Sunday, July 8, 2018

Of Neanderthals and dogs and extinction level events

Time for science short rounds!

Last week I read The Invaders,  a much-anticipated work about how dogs gave humans a competitive edge over their neanderthal cousins. This brief book posits that human beings function like invasive species, and after establishing a few housekeeping facts (the background of climate change, the available evidence for judging human / neanderthal populations and their diets) argues that humans and Neanderthals were competing for the same space in some regions of the globe, rather like wolves and coyotes, and that humans drove neanderthals out because of their advanced tool usage and domestication of wolves. While Neanderthals did use tools and traps, discovered tools to date suggest that the Neanderthals were more ambush predators, hiding and taking their quarry in close quarters. We sapiens used more ranged weapons like thrown spears. The wolf-dogs enter the book's argument relatively late in the game (~ 50 pages from the book's end), so this is chiefly a work about sapiens v neanderthal competition is therefore a book more of interest to those curious about ancestral man than his ancestral best friend.

Additionally, I finished listening to What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Questions, penned by the author of XKCD and read by Wil Wheaton. If you've never encountered XKCD before, you probably don't spend a lot of time on the internet.  It's a webcomic of "romance,sarcasm, math, and language."   I can't vouch for the romance bit, but science and math humor are a constant.  That's the same of What If? in which the author uses his legit-science background to respond to outlandish questions submitted to his website. What if the Earth suddenly stopped rotating? What if we could drain the oceans? What if everyone was gathered in one spot and jumped at the same time?  Although none of these scenarios are remotely possible,  Munroe disregards this and puts math -- and humor -- to work  exploring the possibilities.  Naturally,  geek references abound. (River Tam of Firefly is consistently quoted as an expert on how fast it takes to drain a human body of all its blood, assuming adequate suction). Wil Wheaton is golden in his delivery, barely hiding his humor at times when Munroe's writing is tongue in cheek. There's an entire chapter on the positive effects of the sun  suddenly not working.   If you're into science, What If? is great fun. 


  1. one of the burning concerns when i was a kid was about the earth splitting in two if someone accidentallly dropped an A bomb on an oil well... i worried about that until my dad (a physicist) assured me it wouldn't happen... today i laugh but i didn't then...

  2. It *is* fascinating how dogs and mankind formed such a strong, almost symbiotic, bond. Pretty cool too....

    Oh, and I LOVE XKCD!

    1. Did you catch wind of that study a few years ago that indicated that dogs are better at reading human gestures than chimpanzees? We have a long history with those pups!


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