind control.

              by semioticjim on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 03:36:31 PM PST

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              •  Of course Nurture trumps Nature. (1+ / 0-)
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                The US has a high murder rate compared to other rich countries.

                Do you think this is because of our genetics?

                Maybe the geneticists can find instances where tiny, unimportant behaviors are slightly influenced by genetics. But the Big Stuff is all about what your Momma taught you...

                •  Let's not get sloppy here (1+ / 0-)
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                  To say that "nurture trumps nature" is a vague and unscientific expression. Because this subject is important, I think it important that we express ourselves carefully. FarWestGirl made some excellent suggestions regarding this; let's think in terms of "inclination to response" rather than vaguely insinuating terminology.

                •  All behavioural traits (1+ / 0-)
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                  are heritable. As Steve Pinker writes:

                  To study something scientifically, you first have to measure it, and psychologists have developed tests for many mental traits. And contrary to popular opinion, the tests work pretty well: they give a similar measurement of a person every time they are administered, and they statistically predict life outcomes like school and job performance, psychiatric diagnoses and marital stability....

                  The most prominent finding of behavioral genetics has been summarized by the psychologist Eric Turkheimer: “The nature-nurture debate is over. . . . All human behavioral traits are heritable.” By this he meant that a substantial fraction of the variation among individuals within a culture can be linked to variation in their genes. Whether you measure intelligence or personality, religiosity or political orientation, television watching or cigarette smoking, the outcome is the same. Identical twins (who share all their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share half their genes that vary among people). Biological siblings (who share half those genes too) are more similar than adopted siblings (who share no more genes than do strangers). And identical twins separated at birth and raised in different adoptive homes (who share their genes but not their environments) are uncannily similar.

                •  My wife started behaviorial training with... (0+ / 0-)

         son to clean up his room when he was a toddler and he still cannot keep his room clean and he is 19. Big stuff is heritable...your statement falls flat.

                  Educational experience based on non-consensual behaviorism is authoritarian mind control.

                  by semioticjim on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 10:23:38 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

        •  I think Flynn (?) wrote something about this (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cedwyn, cynndara, Erasmussimo, FarWestGirl

          and pointed out that yes, genetics do play a large role in potential, but that identical twins who have been adopted into different families and then studied have not been adopted into radically different cultures. Their upbringings have been more similar than dissimilar. So it's still pretty hard to sort out.

          Okay, I'm going to have to stop commenting because I don't have time to look up my sources and link to good documentation. That above was purely from memory. If I have time tomorrow, I'll try to look it up again.

    •  I call "bulls--t". (1+ / 0-)
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      "To boil down volumes of research into a single grand overstated generalization, about 50% of human behavior is determined by genetic factors. "
      If we take identical twins and raise one in a wealthy suburb and the other in a third-world slum, they will have very different behaviors.

      Look at all the environmental factors that have massive effects on IQ scores:

      - Pre-natal exposure to alcohol
      - Lead paint
      - Single-parent households
      - Number of books in the home
      - Hours of television watched

      Lastly, as I need you to show me the actual genetic markers. You claim to have found "genetic factors" that can account for 50% of behavior -- fine. List the actual genes and the proteins they produce along with double-blind studies documenting the "behavior" (how the F-CK do you measure "behavior"?) of the people with these genes.

      I don't think this has been done.

      •  Call it what you want (2+ / 0-)
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        MichaelNY, FarWestGirl

        But the scientific evidence here is solid. I want to emphasize that I think that the HBDers go too far here, but there's a mountain of evidence supporting this general concept; there's also a mountain of controversy about the details.

        You ask "how do we measure behavior?" Over the decades, psychologists have devised a large number of tests of behavioral patterns, and some of these tests, after considerable refinement, have been accepted by psychologists as reliable proxies for particular behavioral traits. These tests are the instruments by which psychologists measure behavior.

        Your demand that the actual genes be identified would not be indulged by geneticists. After all, Mendel's studies of peas never identified the specific genes at work, but they definitely established the concept of heritability.

        Lastly, I suggest that providing evidence is more effective that "calling bulls--t".

        •  I need to see the genes. (1+ / 0-)
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          Mendel's pea-plants did not teach their offspring how to behave. Humans do.

          I was once teaching a kid from a Russian family. When he did a good job, I gave him a "thumbs up" sign with my hand. He ran to his mother complaining that I had mad an obscene gesture.

          (Apparently where this family was from, the "Fonzie" thumbs- up means something different).

          Now are Russians genetically disposed to hate that gesture? If you count humans like Mendel counted peas, you would think so!

          I know that real studies use controls like separate twins, double blinds, etc. But the social/environmental effects are so powerful that there is no way that they are eliminated.

          I will admit that there must be genetic factors which influence behavior. Our brains are full of chemicals and genes produce chemicals. But 50% is pretty high.

          Here is a thought experiment. You and I are going to each pick teams for a IQ competition.

          You get to pick 1000 sets of parents, but the kids get raised in random US households, and have the commensurate chance of lead exposure, domestic violence, drugs, and Justin Bieber that all American kids have.

          I get 1000 random (lead-free, alcohol-free) babies and have them adopted by wealthy two-parent families where both parents have advanced degrees. The families will be rich enough so that one parent can devote nearly full time to child-care. These kids go to private schools with student-teacher ratios of 14:1 or better.

          Do you really think your kids (on average) will beat my kids on any test? Your only hope of wining this bet is to pick all white kids and hope the Pygmalion Effect tricks their (overworked) public school teachers into giving them extra attention.

          There are so many powerful, well-documented environmental effects that I felt compelled to use a non-scientific term (bulls--t) to describe any theory that attempts to discount 50% of them. It is on a level with saying the climate gets hotter because the sun is hotter. Maybe the sun is hotter, but the big problem is the carbon not the sun.

          In IQ, the Big Problem is environment, not whatever minor, hard-to measure, can't-even-show-me-the-gene effect that the geneticists claim to have found.

          •  I think you misunderstand (1+ / 0-)
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            what the science is saying here. First off, none of the scientists are denying the role of culture in influencing IQ scores. So pointing out that culture affects IQ scores doesn't add anything to the debate.

            The question concerns just how much genetics affects IQ scores. The rigorous question we ask is:

            "What is the numeric value of the heritability of IQ scores?"

            and the empirical evidence produces the answer "about 50%"

            plus, numerous other studies have established some correlation between IQ scores and other cognitive behavioral traits. However, I wouldn't read too much into these findings, because we're looking at a two-link chain of correlation -- not terribly reliable unless both correlation coefficients are close to 1.

            You claim that Mendel's work is not applicable here because we're talking about behavior instead of morphology. But that distinction is not the key point at issue; what's at issue is the heritability of IQ test scores, which is no different from the concept of heritability of pea traits.

            •  IQ scores aren't the same as behavior (0+ / 0-)

              So where do you get the 50% number on genetic heritability of behavior?

              Formerly Pan on Swing State Project

              by MichaelNY on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 11:39:38 AM PST

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              •  It's a generalization (1+ / 0-)
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                As I wrote elsewhere, psychologists have developed a battery of tests that they have standardized as proxies for behavioral traits. They then statistically compare IQ test scores with results from these other tests to establish the correlation.

                I agree that 50% sounds counterintuitively high, and I expect that this number will get scaled down with further research, but it's the best available number so far.

                •  It seems like too neat a number (0+ / 0-)

                  to be really scientific. I mean, couldn't it be 48.560391%? And the fact that it can't be exactly quantified makes it not very hard science, right? Or am I misunderstanding something?

                  Formerly Pan on Swing State Project

                  by MichaelNY on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 12:11:34 PM PST

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                  •  it's an approximation (1+ / 0-)
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                    No empirically determined number has perfect precision. The 50% figure is not meant to mean 50.0000000000%. The general rule in science is that the precision is roughly indicated by the number of significant digits. In this case, then, the statement means that the true value is somewhere between 45% and 55% -- and I suspect that even that range is too narrow.

                    •  Your dialogue is with Pavlovians.... (0+ / 0-)

                      ...ask them about the importance of rewards and punishments for children who don't do their homework.

                      Educational experience based on non-consensual behaviorism is authoritarian mind control.

                      by semioticjim on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 04:09:12 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

      •  Let's generalize to 'inclination of response' and (2+ / 0-)
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        MichaelNY, Erasmussimo

        try working from that instead of 'behaviors'. I think that shorthand may be causing some of the difficulty here.

        Individuals have innate biases towards, say, fight or flight, and will respond to stimuli from that bias. Then experience and training is layered on top of the bias and shapes behavior. That interaction and the accretion of experience modify behaviors over time, but the initial bias remains.

        But- suites of biases will, in aggregate, tend to fall out in fairly consistent patterns, so those starting out with an identical or very similar set of genetic biases will tend to respond in ways more similar than unrelated individuals who do not share as many of the same innate biases.

        So- if you take identical twins and raise them in radically different environments, yes, you are going to have different behaviors, manners, culture, etc, but those twins will still be more likely to have the same affinities and reactions to certain types of stimuli than unrelated individuals in the same radically different environments.

        Let me change tack and give a couple of nonhuman examples. Most puppies of one of the pointer breeds will, from a very young age, 'point' when they get a nose full of bird scent. It's fascinating to watch. They stop, sniff, look puzzled, sniff again and stiffen with a front paw drawing up and holding very still while staring at the source. The pup has never seen or smelled a bird before, but they have that response to the stimulus. And the more strongly they respond, the more likely they are to be selected to breed and pass on that innate response. In cutting horses, foals as young as a couple of months will start to 'lock on' and start following or bossing cattle, dogs, ducks, children, anything that moves in certain ways. You can damn near see the 'target acquisition complete' light go on, lol. I once had a little buckskin yearling (maybe 500 lbs), that used to go to the fence line where the 2200 lb bull in the next pasture would be messing with the fence looking to get into the horse pasture. She knew he didn't belong in her pasture and damned if she was going to put up with him trying. She'd pin her little ears flat back, give him the stink eye and cut that bull up and down the fence line for five, ten minutes, sometimes more.  Until he'd give up, stick his tail in the air and pretend that he hadn't really wanted to get through that fence anyway. None of the other horses paid him any attention at all. But they weren't bred to cut, her sire was a really good cutter and enjoyed his work. She got cow sense from him.

        Wish to hell I'd had a video camera back then, it was very instructive on top of funny as hell to watch.

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 04:49:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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