Trapped by Evolution is an excellent article looking at the many ways that human altered environments prove fatal to many animals.
“When humans alter the environment, they often cause problems more subtle than simply destroying habitat, the researchers argue. The changes can create a situation in which an animal’s evolved behavior hurts its chances of surviving or reproducing, which in turn can send the species downhill, and fast.”
Obviously pollution and habitat destruction have been hugely destructive to many species. But this article looks instead at ways that an animal’s instincts, instincts that normally protect the animal in the natural environment, work against the animal in certain human altered environments.
This article gives a number of examples of this phenomenon (which the scientists describe as evolutionary traps). The example that struck me was the story of the buprestid beetle. Apparently the male buprestid beetle prefers larger female buprestid beetles, the larger the better. All well and good, until an Australian beer company decided to sell their beer in a beer bottle with a new design that just happened to mimic the ideal female buprestid beetle. Soon the real female beetles were being ignored by the male beetles who were much more interested in copulating with these newly discarded beer bottles.
As a result the buprestid beetle population plummeted; luckily there is a happy ending. The scientists studying these beetles discovered what was happening, and they went to the beer company and explained the situation. Then the beer company kindly changed their beer bottle design to a design that was much less desirable to male buprestid beetles. The result is the survival of these buprestid beetles.
“In the mid-’90s, sea-turtle hatchlings born on Florida beaches were dying because, after emerging from their eggs, they turned inland instead of heading out to sea. Scientists discovered that hatchlings normally rely on light on the horizon over the ocean to decide which direction to migrate. But the light from nearby homes and hotels was fooling them. Florida has protected the turtles by requiring building owners either to use light of a different wavelength or to shield the lights from the beach.”
But what does this have to do with television?
The instincts of the baby turtles tell them to go towards the lights. And the instincts of the male beetles tell what kind of female to look for. These instincts are extremely valuable in the natural world, but they lead to disaster in our human-altered world.
Similarly, our human instincts tell us to socialize, and to socialize with the most interesting, and high-status people available. Our instincts also tell us not to expend energy unnecessarily. As with the turtles and the beetles our instincts help us tremendously in the natural world.
But instead we live in a human-altered world. Television, because it so precisely feeds our social instincts, has become ubiquitous. It was inevitable that television would take over and become our main source of entertainment and news.
As with the turtles and the beetles our instincts have lead us to disaster.
The result is a TV obsessed world where:
– civil society is greatly diminished
– depression is increasing
– mental laziness is increasing
– anti-Intellectualism is increasing
– violence and violent ideologies are increasing
All this, at a point in history where rationality and clear thinking are absolutely essential. Instead, too many people are burying their heads in the (TV infested) sand.
“As a result, the beer bottles are irresistible to the male insects, which will die trying to mate with them in the hot Australian sun.” – Discovery (Oct 2011)