The evolutionary psychology of war

Nothing too shocking here for students of evolutionary psychology but it’s always interesting to see real world examples of how our shared behavior. There is a new book by Sebastian Junger called War, in which he recounts how men do not fight for larger ideological goals (eg. “a safer Iraq”, “finding Bin Laden”) but instead they can overcome fears because “they’re more concerned about their brothers than what happens to themselves individually”. Here’s Junger on Good Morning America:

After the jump some more from Junger and a nice talk from Robert Sapolsky about similar behaviors in chimps.

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Henry Markram on TED – video online

We had read that Dr. Henry Markram of the Blue Brain project had given a talk at TED (technology, entertainment, design), but the video wasn’t released until this month.  This talk is geared towards a general audience, rather than getting into the specific details of the Blue Brain project, as he has before.  It is engaging and includes many suggestions towards the future of neuroscience and AI.

Watch it online at the TED website.

Evidence of similar linguistic capabilities in Neaderthals

Apparently, in a few years, we will be able to bring Neaderthals back to life with the complete Neaderthal genome [NYT]. Currently, there is good sequence data available over 63% of the genome. (I’m amazed that, given fragmented DNA from bone, Neanderthal sequence can be distinguished from human DNA contamination but perhaps this problem is solved by having high enough coverage/multiple fragments of the same region.)

Also, it looks like Neanderthals share the FOXP2 variant that humans have:

Archaeologists have long debated whether Neanderthals could speak, and they have eagerly awaited Dr. Pääbo’s analysis of the Neanderthal FOXP2, a gene essential for language. Modern humans have two changes in FOXP2 that are not found in chimpanzees, and that presumably evolved to make speech possible. Dr. Pääbo said Neanderthals had the same two changes in their version of the FOXP2 gene. But many other genes are involved in language, so it is too early to say whether Neanderthals could speak.

UPDATE: A few days ago, I heard Wolf Enard, one of Paabo’s postdocs, speak on a fascinating project, where human version of FOXP2 was knocked in to mice (replacing the endogenous mouse version). Although the phenotypic effects were subtle, the approach itself is quite revolutionary: Putting human versions of genes into model organisms to see how the subsequent evolution of the gene changes its function. I wonder what other genes might be amenable to this approach.

Bad-ass squirrels

In the new issue of PNAS, a totally awesome discovery about an infrared inter-species signalling system:

Ground squirrels not only heat up their tails to deter snake attacks — but they also seem to use the strategy selectively against infrared-sensitive snakes — leading us to the ultimate conclusion that when the bees are gone, the squirrels will inherit the earth…

You can check out an infrared-eye-view of squirrel/snake battles here because I don’t know how to post movies on the internet yet