Monday, 21 November 2011

Neanderthal hybrids

Ah believe this is the paper reportit in the press this week (e.g. in the Telegraph), though in a gey distortit wey. It’s ‘Modeling Human Ecodynamics and Biocultural Interactions in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia’ by C. Michael Barton, Julian Riel-Salvatore et al, in the journal Human Ecology (online preview).

The take-away message for the journos seems tae be that the Neanderthals were awfa clever, an therefore parteecularly desirable as mates. Oor Neanderthal correspondent wadna dispute that, naiterally, bit whit the authors are sayin in fact, is juist that there nae need tae assume that the Neanderthals was in ony wey inferior tae the Modrens.

The study is in twa pairts. The first establishes (yaisin the evidence o stane tuils – it’s ingenious, bit Ah’ll no gang intae the details) that baith Neanderthals an Modrens chynged the wey they muved aboot “over the course of the Late Pleistocene”. Ower time, baith lots got less inclined tae flit their hale camp, an mair inclined tae sattle in yin place, sendin oot huntin baunds. Thir mobile pairties wis able tae cover a muckler area, drawin on wider resources, as the climate got harsher. The pynt is that this made it likelier that the twa lots wad rin intae ilk ither.

The saicont pairt o the study rins computer simulations tae see whit wad happen tae the smaaer population o Neanderthals as they interactit wi the muckler population o Modrens. Nae prizes for guessin. It’s extinction by hybridisation.

The authors daes briefly discuss the verra smaa proportion o Neanderthal genes in the Modren population. This cud come aboot simply by hybrids breedin back intae the larger Modren population. Bit they mention forbye that wi ither mammal species there aften a situation whaur hybrids is mair viable breedin back in yin direction nor in the ither. This is pretty much the scenario that Braken Fences envisages.

Friday, 11 November 2011

New beuk: Scotland as Science Fiction

Juist readin John Corbett’s chaipter ‘Past and Future Language: Matthew Fitt and Iain M. Banks’ in Caroline McCracken-Flesher’s new beuk Scotland as Science Fiction

Verra insightfu treatment o Matthew Fitt’s But n Ben A-Go-Go an Iain M. Banks’ Feersum Endjinn in the contexts baith o science fiction’s play wi langage, an o modrenism. In the case o But n Ben A-Go-Go this relates tae attempts be writers sic as MacDiarmid tae separate the Scots leid fae its nostalgic and backart-leukin associations.

As Corbett says o But n Ben,

To project a vibrant Scots-speaking community into a fictional future is … an act of will that is both political and counter-intuitive.

He comes tae the conclusion that
If Scots as a literary medium is to survive then it must be as something other than the unique expression of the psychology of one people.

Ah howp Braken Fences can contribute tae that.

Ah howp tae that there’s some depth tae the multiculturalism o ma characters – whan yin o ma characters is supposed tae come fae a certain culture, Ah’ve ettlet tae shaw foo that culture informs their warld view - includin the inventit mind style o the Neanderthals.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Neanderthal Mind

Verra interestin an convincin airticle by Julia A. Sherman, Evolutionary origin of bipolar disorder-revised:EOBD-R’ in the journal ‘Medical Hypotheses’ (2011). It turns oot that there a connection atween bipolar disorder (whit yist tae be cried manic depression), seasonal affective disorder, an a cauld-adaptit body shape. Aa thir is peened doon tae a certain gene (EOBD-R).

Circadian rhythms in folk wi bipolar disorder is seemilar tae rhythms in beasts that hibernate. Maist intriguin tae me is the norie that the relevant gene cud hae come fae the Neanderthals. It wad been an adaptation tae life in a cauld climate.
… the question is asked, “How could Neandertals survive the winters if they were all depressed? How could they go out to hunt if they were depressed?” … … bipolar individuals have the capacity to switch out of depression during emergencies. … … during the Pleistocene hunting during the winter was often a fruitless, life-threatening activity. Hunters were well advised to save their energy for a better day. Neandertals were known to store dried meat, but as anthropologists have described, during the winters Neandertals did often verge on starvation … The argument of the … hypothesis is that Neandertals would have been even worse off without the bipolar adaptations. Imagine the winter scenario for a group of people, not depressed, living in close quarters for several months. People would become bored and likely to fight over sex partners and food. Some would impulsively venture to the outside never to return. The increased energy expenditures, social conflict, and loss of life seem less adaptive than the scenario of winter depression.
In the mean time the search aye continues for somethin  special aboot the modren mind, somethin exceptional tae explain oor predominance an render it inevitable afore the event. At the Gene Expression blog on Discover Magazine, Razib Khan haes been chowin this ower, ever an anon. He questions whether there haes tae be a single 'point mutation' that made wis modren. An e'en gin there is somethin in oor genes that gied us the edge ower the Neanderthals, it michtna come oot in aabody, bit juist in the antrin charismatic leader or aff-the-wa genius. There's interestin discussion in the comments tae his posts an aa, wi a hantle fowk inclinet hae pit it doon tae demography - a creetical mass that allooed the transmeesion o knawledge, specialisation, an organisation.

In contrast tae Khan's thochtfu haunlin o the subjeck, there a gey dire airticle in the New Scientist (staundards haes been faain there for a whilie), 'Different minds' by Kate Ravilious. For maist fowk the story is that Neanderthals had forms o the ilk genes that causes autism an schizophrenia in modrens, genes that's aften associatit wi creativity an lateral thinkin. Some fowk, leukin tae heeze up the Neanderthals, has suggestit that we got thir genes fae the Neanderthals, an sae the Neolithic Revolution is doon tae hybrid vigour efter we mellit wi thaim. For Ravilious on the ither haun - yeukie tae haud doon the Neanderthals - the pynt is that
Neanderthals carried subtly different forms of the AUTS2, CADPS2 and NRG3 genes compared with modern humans
Whaur her airticle really faas doon, though, is the suggestion that modren humans war uniquely 'tolerant' o fowk tinged wi mad genius, an sae we cam tae dominate. There isnae a scart o evidence for this, an it sticks in ma thrapple as a blaud o preachy political correctness, shamelessly smearin an opponent as intolerant on the basis o naethin but self-congratulatory sanctimoniousness. Flame aff.

Clonin Neanderthals

Fact is catchin up fast on fiction - airticle here aboot the ethics o clonin Neanderthals - reckont tae be aboot ten year fae bein feasible. Bad, bad, idea. It wad be the Truman Show wi addit mental health probs.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hello, Hye-jin Yu

Somebody visitit this blog fae South Korea! Hello, Hye-jin Yu, Ah wint ye for a Neanderthal! Ah loved your high-pitched rant in The Warrior.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Gruntin Neanderthals

A frein draws ma attention tae this story fae 2008 aboot Neanderthal speech. Robert McCarthy haes biggit a model o the Neanderthal vocal tract and synthesised the vowel ‘ee’. The New Scientist coverage o McCarthy’s conference paper quotes him as saying “They would have spoken a bit differently. They wouldn't have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language.” Later in the airticle this has become, “Though subtle, the linguistic difference would have limited Neanderthal speech.” The Telegraph picked up the story but drapt the New Scientist’s coverage o the discussion, in parteecular Erik Trinkaus’s view: "Ultimately what is important is not the anatomy of the mouth but the neuronal control of it."

Ah had tae gang an leuk up 'quantal vowels' (the abstract o this airticle be K. N. Stevens did the job) - apparently there aboot hauf a dizzen vowel souns that dinnae shaw muckle variation fae ane speaker tae anither (despite big differs in the vocal tract atween the sexes and accordin tae age). The idea is that thir are kinna calibration pyints for unnerstaunin speech.

Oor Neanderthal correspondent comments:

The idea that we have a prob with this is so much mammoth poo.

a) the scientists have synthesised one vowel so far - the rush to relegate us to football fan status on the basis of such fragmentary evidence is wholly typical of the prejudice against us, but we say, "Nya nya, sticks and stones," because we don't do victimhood;
b) there are modern languages that get by with two vowels, and some linguists argue there are languages with one (highly variable - uncalibrated!) vowel. Who needs vowels? We have more consonants than anybody!
c) we calibrate on a sliding scale - easy peasy - we have bigger brains than anybody!
d) and we wrestle woolly rhinos!