Eric's Octennial Post #10: Ewoks live under my deck.


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Message 650534 - Posted: 28 Sep 2007, 23:39:31 UTC
Last modified: 29 Sep 2007, 1:36:36 UTC

I know I promised to have text for a letter to your congress critters, but politics have gotten in the way. I've been asked to hold off a little while to discuss the outcome of the meeting of two weeks ago to make sure we hit all the fine points. So anyway I'm not going to mention politics today.

Instead let's talk about an annual occurrence at my house and its relevance to intelligent life in the universe. In May or June these things crawl out from under the deck.



This year it's a female and four babies. For those unfamiliar with North American fauna, these are raccoons (Procyon Lyotor). Thanks to Hermann Göring, they are also quite common to parts of central Europe where they are referred to as Waschbären (which translates as "wash bears" due to their habit of sometimes wetting their food before eating it). I also call them "ring-tailed rats." I think George Lucas probably calls them "Ewoks." (EDIT: Art just wrote to remind me that there is a local animal called a "ringtail" or "ringtail cat" which is a close relative of the raccoon. They are much more stealthy and less likely to congregate in a back yard. Or even be seen.)



In June, the babies are a bit bigger than my hand when they come out from under the deck for the first time. By this time of year they are on their own. Their mama either departed or became road pizza a couple weeks ago. These pictures were taken in early July.

It's understandable why raccoons like our deck. We've got a wild plum tree that drops plums in June and July, we've got a grape vine that starts being edible (for raccoons) in August. We feed and water a couple of outdoor (feral) cats, so there's cat food. And Angela feeds birds, so when all else fails, there are seeds to eat. So late in spring the biggest, baddest female around sets up shop under the deck. We don't mind too much because she usually kicks out one or two of these:



What does this have to do with intelligent life in the universe? Well, these things are too damn smart. They have hands with thumbs that aren't quite opposable, but in a few million years, who knows? They make an excellent laboratory for studying basic intelligence. You should see one open a pickle jar.

Well, I shouldn't say they are too smart. With intelligence (at least here on Earth) most animals seem to be exactly as smart as they need to be and no smarter. Let's call that "Eric's Law." I guess that's not surprising with the way evolution works. If you aren't as smart as you need to be, you're going to die. If you are too smart, well the energy that you body put into a bigger brain could have been put to better use impressing a member of the opposite sex. For most animals there isn't any evolutionary pressure to be smarter.

For an herbivore like a zebra, the evolutionary pressure is to be smart enough to know when to run away. For an obligate carnivore, like a lion, the evolutionary pressure is to be a little bit smarter than the zebra. That will get you close enough that you don't need to be a whole lot faster.

The omnivores and scavengers are the ones that have won the intelligence lotto. They have to calculate how close they can get to that lioness's kill before she'll attack. They have to remember where they found food yesterday or even about the fallen plums they ate last year. They have to remember to tilt their heads backwards when they eat grapes so the juice doesn't run out of their mouths.

It took a long time for creatures to get that smart. Sixty million years ago there was nothing around that was as smart as a raccoon. Six hundred million years ago there was nothing smarter than a jellyfish. And for the few billion years before that, a bacterium was the pinnacle of brain power. Big brains are a recent invention which leads me to believe that they aren't as useful as they seem. For the antelope and the cheetah, getting faster was a better bet than getting smarter.

This, and "Eric's Law" lead me to believe that raccoons won't be getting too much smarter unless there are some drastic changes in the world. Raccoons are too sucessful and too adaptable. They can eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, rodents, amphibians, fruits, nuts and any carrion they come across. The world isn't going to run out of those things any time soon. They occupy much of North America and their close relatives the Crab-Eating Raccoons own Central and South America. They are in the process of overrunning Europe, and will probably extend into Asia and the Middle East within a century or two. Why get smarter when things are good?

So what happened to us to make us smarter? Things didn't go so well for us. We almost lost the evolutionary lotto several times. As a branch on the tree of life the great apes (Hominidae, including humans) have been a dismal failure for most of their existence. Most every great ape species has died out, to the point where there are only seven species left. Compare that to, say, finches (20 genera, with many species per genus). Our closest relatives, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans are distributed in tiny ranges in Africa and Indonesia. They have little or no ability to adapt to changing conditions, which is why their ranges are small.

What makes us different from them? The only explanation I can come up with is that we were backed into an evolutionary corner, from which brains were the only escape. I don't think anyone has figured out what that challenge was yet, but I think its fair to say that we got smart because we were totally incapable of surviving any other way. Like all the great apes, we have been totally disarmed by evolution. We don't have claws or sharp teeth. We don't have thick skin, horns, or armor plate. We can't run fast or climb trees. It's only there where brains become an advantage.

What does this say about ET? Well, I think ET will be similar to us in that their species will have been backed into a similar corner where brains were the only escape. They'll probably be omnivores, because there's no good reason for an herbivore to be smart, and a carnivore only needs to be a little bit smarter than a herbivore. Maybe they'll be like a raccoon that's fallen on hard times and found that brains are the only way through.
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Message 650760 - Posted: 29 Sep 2007, 5:14:09 UTC



Thanks for that 'Story' - the way SETI Boards ought to be . . . ;)

note: used to call them the 'Masked Bandits' ;0

little ones used to prance into mi Studio in Los Angeles and watch TV (No Joke Sir!) they were quite cute . . .

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Message 650779 - Posted: 29 Sep 2007, 6:14:36 UTC - in response to Message 650534.

Let's call that "Eric's Law."


Isn't that law already named "Bubba's Law" from the last words a redneck says ... 'Hey Bubba, watch THIS!'

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Message 650869 - Posted: 29 Sep 2007, 14:49:09 UTC - in response to Message 650534.


...This, and "Eric's Law" lead me to believe that raccoons won't be getting too much smarter unless there are some drastic changes in the world. Raccoons are too sucessful and too adaptable. They can eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, rodents, amphibians, fruits, nuts and any carrion they come across. The world isn't going to run out of those things any time soon. They occupy much of North America and their close relatives the Crab-Eating Raccoons own Central and South America. They are in the process of overrunning Europe, and will probably extend into Asia and the Middle East within a century or two. Why get smarter when things are good?


You forgot to mention 'garbage' on the list of things they will eat. I finally found that putting a bungie cord across the top of the garbage can lid and fastening it to the handles will keep them out...at least long enough for me to hear them rattling the can around so I can get outside to chase them away. And no more mess to clean up now.

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Message 650872 - Posted: 29 Sep 2007, 15:14:36 UTC - in response to Message 650534.
Last modified: 29 Sep 2007, 16:11:27 UTC


So what happened to us to make us smarter? Things didn't go so well for us. We almost lost the evolutionary lotto several times. As a branch on the tree of life the great apes (Hominidae, including humans) have been a dismal failure for most of their existence. Most every great ape species has died out, to the point where there are only seven species left. Compare that to, say, finches (20 genera, with many species per genus). Our closest relatives, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans are distributed in tiny ranges in Africa and Indonesia. They have little or no ability to adapt to changing conditions, which is why their ranges are small.

What makes us different from them? The only explanation I can come up with is that we were backed into an evolutionary corner, from which brains were the only escape. I don't think anyone has figured out what that challenge was yet, but I think its fair to say that we got smart because we were totally incapable of surviving any other way. Like all the great apes, we have been totally disarmed by evolution. We don't have claws or sharp teeth. We don't have thick skin, horns, or armor plate. We can't run fast or climb trees. It's only there where brains become an advantage.

What does this say about ET? Well, I think ET will be similar to us in that their species will have been backed into a similar corner where brains were the only escape. They'll probably be omnivores, because there's no good reason for an herbivore to be smart, and a carnivore only needs to be a little bit smarter than a herbivore. Maybe they'll be like a raccoon that's fallen on hard times and found that brains are the only way through.


Interesting article Eric. I was just reading about the results of the eruption of Mt Toba (70k years ago). Seems the dust thereof hung around 6 years or so and triggered a Great Ice Age which my source says (from genetic inference) reduced the total world pop of homo sapiens to not more than 2000 individuals. Maybe that was your stressor...

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Message 651054 - Posted: 29 Sep 2007, 21:10:11 UTC - in response to Message 650872.

...reduced the total world pop of homo sapiens to not more than 2000 individuals. Maybe that was your stressor...


Naw, that was from whence rednecks came :)

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Message 652378 - Posted: 1 Oct 2007, 16:59:14 UTC - in response to Message 650872.


So what happened to us to make us smarter? Things didn't go so well for us. We almost lost the evolutionary lotto several times. As a branch on the tree of life the great apes (Hominidae, including humans) have been a dismal failure for most of their existence. Most every great ape species has died out, to the point where there are only seven species left. Compare that to, say, finches (20 genera, with many species per genus). Our closest relatives, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans are distributed in tiny ranges in Africa and Indonesia. They have little or no ability to adapt to changing conditions, which is why their ranges are small.

What makes us different from them? The only explanation I can come up with is that we were backed into an evolutionary corner, from which brains were the only escape. I don't think anyone has figured out what that challenge was yet, but I think its fair to say that we got smart because we were totally incapable of surviving any other way. Like all the great apes, we have been totally disarmed by evolution. We don't have claws or sharp teeth. We don't have thick skin, horns, or armor plate. We can't run fast or climb trees. It's only there where brains become an advantage.

What does this say about ET? Well, I think ET will be similar to us in that their species will have been backed into a similar corner where brains were the only escape. They'll probably be omnivores, because there's no good reason for an herbivore to be smart, and a carnivore only needs to be a little bit smarter than a herbivore. Maybe they'll be like a raccoon that's fallen on hard times and found that brains are the only way through.


Interesting article Eric. I was just reading about the results of the eruption of Mt Toba (70k years ago). Seems the dust thereof hung around 6 years or so and triggered a Great Ice Age which my source says (from genetic inference) reduced the total world pop of homo sapiens to not more than 2000 individuals. Maybe that was your stressor...

74k years ago humans were already here roughly comparable to modern humans in their intellect.

Though Dr. Korpela’s stressor may well have been some sort of catastrophic climate change, it would have had to have happened hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago.

Evolution is a very slow process.

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Message 652461 - Posted: 1 Oct 2007, 20:11:22 UTC - in response to Message 650869.
Last modified: 1 Oct 2007, 20:12:47 UTC


You forgot to mention 'garbage' on the list of things they will eat. I finally found that putting a bungie cord across the top of the garbage can lid and fastening it to the handles will keep them out...at least long enough for me to hear them rattling the can around so I can get outside to chase them away. And no more mess to clean up now.


Bad news. Bungee cords worked here in the Great White North as you described - until two weeks ago. Now the local night raiders (as we call them) have learned to knock the can over, then shift the lid sideways just enough to reach in with two tiny almost-opposing thumbs and rip open the bags inside. The bungee cord remains attached through the process, just gets stretched a little. Is this evolution in practice, or maybe just bungee cords loosing tension with time?


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Message 652477 - Posted: 1 Oct 2007, 20:55:17 UTC - in response to Message 652461.


You forgot to mention 'garbage' on the list of things they will eat. I finally found that putting a bungie cord across the top of the garbage can lid and fastening it to the handles will keep them out...at least long enough for me to hear them rattling the can around so I can get outside to chase them away. And no more mess to clean up now.


Bad news. Bungee cords worked here in the Great White North as you described - until two weeks ago. Now the local night raiders (as we call them) have learned to knock the can over, then shift the lid sideways just enough to reach in with two tiny almost-opposing thumbs and rip open the bags inside. The bungee cord remains attached through the process, just gets stretched a little. Is this evolution in practice, or maybe just bungee cords loosing tension with time?



Time to escalate... I built a box-frame for my two trash cans. The varmits can't knock them over anymore. About 20" high (not too high to strain my back when I lift them out) and wide enough so both cans can sit next to each other (I put a wood divider bar between them). Just some 1" x 1" x 4' boards nailed together.

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Message 652620 - Posted: 2 Oct 2007, 1:49:00 UTC - in response to Message 652378.


Though Dr. Korpela’s stressor may well have been some sort of catastrophic climate change, it would have had to have happened hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago.


I agree. It's probably a long period of hard times (or multiple events) rather than a single event that booted us into brilliance.


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Message 652882 - Posted: 2 Oct 2007, 16:01:19 UTC - in response to Message 650534.

... intelligent life in the universe. In May or June these things crawl out from under the deck. ...

... The only explanation I can come up with is that we were backed into an evolutionary corner, from which brains were the only escape. I don't think anyone has figured out what that challenge was yet, but I think its fair to say that we got smart because we were totally incapable of surviving any other way. ... We don't have claws or sharp teeth. We don't have thick skin, horns, or armor plate. We can't run fast or climb trees. It's only there where brains become an advantage.

What does this say about ET? Well, I think ET will be similar to us in that their species will have been backed into a similar corner where brains were the only escape. ... Maybe they'll be like a raccoon that's fallen on hard times and found that brains are the only way through.

Thanks for a very good, entertaining, and thoughtful read.


Some links I stumbled across chasing that up:

Less Jaw, Big Brain: Evolution Milestone Laid to Gene Flaw

Complexity Constrains Evolution Of Human Brain Genes

Fight or flight response fuelled Man's big brain

FOOD: THE DRIVING FORCE OF EVOLUTION


So...

A cosmic ray hit or otherwise some mutant DNA?

Opportunistic exploitation of a rich but dangerous seashore?

Or just a better way to get food despite having to outwit a greater danger of predators?

Or?

And what other scenarios might there be elsewhere in our galaxy and universe??


Keep searchin',
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Message 652911 - Posted: 2 Oct 2007, 21:15:05 UTC
Last modified: 2 Oct 2007, 21:15:51 UTC

And here is my comment.


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Message 652924 - Posted: 2 Oct 2007, 21:35:00 UTC
Last modified: 2 Oct 2007, 21:44:09 UTC

How about inserting this line to convince those politicians:

In Seti project first time in human history 247 countries cooperated successfully on this project. The Seti institute has indirect impact of motivating education and educational usage of computer and internet in many countries. (and try to develop more educational impact factors of the project both direct and inderect...)

Maybe you have already written these words or ... ;)
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Message 652982 - Posted: 2 Oct 2007, 22:28:41 UTC - in response to Message 652924.

How about inserting this line to convince those politicians:

In Seti project first time in human history 247 countries cooperated successfully on this project. The Seti institute has indirect impact of motivating education and educational usage of computer and internet in many countries. (and try to develop more educational impact factors of the project both direct and inderect...)

Maybe you have already written these words or ... ;)


@ Orgil - THAT is - in my estimation - an extremely good suggestion . . .

< Eric? what say you Sir? Place that in front od the Docents @ Berkeley Sir?

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Message 653212 - Posted: 3 Oct 2007, 4:15:13 UTC - in response to Message 652982.
Last modified: 3 Oct 2007, 5:09:45 UTC

How about inserting this line to convince those politicians:

In Seti project first time in human history 247 countries cooperated successfully on this project. The Seti institute has indirect impact of motivating education and educational usage of computer and internet in many countries. (and try to develop more educational impact factors of the project both direct and indirect...)

Maybe you have already written these words or ... ;)


@ Orgil - THAT is - in my estimation - an extremely good suggestion . . .

< Eric? what say you Sir? Place that in front od the Docents @ Berkeley Sir?




If others judgement is not laughing at my idea then let me proceed little bit more:
(Insert suggestion)
[ Of course the politicians consider in a lot way their own jurisdiction therefore: ] In America those participating more than 200k people mostly tell that personally they are caring to let work their own pc's for meaningfull or scientific use whatever the Distributed Computing subject is. That is how a lot's of people motivated to participate all those protein/biology and other scientific DC projects.

another point:

(Well 500 years ago sailing to the edge of the world (which at that time it was understood that the world stands on top of three elephants who stands on top of giant turtle) and discovering a continent was same "Green Man" project but the King and the Portugese supported Columbus. Likewise today we need to sail(approach) to the edge of science to search.)

well this is pretty much it.

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Message 654267 - Posted: 5 Oct 2007, 0:16:53 UTC
Last modified: 5 Oct 2007, 0:21:35 UTC

It is strange thing that all around the world people liked the project and when ultimate halting danger comes to the seti project people are silent and not speaking out.

some correction on above post: it is Spain not Portugal sorry I am not history prof so confused some historic origins.
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Message 656478 - Posted: 8 Oct 2007, 22:01:33 UTC - in response to Message 652882.

A cosmic ray hit or otherwise some mutant DNA?
Opportunistic exploitation of a rich but dangerous seashore?
Or just a better way to get food despite having to outwit a greater danger of predators?

There may well have been a number of coincident factors; one that hasn’t been mentioned is competition for social status and the according reproductive success—depending not so much on environmental factors as on increasing complexity of social structures. Our self-aware, multi-levelled intelligence may have arisen in part from the necessity of modelling others’ thinking in the course of getting access to the best food & shelter and the best mates, and assuring the best care & protection for our children.

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