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Adversity breeds strength -- and perhaps human intelligence

It's a widely held hypothesis that ecological and climatological changes had a crucial driving role in evolution throughout history.  Now Penn State University geoscience professor Katherine Freeman and her graduate student, Clayton Magill, have put forth an intriguing study, which suggests that chaos in the ecosystem of East Africa drove mankind's ancestors to radically evolve 2 million years ago.

I. Life on the Chaotic Savanna

Mr. Magill comments, "The landscape early humans were inhabiting transitioned rapidly back and forth between a closed woodland and an open grassland about five to six times during a period of 200,000 years.  These changes happened very abruptly, with each transition occurring over hundreds to just a few thousand years."

To examine the ecological transition that coincided with this crucial phase of hominid evolution the researchers traveled to the Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, collecting lake sediments.  Filtering the sediments of different ages, they performed biochemical analysis looking for fossilized chemical traces of grasses and trees.

Specifically, they sifted through sediments looking for leaf waxes, hardy biochemicals that tend to resist breakdown and survive, even over millions of years.  By performing gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analyses on the various waxes, the researchers were able to pinpoint both the foliage and composition to within a couple centuries.

Tanzania Gorge
Biochemical analysis of local sediments in a Tanzania gorge have offered key clues as to the evolutionary path of mankind's hominid ancestors. [Image Source: Gail Ashley]

What they discovered was that the "Great Drying", which is widely proven to have occurred in Africa around 3 million years ago, was not as much of a one-way process as was previously thought.  Rather, the sediments showed that the local ecosystem appears to have gone through a chaotic transition period in which the climate would fluctuate between wet and dry, before eventually gravitating fully to drier savanna.

To better understand the source of such strange and chaotic cycling, the researchers used statistical and mathematical models to formulate a hypothesis on the causes.  

Explains Professor Freeman, "The orbit of the Earth around the sun slowly changes with time.  These changes were tied to the local climate at Olduvai Gorge through changes in the monsoon system in Africa. Slight changes in the amount of sunshine changed the intensity of atmospheric circulation and the supply of water. The rain patterns that drive the plant patterns follow this monsoon circulation."

"We found a correlation between changes in the environment and planetary movement.  We find complementary forcing mechanisms: one is the way Earth orbits, and the other is variation in ocean temperatures surrounding Africa."

II. Adversity Breeds Evolved Intelligence

The chaos would obviously cause great stress on hominids living in the region forcing them to adapt to different food sources, different landscape, and different predators.  Mr. Magill and Professor Freeman suggest this was a key driver of the evolution of human intelligence.

Comments Mr. Magill, "Early humans went from having trees available to having only grasses available in just 10 to 100 generations, and their diets would have had to change in response.  Changes in food availability, food type, or the way you get food can trigger evolutionary mechanisms to deal with those changes." 

"The result can be increased brain size and cognition, changes in locomotion and even social changes -- how you interact with others in a group. Our data are consistent with these hypotheses. We show that the environment changed dramatically over a short time, and this variability coincides with an important period in our human evolution when the genus Homo was first established and when there was first evidence of tool use."

human intelligence
The papers suggest chaotic climate changes triggered the rise of human intelligence.
[Image Source: Pace J. Miller]

The research was published as a pair of papers [abstracts] in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Among the other researchers working on the team was Rutgers University earth and planetary sciences professor Gail Ashley.  The research was funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

Sources: PNAS [1], [2]

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more propaganda
By heerohawwah on 12/27/2012 4:31:45 PM , Rating: -1
"... evolutionary mechanisms to deal with those changes"

Could you please, name one of these apparent and highly scientific mechanisms?... or do they only exist in the fantasy world of evolution?
Seriously, even Beavis and Butt-head wouldn't be dumb enough to believe this religious garbage.

RE: more propaganda
By Treckin on 12/27/2012 5:00:06 PM , Rating: 2
What an obvious troll...

I would like to point out that Im really glad to see Mechwarrior Online advets along the websites sidebars; Im using my Transformer Infinity (on which I do not have an adblock), so its possible they have been here for a long time.

Either way, you're a troll, and MWO is pretty awesome - even if its only in dx9 at the moment!

RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/27/2012 6:19:38 PM , Rating: 2
He's not just a troll, he is a complete moron.

RE: more propaganda
By heerohawwah on 12/28/12, Rating: -1
RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/28/2012 4:02:11 PM , Rating: 1
Maybe you should grow some brain cells and get a fucking clue?

RE: more propaganda
By Piiman on 12/31/2012 4:17:46 PM , Rating: 2
Why do you think all Atheist would be like Stalin? we don't need a make believe God to have morals, at least I don't.

And in case you never noticed your God and the hundreds of other Gods have been the reason for many murders and wars through out history. Your fantasy God is one nice dude isn't he?

So I see your big on Stalin should i list up the leaders that killed in the name of God for you?

RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/27/2012 7:07:51 PM , Rating: 2
Don't start up again. You have already been outed as a complete waste of skin in the last evolution article. The debate is over, evolution happened... If you cant accept facts and move on them just STFU and keep your elementary view of life to yourself.

RE: more propaganda
By heerohawwah on 12/28/12, Rating: 0
RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/28/2012 3:54:13 PM , Rating: 2
"retrospooty, I seem to remember you making a rather racist comment last time too; a very short sighted science about black people evolving from white people...a mutation as you claimed."

Racist? Are you smoking crack? I didn't say Black people evolved from white people. I said we are all the same people. White people's skin is light because as they left
Africa and migrated into Europe and their skin lightened. The UV rays of the sun kill vitamin D and melonin regulates it. That isnt racism, that is the opposite. It is showing that we are all of the same species and our differences are weather related, and nothing else. It also isn't a mental problem its proven science.

"The fact that no one has given me a single answer proves that well enough. "

Just becasue you arent cant grasp it, doesnt mean it hasnt been given to you. As I said before it's been proven many times over . Its not even a debate anymore. Its been proven in the 100's of thousands of fossils found all over the earth, documenting every step of the way from a chimp like ape to modern human EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. Its been proven in our DNA, its been proven via geological evidence as well as archaeological evidence. It has also been witnessed as strains of germs develop resistances antibiotics. It is also proven in human skin color. There is no debate that evolution happened. We may not know how it started, and/or who started it or possibly created the laws of the universe that enabled it but we know it happened.

If you want to have a religious debate, it can be said that a god or whatever created the universe and the laws of physics that allowed evolution to happen. You could even debate that a god created evolution with humans in mind as the end result, but you CANNOT say that evolution didn't happen... It is absolutely 100% proven. IF you think it isnt you need to go back to school, because your bible college has lied to you and given you false talking points to try and discredit proven science.

RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/28/2012 4:13:33 PM , Rating: 2
I actually watched a program recently that was talking about aliens as who may have created us due to the portrayal of ancient civilization giving clues to un-earthly beings coming down from the sky.

It was a very interesting show.

RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/28/2012 4:34:49 PM , Rating: 2
Ancient Aliens? Alot of interesting stuff on that show. Some of its a bit crazy, but alot of it really makes you think.

RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/28/2012 4:45:54 PM , Rating: 2
It sure does, and kind of makes some sense. The "aliens" or "god" has "programmed" us.

And they think they still do, buy "uploading" new "data" to us to constantly tweak us.

RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/28/2012 4:53:36 PM , Rating: 2
Tsoukalos hair really makes you think LOL

RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/28/2012 5:01:05 PM , Rating: 1
No shit! That is one crazy lookin dude! :D

RE: more propaganda
By TakinYourPoints on 12/30/2012 5:57:22 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, makes you think "wow, this is really stupid". ;)

The only ancient aliens that we are probably evolved from are microbes that hitchhiked on a comet that impacted the Earth and seeded life here. Problem is that the theory that life came from homegrown activity on Earth is probably just as (or more) likely, but we don't know for certain, so whatever. We evolved from those humble beginnings in either case.

Intelligent design by a deity or aliens though, both the same nonsense IMHO.

RE: more propaganda
By Piiman on 12/31/2012 4:35:35 PM , Rating: 2
"Some of its a bit crazy"

Yeah like that one guys hair! LOL
I also love how no matter what the subject they always say "Ancient Alien Theorist believe." LOl Just who are these Ancient Alien Theorist and could they be Ancient Alien themself? Something to think about:-)

Hey for all the God people maybe God is just an Alien or the planet earth is just an Alien Zoo and God is the zoo keeper.

RE: more propaganda
By drycrust3 on 12/29/2012 4:42:12 AM , Rating: 1
but you CANNOT say that evolution didn't happen... It is absolutely 100% proven.

No, The theory of Evolution is still an unproven theory. It isn't even close to being a credible theory, and every day it gets further and further from the truth. Notice that? It's taking you in the wrong direction! A good theory, which the theory of Evolution isn't a good example of, can be used to make predictions.

RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/29/2012 7:40:53 AM , Rating: 2
You are wrong. Like i said, we don't know all the details on how it happened, what started it, or why, but we do know that it happened. There are mountains of evidence proving it did happen. We came from Apes that came from earlier primates that came from reptiles that came from the sea etc etc.

RE: more propaganda
By TakinYourPoints on 12/30/2012 6:00:23 AM , Rating: 2
Natural selection has been proven for well over a century. It has absolutely been proven and only gains strength as time goes on.

Holy crap, I didn't know the types of idiotic discussions I've had on DT could range so far and wide. People really still deny this?

RE: more propaganda
By retrospooty on 12/30/2012 10:30:18 AM , Rating: 2
I know. It amazes me that some people are still debating this. They may as well be arguing that the world is flat and that the sun travels across its sky every day. Scary... Just scary.

RE: more propaganda
By finetsky on 12/28/2012 4:21:23 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, why those crazy scientists even bothered with the serious research based on evidence when you already know it all by hard. Your book tells you all you need to know, right? Your answers are simple. God did it. Just like Santa brings you gifts, ain't it? BTW going to scientific pages and trying to persuade people about creationism is like 1year old kid trying to teach adult how to speak. You just make yourself fool.

RE: more propaganda
By heerohawwah on 12/28/2012 3:02:56 PM , Rating: 1
Regarding Santa: An Engineers Perspective
I. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau) At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per house hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

II. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house.
Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second --- 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

III. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them--- Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

IV. 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance --- this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake.

The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accellerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now. "

If you think the math behind Santa is funny, you might want to look at the math behind evolution. It is literally a million orders of magnitude worse...quit being a religous racist.

RE: more propaganda
By Mitch101 on 12/28/2012 3:12:26 PM , Rating: 2
Lets not forget Santa is FAT and fat people aren't exactly known for their athletic speed and agility.

RE: more propaganda
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/28/2012 4:19:27 PM , Rating: 2
quit being a religous racist
Quit being a close minded moron.

RE: more propaganda
By Piiman on 12/31/2012 4:44:57 PM , Rating: 2
Santa is no more real than God. At leat no one has started a War because Santa told them to kill everyone that didn't believe in him. Stop being a Santa racist!

RE: more propaganda
By guffwd13 on 12/28/2012 10:52:22 AM , Rating: 1
Seriously, even Beavis and Butt-head wouldn't be dumb enough to believe this religious garbage.

So what you're saying is that God sent you to remind us not to ever believe that he exists? What a beautiful paradox :-)

Because surely no one is dumb enough to believe that even if he did, he didn't build evolution into the whole plan. Oh, wait...

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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