Lessons of Cancer = Evolutionary Civil War
Each day, each of us faces 500 billion opportunities for genetic civil war to break out. Thankfully we've also evolved good ways to police and suppress these rogue parts, their mutinous mutations, and their declarations of independence.
Your mention of “intragenomic conflict” surprised me. Wouldn’t consuming resources in internal conflict be an evolutionary handicap? Wouldn’t evolution select against organisms whose parts worked against each other?
How common is intra-organism conflict? What are its lessons?
DSW: Cancer provides a fine example of intragenomic conflict. All of our cells descend from a single cell, but they are not genetically identical — despite counterclaims — because mutations can occur in any cell division.
Human adults have ~60 trillion cells, of which ~500 billion turn over daily. This results in many, many mutations. Some mutations cause cells to proliferate at the expense of neighboring cells, forming neoplasms, which can become deadly tumors.
This is natural selection taking place among cells within a multicellular organism. Natural selection has no foresight. It is simply a physical process of replacement arising from differential survival and reproduction, regardless of the long-term consequences. The only way longer-term consequences become salient is through natural selection at the whole-organism level. A billion years of organism-level evolution (since multicellularity emerged) has resulted in effective cancer-suppression mechanisms, but they’re not perfect (see Maley, Aktipis, or Pepper).
So far we’ve seen natural selection among,
(a) Cells within a multicellular organism,
(b) Organisms within a single group,
(c) Groups in a multi-group population.
Human groups are a kind of organism. That concept has a long history in philosophical, religious, and political thought (e.g., the “body politic”), and it now rests on stronger scientific foundations. Between-group selection has endowed human social groups with impressive abilities to suppress disruptive within-group traits (just as multicellular organisms police and suppress internally disruptive cancer cells).
JB: So a pattern emerges: Evolutionary competition at one level limits survivable “selfishness” at lower levels (e.g., cancer’s mutinous mutations).
Plus, I’d suggest that a separate “natural filtering” operates ... whereby certain kinds of “selfish” gains by rogue parts can be deadly, irrespective of whatever other factors from natural selection and evolution apply. If you hope to enjoy long-term viability, life’s logic requires that you not harm whatever supplies your needs (see needism).
For the next post in this diablog series, click here (How Evolution And Logic Relate: Natural Filtering vs Foresight).
For the previous post click here (Is Evolution Teeming with Unseen Teamwork?).
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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