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True or False?
Boiling Frogs, Darwin's Evolution,
Wise Owls

Boiling Frogs

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We've all heard this tale. Put a frog in a pot of boiling water, and the frog jumps out. But put a frog in a pot where water gradually heats up, and the frog doesn't escape, slowly boiling to death.

Except, of course, it isn't true. Frogs are not able to regulate their own body heat - they depend on their environment to warm-up or cool-down body temperature. So our froggy friends will jump out of the pot as soon as the temperature gets too warm.

While inaccurate in reality (and it's pretty amazing how many people actually think this is true), as a metaphor, the tale of the boiling frog is indeed a very good one. It very neatly captures 4 major characteristics of human behaviour.  Find out more about:

  • As humans, we do not like change, and uncertainty is something we fear so much that we would often pick discomfort.

Charles Darwin came up with Evolution / Evolution is about Survivial of the Fittest

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The theory of evolution was a major breakthrough in helping us understand the natural world, including us as humans. Evolution is goddamn remarkable and plays a role in explaining everything - from why you feel the bad taste in your mouth when you see something morally disgusting; how and what you fear; why people tend to follow what others are doing... really an endless number of examples (many of which you can find on this site!)

But while everyone has heard of evolution, there are 2 common misconceptions. 

1) Was that Darwin came up with the theory of evolution. Darwin did not. We knew about evolution before anyone really knew about Darwin, from the works of naturalists like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, simply because they could observe changes that occurred from evolution.

What Darwin came up with was theorising the process through which evolution happens - natural selection. And even then, Darwin didn't do so alone. The original paper on natural selection had a co-author - Alfred Russell Wallace. who had somehow gotten screwed by history, and has simply just never been recognised for his part. So let's give Wallace some props, he was right there with Darwin in developing our understanding of evolution.

2) The second misconception is that evolution is survival of the fittest. It isn't. We've just gone through this in the paragraph above - evolution occurs through natural selection. 

What's the difference
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Put simply, an animal does not need to be the fittest in its group to survive. Instead, it needs to have adapted best to the condition at that time. For example, a long time ago, there might have been very fit and strong ancestors of giraffes. But no matter how fit or strong they were, it didn't matter if they couldn't get enough food. Along comes a giraffe whose neck was slightly longer than the rest. He was able to reach leaves on trees which others could not.

 

Hence, he has a higher chance of surviving the conditions, and to mate and reproduce. In doing so, he passes on copies of his genes which affects the next generations, who are more likely to possess the same trait of a longer neck. And many, many generations pass, the longer-necked giraffes continually survive and reproduce at a higher rate than other giraffes (no matter how fit or strong they were). Eventually, through this natural process of selection, the giraffes end up with longer necks. 

So put to bed the second misconception - evolution is not survival of the fittest. 

Are owls wise?

Image by James Lee

"This guy is as wise as an owl". But are owls really wise? Well they might look wise, and they might appear in Harry Potter, but there is no evidence that owls have shown any advanced levels of intelligence. 

 

Ravens and crows, on the other hand, have shown some remarkable levels of cognition - ranging from facial recognition, problem-solving, understanding analogies and commands, and even tool-making. A whole breed of crows, the New Caledonian crows, have evolved to make hooked tools from soft twigs as part of their usual foraging activity. They make these tools from very specific plants; when scientists tried to disguise the plants, the crows saw right through it.


It's often thought that birds are dumb, hence the term "bird-brained". The reason behind this is that birds have very small brains, and their brains do not have a neo-cortex like humans and primates, which is responsible for higher-level though. However, crows and ravens have adapted by packing in neurons into another part of their brains, which is then able to perform similar high-level thinking. They have also shown plasticity, i.e. the ability to learn new things and adapt to new environments. And quite amazingly, it seems that their problem-solving skills are very close to primates. Check out more in the video (3 mins long) below.

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