Evolution, fruit flies, and counting

Don’t let any creationist tell you complex things don’t come from simple precursors:

US and Canadian researchers have evolved a population of fruitflies that can count. The result, presented on 9 July at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa, Canada, supports the notion that the neural mechanisms underlying basic arithmetic skills first emerged hundreds of millions of years ago. It could also eventually offer a key to understanding why some people have problems with numbers…

During a 20-minute training period, flies were exposed to either two, three or four flashes of light — two and four flashes coincided with a vigorous shake administered by placing a electric toothbrush next to the box containing the flies. After a brief rest, the flies were returned to box and shown the light flashes. Despite a dislike for being shaken, most of the flies were not able to learn to associate the negative stimulus with the number of flashes. But 40 generations later, they could.

The researchers caution that the work is preliminary and that they do yet know what genetic changes are behind the insects’ evolved number sense.

What I find interesting is exactly how this constitutes selection pressure. The flies certainly don’t like being shaken, but that’s entirely irrelevant if there isn’t some sort of reproductive advantage to be had from recognizing when the shaking will occur. Clearly there is, and we could speculate all day long as to why flies that associate the flashes with negative stimulus pass on more of their genes than the other flies, but I would like to see some experimental data showing the details. Does shaking disorient the flies? Does it interrupt the mating process? Does it affect fertility? Perhaps the paper that comes from all this can shed some light.

Now excuse me while I go murder the fruit flies that appear to have evolved to make my kitchen just awful for the past week.

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Daniel, say it ain’t so

One of the things I like about Daniel Tosh, including his show Tosh.O, is its unapologetic nature. He’s up there telling jokes that, if sincere, would be just horrible. But, of course, they aren’t sincere. If they were, they wouldn’t be jokes and he wouldn’t be a comedian. Moreover, he would be a terribly human being who hates just about everyone who isn’t Daniel Tosh.

Unfortunately, Tosh has actually apologized for jokes he told during a recent routine:

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”…

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

You know why he made those jokes? And why he said a gang-bang style rape would be hilarious? Because actual rape is awful. The vast majority of Daniel Tosh’s comedy is contrast. That is where the humor is, not in the actual content.

And you know what else isn’t that great? Falling down. It hurts. Yet millions watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. Or how about sports bloopers? They cause people to lose and no one likes that. Yet, surprise, shows like that are a dime a dozen. These things are not the same as rape or murder or any other violent crime, but they aren’t positive. So why do we laugh? Contrast. We don’t expect these things to happen at any specific time, so when they do, they contradict our expectations.

I don’t care to defend the specific joke Tosh made – I don’t want a bunch of feminists over here again – but I do want to defend the nature of his joke. He said something that was so absurd, only an idiot would take it seriously. That’s a good portion of his routine. And I like that style. Because it’s funny.

Dear Catholics,