Conformists may kill civilizations

Robert Anton Wilson explained this years ago:

The capacity to learn from others is one of the traits that have made humans such a global success story. Relying on it too much, however, could have contributed to the demise of past populations, such as the Maya of southern Mexico in the eighth and ninth centuries and Norse settlers in Greenland 1,000 years ago.

Over-hunting, deforestation and over-population are well-worn routes to societal collapse. Now, Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and Pete Richerson of the University of California, Davis, have modelled how different learning strategies fare in different environments. They found that conformist social learning — imitating and emulating what the majority are doing — may also cause the demise of societies. When environments remain stable for long periods, behaviour can become disconnected from environmental demands, so that when change does come, the effects are catastrophic1.

Environments often change in unpredictable ways and over timescales from the seasonal to millennial. Rainfall and temperature change both seasonally and annually; populations of predators, prey and pests rise and fall; soil conditions change.

Biology News: Conformists may kill civilizations

(via Weird Fiction via Blustr)

Humans Nearly Extinct 70,000 Years Ago

From AOL News:— The human race may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, two new genetic studies suggest.

The human race may have been nearly wiped out 70,000 years ago, two new studies suggest. The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis published Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimates that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age. "This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species’ history," said Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence.

Previous studies using mitochondrial DNA – which is passed down through mothers – have traced modern humans to a single “mitochondrial Eve,” who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal.

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa which appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago. Eastern Africa experienced a string of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago. The researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing people into small, isolated groups which developed independently.

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented: “Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction.” Today more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the planet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of course, we know the Devil put that evidence in our DNA to trick the True Believers.

(Thanks, Chad.)

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