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The Darwinian Olympics
neilmarr
Ever considered the China Olympics a reflection of evolutionary biology? I read something the other day that set me thinking, and my conclusion is that, although athletes themselves are not ‘evolving’ in the true Darwinian/Dawkinsian sense, selection is evident in the achievement of marginal but vital success in various fields by those favoured with physical attributes that set them ahead of the pack.

The specialised bodily qualities of a weight lifter, a gymnast, a basket ball player, a sprinter, a swimmer are evident when you see them striving for gold. Athletes haven’t ‘evolved’ over the course of mere centuries, but the most well adapted bodies for successful competition are brought to the fore more and more often as time goes on and demonstrate an obvious, if artificial, selection process.

Let’s take the world-class swimmer, for instance: his broad chest, muscular arms, slim hips, short hair, strong thighs and big feet are matters of accident and acquisition rather than the genetic result of a long line of mating between mighty swimmers. But a combination of these attributes better equip him for speed in the water, leading to his elevated position in the sport, and eventually leading to the recognition of one single athlete who’s ahead of the game by, perhaps, a split second.

Now, if actual human survival depended upon speed in the water to attack prey or escape predators, Darwinian-style biological evolution would be the long term result as the strongest swimmers corner the market in aquatic harems and passed on vital genes.

The result would be the same over several generations if success in any activity we consider mere ‘sport’ was actually a prerequisite of continued existence. If accurately lobbing a ball through a hoop (a missile at prey in the trees) was what stood between mankind and extinction, we’d eventually all be seven feet tall. In a world where groundspeed was necessary for day-to-day survival (to outrun others of the species when a tiger is in pursuit), we would all be Olympic class sprinters and become a nanosecond faster with each new generation.

As it is, I think the favouring of certain specialised physical attributes to sport’s ‘artificial’ challenges is a pretty accurate mirror on a selection process that in the natural world would lead to genetic adaptation to the pressures of environment.

The simplistic expression ‘survival of the fittest’ is largely scorned these days, but it is fair to say that the best fitted to survival are those human replicators most likely to pass on the necessary genes for success.

Never having been in the slightest bit interested in sport, folks, this is my one and only contribution to the current worldwide epidemic of Olympiamania.

Any thoughts? Bestest. Neil

PS: I use his/him/he in the neutral sense, of course. No sexual bias is implied. N
 
Bob of QF
Interesting.

You left out the artificial modifications that people do to their athletes (and themselves), such as hormones, pain-killers, etc, etc.

The Olympics are supposedly free from those-- but the chemical users are always one or three steps ahead of the people searching, and I've no doubt that some (if not most) of the athletes are using some form of chemical assistance.

Looking for chemicals is a very specific process-- a person must know what they are looking for first. If the chemical is unknown, it will not be detected until it is known.

Maybe I'm too cynical.

But the latest scandal (the Chinese gymnastic team supposedly fielded 14 and 15 year old girls, instead of the "acceptable" age of 16.... ) has turned my stomach for letting ANY kids participate.

To participate they should ALL be 21 or older. It IS mostly about politics anyway...
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
 
neilmarr
Of course, Bob, but the use of chemicals goes along with many other 'aquired' qualities, like specialised training, etc. Such acquired enhancement certainly plays its part in a sporting win, but it's individually temporary and will not affect offspring, which is why I say selection in sport merely reflects 'natural' selection in nature. Cheers. Neil
 
seeker
I'd say its a good refutation of the classic racist arguement (I don't know if anyone remember the whole Jimmy "the Greek" incident).

I think, if anything, chemical enhancements actually block evolution. One of the things I wonder about is whether our medical advances actually end up defeating evolution in the sense that it allows people who might otherwise not be viable to continue to contribute to the DNA pool
 
catman
I do remember a little about the 'Jimmy the Greek incident'.

I think your hypothesis concerning medical advances is correct, un-PC though it may seem. In a primitive world, I wouldn't have made it with my poor vision and small size through childhood and adolescence. What am i saying; I'm still an adolescent.Wink
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
 
seeker
I know whatr you mean. Had I lived in the wild, with my eyesight, I'd have been likely to mistake a lion for a puppy.
 
Skeeve
Interesting premise Neil, I'll have to do a little reading for some background. I've been thinking alot about our "current" state of evolving lately. Mainly in regards to having no real need to do so in a large scale. Most would probably be done at the microbe level, i.e. fighting illness and disease, since we've basically 'tamed' the world we live in.

Not having life threatening decisions on a daily basis(humanity as a whole, not someone living in a neighborhood full of gun toting gangsters), I would think that our actual evolution would have slowed down considerably. But, as I've said, I'd have to read up more to have a better understanding.
"The world is my country, and do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine
 
neilmarr
I see ya, Cat Seeker and Skeeve. Artificial survival aids from clothing to medicine to guns and some degree of environmental control from agriculture to herding to central heating must play their part in slowing or stagnating some human evolutionary trends.

On the other hand, perhaps we will take a new evolutionary course with, for instance, the development of longer and faster fingers to cope with computer keyboards and the emergence of larger bums to survive fourteen hours a day at a desk.

Modern medical biology, of course, might largely overtake arrested beneficial natural evolution by stimulating it artificially.

Hoots. Neil
 
catman
I wonder. Children who are taught almost from being able to walk to be gymnasts, as opposed to those who are taught to excel in more cerebral pursuits. It seems that we may all be becoming specialized.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
 
Skeeve
That could be the makings of some good Sci-Fi,catman. If we could imagine life on this planet living far enough into the future to have one race divided not by color but by specializations.

Without space travel, and without us blowing up the planet or killing everyone off with bombs or poison, we would eventually become one race. Many, many years into the future probably, but it would be the end result. Then we would only hate each other because of politics, religion and property ownership. And maybe our specialization.Pfft
"The world is my country, and do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine
 
Bob of QF
Skeeve wrote:
That could be the makings of some good Sci-Fi,catman. If we could imagine life on this planet living far enough into the future to have one race divided not by color but by specializations.

Without space travel, and without us blowing up the planet or killing everyone off with bombs or poison, we would eventually become one race. Many, many years into the future probably, but it would be the end result. Then we would only hate each other because of politics, religion and property ownership. And maybe our specialization.Pfft


Clarke postulate that, in Childhood's End. One of the characters stowed away on an alien starship, which traveled at relativistic speeds and returned to Earth 300-some years after leaving-- to people on earth, obviously.

For the travelers, time was a few years. One of the earthlings who stowed away was of African descent, and had very dark skin. He returned to earth a uniform dusky brown-- and was marveled at, for being unique.

Then again, Clarke was both a visionary and an optimist. Smile
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
 
catman
He certainly was a visionary. I'm not so sure about the optimism. I will never forget the daze I was in after seeing 2001 for the first time.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
 
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