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[xmca] Re: Dogs


I too saw the Dogs Decoded documentary last night, and found it fascinating. As you described, the evidence suggests that domestication of wolves has changed their DNA only a fraction (98.6% the same as wolves, if I recall correctly), but nevertheless has transformed their inherited behavior. Dogs, but not wolves, can follow human pointing gestures and even eye direction. They spontaneously pay attention to human activity, and quickly learn to respond to spoken commands and even identify objects by name. 

The suggestion in the documentary was that this has occurred through selective breeding of the least aggressive animals in each generation, and that this amounts to selecting for characteristics of immature animals. The youngest wolves are the least aggressive, so that selective breeding of wolves for less aggression will actually over time slow their developmental process.

We have domesticated wolves as dogs; haven't we also domesticated ourselves? If 50 generations of selective breeding can transform a wolf or a fox, what has tens of thousands of years of our own selective breeding done to and for humans? Darwin noted the phenomenon of sexual selection -  mates are selected, and bred with, for their desirable characteristics. Aggression, I suppose, in some societies, but presumably playfulness in others. We have 99% of our genome in common with chimpanzees, but that small difference has been the product not only of random variation but also of cultural selection. The finding that childhood in homo sapiens lasts much longer than it did for homo habitus, for example, suggests that we too have selected ourselves for characteristics of immaturity. Are we slowing down our own ontogenesis, and as a consequence giving ourselves more time to learn to master the complexities of modern life?


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