Sunday, November 28, 2010

Natural Selection in Homo sapiens alchemis

(Picture from here.)

This week we watched the new Harry Potter movie. Quite aside from the odd dreams it gave me (think Harry Potter vs. Stargate) the subculture of the wizards and witches, and their intrinsic abilities, suggested a subspecies of humans much like Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and our own Homo sapiens sapiens. I have named this subspecies Homo sapiens alchemis.

Consider the qualities of H. s. alchemis: There is limited reproductive communication with the neighboring subspecies, H. s. sapiens, as evidenced by the ferocious self-policing of the culture from outside contamination. It is not clear if a cross between alchemis and sapiens is fertile. We'll have to wait until part two to find out of there will be Weasley/Granger offspring. Fertility of the cross does not necessarily invalidate alchemis subspecies' status, however. There is evidence of cross-species fertility in other animals. Liger and tiglons, for example, though thought to be sterile have been shown to be fertile.

The dominate salient trait in alchemis is paranormal abilities. The trait is significantly variable in the population (note Harry Potter's aunt who did not inherit) and common in a distinct population. One would presume it is advantageous-- or is it?

Wizards have been documented as long as there has been documentation. Before written descriptions there are shamanistic artifacts from the neo- and mesolithic periods in human development. It would hardly be a stretch to mark the introduction of the genetic variation that led to alchemis according to these indicators. Therefore, we can estimate its appearance sometime in the last thirty thousand or so years. There's some evidence that sapiens and neanderthalensis coexisted for some time before extinction of the latter began. Possibly the introduction of the alchemis variation had something to do with it.

The actual age of the alchemis variation will remain speculation until DNA sequencing of an alchemis specimen.

Regardless, it is certain that the introduction of complex of genes that comprise the alchemis variation had some impact on the natural selection of the root population. A truly advantageous mutation would spread rapidly through the population in a selective sweep-- such as the duplication of salivary amylase genes in sapiens enhancing utilization of starches in the diet. However, the alchemis variation has only resulted in a relatively small population of magicians, powerful though they may be. Clearly, the situation is more complicated than it appears.

The genes responsible must be involved in brain development-- an hitherto unknown organ in other parts of the body being unlikely. Since speech appears to be involved even in very experienced wizards the speech centers may well be involved. We know the actual content of the words has little if anything to do with the effect since these "incantations" are in the form psuedo-latinesque gibberish and based on a language occuring long after the appearance of H. s. alchemis effects. One wonders on the variations of FOXP2, for example, in alchemis family trees.

Genes often have more than one effect and genes involved in brain development are no exception. It is entirely possible the traits under observation (i.e., wizardry) are concommitant with other traits that limit the spread of the alchemis variation in the general human population. While we don't have controlled scientific evidence of such limitations, we do have indirect observation of them as expressed in the way the culture uses the variations:
  • The culture is hiearchically rigid and self-limits innovation. Use of magic is limited to repitition of earlier magical forms. There are few spells involving electricity or internal combustion and those that do use primitive forms.
  • The culture is slow to adapt to innovation from the surrounding culture. Note extensive use of archaic technology in the schools. Candles, for example, instead of electric lights. Extensive use of hand written books in lieu of printed material. No computers or internet.
  • The culture is violently xenophobic secretive and appears to barely be able to apprehend the existence of non-European cultures.
  • The young are inculcated into this culture early and only dimly recognize the possibility of educational institutions past high school.
This latter point bears some investigation. Recent work on neanderthalensis suggest that their maturation process is considerably more rapid than that of sapiens. The extended childhood of sapiens may have an advantage in allowing more brain development. The cognitive impairment of alchemis coupled with their rapid maturation and localization to a European locale could indicate that alchemis was the result of a neanderthalensis/sapiens cross.

The xenophobia of alchemis is well documented to be self-destructive. In fact, I think this is the qualitiy that self-limits propagation of the alchemis variation. Alchemis qualities strongly favor in-breeding within the population. The vicious hiearchical nature of alchemis introduces culling as a means of limiting reproduction to the alpha wizards and their cohorts. Triumphant male lions kill the cubs of the previously dominant male. Wizards selectively kill the opponents of their dominant male. This has the effect of preserving the bloodline of the alpha wizards and destroying the bloodline of the opponent. That this effect is not the wizard's intention is immaterial.

This localizes the population in two directions. The xenophobia prevents outcrossing and the dominance slaughter prevents competition. The net effect is to isolate and reduce the population, limiting both the spread of the alchemis variation through the sapiens population and the size of the alchemis population itself.

In this case cultural isolation is a product of biological isolation rather than the reverse.

The future of Homo sapiens alchemis is in doubt. Though the population is influential it appears to be in decline. Sapiens is clearly outcompeting it on two levels: numerically, a few thousand alchemis versus billions of sapiens, and technologically. The rate of sapiens' technological innovation far surpasses the magical innovation of alchemis. Within a generation any advantage of alchemis magic will be overcome. Since this is the only advantage over sapiens possessed by alchemis, its future is in doubt.

This is a problem.

Alchemis is the only surviving subspeicies of genus Homo sapiens other than H. s. sapiens. Though the subspecies is difficult and unlovable, it is our kin and deserves our protection. It is also in our best interest to preserve the population. We have made great strides in antibiotics and medicines by examining the exotic plants and animals elsewhere in the world. Alchemis has also been studying the world's plants and animals and has made discoveries we would find beneficial. Not to mention that some magical technology can be used to accelerate our own understanding of the natural world.

Finally, like our studies of chimps and gorillas, examining our own neighboring subspecies can only benefit our own understanding of ourselves.

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