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Old 05-28-2021, 06:52 AM   #1 (permalink)
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At least they didn't think it was thong theory

By the way, cool to have a physicist on board! I occasionally pretend like I know anything about physics. This is gonna sound stupid, but you'd be surprised at how often creationists bring up that evolution and the various molecules and so on that are shaped by that are a violation of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).. and so while trying to refute those kinds of arguments, I kinda wish I'd taken a course or three. Biology had maths and chemistry, but not much physics.
you're a biologist that works with insects right?

I was watching this video on ants and most of it was normal **** I already heard but towards like 18 minutes in she says the way ant colonies cooperate selflessly makes scientists question the way they look at evolution. I.E. the whole idea of the selfish gene type explanation of altruism in animals via kin selection and reciprocity. But since the colony is all essentially designed to perpetuate the genes of the queen... Even though you might have individual ants acting sacrificially, that doesn't really undermine the role of genetics in terms of selective pressure right? Because instead of each ant being selected for its genes the colony as a whole is selected for its genes and as a result the individual ants "cooperate" towards that end the same way cells in our bodies do... Right??

Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?
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Old 05-28-2021, 08:05 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Yes I am or used to be some 10ish years ago. From what I can remember, social hymenopterans like ants or honey bees are fully explained by what you might call selfish gene theory (or rather kin selection).

The thing about these hymenopterans is they have a strange way to determine sex. We humans are diploid, meaning we have one set of genes from mom and one from dad (23 chromosomes from each).

If you do some maths in your head, that means parents are 50% related to their children. Keeping it a bit simple and ignoring things like mDNA, siblings from same parents could theoretically be 0% related (they got the other half from each parent) to 100% related. On average, they will be about 50% related.

For hymenopterans, it's not like this. What makes a male a male is that he is haploid - he has only one set of chromosomes and half the total of his diploid mother or sisters. His mother, the queen, doesn't even need a father to produce males, hence them missing the father part of the chromosomes.

When the queen has sex with a male, he only has one set of chromosomes to pass down. Every one of his sperms will be the same. That means that his daughters will always contain the same set of chromosomes from dad and be at least 50% related. Then they will also share some of the genes that mom pass down, on average 50% of those. Mom's contribution is 50% of the chromosomes, so 50% of 50% is 25%.

This means female worker bees/ants are on average 75% related.

If a worker bee would have a child of her own, she would only be 50% related to it. But if her mom produces another sister, that sister will be 75% related to her. So from the perspective of the selfish genes that inhabit a worker bee, it makes more sense in terms of fitness benefit to make sure the queen produces more siblings. It's better than sex. Hence, what may look like altruism is just selfishness in disguise and something that can lead to a high level of cooperation. Even if the worker bee dies, she can potentially have a huge fitness gain if her sacrifice ensured mom's continued baby making.

Writing on my phone, so sorry if it's nearly all typos also sorry if this is all old news, but I personally haven't seen this refuted.
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Old 05-28-2021, 08:35 AM   #3 (permalink)
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It's better than sex.
Calm down, you creepy bug nerd.
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Old 05-28-2021, 09:33 AM   #4 (permalink)
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All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians
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Old 05-28-2021, 10:19 AM   #5 (permalink)
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All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians
Yes. In social bees and ants, I guess you might say a male is only half the woman a woman is.
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Old 05-28-2021, 10:34 AM   #6 (permalink)
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All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians
I'll say it again

the world is gonna be a much better place when we're all lesbians with test tube babies
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Are beehives and ant colonies unnatural? Cause they cooperate on a level we could hardly dream of.
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Old 05-29-2021, 02:32 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?
I didn't respond to this part as I was a bit busy. I have seen some Wilson proponent ant hill selection arguments, but it was a long time ago and I cannot remember the details. Hence, I am quite ignorant on that subject and I will profess that I am generally more of a Dawkins student.

One thing that I feel sets biology apart from other natural sciences like physics and chemistry is there are ALWAYS exceptions to rules in biology. I'm sure there are even many exceptions to my statement just there. This sometimes leads to contention.

So take the unit for selection. In 1973, Dawkins proposed the gene as the unit for selection. It has a lot going for it. An important argument is that genes CAN be selected for. Individuals and populations can't, not in the same way. What is meant by this is that you yourself is made up of a temporary constellation of genes. You're the only jwb that has ever existed and will ever exist. You can be selected for - you get to reproduce - but you won't produce another jwb. Your kid carries some of your genes, but not all of them. Hence, when you reproduce, you might say we break the individual up into genes where some genes get lucky and are passed on and some not. Individuals die, but (some of) their genes live on.

Dawkins actually defined genes in his 1973 book a little differently than common use. What he meant by gene was actually just a length of DNA that tends to get passed down wholly. It's a replicator with a persistent evolutionary existence. Unlike us temporary individuals, these genes are comparatively immortal and exist across generations/individuals, making them a more permanent feature of evolution. Such genes could code for no proteins or several - this is not actually part of Dawkin's definition back then.

So the reasoning, to me, is quite beautiful to my thinking. But I'm sure as you've read this far, you've already come up with some scenarios where it isn't true. As I wrote, evolutionary history is very long and nature makes such a mess, there's bound to be exceptions. Take any clonal insect, like stick insects. There are species where we don't know of males and are a little unsure if they exist. Females reproduce clonally and so you don't really break the individual up into genes when reproducing. The individual is passed on, breaking the above logic. At least until a male comes along.

So it arguably breaks down at various places, but generally holds true. I can't quite remember the argument why we should invoke group selection for ant hills, but perhaps there could be some logical argument made. I may add, though, that when I studied biology, group selection was by and large considered to be dead. It was mostly considered to be an old-fashioned misunderstanding and didn't have much standing, but perhaps it's been reinvigorated since then. Hence, I am skeptical, but wanna remain open to potentially good ideas.

When I have the time, I will look into it and if you remember any specifics, feel free to inform me, of course.
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Old 05-29-2021, 05:44 AM   #8 (permalink)
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jwb, I put forward your question to other biologists I know in Norway through a facebook group we have. It's not yet brimming with replies, but there's some which has led to some interesting insights for me.

About Wilson, he did put forth an argument that eusociality had evolved by some form of group selection. I have not yet dug into what exactly the mechanisms were supposed to be, but this was countered by the aforementioned haplodiploid argument that I got into and which was published in Dawkins' 1973 The Selfish Gene.

Wilson argued that it was not sufficient to explain eusociality because a requirement, which I admittedly didn't get into, is monogamy. Once a queen ant has sex with several males and not just one, the relatedness between worker ants drops. There are non-monogamous species of hymenopterans that are eusocial. However, it seems that monogamy was an ancestral traits even in these lineages so that at the time eusociality evolved in hymenoptera, diplohaploidity and kin selection coupld with monogamy is indeed a likely explanation.

Source: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/320/5880/1213

HOWEVER there are other things that are needed to explain eusociality as well, especially when found outside hymenoptera. Ecological factors and things like inbreeding can play important part, as well as the way genetics works for the various lineages (like the diplohaploid sex determination system or chromosomal linkage in termites).

Some things I found interesting are a couple of pre-conditions that seem important:
  1. Offspring that require a lot of parental care
  2. Low reproductive success rates for solitary pairs that attempt to reproduce

There are more things, but these two coupled with some kind of circumstance that might increase relatedness between siblings seem like important factors that will help drive evolution of eusociality.

I'm told this is not bad -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_eusociality

I'll keep reading because it's highly interesting so may comment more.. But right now, my wife tells me I need to get out and have ice in the sun with the kids.
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Old 05-29-2021, 09:47 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?
Is that Darryl Dawkins of the 76er/Nets!? I too would also like to know what was his actual beef with Wilson basketballs.
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Old 05-30-2021, 05:55 AM   #10 (permalink)
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/bees/eusocial insect colonies

I made this thread to avoid derailing the other one since obviously it is a rather niche topic that many people might not find interest in. I appreciate the responses tore gave me to my drunken rambling question in the Stupid Questions thread. It was a lot more than I was expecting. So I figured I would go ahead and make this thread.

If a mod or someone wanted to move the relevant posts from that thread to this one it might make it easier to follow.


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Keeping it a bit simple and ignoring things like mDNA, siblings from same parents could theoretically be 0% related (they got the other half from each parent) to 100% related. On average, they will be about 50% related.

For hymenopterans, it's not like this. What makes a male a male is that he is haploid - he has only one set of chromosomes and half the total of his diploid mother or sisters. His mother, the queen, doesn't even need a father to produce males, hence them missing the father part of the chromosomes.

When the queen has sex with a male, he only has one set of chromosomes to pass down. Every one of his sperms will be the same. That means that his daughters will always contain the same set of chromosomes from dad and be at least 50% related. Then they will also share some of the genes that mom pass down, on average 50% of those. Mom's contribution is 50% of the chromosomes, so 50% of 50% is 25%.

This means female worker bees/ants are on average 75% related.

If a worker bee would have a child of her own, she would only be 50% related to it. But if her mom produces another sister, that sister will be 75% related to her. So from the perspective of the selfish genes that inhabit a worker bee, it makes more sense in terms of fitness benefit to make sure the queen produces more siblings. It's better than sex. Hence, what may look like altruism is just selfishness in disguise and something that can lead to a high level of cooperation. Even if the worker bee dies, she can potentially have a huge fitness gain if her sacrifice ensured mom's continued baby making.
That's interesting and i honestly hadn't gotten into the specific math behind the genetics involved but my general impression initially was that the entire colony exists essentially as an extension of the queen. As I understand it, basically the queen is the reproducing agent and the workers exist only to assist in said reproduction. Though depending on the species this distinction can be more or less clear than in others.

In some species, IIRC, the other females aren't even sterile they just tend not to reproduce. I remember seeing a documentary where there were some worker ants in such a colony that would attempt to start laying their own eggs and they would be physically restrained and prevented from doing so by other worker ants. Then there are even more erusocial species of ants where the other female worker and soldier ants are just sterile and physically incapable of reproducing directly. In these species, the existence of the entire colony as an extension of the queen's reproduction apparatus seems more pronounced.

Now I'm seeing documentaries where there are super colonies that adopt multiple queens cohabitating and combining resources despite not being related genetically. The strategic advantages of these kinds of super colonies can be staggering. The kinds of numbers that can be produced can completely decimate any rival colonies nearby.

Essentially, ants have a specific scent based on certain pheromones that allow them to detect members of the same colony vs rival colonies. Typically if two ants from seperate colonies come into contact a war will ensure, even if they are the same species. But now there are super colonies where that isn't happening. Either they aren't acknowledging the scent or the scent is being altered somehow to be similar - I can't remember the exact mechanics of it but essentially the result is the colonies don't go to war and instead start cooperating as if they were members of the same colony.

The reason why i even gained such an interest in ants in the first place is not even due to the genetic factor of how traits are selected for but rather just down to the nature of intelligence in a colony. I think the term is collective swarm intelligence. They make decisions as a colony not based on a top down hierarchy, but from disparate nodes on a network sending signals to one another that allow the colony as a whole to function.

As such, the individual is dispensable. This is why they look so alien to us. They have a sophisticated intelligence with no conscious agent. They can make complex decisions as a colony that no individual ant can make. An individual ant is little more than a robot programmed through evolution to sustain the colony. That is how I conceptualize it at least. I'm not a scientist.

In fact I was watching a documentary last night where a supercolony of wood ants with multiple queens, some of the queen ants being dragged back down into the nest against their will. The queen doesn't call the shots. The colony acts as a collective entity more akin to an organism.

That once again highlights my interest with regard to the nature of intelligence. I think as humans we have a certain bias towards our own type of intelligence which is based on advanced cognition in a single individual that is capable of perceiving the world in very complex ways.

It seems very unlikely there is anything that could be construed as any sort of advanced 'perception' when speaking about ants. Individually the cognitive processes must be very primitive compared to higher-order mammals etc.

Yet in terms of the capacity to make complex decisions with a high degree of flexibility and adaptability such as where to find food, where and how to make a nest and regulate everything from its temperature to the resources necessary to keep it thriving, these colonies obviously display a certain level of intelligence that is not even reliant on what we would conceptualize as perception.

Such as in the case of the wood ant colony referenced above, the entire colony was sunbathing in order to harvest heat from the sun to bring back down into the nest in order to regulate the temperature. That is why the queens were brought out in the open and once they were warm enough, were brought back under whether they wanted to go willingly or not.

Maybe this decentralized structure is what makes them so resilient. In any case it's something that attracts my interest as it presents a sort of polar opposite approach to intelligence as opposed to the way human beings approach it.

To us, the idea of creating let's say an advanced AI is pretty much synonymous with creating an entity that is capable of the same sort of individualized cognition that human beings are capable of. We hardly even consider the prospect of disparate nodes on a network that are more or less completely unaware and primitive in terms of intelligence on an individual level but collectively allow for the emergent property of an advanced yet unconscious form of intelligence to manifest.
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