Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Evolution is actually quite horrible at engineering. Since it can only hill-climb, we end up with ridiculous designs stuck in local maxima. Evolution made video cameras out of jelly, a breathing tube that must be crammed full of solid foods every few hours, and (as Neil deGrasse Tyson put so delicately) a sewage plant next to an amusement park. No organism ever evolved radio communication, or the ability to transmit nerve signals faster than 0.000001c.

Still, why 8 hours of sleep instead of 2? The best explanation I've heard is famine resistance. Sleep conserves energy; until recently, humans were calorie-limited. Also, there's probably an advantage to remaining quiet and still in the dark, when human eyesight is at its worst and predators roam.




Forcing a requirement to think about providing a safe place to sleep results in at least some thinking about safe places to be awake in, and think about defenseless youth in general. If you have to think about finding a safe place to sleep every day, occasionally thinking about a safe place to give birth shouldn't be as challenging. Sounds convenient for long life and successful reproduction.

Also you can tell who hasn't had kids... without kids sleeping (and sleeping more than the parents) the older adults and teens in the tribe would go bonkers and be unable to accomplish anything. Best thing that ever happened to a newborn was sleeping alot so mom can get some food in her, etc. I guess as you get older you could ramp it down and maybe teens could simply stop sleeping, this is probably a secondary effect at most.


> there's probably an advantage to remaining quiet and still in the dark, when human eyesight is at its worst and predators roam.

That's a bit too anthropocentric view. Also other animals sleep, even nocturnal animals.


Worms sleep too - and they don't have brains that need cleaning.


Wikipedia suggests that also in nematodes, "sleep is necessary for changes in the neural system".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_%28non-human%29#Invertebr...


Why take human engineering out of 'evolution'? Biological evolution developed our brain and manipulative appendages, which were then used to make better video, comms, etc. Humans, and everything we do, are still 'naturally evolved', by definition.


"How many legs does a dog have, if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." — Abraham Lincoln


Side note: according to some sleuthing by the snopes crowd[1], this quote predates Lincoln's presidency by several decades, with the first recorded usage being somewhere around 1834. He may have used the anecdote himself, but it seems to have been a popular saying in the abolitionist movement in general.

[1] http://msgboard.snopes.com/message/ultimatebb.php?/ubb/get_t...


Mostly because... I have no idea why. I mean we've discovered something very close to spears being used by people since ... well forever in terms of modern history.

And hunting being very important to the needs of certain homo sapiens sapiens populations would very much agree with your assessment. One advantage that we hold over primates is our ability to throw. Combine that with making spears and our ancestors quickly becoming apex predators makes sense.


What about robustness, adaptability, and learning?

Those are qualities of natural life that I find to be extremely well-engineered, and sadly lacking from most (all?) man-made engineering solutions.


Your brain has 200 billion-ish neurons with hundreds of trillions of connections between them. Right now, reading these words, your visual cortex is doing edge detection and motion filtering. That requires FFTs and other complex computations.

Quick! What's 392 * 7374?

99.9% of people on the planet need pen and paper to figure out the answer. Our oh-so-adaptable brains can't seem to make a few neurons available for simple math. Heck, our brains can't store more than 7-9 items in working memory.

We're mostly unaware of our limitations because everyone else is similarly hobbled. But when we figure out a way to improve human minds, it will be a bigger game changer than anything that has come before.


I'm sorry, I don't follow your point.

I was responding to "Evolution is actually quite horrible at engineering. Since it can only hill-climb, we end up with ridiculous designs stuck in local maxima". In my opinion, several qualities of natural life compare favorably with man-made engineering (which is the only other type of engineering I can think of for the purpose of comparison), therefore I disagree that "evolution is actually quite horrible at engineering", at least without some kind of qualification.

I don't understand the purpose of your 1st or 4th paragraphs; I understand the 2nd and 3rd as saying something like "human brains are limited", but don't see how it connects to my response.

Could you clarify for me? Sorry that I didn't follow and thanks.


The reason why people can't do that calculation in their heads is because of our reliance on computers and calculators.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xguMYWW8EAU

In fact you can pull up articles with a quick search about how people can attain pretty good mental math capabilities through training. It's hard work, but it's proof of the adaptability of the human mind.

I don't know I already thought the computer was the first "lever" for the mind that we've had. The computer has been pretty game changing for society, has it not?


I learned multiplication long before computers were commonplace, and when four-banger calculators were still quite expensive. The reason I can't do that calculation in my head (well, I could but it would be faster to grab a pen) is that I don't have enough stable registers. I'd guess maybe two registers that won't get corrupted during the calculation. They're not big registers, either.

Regardless, I'm not saying that there isn't a technique that would allow me to improve. I'm saying my inability has nothing to do with ubiquitous electronics.


> The reason why people can't do that calculation in their heads is because of our reliance on computers and calculators.

No, we were never well equipped to do such computations, we didn't suddenly get worse at it with the invention of calculators. Consciously aware mental calculation is a very recent thing on an evolutionary time scale. I think even 10-20k years ago no one did any mental calculations beyond the most trivial arithmetic operations.

OTOH we have a pretty cool native physics engine in our brains and can solve pretty challenging problems such as predicting trajectories and modeling fluid flow. These skills were much more useful in our evolutionary past than arithmetic or algebra.


still nature's creations are 1000s of times better than any created by man. what is the best of what we created? iphone, pc, car?




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: