Are ghosts real?

If Scooby-Doo has taught us anything, it’s that ghosts are just people playing tricks on us. However one in three Brits say they believe ghosts exist. Stories of haunted houses and supernatural experiences have been part of human society for many many years. But what does science say about this? Is there scientific evidence to suggest ghosts are real? Or is it all just part of our imaginations?

The belief in ghosts correlates to the belief in an afterlife. The idea that the dead have unfinished business before they can move on. They can be a coping mechanism to know that our departed still with us. And these stories have just evolved and passed down through generations to spread this belief that spirits walk among us. However there is a lot of scientific reasons to debunk the existence of ghosts.

You may think that you aren’t scared of the dark, but this fear is embedded in our genes. Early humans would have to sleep out in the open, which made us very vulnerable to potential predators. They would have to constantly be on the lookout for anything that could attack them, and the darkness of night only put us more on edge. Being scared of the dark essentially meant being scared of the unknown. Not knowing if there’s something around us and whether they’re harmful.

Over time, despite building homes and developing electrical light, this primal instinct to be wary in darkness might present itself as type of mild anxiety. And this can explain why some people see ghosts. A car engine in the far distance might sound haunting, we mistake random objects as a shadowy figure in the corner of our eye, we are just prone to thinking that something is out to get us as a survival instinct.

Our brains are also programmed to find meaning in the meaningless. Like when you look at clouds and see them in the shape a dinosaur, or see a smiley face in your plate of food. This is known as pareidolia. We are constantly bombarded with information from all our senses. Our brains can get overwhelmed so it will only focus on the most important info and the rest is essentially just the brain filling in the gaps.

Can you see the faces in these objects?

Seeing ghostly faces in the dark, or hearing voices is just our brain finding what we know (i.e. other humans) in nothingness. When in darkness and scared, our sight is compromised and the other senses heighten. The brain has to create a reality with the other senses, which can often take form in people seeing ghosts. We say that it must be a ghost as it can be easier to believe than the idea our brain has lied to us.

On the flip side, our brains can miss things that are in clear view. The most famous example of this being the study where participants were asked to count the number of times people passed a basketball. During the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks into shot and waves. About half the participants failed to notice this! This is known as inattentional blindness.

When focused on a particular task, you just zone everything out. You may think an object has moved or a door has opened since the last you saw it and think a ghost must have done it. In fact you or someone else did it, and you just didn’t notice or forgot because you were engrossed in something else.

Humans are also gullible creatures. Multiple studies have shown that simply telling someone about a place being haunted or that they have encountered spirits, they are more likely to believe it. While you may try to rationalise an unknown sound or sighting, we would tend to back the belief that it was supernatural if other people have given eye witness testimony to it. So belief in ghosts may just be spread through word of mouth.

Other times it can be signs of brain disorders. Those who believe they can hear spirits can often be talked into getting help from medical professionals to sort out this issues. Mental illness, drugs and sleep paralysis can also account for ghostly visions or the feeling of a demonic/dark energy. So be wary and get help if you feel you need it.

“The Supernatural is the Natural, just not yet understood.”

Elbert Hubbard

Majority of times, paranormal experiences are just our brains playing tricks on us. But environmental factors can also play a huge role in seeing ghosts. Old and supposedly haunted places could be covered in mould, some of which may be toxic. Inhaling this harmful mould is bad for both breathing and the brain. With symptoms including delusions, depression, anxiety and even psychosis. And scientist have made strong links to the presence of mould and ghost reports.

Gas leaks can also cause paranormal experiences. Simply breathing in the poisonous gas Carbon Monoxide can lead to feeling of pressure on the chest, auditory hallucinations and unexplained feeling of dread (i’m not making this up!!). So for god sake, get a carbon monoxide detector if you think you’re house is haunted, it could save your life!

And a simple draft can also explain many ghostly experiences. Changed in air pressure and temperature can cause cold spots, door rattles and floor board creaks. So be aware, that ghost you believe you walked through might just be an open window in the house.

In terms of photographic and video evidence of spirits, many ghost hunters will edit and essentially fake evidence for the views/likes/publicity. There has also been cases where people pretend to need an exorcists to see if they use gimmicks or psychological tricks to convince someones being possessed. Some people also go undercover in paranormal investigations and ALWAYS in both these cases, there is a scientific reason behind ghosts.

The Enfield Poltergeist is a very famous haunting case. But many believe it was all just a prank pulled by the children and this “levitation” was simply a girl jumping off her bed.

For me, the question of “are there animal ghosts wondering around” comes to mind a lot. If the spirits of humans remain, then what about the spirits of pets? Or cows? Or dinosaurs? There have been sighting of ghost horses, monkeys, bears and often people will say they still sense their departed pets in their home. But all these stories can still be debunked with the same logic as human ghosts.

Apparently we don’t see dinosaur ghosts as their remains are deep within the earth, their ghosts cant reach us. There’s also the belief that dinosaurs (And other animals) weren’t as emotionally or spiritually developed as humans so couldn’t return as ghosts! Which is a shame if you ask me.

On the note of animals and ghosts, many pet owners claim that their cat or dog can sense when a spirit is present in the home. Often staring at an empty spot, growling away at nothing. Have they seen a ghost?

The thing with cats and dogs is that we still don’t understand a lot about their behaviours and how they perceive the world. We know that their senses are far more developed than ours, so they may have picked up on a bit of dust moving across the floor, or a felt the vibrations of a passing car.

Cats and dogs also seem to have a sixth sense. Both seem to pick up on a persons aura, and can tell if there’s a positive or negative vibe coming from someone and chose to accept them or chase them away. They can also sense when disasters like storms or tornadoes are approaching using these other senses.

With their far superior senses, cats and dogs have been know to pick up on cues and actions to sense fear, trustworthiness and sometimes impending death in people!

We simply can’t know whats going on in a cat or dogs brain, so we don’t know why they act strange at times. But because we don’t understand, we can’t instantly jump to the conclusion that they are seeing ghosts. It means we just need to study and learn more about these fascinating creatures that share our homes.

Well, there you have it. The things that go bump in the night aren’t demons or ghosts, it’s just you’re brain’s natural fight or flight reflex (or Carbon Monoxide poisoning!). Now I’m not against someones belief in ghosts, or saying that being scared of them is childish. This article was to challenge beliefs and shed light into other explanations that could put fears to ease.

If you believe that there are spirits amongst us, then that is you’re belief and I respect that! As mentioned at the beginning, ghosts can be a way of remembering those loved ones that have sadly departed us.

I haven’t actually witnessed any ghosts as of yet, so if people are willing to challenge my belief and take me ghost hunting then I am more than happy to participate. Although I know I would still be scared (as I am an easily spooked person), knowing that I could come out it with a whole new perspective on life and death is exciting.

Also if you have had any experiences that you want me to try debunk, please comment and i’ll do my best to being a scientific perspective to it.

Why are insects so small?

If you’re scared of creepy crawlies, be thankful you didn’t live in the Carboniferous period. Around 300 million years ago, giant insects would roam the planet. The largest being from the extant genus Meganeura which resembled modern day dragonflies. Their wingspan could reach over 2 feet! Back then there were centipedes over 8 feet in length, guitar sized scorpions and ants the size of birds. So why are they so small now? And could they grow back to these lengths?

Simple answer being we still don’t really know. But there are two main theories. The most studied and accepted theory being that the size change was in relation to the amount of oxygen in the air.

Insects don’t have lungs. Instead they rely on small openings called spiracles on their thorax and abdomens to bring in oxygen to their tiny trachea, which then passively transport it to the body cells.

Due to the small size and bottle-necking of an insects trachea, it affects how much oxygen they can take in, and therefore their size. If they were to be any bigger than they are now, they would need a lot more oxygen to survive. But the quantity needed would be too much to fit in their narrow trachea’s.

The quality of air millions of years ago was much different (as you can imagine). It was warmer and wetter. 200-300 million years ago, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere was around 35%. Allowing insects, like those in the Meganeura genus, to get so big. Today, oxygen in the atmosphere is only about 21%. So basically, insects had to adapt to this reduction in oxygen by becoming smaller. If oxygen levels were to increase again, in theory, insects could become larger.

Insect respiratory system

Insects circulatory system is also different from ours. They have an open system (which is seen throughout a lot of invertebrates) where blood is not transported in blood vessels. Instead it flows freely around the cavities and sucked up back into the circulatory system. The bigger the insect, the harder it would be to move blood around the body. Gravity would draw the blood down making the uptake more difficult. This could also be another reason why insects had to shrink.

Another prominent theory to why insects have become so little is due to the evolution of birds. Despite oxygen levels decreasing, around 150 millions years ago oxygen became more abundant in the air. But insects kept getting smaller. At the same time, the first birds started to evolve from the Theropod dinosaurs.

As the dinosaurs took to the skies and became more efficient at flying, they forced flying insects to be more manoeuvrable. Which drove evolution to favour a smaller body in those species. Much like birds today, early ones were thought to feed on small insects that existed at the time. The larger insects were thought to be predatory and also feasted on the small bugs. This increased competition between birds and large flying insects also put a cap on how big the insects could grow.

So with birds today being so specialised and proficient flyers and the poorer air quality, insects today are forced to remain the tiny creepy crawlies we often accidentally tread on. But why they aren’t any bigger or what the biological cause of controlling body size is still widely unknown.

Today, the largest insects to roam the planet aren’t anywhere near as big as their ancestors. The Titan Beetle (Titanus giganteus) which can be found in the amazon rainforest, can grow up to be 6.6 inches long. It also has powerful mandibles that could chunk off human flesh. And with a wingspan of around 11 inches, The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) is considered the largest moth in the world!

Titan beetle (Titanus giganteus), one of the largest insects in the world today.

But this also brings in the question of why some animals are so big? The largest living animal alive today is the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Reaching a whopping size of up to 100 feet long. It weighs around 180 tonnes and has a heart the size of a bumper car which only beats around 2 times a minute. But why are the big? And could they also get bigger?

On land there are some big creatures like the mighty Elephant. Being big allows you to scare off predators, have better fighting abilities and also you can store more water and fat. But land mammals are limited by gravity. Bulkiness means large bones and blood vessels to support the weight and mobility. Underwater, gravity isn’t an issue.

According to some scientists, marine mammals need to be a minimum size in order to survive. That minimum size being a thousand times bigger than the smallest land mammal. This is due to the need of heat and food.

Being underwater, the smaller you are, the quicker you lose heat. It’s almost impossible to eat enough food to keep up with the heat loss. So marine mammals have evolved to be a size that allows them eat enough food to provide enough heat to survive. Whales have taken this to the extreme.

Whales first appeared 50 million years ago, but it took another 10 million years for them to become completely aquatic. Some species evolved baleen which allowed them to take huge gulps of water and strain it for prey (e.g krill). This proved to be the most efficient feeding strategy compared to how toothed whales feed. They could take in massive amounts of calories in comparison to how much they burned while foraging, which enabled them to get bigger, which in turn makes them more efficient feeders.

Whether or not the blue whale or insects could grow in the future is unknown. What we do know is that both these gigantic and diminutive beasts are now facing extinction. Blue whales are now classed as endangered, and according to 2019 study, 40% of insect species are heading to extinction, with insect mass falling 2.5% every year.

Big or small, human or not, we all live on the same planet. We can’t lose the amazing biodiversity we have the privilege to see today. Everyone and anyone can do their bit to save the planet. Then we might be able to see what evolution has in store for all of the worlds creatures. Who knows, giant centipedes might make a comeback (I hope that hasn’t scared people into not saving the planet lol)!

Now enjoy some pictures of some prehistoric giant animals! (* WARNING, GIANT SPIDER INCLUDED*)

The lion on your lap: My obsession with cats

Ever since I was a child, I have adored cats. My family have had many in the past, so I’ve basically grown up with them.

My grandparents had two lovely Molly’s (female cat). Often times when I would visit my grandparents, I would give a quick hello to them, but then immediately go on a hunt to find the cats. I also spent most of my time playing with them!

Tucker was a shy, grey tabby. She would only approach my gran and was wary of everyone else. But one afternoon, I managed to stroke this elusive creature, and from then on we shared a special bond. Tucker was the one who sparked my love of cats. She would come to me in the garden and sit on my lap, but then flee when someone else would get close.

Sadly she passed away in her sleep in her early teen years. She went into her little bed in my grandparents garden, but didn’t wake in the morning. I was devastated.

Tucker did have a sister. Isis was named after one of the major Egyptian Goddesses. It is a gorgeous name but now has bad connotations and seems a bit inappropriate today, but I can assure you my family aren’t terrorists! She was a grumpy tortoiseshell cat who’s meow sounded more like a quack.

I had a love-hate relationship with Isis. I remember one time when I was playing with her with some string and she scratched me by accident. My 14 year old self took offence to this and spent more time with Tucker. But as I grew up, I forgave her. When Tucker died, I felt sorry for Isis. Even though she would fight with Tucker a lot.

Sadly, as Isis grew old, she experienced a lot of pain. So my family made the decision to put her down.

Then there was Jasper. My uncle and aunt would let me pet sit him and their dogs while they were at work/away. Jasper was another tabby but was white all over with ginger splodges. Unfortunately, he was run over at a very young age. He managed to hobble back to my uncles house, but the vet made the hard decision to put him down.

My little gremlin Gizmo

Fast forward a few years when one day walking home from college I bumped into my neighbour who straight up asked me “do you want a kitten?”. Of course I said yes. Six years later and I am so glad I have my darling Gizmo in my life.

My little gremlin is my one true love. I genuinely don’t know where i’d be without him. Although he has no idea what I’m saying, I still pour my heart out to him (this is normal for cat owners I hope!) and he’s been there as my little support buddy whenever I’ve needed a cry, hug or smile.

As you can tell. I am hugely passionate about cats. They are probably my favourite animal on this planet. When I go to zoo’s and see the lions and tigers, all I can see is a big version of my little Gizmo.

Now lets get into the sciencey stuff! We know cats as the independent, self-caring animals who only use us for food and a bed to sleep on. And this is essentially how they came to us way back then.

From various genetic evidence, it is suggested that our modern felines (Felis catus) came from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), and were domesticated around 4,000 years ago.

Despite domestication happening that long ago, it was thought that cats would have hung around human settlements about 8,000 years ago in what was called “the Fertile Crescent”, an area in the Middle East spanning from modern day Egypt to Iraq. This is where the origins of domestic cats are thought to have arisen.

African Wildcats were the precursor to the Domestic Cats we see today.

The Fertile Crescent was where early human started to practice agriculture. 9,000 years ago, wheat, barley and lentils were some of the first plants that we began to farm. The first domesticated farm animals were also seen here around the same time. Pigs, sheep and cattle all have origins that source back to the Fertile Crescent.

With all these new crops being produced, rats and mice would come along to feast on the grains and agricultural by products. The cats were thought to have followed the rodent populations into our farms to hunt them for food. In turn acting as the mice patrol for us, ensuring the vermin didn’t get at our crops. And this is how cats came into our lives.

Seeing the benefits of having a cat on your farm, farmers would take them in as they travelled across the land. Studies of DNA evidence has shown that these Middle Eastern friendly felines were found in eastern European settlements.

The ancient Egyptians also helped with the domestication of cats. They worshipped them, and because of this, cats became very popular animals 6,000 years ago. It was also illegal to harm a cat and breaking this law could have resulted in death.

Rodents were also a problem on many ships. During medieval times it was actually compulsory to have a cat on board to rid the vessel of mice. The Romans also took a liking to cats because of their mice catching abilities. With maritime trade rising and the expansion of the Roman empire, these Egyptian bred cats began to spread all across Europe. With some being found as far as the northern tip of Germany.

For thousands of years, cats were only seen as pest control animals. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that people took an interest in the way their cats looked, and selective breeding started to take place.

“There are few things in life more heartwarming than to be welcomed by a cat

-Tay Hohoff

A group of researchers looked at a genetic marker that codes for the blotched tabby patterns that are commonly seen in domestic cats today but not in their wildcat descendants. What they found was that this patterned coat first appeared in the 14th century in Turkey. So it took many years before the vast variety of felines we see today came about.

Despite having their differences, our carnivorous companions who sit beside us today have changed very little from their wildcat cousins according to genetic evidence. And cats still help us in many ways today.

One study showed men who owned cats were said to be nicer than those who didn’t by about 90% of single women. Simply by mentioning that you own a cat could work wonders on your dating life (unfortunately this hasn’t worked for me). But cats may also be better partners than humans.

According to some surveys, women prefer to sleep with a cat more than their actual partners. By sleeping with a cat, about 41% of people reported having a better night sleep. So there’s something about cats that aid in our sleep, and it could have something to do with their purrs.

The low rhythmic hum given off when they purr is calming. Having a cuddly cat sat on your lap purring away has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by up to 40%. Scientists have suggested that there is something about the way cats evolved that made their purrs so soothing to us.

The frequency at which cats purr actually heals and calms themselves when they’re injured or stressed. And those same frequencies may also have the same effect on us human, but this is still not well tested. But a cat’s purr is one of the many ways they communicate to us. Often a sign of happiness and contentment, we feel at ease when our cats purr.

Cats spend 13-16 hours a day sleeping. That works out to be 70% of their lives.

Another way they talk to us is with a noise that is a mixture of a purr and a howl (those cat owners know what i’m talking about). This call shares the same tones as a human baby’s cry, something that our brains are programmed to respond to as it signals our babies are in distress.

The high pitch rapid sound agitates owners, encouraging them to do whatever it takes to stop the unsettling noise. By giving off the same notes as a baby’s cry, cats can almost manipulate us to tend to their needs. Which is usually just when they want food.

Although they come across moody and plotting ways to kill you (which they probably are) cats are one of the smartest and well adapted creatures to strut the planet.

Whether you’re a dog person or were a fan of cats already, I hope that I have made you appreciate these incredible animals a little more.

And remember, dogs have masters, cats have slaves.

Time to go vegan?

I know what you’re thinking “Oh god, not another person trying to convert me to veganism!” But a post about vegans was inevitable on my blog as it is such a big environmental topic. Also with the Coronavirus pandemic supposedly starting with someone eating a bat and the fact that the Bubonic plague has recently killed someone after they ate a marmot, is this Mother Nature telling us to stop eating animals?

Although i’m not vegan, i’ve been a vegetarian for almost 2 years now. One day I realised I ate lot of meat and I started to think more about the ethics of this. So I did more research and decided to make a change to my diet. Initially I wanted to reduce my meat intake and only eat free range/organic meats where possible. Then I thought why not give it up altogether, so I did. And honestly, I love it.

Now i’ll hold my hands up and say that I haven’t been the the most committed veggie. Occasionally i’d give in to cravings or eat meat to avoid being labelled as fussy or an inconvenience. However, I am now being much more strict on myself. If it’s an inconvenience to people, then so what, deal with it! If anything, eating meat those few times proved how much I don’t miss it.

I do live as vegan friendly as possible though (might go full vegan at some point!). I made the switch to non dairy milks and have cut down on my dairy intake and will choose vegan alternative whenever I can. But I wouldn’t say no to a cheese board! Personally I enjoy my coffee with oat milk way more than I did with cows milk. Trust me, oat milk is incredible.

Like me, many other people around the world are starting to make the switch to a more plant based diet. But where did it all come from? How much of an impact does veganism really make?

Let’s start off around two million years ago. Early humans, like chimps today, were omnivorous. Eating fruit, flowers and seeds. We would very rarely consume meat. But then in a drastic change of events, we went from eating meat when times were tough to eating it more regularly. No one is really sure why this happened though.

Example of early humans hunting for food.

Our bodies weren’t adapted to eat meat. Our organs had evolved for a predominantly plant based diet. We didn’t have the teeth to tear off meat and break through bones. But humans were smart. Tools began to evolve; Weapons that helped us catch prey and sharp stones to slice of flesh and crack bones to reach the marrow.

Meat is also much more nutrient dense than plants. It let us get bigger without effecting our agility, allowing us to catch even bigger prey. Some scientists have suggested that without this increased consumption of meat, we wouldn’t be what we’re like today.

With the advancement in tools to cut up our meat, our facial structure could change. We didn’t need to evolve sharp teeth or more forceful bites, so we evolved smaller teeth and not as distinctive jaw muscles. This in turn made huge changes to our skull and neck morphology. Meaning our brains could get bigger and our speech organs could become more advanced.

This new meat diet has also been credited to mothers producing better quality milk, therefore reducing the babies suckling time (which meant we could reproduce more often), so human communities could grow faster.

Now that we understood how good meat was, we started to make it easier to get hold of. Instead of chasing after it, we rared animals along side our grains. And so animal farming had begun.

The crowed and inhumane conditions many animals are rared in for factory farming.

As the years went on, we started selectively breeding farm animals to optimise our requirements. Factory farming has solved many of these problems today. High demand means farmers need to keep up with the supply.

It’s no question that animals have a sense of pain. Therefore must be able to feel suffering. To most sane people, animal cruelty is frowned upon. Why then is it okay to eat them? Animals farmed for meat and dairy are often killed in horrific ways and rared in horrid conditions. We don’t seem to care about that when we go to the shops to buy some bacon. Although meat eaters aren’t the ones directly doing the killing, by simply purchasing meat, you’ve killed an animal. We as a species are selfish, but we are learning.

The eating of Cuy (Guinea Pigs) has been part of the Peruvian diet for more than 5,000 years

There is another issue of where do we stop? Where do we draw the line of what animals we can and can’t eat? And how can someone say they love animals if they eat meat? The answer simply being that they only love pets.

Some “traditional” foods around the world include shark fin soup, snakes and guinea pigs (Don’t judge me but I did try this in Peru before I went veggie and was curious to try it). Tradition usually means people refuse or just can’t be asked to change. But as the world moves forward, more people are realising that animal deserve more rights and are trying to make a change.

Bring on the vegans! Around the mid 1900’s, Donald Watson came up with the phrase “vegan”. He grew up on a farm and witnessed a pig being slaughtered and vowed to never eat meat again. He later founded the Vegan Society.

Now in the UK, 7% (3.5million) of the population call themselves vegetarian (as of 2020). A 73% increase from last year. There is also set to be a 98% increase in the number of vegans by the end of 2020. Millennials seem to be the ones causing this change to a more plant-based diet. It appears that more youngsters are starting to care about the environment.

This is where I get a bit preachy, but the benefits veganism has on the environment is incredible. Tonnes of research has suggested that cutting meat and dairy out of your diet is the best thing you can do to save the planet.

Animal farming takes up 83% of agricultural land. To produce food for a vegan diet would use 76% less land than that of a meat eater. Freeing up land for nature to thrive.

Livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of CO2 per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emission. If people chose a meat free life, this ridiculously high amount of pollution would be significantly reduced.

Animal agriculture’s water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually. So the amount of water saved by not eating meat or dairy would be astronomical. Some estimates say that 150,000 gallons could be saved per person per year.

But it’s not all good. Your fruit and veg probably would need to be imported from a different country. All those air miles and CO2 flying your out of season strawberries or avocados to supermarkets for you to eat.

Filled with calcium and vitamin D, Soy is a big part of a meat free lifestyle. To grow it, it takes acres of land. Primarily grown in the Amazon. To grow the amount that would be needed to feed all the new vegans, it would require vast amounts of the rain forest to be cut down.

“To get mud off your hands, use soap and water. To get blood off your hands, go vegan.”

-John Sakars

But veganism is more than just changing your diet. It’s about giving animals more respect and the rights they deserve. By using less fur or beauty products tested on animals you are still supporting animal rights.

It’s obviously not up to me what people want to do with their lives. But to make a big enough impact in terms of saving the planet, individuals need to start making small changes in their lifestyle. By simply switching to vegan/veggie diet, companies/supermarkets will need to fit those increase demands (to make more money basically). Which will ultimately better the future of the planet.

This post wasn’t about trying to convert you to veganism or a life without meat. It was just a way to present the facts and get you to see that what you eat does have an effect on the environment.

If you think “well I can’t live my life without my mums Sunday roast?!” by all means, continue to have your roast. Just reduce your meat intake/don’t eat meat during the week, then treat yourself to nice big chicken or whatever at the end of the week.

Or change the Sunday roast to a meat free alternative! Start your own family food tradition with a more veggie or vegan meal! Make a change in the world. Anyone can do it. Have a ploughman in your meal deal instead of a BLT. Ask for a soy milk latte at Starbucks. Make a small change in your lifestyle that will have a huge impact to the environment.

As mentioned earlier, meat does provide us with a lot of nutrients. But there are numerous amounts of dishes and plant based food sources that will give you the same good things meat gives you. Our early ancestors could survive without meat, so why can’t we do the same now?

The Homosexuality Paradox

Homosexuality is very divided topic. Some people are completely open and welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. While others are more conservative in their views and consider it immoral. In many countries, like in the Middle East, it’s even considered a crime. Sometimes punishable by death.

Today, LGBTQ+ rights are still being fought for. In many countries, people of this community still aren’t seen as equals to heterosexuals. But they are. No matter what your sexual orientation, every one of us is human. Just like any other behaviour, homosexuality has evolved over time. It’s a natural part of life.

“It is an expression of biodiversity” say Professor Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, an evolutionary biologist from Queen’s University Belfast. He has been fascinated for years by the topic of homosexuality and has conducted work on how this behaviour has evolved. “Some things are big and some things are small. Some things have fangs, some do not, homosexuality is exactly the same” he continues. However, homosexuality today is still being discriminated against.

Some people have the belief that being gay is only seen in humans or call it unnatural. This could not be further from the truth. Homosexuality is seen all throughout the animal kingdom. “More than 1000 species have been recorded so far with proper expressions of it” Daniel says. “We see the behaviour in invertebrates, vertebrates. It’s everywhere” he emphasises. It’s a normal way of life for many other species on this planet.

Like any other behaviour, both nature and nurture play important roles in its evolution. Across the animal kingdom, genes have been identified that play a role in causing homosexual behaviours. “Those genes are the ones that allow a male to identify another male” explains Daniel. “If those genes are inactivated or altered, then males lose the capacity to see who is a male. So genetically they become homosexuals.” This evidence could suggest a more genetic reason to homosexuality.

An interesting phenomenon seen in humans is known as “The Big Brother Effect.” Daniel sheds further light on this. “When mothers have many boys in a row, normally the fourth or fifth is likely to be homosexual.” Why this phenomenon is seen is still unknown. “There is hypothesises that mothers develop some kind of special way of dealing with hormones that can affect the development of a child that becomes homosexual as a boy.” He then draws on his own experience to share some evidence for this fascinating effect in his own family. “I have five brothers and my fifth brother is homosexual” he says.

The evidence for a genetic basis of homosexuality in humans is unclear. It is also hard to test whether this is true as we can’t ask new born babies their sexual orientation. A more behavioural theory can also explain this sexuality. Daniel explains homosexuality as possibly a more plastic behaviour. This essentially means that it is flexible, that some individuals are never truly homosexual.

Bottlenose Dolphins are one of many species that exhibit homosexual behaviours to strengthen social bonds.

“In some species, young males tend to be rejected by females because they are not experienced enough when mating. So they learn to mate by becoming homosexual with other young males” Daniel says. “When they have trained, females accept them. A young male who is starting to mate can damage a female and do many things that females reject.” This is evidence that the behaviour is more plastic.

In many species, homosexuality can come around to resolve social conflicts. “It happens in some primates where there is a dominant male, and there is a male who is not as dominant. When they engage in a conflict, the dominant male can kill the younger, less dominant male” Daniel says. “Sometimes the younger male offers himself to have homosexual sex with the dominant male to be okay with them. It solves the social conflict” he continues. In doing so, the younger male, survives.

He also mentions that this behaviour can be seen in female primates to resolve conflicts over spots for food and help them bond. “Those cases are all plastic responses” Daniel explains. And if we look back into the historical literature, many human societies permitted homosexuality for social reasons. Most famously in Sparta, where it was actually a bonding activity in the military.

There are other examples where homosexuality is used to resolve social conflicts in humans. All we need to do is look at prisoners. “You could be the toughest more heterosexual guy and if you go to prison and someone puts a knife on your neck and says ‘you’re going to be my boyfriend’ you obviously agree” explains Daniel. “You agree to be homosexual for your time in prison. You can choose not to do it and be killed. It’s exactly the same as the apes” he continues. So by using prisoners as examples, we can see that there are parallels in our behaviour and our ape cousins.

Like all animals, how you are raised and taught by your parents affect your behaviours. Daniel discusses whether this also has an effect on the expression of homosexuality. “Children grow up with the idea that girls have to wear dresses and like dolls. Boys wear jeans and like trucks. You grow with those prejudices and constraints” he says. “If parents provide the developmental environment where children can play with dolls if they’re a boy, they develop that social flexibility that may make them more likely to be homosexual. Because your developmental environment provided you with the freedom to do that without being punished” he continues.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

Tennessee Williams

Despite all these theories into the evolution of homosexuality, it’s a subject that has confused scientists for years. It is what’s known as an “evolutionary paradox.” Evolution works on sexual reproduction to pass on genes to the next generation. Given this, non-reproductive sex, like that displayed in homosexuals, seems nonsensical as it involves dedicating time and energy towards an activity that does not contribute towards your reproductive success. But even though this type of behaviour is seemingly pointless in terms of evolution, homosexuality is still seen across a wide variety of species.

So why might this behaviour still be selected for if it is not evolutionary beneficial? “There is the assumption that homosexuality is a behaviour you have for your entire life. And that’s where it goes wrong” says Daniel. As mentioned before, homosexuality can be a plastic and not seen throughout someone’s life. “There are cases when people are young, they are more flexible about being homosexual. And as they grow older, they marry with the other sex” he continues. “You cannot assume that homosexual individuals will always be homosexual. That’s why it keeps being passed on.” Suggesting that it may be passed down more passively through generations.

Natural selection acts as a watchdog and filters out costly traits. “If a gene is not costly to you, those traits can be passed on simply because natural selection is blind to it” Daniel explains. These are known as vestigial traits. “If homosexuality is not costly and provides you social benefits, like solving conflicts, then there’s no reason why natural selection would act against it” he goes on to say.

There are benefits to having homosexual individuals in the population, which may also explain why it’s still selected for. One of the most popular explanations for the evolution of homosexuality is that it came about through kin selection. It’s based on the idea that an individual can increase their reproductive success substantially by helping relatives who share their genes reproduce, even if they don’t do so themselves. This can be seen in some societies like Samoa.

Fa’afafine: The third gender in Samoa

In Samoan cultures, there is a third gender that is called “Fa’afafine”, which translates to “in the manner of a woman.” Those in this third gender are usually feminine androphilic males and can be assigned to it at birth. This culture is very common across the Samoan islands and has been going on for as long as the people of the country can remember. The Fa’afafine role is to help the community with tasks usually conducted by females, like childcare and cleaning, but with the strength of a male. There is evidence that shows higher reproductive rates in families with a Fa’afafine member. Despite being more non-binary than homosexual, it still supports this idea that homosexuality could have evolved from kin selection.

The idea of a fluid sexuality may be the best explanation as to why homosexuality is still being selected for. “Bisexuality may actually be the norm for humans” says Daniel. “By pursuing homosexual mating in addition to heterosexual mating, individuals achieve not just reproduction, but also social benefits orientated around the same sex.”

The origins of homosexuality are greatly disputed and generally unknown. What is known is that homosexuality is more common than we think. It’s part of what makes this world so fascinating and adds to the diversity of life. In humans however, some societies still do not welcome this way of life.

We need to move away from these ignorant and medieval points of views of homosexuality and try to normalise the behaviour. We need to fight for humans to be whoever they want to be and love whoever they want to love.

“We need not only to respect, we need to love every expression of biodiversity that we have the luck to see. One of them is homosexuality” concludes Professor Daniel. “The only species on earth that expresses homophobia is humans. Homosexuality is natural, homophobia is extremely unnatural.”

Fighting racism with science.

It’s clear to see that racism is still wide spread across the world today. Why these ancient and horrid beliefs that someone is more worthy than another simply because their skin is a different colour are still seen is beyond me. I am a man of science and evolution, and from extensive research, racism does not exist in nature. Race is not defined in biology. Race has come about as a social construct. Race exists because we can perceive it.

Variation is something that defines all species. Evolution and natural selection only operate because of variation within populations. Without it, many animals today wouldn’t be the way they are. However in humans, race plays little to no part of this. Despite being segregated into categories based on the colour of our skin, variation between races are only skin deep.

We as a species share 99.9% of our DNA with eachother. We all share the same genes for hair colour and eye colour. The different alleles (or variations) of genes that are expressed allow us to have the types of colour and texture of hair we see for example.

The differences in skin colour is in part due to the adaptation to sunlight exposure. Darker skin is partially due to the skin producing more melanin to protect us from damage from intense sunlight. When you go the beach to tan (for those who can tan) and get that sun kissed skin, your body is producing more melanin. Which therefore darkens your skin colour. So if global warming continues and the suns gets more intense, white people will have to adapt and have darker skin to survive! So all you racists out there, think about that!

However as I said, sunlight is only a small factor to skin colour variation. Homo sapiens originated in Africa, but this doesn’t suggest our ancestors were darker skinned. In fact there is a wide variety of skin types within Africa today and is greater than elsewhere in the world. Factors like diet and disease might also be explanations to the palette of skin colours we see.

There is also an innumerable amount of evidence to suggest that within “races” there is far more genetic variation than between them. A 2002 study found that 93-95 percent of the genetic variation occurs within rather than between geographically distinct populations. Yet we still define people from African countries as “black”. Society has also created these racial stereotypes that unjustly define someone to a certain race.

Thinking that a certain trait or characteristic defines or is only seen in one group is stupid. The thought that those from African American or Caribbean backgrounds are better at running, or higher intellect comes from an Asian decent are embedded from racism. If this were to be true, then there would be genetic evidence for this. “Trademark” alleles or genetic characteristics that are only seen within one location and in none others.

But one study found that out of over 4000 alleles only 7.4% of were specific to one geographical region. Even when region-specific alleles did appear, they only occurred in about 1% of the people from that region. So there is no genetic evidence to suggest that so called “races” have a unifying, distinguished genetic identities.

In regards to genetic diversity, the notion that one “should go back to where they came from” is an interesting concept. Saying that “England should be for the English” or that there should be a travel ban of people from the Middle East coming into America is the stuff of nonsense!

Human have been moving around the world ever since we first emerged 200,000 years ago, and we have not stopped. Numerous migrations, invasions and colonisation events have occurred over that time. So where you might be told to go back too is so much more complicated.

Let’s look at the current supposed “leader of the free world” president Trump. He told four US congress women to “go back to where they came from” in 2019. He himself has a Scottish born mother and grandparents who were immigrants from Germany. His current wife is Slovenian, his first wife was Czech. Apparently this comment doesn’t mean anything if you’re white.

Those white people thinking that they are “pure blood” are simply wrong too. Every single human being is related. We all have ancestors from Africa. You are not, no matter how many generations you think were white, pure white in any way shape or form. Our ancient ancestry is still hard to define. You may not have known them, and those online DNA kits may not show them, but we are all, regardless of the colour of skin, related.

If race does not exist in evolution, then why does science say that one race may be more susceptible to a certain disease? Why is that more people from BAME backgrounds are dying of coronavirus? Why are black Americans more at risk of high blood pressure?

Race related research can often come from an underlying form of racism. Again, the notion that we must find reasons that one race is inferior to another. And medical research on the correlation between disease and race susceptibility are not as robust as people may think. Some forward thinkers suggest that these supposed increase in risk of disease, may have been because of inferior social conditions in the past that have remained in the genome. Essentially, racism throughout history might have led non white people being more prone to certain diseases!

Once again, if race is not part of science, then why are people with certain skin types being discriminated against? All of this is because of political and colonial history. Slavery, colonisation and slaughter have all laid the foundations for racism throughout the world.

Going all the way back to when taxonomy started, racism has been seen. Early classifications of Humans were based on skin colour. Carl Linnaeus (who founded the whole classification system we use on species today) noted people of East Asians as “ruled by opinion” and haughty. While philosopher Voltaire thought black people were a different species.

The so called Age of Enlightenment accelerated the notion that race is a measure to classify people by. White, male Europeans used race science to justify the conquest, enslavement and exploitation of non-white people. These would be embodied in ideologies such as social Darwinism and eugenics.

You’d think in the 21st century we would have moved on from these views. Yet as we can see from recent events involving the death of George Floyd and many others, racism is still present. White supremacy has not gone away.

Action is needed to hold those accountable for their wrong doings. Action needs to be taken so that those feeling repressed can finally be heard. Action needs to be taken to allow those of colour to feel safe in their community. And action is being taken. Protests are at the forefront of change. By making a stand, change will come. If not, well as seen through history, rebellions form. And a rebellion has begun.

Race should not matter in the world today. But it does. And that’s because of racism. We are all human. No matter how different we look, we are all brothers and sisters of the earth. We need to save the world not only from environmental damage, but from racism, sexism, homophobia and all other prejudices that exist. Then and only then, will we have truly saved the world.

I recently re-watched The Lorax, and it ended on a quote from Dr Seuss. Since then it is all I can think about. It is so relevant for what is going on today. And so I will leave you to ponder over it. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The unbeelievable work of the bees

The sun has started to shine and flowers are blossoming. With the world becoming quieter because of the Coronoavirus, wildlife is flourishing. The hum of traffic is now replaced with the characteristic buzz of the bees.

Zigzagging from flower to flower, these busy bodies are hard at work pollinating plants. A single honey bee can fly up to 6 miles to find nectar and can visit up to 1,500 flowers a day. Now that the air pollution has fallen dramatically, more rare wildflowers are blooming, and the bees are taking advantage of this. The air is cleaning allowing them to smell out the nectar from much farther away.

Bees are responsible for pollinating about 80% of plants, most of which are used for our consumption. This means that one out of every three or four bites of the food you eat is thanks to the humble bee. It is estimated that bees contribute £400-£651million to the British economy every year (the latter figure is apparently £150million more than the Royal Family brings in through tourism!) and around £150billion per year globally. It’s clear to see that bees play a pretty crucial role in the world.

This is why May 20th marked World Bee Day. Initially proposed by Slovenian beekeepers, the United Nations picked it up and unanimously declared May 20th to be World Bee Day. It would be day for people across the globe to appreciate the importance of bees in the ecosystem.

In other recent bee news, there has been new evidence that has shown how cunning these tiny black and yellow creatures can be. When they are in desperate need of pollen, they damage an unflowered plant by biting the leaves in a specific way. This damage somehow fools the plant into flowering up to 30 days earlier than it should.

Scientists tried to copy this technique, however they were unsuccessful. Bee bitten plants flowered 30 days earlier compared to non damaged ones, and up to 25 days earlier than the ones damaged by the researchers. They suggest this could be because of a secretion the bees produce, but are still uncertain. Who knew bees were so sneaky?

While there are many types of bees, we enjoy the sweet sticky taste of honey that is created by the honey bee. But it actually takes a lot of effort to produce. A single honey bee will only produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. However a whole hive create around 50kg of it in a year. To make this golden liquid it requires the most of the colony.

A worker bee will head out in search of nectar, and use its long tongue to get right into all the corners of the flower. Once ingested, a special stomach with special enzymes begin the process of converting nectar to honey. Upon its return, the bee will regurgitate its contents to anther bee, who will then do the same. This rather gross method allows the nectar to break down even more.

Once thrown up and eaten enough times, the fluid is still rather liquidly so it’s placed in the hives honeycomb and the bees will beat their wings to create an air current. This allows any water to evaporate and thicken the concoction. Beeswax is then used to cap the liquid in its cell so it can continue to transform into the thick rich gold we all enjoy.

Just like us, they love eating their honey which they so longingly made. When times are tough and food is scarce (like in the winter) honey is a great source of sugars to fuel the bees through the cooler months.

However the number of these little flying insects are declining. Knowing how hard they work and how important they are to the economy, it is vital that we save them.

There are a number of threats that are causing this loss. One of the main being habitat loss. With increased amounts of development going on the world, the green blossoming areas needed for bees to thrive are being taken away.

Just like us humans, there is a disease that is spreading throughout the bee population as well. Chronic bee paralysis virus 10 years ago was only found in a few hives in Lincolnshire, but is now found in bees in most counties in the UK. It affects a bees ability to fly and is spreading fast. There are also many other diseases and mites that effect a bees ability to fly home and even die.

Pollution, pesticides and climate change are all other factors that are killing the bee population. Although it all seems doom and gloom, there are things that can be done to help encourage our little workers to survive.

As usual, reducing our carbon emissions can greatly improve the survival of bees. This can already be seen now from the effects of global isolation. There should also be laws against the use of the most dangerous and harmful pesticides. While much action can be taken by governing bodies to encourage more ecological agricultural methods, there are things you can do from your own homes to entice more bees to come visit.

Building or buying small wooden bee houses can be a great way to welcome bees in need of a place of refuge. Plating bee friendly flowers and trees in your garden. Lavender, sunflowers, apple and maple trees are all good plants for bees to pollinate. If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry! Simple flower pot plants like sage, mint and thyme can be grown from your window box and will all hopefully let you see those busy bees. Check out this list of bee friendly plants for more options.

And by all means do some fundraising and donate the money to conservation organisations or take action into your own hands and encourage local councils to set aside more green land for nature to flourish.

Hope is not lost for these little creatures. If unprovoked, bees will not sting you, so don’t let the thought of those sharp rare ends scare you. Without them, our world would be a lot less colourful place. Many plants have evolved over years to be the perfect shape, size, colour and smell to attract passing pollinators.

This lockdown has allowed us to see how much we affect wildlife. Lessons should be learnt from this to ensure nature can continue to thrive. Bees haven’t been having the best of times recently, but with a little help from all of us, we can ensure future generations will hear the low drone buzz of the humble bee.

It’s Corona Time

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars for the past few months, you might be aware that there’s just the small matter of a global pandemic going on. The COVID-19 virus has now caused the whole world to come to a stand still while we try to get it under control. During these times it can be hard to keep spirits high, so I am hoping this post will put things in perspective and you can learn a bit about what it is and how you can ease those anxieties.

Let’s start off with the basics. I’m not going to talk about what the coronavirus is specifically because you probably already know that (If not check out the World Health Organisation’s website about it), what I will talk about is viruses in general. These tiny parasites need a host species in order to thrive. They lack the necessary components to reproduce themselves, therefore they find their way into an unsuspecting individual, through cuts or the respiratory tract, attach themselves to the host’s cells and basically hijack it in order to produce more viral cells. Once inside and multiplying, it creates an environment within the host, usually disadvantageous to the individual, to ensure its survival and spread. Infected droplets usually spread through coughs and sneezes. Like any other species out there, all a virus is doing is trying to survive! 

The COVID-19 virus has proven to be very successful at surviving. It has reached all over the planet. At time of writing there have been nearly 3million confirmed cases globally. With over 206,000 deaths. It makes you wonder that despite all governments having essentially the same information about the virus, cases and deaths vary greatly from country to country. Different leaders have put in restrictions at different times. 

Now we can complain about how things like lockdowns and other restrictions should’ve been done sooner or whatever, but what is important is that things are taking place and we need to respect those rules to ensure we don’t continue to spread the virus. As mentioned before, viruses cannot survive without a host. So if we stay indoors, avoid touching our faces and wash our hands regularly, the rate of infection will fall and things will go back to normal sooner. 

Those statistics might seem staggering, and the media doesn’t help with this. It is their job to get reads/views, so they need to make these figures sound as dramatic as they can. Maths isn’t my strong point, but let me do some quick sums (also please tell me if any of this is wrong!). If the world population is currently over 7.7billion, then that means that only around 0.039% of people in the world are infected by the coronavirus. Let’s also mention the number of people who have survived the virus. Out of those near 3million cases, around 865,000 have recovered! Almost 4 times as many people have gotten better than died from it. I understand that more people will have the virus but haven’t been tested, but in the grand scheme of things, you probably won’t get it if you stay safe!

So I think that’s enough about the actual virus because for me, anxiety and fear about life in lockdown is just about as widespread as the coronavirus itself. I, like many others, am slowly losing my mind, but I am surviving. One of the things I am doing is avoiding the news. Although it is hard, seeing and hearing about the deaths and how lockdown might be extended only heighten my anxiety. It also helps prevent you from getting caught up in stupid conspiracy theories about the virus, which get spread by certain individuals. By steering clear of things like that, it really has helped me to keep a level head during these tough times.

Another thing I would also suggest is that you don’t compare yourself to others. Just because someone else is becoming a health fanatic doing hours of exercise, or are sorting out the perfect skin care routine, doesn’t mean you have to as well! If you want to stay in bed til 6pm eating pringles for breakfast, then do it! Everyones is dealing with this quarantine in different ways, just because yours is different, doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowd. Do what you want to do to keep sane and happy. 

If you are bothered to get out of bed, I would encourage you to take advantage of that allowed outdoor time. Going for a walk, even if it is just to the end of the street and back really helps to just clear the mind. Even though things are strangely eerie, it does bring a sense of calmness. If you do come across others on their daily walks, smile at them. It really will brighten the day for someone. Don’t avoid eye contact or grimace at them like they are riddled. Kindness is key more than ever in times like this. Spread positivity, not viruses! 

For a nature lover like me, thinking about the benefits to the environment also help put a smile on my face. With less cars and aeroplanes wondering about, there has been a huge reduction in pollution levels across the world. China, Italy, the UK and many other countries have seen a reduction in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels of as much as 40%! That means cleaner air for you, me and the wildlife.

Animals are also thriving due to this lock down. With species now being seen exploring the empty streets of what were once busy cities. Recently, a record number of nests have been seen by the vulnerable leatherback turtle. Now the beaches in Thailand are shut to tourists because of the virus, the largest number of nests in 20 years have been reported. Hopefully after all this is over, we will see how much we do effect the wildlife on this planet, and continue to make changes to the way we are in order to keep them safe.

Most importantly, the best thing I would suggest to cope with the isolation is to message people. We live in these technological times where a simple text can connect two people from other ends of the world. Use that to talk to a mate or family member. It really isn’t that hard. Now more than ever, checking up on those you love is so important. They literally have no excuse to not talk back because there really isn’t anything else they can be doing.

If you are like me who hates to be that person who messages first in the fear that you come across as annoying or clingy, let those fears go! Worrying about what someone thinks of you is something you should not be worrying about during these times (or in normal life either to be fair!). And don’t think about the fact that some people aren’t checking up on you either. Now is not the time to be narcissistic. But again, you don’t have to talk to people if you don’t want to! If you are comfortable by yourself, stay that way! There are people out there who are willing to listen and help if you just reach out.

While some are out of jobs bored as hell of life indoors, others are still hard at work. Whether it be with university, working from home, or even still going to their jobs. You are all doing a fantastic job and I praise you all. It must be so hard to think about having deadlines and dealing with customers while the whole world is in quarantine chilling with a glass of wine. I respect each and everyone of you who is powering through the global pandemic to keep the world turning. 

Lastly I have to mention the exceptional work of the NHS and other doctors, nurses, social carers around the world. I honestly don’t have enough space to express how much hard work you lot are doing throughout all this. Without you, this pandemic could’ve been much worse. Although I think clapping, banging pots and pans every Thursday or nonagenarians pacing their gardens isn’t helping in the grand scheme of things when the government could be doing so much more to help you, it is our way of expressing our gratitude and support to your incredible work. Hopefully after this is all over, the world will look at you guys with a new light and you will get the funding, support and praise that you all deserve. 

It took a virus from a small market in China to bring the world together. As mentioned in my previous post, no population can withstand an exponential growth rate like the one we humans have, so something like a pandemic was inevitably going to happen. But I would never have expected it to happen in my lifetime. In a crisis like this, it brings the whole world closer together. I think the world will be changed forever after this. 

If we all stay inside, follow the guidelines, and remain positive, we can get through this. Once this is all over, and it will be over at some point I promise, think about that first hug you’ll give your loved one. Think about that first pint in the beer garden with your friends. It will be alright in the end.

The future of the human race

George Orwell imagined a dystopian future. Philip K. Dick wrote about a world of augmented reality, while Star Trek saw us hurtling through the stars, boldly going where no man has ever gone before. But what will the future of Homo sapiens be like? Is evolution still taking place? Will we survive this ever-changing world?

Before we start looking into the future, we need to understand our past and how evolution works. Professor of evolutionary biology, Daniel Pincheira-Donoso from the Queens University Belfast talks more about the mechanics of evolution. “Natural selection is a biological law. What defines it is that you cannot escape it” he says. “Natural selection consists of every factor that can kill individuals within a species. So predation and starvation are sources of natural selection.”

However humans aren’t like other species. “We have developed the ability to protect our societies from natural selection” Professor Pincheira-Donoso says. “We have the freedom to walk around and not be scared of predators eating us. We have ring fenced our species from predators.” In the wild, natural selection would favour adaptations to better avoid being eaten, but as Daniel says, we don’t fear predation. “If you are starving, you’re not going to kill your neighbour to get food” Daniel continues. “You just open your fridge. If your fridge is empty, you go to the supermarket. There is no need to compete for it.” So we won’t see adaptations to advance our foraging abilities either.

But what happens when we take away these factors? “What natural selection does is reduce variation” Daniel explains. “When you do not have these components of natural selection, that variation accumulates because there is no natural selection eliminating variation that is not good.” But how will this effect our future? “Because we have relaxed natural selection, our variation is increasing” says Daniel. “Variation is going to be to a level that we cannot imagine today. There will be many different types of humans.”

In the wild, something as small as a river or as big as the ocean could isloate two populations. Which may ultimately lead to the evolution of new species through speciation. Humans however have managed to overcome this issue. “300 years ago, you had humans very geographically located. Today you have all mixes of races of genes around the world” Daniel says. “Multiculturality is a consequence of the ability to jump on a plane and fly from one side of the world to another” he continues.

With more societies becoming open to the idea that people can marry whoever they want regardless to race, our diversity will only continue to increase. “What will happen is genetic homogenisation” predicts Daniel. This basically means genes from distant populations will become more and more similar. “There will be a point where, you will still have very well defined races, but there would be many individuals who you won’t be able to tell the genetical geographic background” explains Daniel. With these physical and cultural barriers coming down, as we head towards the future, we will be closer than ever before.

With this freedom to move, it can make things like diseases spread more rapidly throughout the population. But humans have created another way to fence off natural selection on disease resistance in the form of medicines. “100,000 years ago, if you had a basic stomach bug, you could die” Daniel says. “If you got that today, you go to A&E and get some treatment then you’re back home. You survive because humans created this shield that is medicine.” He then explains how this might effect our natural selection. “Medicine is a massive way of reducing the impact of it, but it’s not perfect. There are still many versions of pathogens that we are fighting” says Daniel. “When there is an outbreak of a disease, some individuals will die. Those that survive have the ability to pass on that resistance into their offspring.” Therefore humans are still under natural selection for resistance to diseases.

As we head towards the future, technology and medical research will inevitably improve. “As medicine develops, what will happen is that less humans will die” says Daniel. “Imagine if we have great medicine where nobody dies of diseases and all live for 200 years?” ponders Daniel. “Medicine is critical but it’s not perfect” he went onto say. In order to improve things like medicine, information needs to be passed on and improved through generations. This is where some scientists suggest we are moving toward a more cultural evolution.

“One way of inheritance is the cultural transmission of information” explains Daniel. “If you teach your offspring to use a tool or to evade predators, that is cultural transmission” he goes on to say. This is seen throughout the animal kingdom, but humans have taken this to a whole new dimension, and this is because of language.

“Humans are humans because we have developed the ability to pass on information that is very complex from one generation to the next. We are this successful species because we have cultural evolution” Daniel emphasises. Technology and medicines are all things that are culturally transmitted down generations. What this could mean for us is that in the future is that rather than evolving physically, our technology will continue to evolve, And they’ll evolve more rapidly. Essentially, our lifestyle will improve and adapt to the times more than we will.

With advancements in AI and robotics thanks to this cultural evolution, technology will be a big part of our future. Science-fiction has created these ideas that technology may take over humans one day. Despite how bizarre this sounds, the thought that humans came from apes was laughable 150 years ago. “I think technology is evolving in a direction that is making them more powerful” Professor Daniel Pincheira-Donoso says. “Technology will certainly replace humans in the short term. Like now you go to supermarket, in many places you don’t have someone taking your money. It’s a machine. There are Amazon lorries that don’t need a driver. They drive around with a computer” he continues. So we can already see that people are being replaced by computers.

Nevertheless, Daniel is still sceptical about whether singularity, the idea that technology will take over humanity, will actually happen. “I think humans will always be in control of it” he says. “The problem is the powerful people will have control of it. So singularity will affect some humans but not the ones who control the technologies”. If technology will replace many people, what effect might this have on our evolution?

For those people in jobs who will be replaced by machines, they will need to find jobs to sustain their lives. “It probably will push the need for skilful jobs to be more under pressure” says Daniel. “If jobs become so complex that machines cannot do them, then it might drive the evolution of very skilful societies” he went onto say. “If you apply for a job with a degree, it’s not as competitive as it was 20 years ago. A Masters makes you stand out today. Probably in another 20 years, everyone applying for jobs at basic levels might have PhD’s. That’s the way it’s evolving” predicts Daniel. Although computers won’t take over the world, it will massively impact the way our societies will develop.

Competition over jobs won’t be the only problem we will face. In the past 50 years, the population of humans has doubled to over 7.7billion. At this rate, by 2050 the population is expected to reach 10billion. This level of growth is unsustainable and will potentially cause more problems. “In nature, the more individuals you have in a population competing over resources, the more violent the competition becomes” explains Daniel. “And that’s what’s going to happen in humans.”

Oil, water and other resources of economic importance are what humans fight for. However, non-renewable resources will soon become limited and competition will arise as the population continues to grow. “We don’t fight against each other with sticks and stones. Humans fight against each other with atomic bombs and tanks” says Daniel. “Competition over resources is going to make the probability of destructive wars increasingly higher” he went on to say.

So competition will only get worse if nothing is done to control population growth or to find more sustainable resources. And through cultural evolution, our weapons will only become more powerful as Daniel Pincheira-Donoso explains. “Because we keep developing military technologies, the way of dealing with conflict it’s going to be through brutal wars. There probably will be a massive destruction of humans.” An evolutionary arms race is already afoot, and it will only get fiercer.

The future of humanity is still uncertain. What we know is that Homo sapiens are going to face some very tough times in the years to come. Some of which may happen in the short term. Professor Daniel Pincheira-Donoso gives us some of his advice to ensure the best future for humans. “Firstly, I think the population is growing too fast. There needs to be some rules about how many babies you can have”. It has been seen across nature that no species of animal can sustain exponential population growth without that population either crashing or going to extinction. By implementing this rule Daniel suggested, we can control the growth of the population to more sustainable level.

Daniel then suggests that politics could save humanity more than just biology. “Today, about 90% of money around the world is concentrated in 5% of people. I think that’s very wrong.” He urges that money should be more evenly spread throughout the population and governments should do more to do so. “You could charge insane amount of taxes to extremely rich people, so that money goes back to the governments. And that money can be used for preserving people’s human rights like, access to medicines, food and water.” Could capitalism lead humanity to extinction through over-exploitation of resources? Only time will tell.

Whether Philip K. Dick and the Star Trek stories become true, one thing is for certain. If we start to make changes to our lifestyle today, we can protect the environment for future generation, wherever they may be and whatever they may look like. We need to be aware of the threats to our planet and take action to safeguard a future for all humans, now and in the future, to enjoy. To finish off, I will leave you on a quote from George Orwell’s book “1984”. “Who controls the past, controls the future.”

Hey all you cool cats and kittens!

Well…I’ve finally set up a blog!

Thought i’d start off with a little introductory post. So hi there, my name is Ibby. I have a BSc in Zoology and an MA in Journalism (Science and Environment). Basically, I love animals and I love to talk. Creating a blog has allowed me to merge those passions!

I’ve wanted to blog for some time now. Sharing my knowledge and passion for the natural world is something that I adore. Trying to get people to see that we humans are just a tiny part of this small rock we call Earth that is flying through the vast void of the universe. And this is why I wanted to set up a blog. I can use this as a platform to let you see the world from a slightly different point of view. After much umming and ahhing, I have now taken the plunge into the strange and unknown waters of the blogging world.

About the blog name. It all stems from my constantly curious and permanently perplexed state of mind. A vast array of questions often swarm my tiny brain. Why are there so many species on this planet? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? Why is it that humans are the only animals that drive cars? Who invented the doorknob and why? These are just some of the things that keep me up at night. I am a naturally curious being, wanting to find answers to life’s big and small questions. And so I simply named this site after who I am. A curious creature.

Also would like to say a quick thank you to my good friend Reema! She helped me brainstorm ideas for what to call this blog (because I didn’t want something plain like “Ibby Blogs”!). After spouting random and nonsensical names out, she essentially championed this one. Simple but effective. Reema also got straight to work making me a logo which I am obsessed with. Thank you so much for encouraging and helping me get this blog off the ground.

Who knows what to expect from this blog. Even I don’t really know what I’m doing. Whether it be posts about hard topics like evolution, me talking about my love of cats, or just general rambling about my life. Where this blog will go is anyone’s guess. I would do a travel blog of some sort where I go abroad and write about the wildlife I encounter, but we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and I am broke anyway so can’t afford to go anywhere (if this is content you would like to see, feel free to donate me money!). How often will I post? No idea. But I invite you all to join me on this wild journey and open your minds to become a curious creature like me!

🙂