The Emu Paradox

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by ULTRA, Oct 16, 2011.

  1. ULTRA Realistically Surreal Registered Senior Member

    Traditionally it has been said that when presented with danger an Emu will bury its' head in the sand. Whether this is entirely true I have no idea, but it is useful to illustrate a point.
    The question is this, why has natural selection not eliminated such stupidity?
    It follows that an Emu, here representing a stupid animal, would quickly be predated and would have less chance of passing on its genes to successive generations.
    It would seem that over generations, stupidity would be deselected as a trait, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Paradoxically, with all our modern aides, people with increasingly lower mental capabilities will be able to overcome hurdles that would previously have held them back. In effect, the evolutionary door to stupidity in humans is wider open now than its ever been. Is this such a good thing I wonder? And is it something we should be concerned about? Why has evolution not pressurised us into maximum mental proficiency as one might expect as with any other trait?
    This leads to the suggestion that perhaps natural selection does not necessarily favour intelligence over other traits. It would seem that nature allows for a certain level of stupidity without being overly punative. Why should this be? In theory, we should all be highly intelligent, highly efficient beings, but very often this is simply not the case.
    Given our mental capacity and the thousands of generations of intelligent human life, one could almost expect us to have become variations of Mr. Spock by now, evidently this is not the case, but perhaps it should be. Has nature an upper level of intelligence beyond which there is no rationale to persue it further. Does nature need dumb creatures simply to feed the smart ones? Could an antelope be doomed to be lionfood from birth? How does this translate to human beings? Do idiots have a role to play?
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  3. origin In a democracy you deserve the leaders you elect. Valued Senior Member

    You only have to be smart enough to run away from danger and feed yourself.
    Any animal that actually buried it's head in the sand would die off. Try to catch an emu some time - they are fast and dangerous.

    Why? I would imagine that people with emotions would reproduce more.

    We may have exceeded it, time will tell.

    This is all coming from a misguided belief that smart is better becasue we are smart. Some of the most successful creatures around are sharks. We have been around a few hundred thousand years we will have a pretty good idea if smart is better in a couple hundred million years.
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  5. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Firstly, the saying goes (at least in the UK) that it is the ostrich that buries its head in the sand, not the emu.
    And secondly, it is not true, they (neither ostriches nor emus) don't. They never have. They lower their heads to the sand to eat food, sure, but not to somehow avoid danger.

    As for what might be deemed "stupid" behavioural traits, evolution does generally remove them if they are clearly so harmful to survival.

    Such traits generally arise due to being a dominant species within their environment and unable to adapt to the arrival of new dominant predators.

    Animals (and I include humans in this) are fit for purpose within their environment if they are to survive. Intelligence is just one aspect, and for a dominant species (such as humans) it becomes less important, especially as we have developed into societies and look after the weaker members.

    Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing?
    Who knows... as these descriptors are rather subjective.
    Time will tell. If we survive then it is not so much of an issue. If we don't, then some other creature might deem us "stupid" for one thing or another.
    For now we are more or less the dominant species, and "stupidity" can be tolerated.
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  7. Anti-Flag Pun intended Registered Senior Member

    Because it doesn't bury its head in the sand. It's a myth.
    It's not just the intelligent that survive but the strong, or the disease resistant, or anyone with a beneficial trait that gives it an evolutionary advantage. For example we are getting to the point where disease resistance is less advantages with the advances of modern medicine, although a pandemic may have a large say on that matter.
    We have evolved as a society and civilization to the point where many traits are redundant as far as the evolutionary process goes.
    Nature doesn't "allow" anything, it just hasn't yet found a way of getting rid of a top predator quicker than they can breed: See future likelihood of disease and famine for more info.
    For one thing, evolution takes longer than a few generations to turn us from hunter gatherers to "Mr Spock" levels of logic. We're the babies of the planet.
    For another, you're presuming an end goal. They don't need to have the logical levels of Spock, they just need to avoid getting hit by traffic long enough to breed. In other words they might be stupid compared to Einstein, but they're smart enough to pass on their genes and that's good enough for nature.
  8. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    Hmm...I wonder if, absent selection pressure, modern society reproductively favors those with poor impulse control?
    We mostly all have raging hormones, but those with poor impulse control are more likely to be accidental parents?

    (See, this is where all this obsession with passive safety features gets us...Still, hard to defeat stupidity in action...)

    Opossums are fairly slow, and really not bright...but they can have up to 14 babies per mother per year (I think) and eat practially anything, including rotted carcasses.
  9. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    So OP started out with an incorrect assumption (emu burries its head when in danger) and nicely built a sand castle of argument on that? Nice....

    How come people like the OP don't die off by social Darwinism???
  10. Pineal Banned Banned

    Because species with many slightly to significantly different members, many of whom make mistakes, feed the general knowledge of the species as a whole.
    Mistakes, when they can be learned from, individually or generally, can be very positive.
  11. billvon Valued Senior Member

    In a society that protects its stupidest (i.e. product liability lawsuits, welfare, free healthcare etc) stupidity is not selected against. Indeed, it is selected FOR; people too stupid to know how to use birth control reproduce more frequently.

    Intelligence is not necessarily a trait that confers more offspring. Indeed, it often confers less.

    Ever heard of Newton? Maxwell? Einstein? Hawking?

    Apparently, in our society, we need smart creatures to feed the dumb ones.
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Ostriches and emus sometimes lower their heads down close to the ground when they sense danger.
    This is because sound travels faster near the ground, and by placing their ears closer to the ground, they can hear better which direction the threatening sound is coming from, and then run in the opposite.

    We humans do this too, or at least used to, at some earlier point in history. Scouts, hunters, soldiers still make use of this technique, for example.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2011
  13. Emil Valued Senior Member

    It happens sometimes.

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  14. Anti-Flag Pun intended Registered Senior Member

    They breed almost as fast as Chavs. But the Opossums are far smarter.

    Well it's a sciforums thread, what else was going to happen? :shrug:
    Because we allow them to survive? Some people are just too damn sensitive.
  15. herbbread Registered Member

    While stupidity might decrease the likelihood of survival, it may be correlated with other traits (perhaps physical appearance) that increase the number of progeny produced. Therefore, this negative selective pressure maybe be completely compensated by any correlated positive selection. Also, with the burying the head in the sand example, I'm not sure this is "stupidity" versus a simple behavioral trait. Stupidity would imply to me, a lack of mental faculty in all aspects of cognition, versus one particular behavior which might be non-conductive to survival. Finally, survival and reproductive fitness, while often opposing forces, are sometimes not mutually exclusive. For example, Huntington's disease is not selected against even though it decreases survival since symptoms don't show up until after the individual has already produced offspring.
  16. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps one is placing the wrong definition or emphasis on 'intelligence'.

    The path of least resistance is the route sought by energy, and in humans and other species, many have been successful in doing just that.

    Consider how we labor for our pets, creatures that depend upon us for their provision and care. Yet, given the appropriate habitat, many of these species could fend for themselves. That they have accepted a 'domesticated' status is a trade-off which conserves energy and provides competitive advantage by means of protection of a more dominant species (humans).

    As a species, we have developed an awareness of ethics and compassion, which we extend to other species beyond our own.

    The life force has but one objective, that being continuation.

    It will strive to that objective by the most direct and energy efficient route as provided by opportunity, in my limited observations.:bugeye:
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Most of the organisms on this planet don't have brains: plants, fungi, bacteria, algae and archaea. Even within the animal kingdom, only the higher phyla have a central nervous system for a brain to be part of.

    The biosphere got along quite well for several billion years, comprised only of creatures who had no organs in which intelligence could have existed. Apparently it's not as vital as we think.
  18. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Indeed. There must be a reason why the rather popular myth of the ostrich (or emu) burying its head in the sand when in danger, persists.
  19. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    Sure, had the OP been shot. Then other similarly thinking people would have learnt a lesson...
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    No, they would not: for they wouldn't even see him getting shot, having buried their heads in the sand.
  21. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member

    And you, of course, will voluntarily give yourself up to the same fate, if and when it is provably demonstrated that you are in error?

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