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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature - by Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley joined us for a discussion of his Red Queen. Enjoy the transcript and feel free to visit the discussion forum where you can make comments or ask questions.



November 28, 2003


Transcript of live chat session

TRANSCRIPT 6...

Matt_Ridley: Hi

Chris: Hello Dr. Ridley!

Matt_Ridley: Hello everybody

Peterdf: Hi Micheal

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: hi guys

Chris: What do you prefer being called? Matt? Mr. Ridley? Professor Ridley? Bob?

nostradafemme: hi Michael

Matt_Ridley: Matt

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: hi Matt

Chris: Ok, excellent . Thats relatively simple.

Matt_Ridley: Hi

tarav: I am Tara

Peterdf: We enjoyed your book

Chris: I am going to exit and come back under a different name. So that I can boot if needed.

tarav: some of us have crazy monikers

Chris: Hello Jeremy

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: hi jer

Peterdf: Hi Jeremy

Matt_Ridley: Thanks! Which book did Peter refer to?

jeremy1952: H i Chris; Dr. Ridley, howdy

Matt_Ridley: Hi

Peterdf: The Red Queen - it was discussed on the forum

Chris: Matt - we have all just finished "The Red Queen"

jeremy1952: I just took another look over Red Queen at lunch; since I've only read it 2-1/2 times!

Chris: although several of us have read Genome and others

Matt_Ridley: Ok -- thanks, I forgot temporarily which one you had been discussing.

nostradafemme: Genome was super.

Chris: Ahh

jeremy1952: I've had a feeling that there was sometning fundamentally different about "Red Queen" , compared to other books of this genre. And I think I hit on what it is

Chris: We have read Stpehen Pinkers "Blank Slate" and thought your book would be a nice followup

Matt_Ridley: I've also written Nature via Nurture since, which has been a lot of fun to do. It's not out in paperback till next June

Matt_Ridley: Go ahead Jeremy

nostradafemme: Matt, will you be able to answer a few questions about Nature via Nature.

jeremy1952: Genome, and N v N, and others, have lots of facts and answers; Red Queen almost seems designed to get teh reader to think about

jeremy1952: this way of looking at nature, and man

Peterdf: Hi alana

alana: Hi!

jeremy1952: Its more, oh, socratic one might almost say

alana: How are you all doing?

nostradafemme: jeremy....are you also Matt Ridley?

jeremy1952: Lol, not hardly!

nostradafemme: who just said that?

Chris: Hello Alana

Matt_Ridley: You are right that in Red Queen I indulge very much in the idea of a mystery, writing about an unsolved problem -- both the origin of sex and the origin of human mating habits. I've since made that a big theme of my writing that science writing should be about what we don't know as much or more as it is about what we do know.

alana: Hi Chris

Peterdf: I thought your treatment of the reason for sex was very effective

Chris: Welcome

Matt_Ridley: Ah, but was it right?!

Peterdf: You are still not sure?

Matt_Ridley: There is a guy called Mark Ridley who recently wrote a book championing the mutation theory of sex rather than the parasite theory. Many people think he is me, and we were friends at college but we are different people. His argument seems to be more popular than mine these days.

Peterdf: Is this the same as the vicar of Bray?

Chris_O_Connor: I've heard the name I believe

jeremy1952: I think there is too much

jeremy1952: "either or" in this entire field.

alana: Its kind of funny that a man that has almost the same name as you is championing a theory of sex, Mr. Ridley.

jeremy1952: Therea are some ideas that are dead wrong; but many ideas... sexual selection and red queen, for example... are complementary

Matt_Ridley: I guess also I am disappointed that a really convincing new experiment linking sex to parasites has not appeared. But I still think it is a major motor of sexual evolution, the need to change the locks against disease. No, I think it's not the Vicar of Bray theory; it's the theory championed by Kondrashov -- that sex is necessary to repair randome mutations

Peterdf: Yes - he is quite well known - nearly as well known as Mattt Ridley

Chris_O_Connor: Welcome Michael

Matt_Ridley: Yes, sexual selection I have no doubt is a 'right' theory, though I guess one could argue how much it is responsible for human traits

Chris_O_Connor: to what degree

jeremy1952: I just read a book by Schwartz, "sudden origins,", very dissapointing; I bring it up because I've realized that dispute with darwinian selection is alive and well, to.

Chris_O_Connor: We will probably read another fo your books in the future. Anything new on the horizon?

Chris_O_Connor: Hello Monty

tarav: Matt, in your book you seem to explore the idea more than answer it--do you think that display must be honest?

Peterdf: Jeremy might have a point - it would be surprising if there were jsut one solution

Matt_Ridley: Darwin thought human races were sexually selected. I'd probably disagree. But I think many features of human bodies and minds may be sexually selected

Monty_Vonn: Hello! So what did I miss?

Chris_O_Connor: Monty - people have been arriving late...not much yet

Matt_Ridley: To chris: nothing new on the horizon at present!

Matt_Ridley: Must display be hoinest

Peterdf: Hi Monty

Monty_Vonn: Hello Peter.

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - what do you mean by that?

Chris_O_Connor: "must display be honest?"

alana: Hypatiasm...cool name.

Monty_Vonn: Females are selected for making good mate choices.

hypatiasm: Thank you.

tarav: yes, you discussed that in the chapter, The Peacock's Tale

Matt_Ridley: Must display be honest? I think this is a great question, and Geoffrey Miller has some fascinating ideas about this. It's very analogous to the question must advertising be honest? Mostly yes.

jeremy1952: Display will move toward honest over time.

Chris_O_Connor: ahh

Monty_Vonn: Females are selected for detecting honest advertising.

tarav: thank you, I found that chapter very interesting

tarav: especially the whole narrow waist/large breast discussion

Monty_Vonn: Females who select dishonest advertising usually have fewer offspring.

Peterdf: I agree that is a great question - it is a very interesting area

Chris_O_Connor: I read the interview on PBS about Genome and am intrigued by genetic engineering. I wonder how far it will go...will be one day control things enough where sexual selection isn't much of a factor anymore?

tarav: i had never thought of it in that way

Matt_Ridley: Sexual selection is one of those ideas that gets more and more intriguing the more we explore it. There's some new suggestions, for instance that the reason birds display to their mates, while mammals fight over their mates is to do with their sex chromosomes. Birds have femaleXY, mammals have male XY

tarav: Monty, this part was about males selecting females

alana: I would think if we artificially selected human traits that sexual selection would be still a factor...because we would be choosing traits that we find attractive for our offspring.

Monty_Vonn: OK. Sorry.

Matt_Ridley: Sorry I keep answerign the question before last!

tarav: Matt, don't worry about that

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - thats ok. We can all look up and reference the appropriate question

tarav: we are patient

Monty_Vonn: Males selecting females is rare in mammals, with humans being the only candidate.

Peterdf: you don't think that it is connected with the problem birds have with the extended period looking after their young

Monty_Vonn: I am intrigued with the fact that female birds are the weaker species genetically, the reverse of mammals.

jeremy1952: Interesting sidebar on the XY thing; physiologically, the x only triggers a cascade. The actual details of maleness are on... I think i'ts chromosome 9 ; anyway, its the same one birds use. So we aren't

jeremy1952: really as different as it first appears

jeremy1952: Weaker? In what sense is a female bird weaker?

Monty_Vonn: Peter, I think you are right. It has something to do with shared parenting.

Matt_Ridley: People sometimes say they are chocked by the idea of choosing the genes of your kids. But we've been doing that, half consciously, by picking healthy, good looking or successful mates for years. Sexual selection is ancient eugenics. But it's intriguing that when you give people the chance to pick their babies for desired traits consciously (as IVF already does) -- few people seem to want it. Nobel prize winners' sperm banks have been a failure!

jeremy1952: I wonder if it's a preservation instinct of some kind kicking in

jeremy1952: One of those currently innappropriate mechanisms that you talk about, like the substrate of racism

jeremy1952: which made sense when protecting yourself from "other" was of paramont importance

Monty_Vonn: Matt, I believe that is because we were not selected to choose mates in that fashion.

Chris_O_Conno: Matt - excellent answer! I guess it comes down to the reality that anything humans do is really a part of natural selection. We're an element of nature...and our conscious decisions should not be considered artificial. If that makes sense.

Peterdf: I read an article you wrote with Bobbi S Low that deals with selfishness - which makes a similar point I agree with that view

Chris_O_Connor: But I bet we could royally screw up things eventually...or maybe not.

Matt_Ridley: I'd have agreed with Peter till recently. But I'm contemplating the XY idea. It argues that a bunch of aggressively sex-determinign genes get moved to the Y chromosome (the new seauence of the hjuman Y is really interesting by the way) and set out to make that sex the chooser.

Monty_Vonn: We instinctively and emotionally select mates. I don't believe we intellectually select mates. That's why Nobel Laurate sperm banks fail

Chris_O_Connor: Monty - not enough people value intellect it seems

Chris_O_Connor: wb Nostradafemme

jeremy1952: I don't think we'll really understand it at the "genetic" level until we understand the mecahnisms of epigeneitc information better. So much of the battle takes place at the level of imprinting,

Matt_Ridley: Yes, Chris, I do think the separation between natuiral and artificial is vaguer than we admit. Technology is a natural evolution of the way we are. That does not make it either good or bad

Monty_Vonn: I also believe that is why environmentalism will also fail. We intellectually know we are destroying the world, but keep emotionally choosing SUV's and mansions because it attracts better quality mates.

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: maybe most people with genius genes fail?

jeremy1952: and imprinting is acomplished by methylation

Chris_O_Connor: Dom! Welcome

dom: Hi

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: people won't value the environment until they need it

Peterdf: I think that if we are to understand the role of genes in our daily life and our choices we need to look at emotional and subjective responses

Matt_Ridley: I agree with Monty that we value not absolute comforts but relative ones. The guy with the fastest car gets the girl, not the guy with the adequately fast car.

hypatiasm: My brother has a genius IQ and he is not very successful at all.

Monty_Vonn: Thank you Matt.

alana: It seems as though people keep getting booted.

Monty_Vonn: By the way, I really enjoyed your booka nd had it read in 5 days!

alana: In my opinion IQ is only a small portion of what makes someone successful.

Matt_Ridley: Do you think really brainy people have sort of gone too far in that direction, combining excellent brains and getting over-excellent brains. There is a theory like this to explain schizophrenia

Monty_Vonn: You really hit it on the nail why sex was important, by trying to keep ahead of parasites!

Chris_O_Connor: Humans always try to attribute the tags of "good" and "bad" to everything, yet these terms are relative and only a reflection of what a particular societal group deems to be good or bad.

Peterdf: Hi dom

tarav: autistics often have genius IQ's also

alana: yes

Matt_Ridley: Yes to tarav

dom: Lo again, not sure what happened Nice to see a UK time chat

Monty_Vonn: I agree Chriss.

Chris_O_Connor: Dom - Dawkins was UK time

Matt_Ridley: It's 8pm here in the UK

tarav: is there research into that idea, Matt?

Chris_O_Connor: Dom lol

tarav: overexcellent brains?

jeremy1952: The book that Dawkins referred to, on that topic, is "The Redundant Male"

Matt_Ridley: Not that I know of, beyond a few speculations. How would you test the idea?

Chris_O_Connor: Alana - by the way...I totally agree

jeremy1952: the parasite idea, not the too good brain idea

Matt_Ridley: Sorry!

Monty_Vonn: Matt, are you currently writing a book? And if not, what was the title of your last publication?

Chris_O_Connor: Alana - studies show that "A" students typically work for the "B" and "C" students. I'm not sure on how to process this information.

Matt_Ridley: Yes there is research into the parasite idea. the best work is Curtis Lively's and I find it very convincing. But it's slow work and hard toi get funded

jeremy1952: Maybe, Chris, it relates back to our sensitivity to "different". Average people just don't trust really smart people.

alana: It takes more to be successful that just making the grade.

tarav: Matt, test the overexcellent brain idea?

Matt_Ridley: Redundant Male has been reissued under a different title I think. By Cherfas and Gribbin

Peterdf: I feel uncomfortable about over excelent brains being selected - might these people not be described as nerds - I wonder whether they woudl be more reproductively succesful than average

Matt_Ridley: Testing the overexcellent brain idea is what I was originally referring to. How would you?

jeremy1952: The cover of my edition is a picture of Michaelangelo's "Adonis".... I got some looks at work walking around with that book I can tellyou

dom: alana, it depends on your definition of success. Stephen Hawking isn't a millionaire, but still...

alana: Yeah..I know what you mean.

Monty_Vonn: Matt, what are your thought on the selection process of those who practice birth control versus those who refuse to.

tarav: Matt, I'm not sure! I was hoping you'd have some ideas!

Matt_Ridley: To Peterdf: yes, that's what we are saying -- that nat selection chooses good brains but sometime the children of 2 people with good brains end up with 'too-good' brains

Peterdf: The idea that people who might be slightly more intelligent might be more successful - if intelligence correlates to "charm" is a much better argument

Matt_Ridley: Yes

tarav: like the silicone valley problem with austism

Chris_O_Connor: Yes, it really comes down to how we define "success." Some think of success as ones ability to make lots of money. Others think of it as how pleasant of a home life one has...while others think of it as how well knwon they can become.

Matt_Ridley: Has silicon valley an autism hot spot? That's really interesting

jeremy1952: The idea doesn't ring true to me. The capabilities of brains have been built up, one on the other. It seems to me that "too much" at the "highest", most cerebral, level,

nostradafemme: Tarev, what is the Silicon Valley prob. with autism?

tarav: yes, i read an article when i taught an autistic child

dom: I think a lot of intelligence is actually based in the nurture rather than nature aspects of development. I knew a guy at Uni who was 15, doing the same course as me (19). Very smart, & deeply unhappy.

Peterdf: tara that is interesting - i didn't know about that!

tarav: they call it the geek syndrome

jeremy1952: would not cause the wide scale malfunction of organinc mental illness

tarav: geeky autistics

Monty_Vonn: Will nature select out those more intelligent people who practice birth control by being swamped, displaced by those who fall prey to cultures and religion that encourage large families over time?

Chris_O_Connor: Monty - I hope so.

alana: I think that "geek syndrome" may just be a pop label that the media slapped on that phenomenon.

tarav: i wish i knew where i read it-- maybe Time?

nostradafemme: geeky is what computer nerds are expected to emulate.

jeremy1952: Monty is our resident Francis Galton

tarav: the child I had really resembled the profile

Monty_Vonn: Francis Galton?

jeremy1952: Said with all due respect... Galton was a brilliant man

jeremy1952: Darwin's cousin, father of eugenics

jeremy1952: Did I get the name wrong?

Monty_Vonn: Cool!

Matt_Ridley: There is certainly more schizophrenia in intelligent families. That's why Maudsley told Galton eugenics would not work

Peterdf: No thats right Jeremy

Matt_Ridley: Weed out the mad men and you weed out the genii

Chris: Matt - it sure seems that way.

jeremy1952: He's remembered almost as a villain, but you know, his ideas were reasonable, given what was known; and Galton was one of the firsst to bring mathematical rigor to evolution

Matt_Ridley: Lots of nobel prize winners have schizoid relations

jeremy1952: Hey y'all, I'm at work and have to work for a few minutes,

Monty_Vonn: Eugenics wasn't my concern as much as Birth Control is the new selection tool that's been here since 1920.

Truth2Know: Perhaps my family is at a higher rate of intelligence because I have schizophrenia

Chris: I have always wondered about why that is true. Do super intelligent people simply ponder the big questions so much they go insane?

jeremy1952: hopefully brb

Monty_Vonn: By the way, I had only two and am permantly fixed.

dom: Chris - have you seen Pi?

dom: the film - not the number

Monty_Vonn: I am deeply concerned about human overpopulaton.

Chris: Truth - I have seen it firthand in intelligent families

Chris: Dom - Nope

dom: Thats about a mathematician who goes mad from thinking about numbers too much

tarav: someone should really research this topic--HINT, HINT!

Truth2Know: well I obtained its door opening by practiced spiritual pursuits which later gravitated to consistantly hearing voices

dom: I think its more to do with spending your youth learning maths instead of social skills - makes it very hard to relate or be related to

alana: LOL at a mathematician who goes mad thinking about number too much. I know some people like that

Truth2Know: meditations and so forth

dom: We need mental grounding from interaction with other people (sanity is just what is agreed by the majority), so 'intellectuals' can easily appear distant/aloof/mad

Monty_Vonn: Matt Ridley, what is your take of the next century with 9 to 11 billion people and degrading environment and energy shortage? What will humans and societly look like after we pass through the bottleneck?

Chris: There does indeed seem to be an area of the brain that causes people to hear voices, believe in gods and demons, and generally experience "mystical" things

Matt_Ridley: I like Simon Baron-Cohen's idea that there is a spectrum from empathisers to systemisers and that many males are more towards systemising, but that autistics are right out that the end

dom: Systemisers?

Monty_Vonn: I hear voices. I've learned to ignor them. They eventually weaken and go away.

Truth2Know: from what I have read its most likely from the hippocampus in the thalamic region of the brain that forms the voices

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: I hear my own voice, it's annoying

tarav: the child i worked with was not working at learning anything--it came naturally, yet he had major social issues

alana: Truth, do you work in neuroscience?

tarav: it must be more nature

Matt_Ridley: I'm an environmental optimist. We have this fantastic piece of good fortune that population is levelling out, probably below 10 billion by mid century. Feeding the population from ever more concentrated farms on smaller and smaller acreages now looks realistically possible and that leaves more and more of the earth's surface for wilderness etc.

Truth2Know: no but I have studied my disorder of schizophrenia

alana: Ok.

Monty_Vonn: But, Matt, unfortunatlely the reason we are assessing smaller numbers is because the aids epidemic in Africa. Otherwise the figure of 15 billion would have been reached instead.

dom: Matt - Doesn't that mean more-intensive farming? Call me alarmist but pushing nature rarely works out for the better.

Matt_Ridley: I guess systemisers are people who like systems, machines,etc

Peterdf: Matt - what is your view of the debate between people like Christopher Wills who argue that human evolution is still happeneing and others like Steve Jones who say that it is effectively not happening

Monty_Vonn: I'm a systemiser.

Chris: I think one of the keys to our species survival is the teraforming and colonization of other worlds...such as Mars or the moons of other planets.

Matt_Ridley: If we farmed as we did 50 years ago, we would need twice as much acreage to feed the world population of today. Say goodbye to the rainforest.

tarav: i think they are naturally systemisers, which effects their socializing

Monty_Vonn: Peter, I believe that evolution with humans is not really happening.

nostradafemme: Mars should be our next frontier.

Chris: Matt - have there been that many changes in the past 50 years to farming?

alana: I know people that think that human evolution has stopped due to technology making our lives better.

Chris: crop rotation?

Monty_Vonn: I believe genetic diversity is rapidly accumilating, waiting for the future bottleneck and wean the genetic diversity down.

dom: Peter - I think we as a species can call on the unique ability to evolve society-scale intelligences, and so can evolve memetically whether or not our genes are changing as fast.

Chris: I think they still do slash & burn in some areas of the world - and these are areas that just can't afford it

Matt_Ridley: I reackong natural selection still happens in humans (eg, people who are incompetent with contarceptives are having more babies -- dawkins joke) but its 'direction' keeps changing so there are few consistent trends

Peterdf: dom - I meant Darwinian evolution as opposed to cultural evolution

Matt_Ridley: The last 50 years have seen incredible changes in farming -- mainly new high-yielding varieties plus a vast increase in the use of fertiliser. See Vaclav Sim's book

jeremy1952: Back

dom: I would argue that cultural evolution is as important if not more to an intelligent lifeform

Monty_Vonn: True, the birth control selection pressure hasn't been happening for very long.

tarav: Matt, I'm glad that you put humans in with all life as still evolving

dom: Intensive farming = things like BSE...

Monty_Vonn: But over time voluntary birth control may fail.

Chris: Dom - I think you might be right

tarav: it scares me to put humans separate from other animals

alana: I think there will always be people that choose not to use birth control.

Monty_Vonn: If one understands the concept of "Tragedy of the Commons", volunteers loose out.

Chris: Tara -agreed

Matt_Ridley: BSE -- yes, big mistake. But organic farming has its dangers, too -- the biggest of which is land hunger as I mentioned.

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: man is the only animal that denies it's an animal

Monty_Vonn: And at some point, birth control would need to be legislated like hunting is.

nostradafemme: back.

Peterdf: Matt - I agree up to a point it is incredibly difficult to define consistent selective change - I've called this problem - the wilderness of mirrors - but I still think that there are some changes we can identify

tarav: Chris- I'm glad!

alana: Monty, what makes you say that?

Monty_Vonn: Because those who have the genetic -environmental predisposition to use birh control will be displaced by those who do not.

Chris: Michael - we are the only animal with the intellect to do so. But it is a big mistake when we do I believe.

alana: Hmmm. I just thought the decision whether or not to use birth control was more ideological and environmental.

Matt_Ridley: To Peterdf: can you give an example?

hypatiasm: Unfortunately, the more intelligent tend to have fewer children.

Peterdf: Dom and Chris - I agree cultural evolution is far more important in our day - to - day lives - but i think it is important for our view of ourselves

Matt_Ridley: Brain size has been shrinking for 15,000 years according to Richard Wrangham!

Monty_Vonn: If 1% of the population could never be convinced to use birth control and it is genetically wired, and they have on average 6 kids, how many generations would it take for this group to displace the rest of the population?

alana: I disagree, I think there are lots of intelligent people with large families. But if there are statstics that prove me wrong I can always change my mind.

Monty_Vonn: alana, initially, it is.

Monty_Vonn: But over time it becomes less so.

Chris: Matt - is he correct?

Peterdf: Matt I think that in group/out group behaviour might have been selected against due to losses in war - I think that trends might be spotted during historical time

Monty_Vonn: And it is often the intelligent people who choose to have few or no kids. What do you think that does to our genetic pool?

Matt_Ridley: Chris -- is who correct?

Chris: Matt - Richard Wrangham - about our brain size shrinking

jeremy1952: It does next to nothing, Monty. Because intelligence, and human capability, are not simple mendelian traits like bean color

Chris: What would cause this

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: we need forced breeding programs for intellectuals.

alana: I'd kind of wonder why are they choosing to have few or no kids. I think the answer is that they want the best for their offspring and realize that having kids is a great big responsiblity. But I think lots of people with large families realize that too.

Chris: Exactly Michael! lol

jeremy1952: And to have children, you still have to find a mate. Sexual selection is as strong as ever

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: Programs to encourage promiscuity among the more intelligent teens

Matt_Ridley: Ok, well it's poor data: averaged from skulls found by archeologists, but it's pretty consistent. And it's corrected for shrinking brain size.

nostradafemme: Chris, shrinking brain size could be due to environmental factors.

Monty_Vonn: Jeremy, perhaps not, but over a large population base, with birth control being so absolute, it will have a general effect.

hypatiasm: I have three children, but they are each separated by nine years.

alana: I don't have any children.

jeremy1952: Maybe. But within the group of "non birth controllers", 99.9% of human variability is stil extant

Peterdf: I think it is likely that the reason for the Scandinavian people being so none agressive might be because that they "exported" "aggressive genes during the Viking period - there are other examplesessive

jeremy1952: And the reasons for not using birth control are not necessarily lack of intelligence. Remember "why intelligent people believe weird things"

alana: I agree jeremy.

Monty_Vonn: Shrinking brains size is not such a bad thing. Ask women who must give birth!

Matt_Ridley: The enviro factors for shrinking brains size -- farming's poorer diet -- only partly explains it. Wrangham thinks sedentray living required us to tame each other by killing dangerously over-m ature men and that led to smaller brains

Matt_Ridley: Good point Monty

Chris: Monty - true.

Monty_Vonn: Neanderanthals I believe had much bigger brains than cro-magnons.

Matt_Ridley: No

Monty_Vonn: No?

jeremy1952: Hmm, Monty/Matt, that gives me an idea: I just remembered that there is a host of negative , are a host of negative effects associated with C-section.

Monty_Vonn: I thought that Neanderantals had something like 2000cc!

jeremy1952: Perhaps what is actually happening is non-Csection humans are being selected

Chris_O_Connor: I would rather women develop wider hips that our species have a reduction in cranial capacity

Matt_Ridley: Corrected for body size, I think they were smaller, but I may be wrong.

jeremy1952: with smaller head as a coincidental side effect

tarav: monty, it's a body to brain comparison

Monty_Vonn: But that evolution favored the modern human because not so much for bigger brain, but for pre-defined brains structure for language and logic.

tarav: elephants have huge brains

tarav: But in comparison to their bodies

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - do they? I heard the opposite

jeremy1952: Elephants are pretty smart too

Chris_O_Connor: Ahh

dom: rats are smart

tarav: But not in comparison to their bodies

Chris_O_Connor: Relative to their bodies

dom: squirrels are amazingly clever

tarav: the same thing with Neanderthal man

Matt_Ridley: There is a gene that seems to control brain size by deciding how long to allow brain cells to multiply. The gene's size correlates nicely with brain size. very intriguing. I'm waiting to see the chimp version.

tarav: they were huge

alana: What's important I think is not the size of the brain, but the structure. Parrots can learn rudimentary human language. It has to do with the structure of their brains I think.

tarav: jaws found from them are bigger than some apes

jeremy1952: Timing is the key to a lot of develpment, maybe all

Monty_Vonn: Neanderthal was comparatevely the same size as humans.

Peterdf: I did'nt know about Wrangham's argument - where can I findd out more?

Matt_Ridley: Wrangham has unpublished papers that I refer to in NVN (my book). He may have published them by now

jeremy1952: I need to get a copy of NVN on paper. I "read" it on tape, which is a great way to read, but hard to go back for reference

Matt_Ridley: Monty -- it's certainly true they were not much different, but they may also have had smaller frontal lobes under those sloping foreheads?

Matt_Ridley: Yes, the taped version was about 40% abridged

jeremy1952: Not to be confused with NIN)

jeremy1952: I try to get unabridged tapes, but it isn't always possible

dom: Neanderthal 1500cc, Homo erectus 900(early)-1200cc, Homo sapiens - 1400cc

Matt_Ridley: It took 3 days to read the abridged version!

jeremy1952: Did you narrate it, Matt?

Matt_Ridley: Thanks dom -- I stand corrected

Matt_Ridley: yes, I narrated it

Chris_O_Connor: I like when the author does that narration

dom: Although to be fair, modern human varies considerably - 1000cc - 2000cc, average 1400cc

jeremy1952: Ah. That's why I was willing to accept the abridgment. I always think , read by the author gives me a certain protection from too bad a trashing

jeremy1952: My brain isn't any number of cc's, us Americans have cubic inch brains

alana: wb truth

Truth2Know: thanks Alana

jeremy1952: BTW thank you for taking the time to record it.

tarav: dom, what about body size?

Matt_Ridley: I prefer to measure my brain in cubic miles

jeremy1952: LOL

Chris_O_Connor: Thats good

dom: I will never understand that - Im too young for Imperial, the units are sheer madness!

Matt_Ridley: My son says the same

Chris_O_Connor: I prefer not to measure mine in pounds...cause that would take me being dead first

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - is your son going to follow in your footsteps with science?

Monty_Vonn: It would be interesting to see us retain our intelligence and yet also have our brains shrink. Would certainly require less calories!

tarav: chris, do you have a big head?

jeremy1952: XXXVII times XXXVII

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - HUGE!

tarav: oh no!

Matt_Ridley: There is some evidence for a correlation between cubic capacity of gray matter only (which can be measured in scanners) and IQ

Monty_Vonn: versus white matter?

Matt_Ridley: My son likes physics at present

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - what do you think about IQ as a measurement of ones intellectual capacity? Ok, now tell us your IQ. lol

jeremy1952: Only dead brains are gray. Living brains are redish brown

Matt_Ridley: I think white matter was irrelevant, they found, but I might be wrong

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - physics...well he is in the sciences and I suppose that is a good thing in your eyes

Matt_Ridley: yes

Chris_O_Connor: Hello Bobbi

Matt_Ridley: My IQ? I don't know it

Peterdf: hi bobbi

jeremy1952: Matt, a personal question feel free to ignore... but I'm curious... do you think of yourself as a writer who does science, or a scientist who writes books?

Monty_Vonn: It seems like the white matter are the neual connections between processing centers.

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - I wonder how accurately IQ measures intellect

Chris_O_Connor: Jeremy - damn good question.

tarav: i think/hope Chris was joking when he asked

Monty_Vonn: Matt, are you presently writing a book?

Matt_Ridley: I think IQ measures something objective, but I think it's subjective to say it's the only measure of intelligence that matters

jeremy1952: Monty, not to be a spoil sport, but thats the third time someone asked

Matt_Ridley: Jeremy -- damn good question

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - of course. I was joking when asking his, but not about whether or not he views it as a decent yardstick for measuring intellect.

tarav: that's what i thought, chris

Monty_Vonn: I didn't see the answer.

jeremy1952: In James Watson';s new book, he mentions his IQ: 122.

dom: Body/brain ratios - 4.781, Early Paleolithic Humans: 5.352, Late Upper Paleolithic Humans: 5.406, Recent Humans: 5.288

Matt_Ridley: Monty -- no, I'm not writing one now

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: the ability to color coordinate is the best measure of intellect. Homosexuals do better.

jeremy1952: Sort of an anti brag. His point being, they accomplished what they did with hard work and perseverence, cause they really weren't all that bright

Peterdf: dom - get your head out of that book

Monty_Vonn: What was your last book?

Matt_Ridley: I think my answer to Jeremy is that I am a writer who does science

Matt_Ridley: Nature via Nurture was my last book

hypatiasm: 122 isn't shabby, Jeremy

jeremy1952: His latest book is Nature via Nurture; its a fabulous book, and you should buy it immediately

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - do you have anything planned for the future - new books, lectures, new recipes?

Matt_Ridley: Dom -- cool figures. where from?

tarav: thanks, dom

jeremy1952: And for the immediate reaction, "But that question is settled", well, yes it is. So the book isn't an argument, its an education

dom: err... those ones were quoted on a yahoo newsgroup for archaeology, I could find a more reputable source if you like

tarav: maybe i need to re-read some archaeology

Monty_Vonn: Sorry, my I.Q is only 115, but I've head that places me at the top 15%.

jeremy1952: OH... and don't forget to order it through BookTalk : )

Chris_O_Connor: Exactly. Listen to Jeremy

tarav: i took it while at university and haven't read up on it since

alana: i don't know my iq

tarav: i probably should, since my memory obviously has failed me!

jeremy1952: Well yea, Hypatia, I know it is n't shabby... but it doesn't explain, in and of itself, one of the great breakthroughs of the 20thy century

Monty_Vonn: Matt, is there anything you'd like to share with us?

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - I am looking for inside information...on your future plans with writing and such. :-B

alana: Part of being successful is also a matter of luck and being in the right place at the right time for some things.

Monty_Vonn: What is your burning passion, your big issues?

jeremy1952: I'd guess the chemist who was also chasing the structure of DNA was actually smarter. Can't think of his name off hand. You know the vitamin C guy

tarav: good question, monty

Monty_Vonn: And, oh, how many kids do you have?

tarav: monty, you are obsessed!

Monty_Vonn: Yes, alana--totally agree!

Matt_Ridley: I'm looking for subjects for a new book, and I'm briunging up 2 kids and doing a miscellaneous other bits of writing, speaking etc

Chris_O_Connor: Yes, another good question. It would be nice to get to know you on a more personal level. What issues are you passionate about? Do you support Bush?

Chris_O_Connor: Hello Niall

tarav: i think we all know your burning passion, monty!

jeremy1952: And please nobody ask Dr. Ridley to give give them a baby, it really embarrased Dr. Pinker

Chris_O_Connor: Jeremy oh wow

hypatiasm: Let's not forget the woman who came up with the pictures of the helix, but died before the Nobels were handed out.

Peterdf: Are you thinking of maurice wilkins Jeremy?

jeremy1952: No

Peterdf: hi niall glad you could make it

jeremy1952: Wilkins was on their team, and he did share the nobel

Monty_Vonn: No!

Matt_Ridley: Pauling

jeremy1952: Yup, thank you, Linus Pauling

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: Behind every great woman there's a great man with a notepad

alana: Sombody asked an author guest to give them a baby? That would embarrass me if someone did that to me as well.

Matt_Ridley: Crick is my candidate for the smartest scientist of the 20th century (including Einstein)

Monty_Vonn: Crick? Who is he?

jeremy1952: I've never heard his side of the story, but Watson seems to think that by all rights, Pauling should have beaten them... but he got stuck up a blind alley

Peterdf: Someone asked Steven Pinker if he had donated sperm - it was a woman by the way

tarav: it was NOT me

Chris_O_Connor: We know Tara

dom: Matt: original paper is: Ruff et al (1997) Body mass and encephalization in Pleistocene Homo. Nature 387 173-176.(Seealso comment by Kappelman in Nature 387 126-127 and by Gibbons, Science 276 896-897.)

tarav: i can't remembe who it was

Matt_Ridley: Francis Crick, discovered the double helix and much of the genetic code

alana: Oh my gosh tarav

Chris_O_Connor: Dom has the best online science encyclopedia it seems

alana: That would have been funny to see though.

tarav: alana, i would never ask that kind of a question!

tarav: i don't want kids!

Matt_Ridley: How can you give a baby by email?

Peterdf: Linus Pauling was working in America at the same time as Watson and Crick and his son was in Cambridge - it is a fascinating story

jeremy1952: Hmm. I wonder. Now that we are discovering more about epigenetic coding, I wonder if Crick didn't send the whole enterprise down a, well not "wrong" path, but

alana: I didn't think it was you...tarav

jeremy1952: a misleading direction, with "one gene, one protein, one way"

tarav: thanks alana

dom: I would vote for Feynman

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - in jpeg format - yes

Matt_Ridley: He never said one gene one protein -- that's a myth put about by Barry Commoner

jeremy1952: Really Watson and Crick's great breaktrhough was the idea of building a model.

hypatiasm: Me too, Dom.

jeremy1952: oops, sorry for propogating a negative myth, then

alana: wb nial

Niall001: Thanks

dom: Or Alan Turing

Matt_Ridley: Building a model was theoir method, but finding that heredity works by digital messages that can be copied was their ghreat breakthrough

jeremy1952: I don't know, Matt. I think that was already known.

Matt_Ridley: Turing, Feynman, Bohr, Pauling, Watson, Einstein, Schrodinger -- hard to choose

dom: Bah Humbug to Einstein - he was mostly wrong

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: superman was smarter than einstein

Chris_O_Connor: Most scientists are mostly wrong most of the time.

Niall001: Being wrong is a sign of genius

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: good point chris

jeremy1952: I'd throw Dawkins in the mix. The selfish gene was an insight of breathtaking import and simplicity

alana: I think Goedel was smart, even though he wasn't a scientist.

MichaelangeloGlossolalia: has anyone done anything new without being wrong?

Chris_O_Connor: That is the beauty of science...it is a process

hypatiasm: Let's not forget Gregory Pinkus.

Chris_O_Connor: A process of discovery

dom: True

Matt_Ridley: It was not already known, I reckon. Right up till that day nobody had a clue how the structuire of the gene would reveal its mechanism. Most people thought it would not help

Peterdf: Except Darwin he was mostly right

Chris_O_Connor: Peter - tis true

alana: I think Darwin is the greatet scientist to come around in the last few centuries.

tarav: incredibly and scarily mostly right, peter

jeremy1952: What did Einstein get wrong, dom? Except the cosmological constant, which he admitted was an error? The general theory of relativity has been proven to greater accuracy than alomst anything else in science

Matt_Ridley: Dawkins is a great writer and philosopher, but I don't think he would claim any great discovery -- he would credit Hamilton and Williams for the selfish gene

jeremy1952: Ah, yes, I forgot that.

dom: The whole bent-space, lightspeed as a constant nonsense. Gauge theory shows how the whole thing could have been calculated so much simpler if only he hadnt bodged that bit in.

jeremy1952: Well, Matt, then that supports my point: watson and crick DID think the structure was important.

jeremy1952: Light speed is a constant and space does bend. Unless I've slipped into some alternate universe.

Matt_Ridley: They guessed it would be important. Watson says he was just excited by the idea that the gene was a molecule -- Avery proved that

dom: Space only looks bent if you force lightspeed to almays be the same. If you let space be flat, then you get equations for lightspeed based on gravity & cosmology is a whole load simpler mathematically.

dom: Its about how you build your rulers relative to each other.

Matt_Ridley: Dom seems to be up there with the great scientists

Peterdf: He outperforms Einstein for me!!!!

dom: I wouldn't say that, but my Tutor for my Masters degree is possibly the most intelligent man Ive ever met (& Ive met Stephen Hawkins)

Louis: hi all

tarav: dom, you will have to explain all of that to me in a casual chat session!

dom: Theres some posts in the roundtable on the subject from a few months back

jeremy1952: Hmm.. Perhaps. Not my feild. Last I heard, mainstream physics still supports constant light speed, and if there's an easier way to do the calculations, it doesn't make the discoverer of relativity "wrong"

Monty_Vonn: What I find amazing is the volume of space in the small area of a black hole!

NaddiaAoC: Hi folks

Peterdf: hi Naddia

jeremy1952: hey a Naddia!

Bobbi: Does anyone think, like I suspect, that looking back someday, chaos theory will turn out to have extremely important in a pragmatic way?

dom: No, but Einstein was very insistent on the constant light thing - and that is just loopy.

Matt_Ridley: I agree with bobbi

jeremy1952: I think chaos theory is important right now, bobbi

Bobbi: in a pragmatic way???

dom: Its a bit like basing distance on a constant speed of sound - so that space inside solids is strangely expanded due to the 'matter' distorting space.

Chris_O_Connor: I have not really read anything about Chaos Theory so cannot comment

Peterdf: I only have a very basic understanding too

Louis: I don't understand the math of chaos theory so it's hard to comment, but much like other bits of math it will probably become very widely used in the practical sciences

jeremy1952: You sound like a conspiracy theorist, dom. Speed of light and speed of sound have almost nothing to do with one another

Bobbi: It's fun to read about! all kinds of cool fractal pictures and such...not to mention interesting connections between seemingly disparate events

Chris_O_Connor: Hey Louis

tarav: Matt, what issues are you most passionate about?

Matt_Ridley: Yeh, sorry

Louis: Sorry couldn't make it earlier

dom: No - I meant it as an illustration of using a wave propogation as the basis for setting your concept of 'distance' - analogous to the speed of light is constant, but space bends, only a different wave

Monty_Vonn: What's amazing about the warp of space around matter is that the diameter of earth (if you physically measured it) is greater than the

Monty_Vonn: calculations would suggest.

alana: Whenever I read about discoveries in physics or math I get really excited.

alana: That stuff is really neat

Monty_Vonn: Using the circumference and dividing by pi.

tarav: Chris, what can we talk about?

tarav: i am lost

jeremy1952: Well, I suppose we should have Dr. Ridley's son in for this conversation. In the mean time I'm tabling my half. I've said about all I know anyway... when i'm way over my head, I go with mainstream received wisdom.

Monty_Vonn: In a black hole, the difference is astounding!

Matt_Ridley: Science, reason, honourable behaviour twards others, individual self expression, and the possibility of progress are the kinds of things that really fire me

jeremy1952: I beleive nobody about anytnhing concering evolution, since I arrogantly think I know somethign about it

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - I think you just sked a great question

Bobbi: Matt, does this mean you'll vote for Dean??

Louis: anyone here read the origins of virtue? I picked it up at the same time as the red queen and ended up reading it instead

Matt_Ridley: On that note, I might bow out. Thanks everybody for a really stimulating session

Monty_Vonn: Thank you Matt!

jeremy1952: Lol, That would be illegal, bobbi

Niall001: Thanks Matt

jeremy1952: Thanks so much for your time, Dr, Ridley, Matt.

Chris_O_Connor: Matt - thank you very much for spending time with us!

tarav: Matt, I think we could all relate to those pursuits

Matt_Ridley: I don't have a US vote and I've not yet read much about Dean

alana: I have the origins of virtue but I havent had the time to finish it.

jeremy1952: Now and in your writing

tarav: Chris, I stole that question from Monty!

dom: Thanks very much for your time Matt

Louis: really interesting stuff...

Niall001: Isn't chaos theory used by software developers today??

Peterdf: Thanks very miuch Matt

NaddiaAoC: Thank you, Matt.

Chris_O_Connor: OMG Cheryl

Chris_O_Connor: Hello

tarav: Thank you!

dom: yes - but not very well

Monty_Vonn: Howard Dean is my man!

NaddiaAoC: Hi Chris

Chris_O_Connor: I didn't even see you enter Cheryl

Chris_O_Connor: Hello

NaddiaAoC: I snuck in quietly.

Chris_O_Connor: So how did it go people? What did you think? We didn't have enough people reading the book it seems.

Bobbi: I thought all software guys did with chaos theory was use it to draw pretty fractals and put em in Photoshop and such?

jeremy1952: Certain ethnocetracism there, bobbi, assuming MattR is amercian? L o l

Chris_O_Connor: Matt lives in England

Chris_O_Connor: As did Dawkins

Louis: missed most of it, but what I saw looked interesting though only very remotely related to the book

Bobbi: Ignorance would be a closer excuse....ever hear of Occam's Razor?

Louis: I thought the british-ness, if you could call it that, comes across really clearly in the writing

alana: Matt Ridley is and Englishman. I read the book---even though I didn't post questions.

jeremy1952: I wish people around here had left me alone, expecting me to work even though I'm in an author chat

Peterdf: Really enjoyed it folks

NaddiaAoC: LOL Jeremy

Chris_O_Connor: Louis - that is because we had low participation in the reading/discussion of the book this time. Things have begun to pick up on BookTalk, but they were slow there for awhile.

Louis: ah

Chris_O_Connor: Bobbi - good point

tarav: i think that the chat went well

Louis: yeah, what with my semester starting I've been way too busy to drop by very often

Niall001: Probably, I don't know much about it to be honest, but I was suprised to learn from a friend that he was learning of ways to use it

Monty_Vonn: There's alot of inteligent scientist and science writers comming out of Great Britain!

Chris_O_Connor: Bobbi - It is the more probably answer...that Ridley is an American

Monty_Vonn: Including Charles Darwin!

alana: Louis, what are you studying?

Louis: Biochemistry

Niall001: I'm just sorry I missed most of it. When will the transcript be up?

alana: Cool

Chris_O_Connor: Niall - I will get them up soon.

jeremy1952: Yea chris, where's the damn transcript already, huh?

Chris_O_Connor: I am building a new transcripts page

Louis: yeah, can't wait to graduate though

Niall001: Thanks Chris

Chris_O_Connor: Jeremy lol

jeremy1952: Slow poke

Louis: cool...I'll definitely look up the transcript when it comes online

Chris_O_Connor: booktalk.org/junk/transcripts.php

Chris_O_Connor: that is where it will go

Louis: tx

Bobbi: Thanks for letting me in to my very first chat!! maybe I'll get prepared next time...oops

Monty_Vonn: Peter, still want to try out the Sunday chat?

jeremy1952: Well i'm at work so I'm going back to work; see y'all next time

Chris_O_Connor: Bobbi - how did you learn of this chat?

jeremy1952: welcome on back any time, bobbi

Chris_O_Connor: Bobbi - did I email you?

Chris_O_Connor: Jeremy - see ya soon.

Chris_O_Connor: Jeremy - thanks for the tapes!

Chris_O_Connor: damn him

Monty_Vonn: I forgot to come on the sunday that I promised. Sorry.

Chris_O_Connor: he leaves so fast

Bobbi: You have me on your email list and I just walked in the door and saw it

Peterdf: Monty yeah but i think I'll b away this sunday

tarav: i was here all by myself that Sunday!

Chris_O_Connor: Bobbi - ahh!

Monty_Vonn: Peter, are you there?

dom: Same here

Chris_O_Connor: Tara - that is sad.

tarav: not even Peter showed!

Chris_O_Connor: oh boy

Chris_O_Connor: damnit Peter

Peterdf: Im here

tarav: I think peter showed at the wrong time

Monty_Vonn: I think we planned on 8pm Pacific Standard on Sundays.

Louis: what time would the sunday chats be?

Chris_O_Connor: ahh

Peterdf: alright you guys

Monty_Vonn: What time is that for you tarav and Peter?

Chris_O_Connor: If you want me to add that time to our new Calendar page I can

Peterdf: it is the time dealay over the atlantic

dom: Thats 1am to us here in Blighty I think

tarav: uh, i'm eastern standard

Chris_O_Connor: I won't always be able to come, but it is nice for you guys

Louis: eastern it would be 11 pm, no?

Peterdf: don't think I can make it this Sunday

Chris_O_Connor: So Sundays at 8pm Pacific?

Louis: I could make it at that time

Monty_Vonn: Tarav was trying to find a time Peter could come on and that is what we worked out.

Chris_O_Connor: Louis - yes, thats 11pm eastern

Monty_Vonn: 8 am pacific.

Chris_O_Connor: 8am?

dom: Gotta go - foods ready. Thak you all for an interesting chat

End of chat




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