• kudos
    139
    In natural predator-prey relationships if a predator is so strong a hunter it proliferates and the prey population declines, their group gets equally wiped out. Would you say in this sense that weakness is necessary for survival, and thereby there is some good in weak people just in lieu of the fact that they are weak relative to their potential?
  • magritte
    150
    natural predator-prey relationshipskudos

    In nature, the predator is also prey, and the prey predator. And if nature sneezes they're all dead.
  • Olivier5
    1.3k
    In natural predator-prey relationships if a predator is so strong a hunter it proliferates and the prey population declines, their group gets equally wiped out.kudos
    This effect leads to cyclical population growth and decline in prey and predator, as illustrated here:

    hare_lynx_graph.png
  • frank
    5.8k
    natural predator-prey relationships if a predator is so strong a hunter it proliferates and the prey population declines, their group gets equally wiped out. Would you say in this sense that weakness is necessary for survival, and thereby there is some good in weak people just in lieu of the fact that they are weak relative to their potential?kudos

    I'm in North America where foreign invasion, whether its birds, trees, vines, viruses, or humans, can radically alter the biosphere because the invaders come from areas where they had to be really aggressive and hardy to survive.

    Why are North American species such pushovers?
    Because that's how equilibrium left them. As you say, prior to the development of a new equilibrium, we see devastation. Japanese grass takes over forest floors and provides no food for birds. The birds move on and now all sorts of seeds have no way to travel to new fertile ground.

    But a new equilibrium will come, maybe to one day be upset by new aggressive invaders.
  • Echarmion
    1.6k
    Would you say in this sense that weakness is necessary for survival, and thereby there is some good in weak people just in lieu of the fact that they are weak relative to their potential?kudos

    Diversity is necessary for survival. Weakness is not a biological fact, it's merely a human judgement.
  • kudos
    139
    I wouldn't call it uniquely human as an observable trait, but certainly as a judgement. We can see animals that possess the equivalent of what we judge as weakness, like the inability to demonstrate intelligence, physical weakness or uncoordinated motions. I don't mean that the weakness is embedded in the person in themselves and inseparable from their inner being; but failure, inadequacy, error, all these undesirable traits, are they 'bad' because they are undesirable? Don't they also command a certain respect?
  • kudos
    139
    I suppose the question isn't is weakness good, but is weakness also strength in a dialectical kind of way. Like the same way it could be judged as good for a species, it could be viewed as bad. Our sense of it's 'badness' doesn't exist in itself but is sharply contextual.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    Would you say in this sense that weakness is necessary for survivalkudos

    "Weakness" and "strength" are too heavily loaded with moral connotations to be very helpful in describing ecological relationships.

    What is necessary for survival is a more-or-less sustainable balance between predator/prey animals and plant communities. As @Frank noted, a sustainable balance can be disrupted and various species adapt or become extinct.

    Example: The glaciated regions of North America were scraped down to the rocks, then layered over with 'drift'. Over 10-15,000 years, plant and animal communities repopulated the glaciated areas. When Europeans de- and re- populated North America, they brought with them a variety of 'exotic' species which were native to Europe. One of those was the large earth worm, longer and bigger than the earthworms that were native to North America. The exotic earthworms eventually reached the northern forests, where they commenced rapidly chewing up leaf litter at a much higher rate than the native worms did. This is a relatively recent development and it is changing the ecology of the forests. How this will play out in the future is unknown.

    It doesn't make sense to oppose one worm as 'weak' and the other as 'strong'. They are both strong--but one is larger than the other and they eat more.
  • kudos
    139
    Maybe we're getting a little hung up on the biology analogy. We can all agree that if all predators of a certain species were to perform flawlessly, perfectly, the perfect killing machine, with AI, laser-heat vision, and so on, they would wipe themselves out because they'd perform so well that the prey wouldn't stand a chance to survive long enough to sustain their growth and reproductive cycles.

    By weakness I mean the common usage, making the wrong decisions, failing at things, self-destructive behaviour, depression, anxiety, being a nerd, a loser, a freak, and so forth - even disposition towards actions such as being overly generous, trusting, or gullible. If you were perfectly athletic, charming, and happy, you'd reproduce more just the same as a predator would prey more. However, that might not necessarily be 'strong' in the sense of the strength of your species, and as an individual act couldn't it also be considered weakness?

    It's obviously not wholly weak to be strong, these terms have meaning though about these sorts of 'weak' people maybe they command some amount of respect just for their courage and strength in having weaknesses?
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    Cows prey on grass, which is too weak even to run away.

    But the predator is dependent on its prey although it is stronger.

    Your insight is a traditional Chinese view.


    That which shrinks
    Must first expand.
    That which fails
    Must first be strong.
    That which is cast down
    Must first be raised.
    Before receiving
    There must be giving.

    This is called perception of the nature of things.
    Soft and weak overcome hard and strong.
    — Lao Tzu
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    Maybe we're getting a little hung up on the biology analogy.kudos

    If so, then the misdirection is yours. Starting out with "In natural predator-prey relationships if a predator is so strong a hunter it proliferates and the prey population declines..." is a pretty strong indication of what a reader would think you were getting at. Let me take a minute to vent:

    The OP goes in one direction, then after a few entries, the original poster announces "Oh, well that isn't what I meant." Hey, it's the job of a thread creator to get it right from the beginning. (You are one of a number of people who do this,)

    In your response, you said "you'd reproduce more just the same as a predator would prey more". Kudos, if you want to talk about human existential questions, morality, and the like, then leave the biological alone (because they misdirect the reader).

    You seem to be reaching for a paradox about weakness and strength -- and they are sometimes in paradoxical relationships. The Taoist talks about how a "weak" willow bends in the wind and is not damaged, while the "strong" oak resists the wind and is broken. So, which one is strong and which one is weak? Paradox.

    Oh, look: Unenlightened just quoted Lao Tzu--stealing my thunder right out from under me!
  • kudos
    139
    In your response, you said "you'd reproduce more just the same as a predator would prey more". Kudos, if you want to talk about human existential questions, morality, and the like, then leave the biological alone (because they misdirect the reader).
    So your main point is to say that the weakness of an animal is of an altogether different kind from the weakness of a human being, is that what you mean? In terms of the weaknesses that predators exploit versus the weaknesses that other human beings exploit are incomparably different?

    But what is the main difference you are referring to, isn't weakness itself known as a kind of tendency to be exploited in some manner? Even in the comedic sense, where we say "I have a weakness for steamed salmon," don't we mean that we allow our natural fondness for the salmon overcome our rational thinking? A physically weak person is someone who, relative to others, would be subject to being overcome by force of another, and hence exploited physically.

    But we are just deflecting the meaning onto another set of determinations of what we mean by 'exploitation,' and we can go on ad infinitum in this sort of circular peeling away of the layers of language, probably winding back up where we began. This is why I was trying to avoid the analogy, because it is often subject to this fault, but I meant it as it was said.
  • kudos
    139
    Thanks for sharing that, it seems appropriate. Interesting how the ancients in all their technological inferiority still seem to the ones who have their heads on the straightest.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    In terms of physical strength... sure, one can compare a weak horse to a strong horse in the same way one can compare a weak man to a strong man. Strength is an advantage, weakness isn't. A strong lion will bring down a wildebeest more often than a weak lion.

    Considering your clarification...

    By weakness I mean the common usage, making the wrong decisions, failing at things, self-destructive behaviour, depression, anxiety, being a nerd, a loser, a freak, and so forth - even disposition towards actions such as being overly generous, trusting, or gullible.kudos

    strength and weakness are not as clearly differentiable among we humans. Is being a computer nerd a strength or a weakness? The handsome, healthy, hot athlete may get to mate more often, but if what is needed at the time is insight into printed circuitry and code, how useful will the hunk be? Fun to fuck but after that... pffft.

    There have been a number of discussions here about the evolutionary value of depression. What good is it? Not sure myself, but some people think that "depression" has value to the group because anxious depressed people are sensitive to potentially dangerous situations that the hale and hearty are not. Personally, I haven't found depression to be an advantage, though it might lead to insights that a mentally robust person wouldn't arrive at. And not all insights are equally useful or healthy. Sometimes it is better to not look behind the curtain.

    Loners, Freaks, losers, nerds, et al living outside convention as they do a good share of the time, can bring fresh perspectives to the community. Some of our great inventors, authors, artists, musicians, etc. were loners, losers, freaks, nerds, and worse--if you can imagine anything worse. (Most of the greats were more or less socially successful, but not all of them were.)

    So, among human society, weakness and strength are not as obvious as they are among animals. Sometimes strength comes from being an alienated, dysfunctional outsider. An outsider will probably have better vision to see society as only an outsider can.

    Take Thorsten Veblen, a late 19th century, early 20th century economist and sociologist. Some of his outsider traits enabled him to see the purpose of large, carefully tended lawns: They are conspicuous consumption -- proof that one has a lot of money to maintain a perfectly useless field of grass on which no sheep or cow will ever graze. It is difficult to get such insights into society from the perspective of a socially successful person. To the wealthy-enough homeowner, the large lawn is inherently justifiable, and worth all the work that goes into it.

    A weed patch in front of the house, on the other hand, is proof of one's failure in society. Success = nice grass; failure = weeds. I have weeds in my lawn. I agree with Veblen: large chemically dosed lawns are bullshit and ought to be stamped out. Screw the middle class lawn mower.
  • kudos
    139
    Let's be realistic though and boil it down to the absolute most weak person. They're not smart, physically fit, they fail at everything they try, no achievements, no social skills; they've effectively 'turned off, tuned out, and dropped out.' Would you then at least say it were fit to call this person weak in a comparable manner to what we deem as animal weakness (which is not by any means rigorously understood)?

    We're both in agreement that there is no truly absolute quality of weakness we can point to. If Mr. Veblen failed miserably in his attempts to monetize lawn-care analysis, and he were still a social outcast, we could say he probably has a weakness: a type of epithet for incongruity between his desires and his reality, mostly as a result of a tendency towards being overcome. By the same approximation, we project that the animal desires it's own survival and it's failure to live is a result it's weakness.

    I see your view as ends justifying the means. If someone is successful, they are strong, if they fail they're weak. In this judgement I feel like we are losing a core quality of weakness: the tendency. That is, their vulnerability. The sense that their weakness is a result of free will, choosing a course that will tend towards their downfall. If we as species and not as individuals did always make the right choice, don't you agree that it would kill us?
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    If we as species and not as individuals did always make the right choice, don't you agree that it would kill us?kudos

    I don't see why it would, but there is zero likelihood of our species always making the right choice -- or even always choosing the lesser of two evils.

    "If the ends do not justify the means, what in God's name does?" some famous person said.

    Successful people usually have SOMETHING going for them -- quite often a highly successful parent or grandparent. The various children of John D. Rockefeller Sr., Abigail, John III, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David had their success handed to them on heavy silver platters. I'm not suggesting that any of the children were morons, but it does help having one of the richest men on earth as a parent.

    There are people who choose, or accept, their weakness, their vulnerability. Some of them tread the paths leading to holiness -- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. There are people who accept their low status, for any number of reasons (too complicated a topic for here and now). Some of these people strike one as saintlike, or maybe as freakishly weird, depending. Or maybe ready to be taken to the home for the very very confused.

    ↪Bitter Crank Let's be realistic though and boil it down to the absolute most weak person. They're not smart, physically fit, they fail at everything they try, no achievements, no social skills; they've effectively 'turned off, tuned out, and dropped out.' Would you then at least say it were fit to call this person weak in a comparable manner to what we deem as animal weakness (which is not by any means rigorously understood)?kudos

    The absolute most weak person is a bit hard to imagine having much of a role of any kind in society.

    I'm a bit lost as to what you are aiming for.
  • kudos
    139
    I don't see why it would, but there is zero likelihood of our species always making the right choice -- or even always choosing the lesser of two evils.
    Right, and being a die-hard believer in Darwinism as you alluded to earlier, don't you think that there is a reason why our species like others is designed like that -- a reason that has a firm basis in natural or sexual selection? Why would a female mammal specially choose a mate that is weak? So our attention would then understandably turn to the selection of the natural category.
  • magritte
    150
    if a predator is so strong a hunter it proliferates and the prey population declineskudos

    As @Olivier5 pointed out, strong hunters do not proliferate at the expense of their prey in nature, rather, there is a dynamic balance between the two groups that ebbs and flows. Where strength does become important is on a Darwinian stage of eliminating weaker rivals that would otherwise claim the same territory in the food chain. I am thinking of foxes, coyotes, and wolves that cannot survive in the same terrain and territory together. But this competition among peers is just as intense and at times just as deadly in human affairs, especially at the international level of the hierarchy.

    If we were to formalize this relationship by setting up a dichotomy of strong/weak predator/prey, we would need to look at something that takes the dynamical aspects of either experiential or real-world relationships into account. Which is why I attempted a Heraclitean peer-to-peer and another one-to-many parent-to-children model for your first phrase. I think these relationships would stay static for a time but not forever, not as would be expected for any dialectic originating with Plato.
  • kudos
    139
    As ↪Olivier5
    pointed out, strong hunters do not proliferate at the expense of their prey in nature, rather, there is a dynamic balance between the two groups that ebb and flow.
    It isn't a contradiction to claim that both are somewhat true. Mostly, predators and prey don't obey linear increasing/decreasing rules, but in many cases if they over-hunt to the point where there are no prey left - such as in the case where interaction rates are too high - they experience a larger reducing force, sometimes to the point of extinction; you don't tend to observe this as often because over time the probability of it reduces. The equilibrium seen in Olivier's graph is one example of a time that it doesn't occur, but not really a proof of why.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    Oh, I didn't know I was a 'die hard Darwinist'. But sure, evolution applies to human beings, as does natural selection and more. There is more because of our capacity for and dependence on language and culture. We inherited our 'capacity' but we created the content by ourselves, though we were likely nudged in various directions by some of those vulnerabilities you alluded to. Like religion. We didn't get religion from biology, but biology seems to have given us the capacity to imagine sky gods vividly enough that our creations could scare us silly.

    I have lots of weaknesses: old, arthritic, going blind, gay, overly opinionated, depressed, and so on. I'm not very strong now, though at my best I was a pretty good long-distance cyclist -- not fast but persistent. I swam, jogged, did calisthenics, etc. I've accepted the cards I've been dealt and am more or less, pretty happy. Though, the ice on which I am standing isn't all that thick.

    BTW, I like your banana and hammer image.
  • kudos
    139
    I have a sneaking suspicion that this forum is tied in with some other biology-related forum, because everyone on here is a die hard Darwinist. Just the Us and Them instinct kicking in again I suppose, nothing personal.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    I've been a member of this and its predecessor forum for at least 10 years. There are a lot of people here who accept evolution, because the membership is fairly well educated, and most educated people accept evolution as a set of sound principles. There are also people here who think that the mind is not located in the brain. It would be hard to fit a brainless mind into evolution. There are also a fair number of people here, educated or not, who do not know much about evolution. So no. I don't thing you have discovered a nest of Darwinians.

    What is it about Darwin that you find disturbing?
  • kudos
    139
    They tend to have very fixed ideas about things. Anything that interferes with that scientific belief is a threat. You could say that maybe it has come to supplant creationism in a pseudo-genetic kind of way as something many people cling to with strong emotional feelings?
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    They tend to have very fixed ideas about things.kudos

    Some, not all. There is a tendency to forget that the biggest, fiercest dinosaurs went extinct, that the interdependence of every ecosystem includes top and bottom, and puts the top in the most fragile position, survival-wise. And that even biologists and philosophers were once mewling brats needing feeding and changing and nurturing by others. It's largely an ideological thing, I think.
  • kudos
    139
    OK sure, not all. It has the advantage of being convenient though because it places our intellectual coordinates according to a very fixed set of points. It also seems to satisfy a sort of scientific fixation of a phallic order in my interpretation - the John McLeans of evolutionary theory, not the lightweights.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    There are areas of evolutionary thinking which get kind of "squishy" -- that is, not on such solid ground. Evolutionary psychology is an example. It seems obvious that evolution has contributed to human psychology as it stands today, but projecting ancient situations which shaped our present psychology is impossible to substantiate. Taking depression as an example, some people imagine situations in our distant past (say, 200,000 years ago) when and where a 'depressive' personality would have been beneficial to individual and group survival. The 'on edge' person would be hyper-alert to threat.

    Well maybe, maybe not, and how the hell would we know?

    Then too, "depression" as it is tossed about these days can mean all sorts of things.

    Steven Pinker proposes that we are less violent today than we were in the stone ages, not because we have evolved into a peaceable species, but because we developed centralized control -- the city state first, then later the larger state, which enforced more cooperative peaceable behavior. Take away centralized control, and maybe we would revert to a more violent norm.

    Did evolution play a role in the development of the city state around 5 to 7,000 years ago? Seem like a very late development to pin on Darwin. Grain probably had more to do with it than anything else.

    Dogs and humans formed a pretty strong connection around 20,000 years ago. Was that evolution or selective breeding (which is, in a way, fast evolution)? Russian biologists have shown that silver fox (a generally unfriendly species with nice fur) can be bred into a docile dog like animal without its nice fur and wild behavior in the space of a human lifetime (so, 30 to 50 generations of yearly breeding fox). Whether humans or dogs initiated domestication is hard to say. Based on the manipulative abilities of dogs I have known, they probably instigated their domestication. They saw in us a very good deal, available to them at the cost of friendly tail wagging, eye contact, a little snuggling, and the like.
  • kudos
    139
    Maybe you could clarify a bit. Are you saying that when an animal makes a wrong judgement about where to hunt, how to catch prey, or falters allowing it to escape they are displaying traits that were beneficial to them at some point but now not so? Is your point that all these traits at some point were naturally selected and are now dying out? It makes more sense that we could posit one possible cause in part in creating a greater predator/prey equilibrium, because we can observe negative effects of overly successful predators in certain populations.

    I am not directly attributing depression and anxiety to evolutionary causes without evidence - that would be very lazy reasoning. I am attempting to form an analog between human weaknesses and animal weaknesses. If you don't believe humans can be overcome by failure and weakness in the same way as animals, then we are really going into evolution-denying territory; by claiming that humans have complete discontinuity with the entire animal kingdom.
  • Bitter Crank
    9k
    A discontinuity between one animal, Homo sapiens or birds... take your pick, and all other animals is completely insupportable. There are some genes that have been preserved over a billion years, and exist in single cell and vertebrate animals like ourselves.

    It's probably safe to say that humans fail to survive in ways very much like other animals. Inattentive animals end up getting run over by automobiles, for instance, whether they be squirrels or people. Disease is a great leveler across the plant and animal kingdoms. So is predation. Humans may be a top predator now, but we have not always been at the top, and when it comes to the competition between pathogens and animals, our superiority (with antibiotics) is a flash in the pan. An unarmed person has no particular advantage in a confrontation with a polar bear or a grizzly. If we can't run fast enough and hide, we stand a good chance of being eaten.

    Even oddities like homosexuality show up across species, appearing in mammals and birds, and of course, humans. Male pairs of ducks, for instance, have been observed stealing eggs from other nests in order to have eggs to hatch. Surviving members of geese couples (gay and straight) seem to mourn the loss of their mate. No reason why they wouldn't -- the avian limbic system isn't all that different than ours.
  • kudos
    139
    Well if we can manage to both agree that it would likely not be good for those animals not to exist that were 'imperfect': inattentive animals, ones that die and allow scavengers food, etc., then to what extent is weakness good in this sense?
  • kudos
    139
    Here are a few examples of similarities that have been observed in animals that parallel human weaknesses:

    1) Actions that counter animal's individual interest
    2) Success in such as way as its interests or needs could be better satisfied
    3) Individual interest that counters possibility for survival, or sexual selection

    Since it doesn't get us anywhere to view only from the animals perspective, we can instead talk as in, the animal is chosen or selected to be weak in the same vein as it chooses to be so; this contradiction is left in-absolute in the form of present discussion. From this point of view, we could say the animal may do a service to the others and to the entire ecosystem through it's physical weakness.
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