Explorer Modes – The Most Interesting Unanswered Question in Evolutionary Biology | Bret Weinstein

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What is the most interesting unanswered question facing evolutionary biology according to Bret Weinstein? The answer might be more conscious than previously thought. Comment below with your thoughts.

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34 Responses

  1. feelinglucky duck says:

    This is the part where he blows smoke up everyone's ass, because he can't say he doesn't know the answer

  2. feministAwry says:

    Bret please grow that beard again. Its sexy af.

  3. steviebeanz1 says:

    thanks Bret. you are greatly appreciated.

  4. The Rational Guard says:

    Evolved Intelligent Design?

  5. jswinginit1 says:

    A gamble? I don’t think so. Humans discovered HALF of the known world in a fraction of our planetary occupational timeline. That’s a gamble. A species that thrives beyond the scope of its resources might exhibit consciousness where either the strength of the species drives out the weak for sustainability, or the weak leaves. In either case, the weak still has to find the next suitable food source, in the next suitable habitat. Continue this cycle over millions of years? A slow and steady exploration of new but “like” environments while consuming new but “like” resources? All this seems to suggest that the weaker survival instincts get, the stronger consciousness develops, because the further a gene selection deviates from the original habitat, the more creative, or adaptive, that selection must become in order to survive. That looks more like a plan than a gamble. Or, am I just blowing smoke? Not a biologist btw:)

  6. Sasha Shepto says:

    So, you're saying there's an evolutionary incentive to produce a small percentage of individuals with hyper-exploratory instincts? On the memetic level, this might manifest as something like jihad

  7. ImAManMann says:

    They are not good and bad mutations, they are just more or less appropriate for the existing environmental conditions at the time. If conditions at the time were different, successful mutations may different.

  8. llaauuddrruupp says:

    Can this "jumping force" be analogous to some people's desire to explore new lands, climb mountains, go to the moon, etc.? Is that really just a rational, high-risk, high-reward strategy for finding better environs in which to spread one's genes?

  9. Sai Keo says:

    Maybe you should start by explaining how you know evolution to be true. Maybe give some facts. Maybe a link of a one species changing into another.

  10. G Nelson says:

    Love the topic. Life seems way too determined to fill every niche on earth to be produced from random code errors. The will to be appears to me self evident.

  11. bbattlemode says:

    Watching this I was thinking, an advantageous mutation would seem to the other fish like some kind of grotesque mistake. There's something wrong with that one. AKA Don't breed with that one. But only because the vast majority of mutations are not advantageous and because the advantages of the few helpful mutations are often helpful in ways that we can't identify. When explorer fish stumbles upon the new world and begins building his fishy empire there, it isn't like the other fish get to observe him doing it or necessarily live long enough to witness the full magnitude of the advantages or disadvantages of the mutation. So the question I come to is: which human mutations might be advantageous but still appear to us like mistakes? And how can we turn this idea into a popular Marvel comic book series?

  12. jimmer says:

    I understand (and like) most of Bret's ideas but I'm not getting this. With the salmon, some of them making a wrong turn getting home seems more likely than them deciding to explore new rivers. With the shrew exploring the idea of wings, I'm not even sure where to start with that.

  13. WP SN says:

    Bret, does this explain beached whales? Nobody seems to be able to figure out why whales and dolphins beach themselves, but maybe a small number of them are trying to get over what is sometimes just a shoal of sand, in order to explore if water exists on the other side, and that exploration mode yields water on the far side of a sand shoal enough to allow for whales and dolphins to experiment when they encounter very shallow water.

  14. The 43rd Firedemon says:

    Blink twice if you're wife is forcing you to shave

  15. Derek Allen says:

    Makes me think of the movie Annihilation…

  16. Nicolás Cristi says:

    So the idea is that the organism "overexposes himself to selectors", so the advantage would be to exploit the mutation they had, because if the organism has a mutation, but it doesn't expose himself to the selector which would kill the competence then he would never take advantage of his mutation? this would force mutations to be selected in a ordered way. That order would be an order oriented towards exploration. It makes sense… Correct me if I misinterpreted.

  17. B MBMW says:

    curious but since most females are born with all their eggs and males produce sperm…would that mean that the pressure for adaptation is applied to males and could possibly change their sperm based on the environment?

  18. Tarquin The Rotter says:

    Very interesting. I like it.

    Incidentally, I’m a layman and would be considered by most to be right wing, to put it mildly, but I can see here that the idea could also prove very useful to you in what I understand of your view generally about the way humanity needs to attempt to progress if it wants to continue to exist! 😉

    You might even be right! 🙂

  19. Dīvīnitas Simulācrōrum says:

    Is this what drive the beardless decision

  20. Science Compliance says:

    Hi Brett, interesting discussion, although I think you may have unintentionally mischaracterized the mechanism by which niche exploration takes place. Knowing what we know about consciousness, there is an obvious fascination in (many) humans with the unknown. It would seem then that, in fact, at least in humans, this curiosity has developed and is indeed an advantageous trait, as evidenced by the proliferation of advanced technology in concordance with the human population.

    In the salmon example, however, I think we must exhibit some caution before attributing a similar risk/reward system to what appears to be exploratory behavior. First, if you can imagine that there are a limited number of watersheds capable of supporting salmon spawning, random exploration would indeed be suicidal if it became a progressively magnified trait amongst generations of salmon, as many salmon scoured the coast, many finding no suitable hatcheries before burning through their energy reserves and dying before they had the chance to procreate. What I suggest is that perhaps the exploratory behavior is not as 'exploratory' as you'd like to think. As I'm sure you know, salmon face a gauntlet of obstacles as they swim upstream to lay their eggs. While strongly compelled to return to their breeding ground, there may also be competing compulsions within them to avoid being grouped in, say, too high a density of salmon. Perhaps there is an evolved genetic "pressure release valve" that the fish have to varying degrees, and for some, the shoals just become too packed to tolerate, which forces them to look elsewhere. Such a trait could reach equilibrium with the environment much more simply than the characterization you gave, in which the salmon population that inhabit a non-native watershed become native to the new watershed in the next generation with no higher proclivity for the next generation to seek a new spawning ground than with what they are familiar.

    Also, to say that an individual 'shrew' has the potential to become a bat or a giraffe is also a bit of a gaffe. As its descendants seek food, shelter, and procreation, depending on the state of the environment and the traits they've inherited (or generated through mutation), they will naturally fall into the niches that allow them to eat and procreate, or they will go extinct. A 'shrew' that's a little bit better at jumping from tree branch to tree branch because they're lighter and maybe have some membranous skin webbing will begin to move into a niche that positions its descendants closer to what we would call both physiologically and ecologically a bat. Maybe there were non-flying shrew-like creatures that inhabited parts of the niches now inhabited by bats from completely different lineages that just got out-competed by bats once they arrived on the scene fully-fledged and snatched the other creatures' resources away, leading to their extinction. The way you describe it, it almost seems as though you insinuate bats or giraffes were a foregone conclusion. The essential intent on the part of the creature is to eat and procreate. Insofar as luck or good fortune grants them the ability to do this–and in a sustainable way that allows their descendants to do that, too–they will produce extant species we can observe in their natural habitat. The creatures that are either horribly malformed by a mutation or just possess a mutation that doesn't provide an advantage for survival and procreation within the niches proximately available to such a creature will not produce viable offspring that we can point to as being a clearly good biological designs.

  21. Ju Berry says:

    Your message would be more attractive to the general population if you wouldn't have shaved.
    As a biologist and evolutionary theorist, you should know that beards is more attractive to humans than no beard.

    Please, fix that.

    A fellow non english speaking listener

  22. Justin Owings says:

    The power of frontierspace.

  23. Michael Dunn says:

    Could it also be that the sex having the less costly gammates explores the space using a greater mean variance in characteristics thereby allowing tailored evolution via female sexual selection for the conditions du jour (such that in generation many of the dice rolls of male characteristic variation produce no offspring).

  24. AvenueSU says:

    Maybe there are lots of mechanisms for this purpose akin to the salt water fish gender switching; where hierarchy and pheromones determine if a fish changes its phenotype to match opportunity. Salons searching triggered by a lower spot on hierarchy plus calculation of competition based on environmental signals. Monitor lizards on a new island going for haploid offspring based on environmental cues. Just as humans have that scarcity-triggered tribalism, there are probably many modal, triggered programs creatures have evolved.

  25. xandercorp says:

    You lost me on this one, Bret. It seems to me like you are simply anthropomorphizing probability and return; I've rewatched the video several times, and I stand by this assessment. The fact that the truth is not compelling does not mean it needs to be "dressed up" to be more appealing, but instead that the thinker needs to examine the current set of their beliefs and update it so that the truth makes sense.

    Maybe I'm wrong. What is the functional difference between the anthropomorphizing conceit that a clade "explores" with intent and the fact that individuals in this clade are subject to random forces that sometimes result in changes that stick long enough to express their competitive advantage and either dominate the population or form their own distinct but related population?

    The ability to analyze the history of non-sapient beings without recourse to anthropomorphizing and the conceit of nonexistent intent is a necessary miracle. The fact that evolutionary changes that are prompted by forces uncoupled to any intent (because "random" is not strictly the correct way of thinking of these changes) are sometimes beneficial, and beneficial changes are sometimes adaptive enough to dominate the population or to create a new population – this isn't a barrier to understanding the evolutionary mechanism, it is the understanding of evolutionary mechanism. To lower the bar isn't to facilitate the understanding of evolutionary mechanism, but to forgo it.

  26. Mathis H says:

    Yes – you have just outlined the utility of animal traditions and cultural selection (re Laland's, Heinrich).

  27. mccougar says:

    Is it possible that in every species, in every population, a highly sustainable percentage of individuals are conservative or traditional, because doing what is well known is a reliable way to survive. But that a smaller set, say 10 – 25% could be somehow triggered to be risk takers and innovators, maybe even genetically predetermined? Essentially, the much smaller number of risk takers are disposable in terms of species survival, but indispensable for exploring high risk, high reward territories. This dual strategy safeguards from extinction due to stagnation.

  28. mccougar says:

    Related to this is the question what drives species to symbiosis, to integrate rather than consume selfishly. For instance, will a gut bacteria that currently kills its host be better adapted, if it in time were to integrate with other bacteria and its host in a mutually supportive and sustaining manner?

  29. Tim Bugge says:

    @5:27, sounds like something straight out of Human Action by L. von Mises. I'll have to dust that bad boy off.

  30. Matthew Lind says:

    Bret, you might gain some traction on possible exploration strategies from computer scientists. The salmon example you give sounds a lot like recursive searching through a tree data structure. Perhaps if you speak with some CS folks you can find some useful exploration strategies that might apply to evolution. Who knows, maybe there are a few different algorithms in place, especially at different biological levels (individual, "clan", species, etc)

  31. Brendan H says:

    If this mechanism of exploration exists, and the payoff is so high, wouldn't the adaptive behaviour in salmon pretty quickly (tens of generations) become the dominant variant? And therefore, wouldn't the exploration pattern of behavior become the norm? So why is seeking their birth river currently the norm? It sounds like a meta-stable state for a species.

    To put this question another way, what probability of adaptive behaviour and population size allows birth-waterway seeking (non-adaptive behaviour) to dominate in a stable fashion?

  32. Robert Beckler says:

    So what your saying is that fish are smart.

  33. theotormon says:

    Brett, I have seen some speculation about the role of quantum mechanics in evolution, but I am not informed enough to know if it is hogwash.

  34. PhilosoFeed says:

    Jesus. To have you as a biology teacher would be one of the greatest advantages a human being could have in life.

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