Friday Free-for-All #87: Perception, dog breeds, clones, language

This week’s questions, covering everything from perception to cloning, dog breeds, and how languages make us think.

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

Your perception of the world is just what your brain constructs for you from the signals sent by your senses. Plus, there is a slight delay, so you aren’t even experiencing the simulation in real time. What would it be like if humans could perceive what the world is actually like and do it in real time? Also, what are the ramifications of every single person’s reality being a little different and unique to them?

Wow. I hit a bunch of longer questions on this random harvest, but this one is actually very easy to answer, at least the “what would it be like” part.

See, removing the time delay and the sensory filters is exactly what happens when someone takes any psychedelic drug, but particularly LSD. And yes, I did the latter a good number of times when I was much younger.

The net result is that all sensory information comes flooding in uncensored and absolutely in real time, which often gives the perception of observing overlapping time — that is moments shortly in the past, right now, and shortly in the future all at once.

I liked to refer to this as “Hindu Time,” especially when talking to people, because the effect of trails would basically superimpose all of their micro-expressions and and facial movements over a few seconds in real time.

It was like talking to a Picasso painting, really.

The brain also tries to make sense of every random input in these conditions, so that listening to white noise or static can turn into the most complicated music, just as looking at TV static or a random pattern in stucco or marble will also try to take on order.

Not to mention that you will be able to hear and smell every single thing that your body is doing.

As for that last question on the implications of everyone perceiving reality differently? Well, I dealt with that one in depth not that long ago.

Would selectively breeding an animal such as a dog based on intelligence, increase its intelligence over time? If so, how intelligent could dogs become? If not, how does intelligence emerge in a species?

We’ve been selectively breeding animals, especially dogs, for millennia, and we’ve had pretty good results in producing exactly the traits we’ve wanted.

I mean, come on — how else could we have turned the mighty wolf into the annoying as hell Maltese?

We’ve also definitely seen increased intelligence in dog breeds, particularly terriers, shepherds, and Labradors — the ones designed to hunt and help humans.

Were it gets tricky is that whole part where a lot of countries insist on all rescue animals being sterilized at adoption, which is great for reducing the excess population, but can also really ruin any possibility of selective breeding to create super-intelligent dogs.

Which we could totally do, by the way. Maybe we could do it by creating vast egg and sperm banks from all those canine gonads we’re removing or cutting off from the vas deferens, and then getting permits to breed very promising candidates.

But if we pay close attention to the behaviors that we get, then there’s no limit to the behaviors we can create, especially since we can shortcut the whole “natural selection process” while we’re at it.

Find a dog that has an uncanny ability to mimic human speech? And another dog that is a one-trial learner? Smash that DNA together and repeat to see what happens. Personally, I think that there is no limit to how intelligent dogs can become.

As for how other animals do it, ask Darwin. Basically, those traits that confer reproductive advantages over time win out and get reproduced. Sometimes, those relate to intelligence, sometimes not — but when they relate to the latter, that how intelligence in animals develops and grows.

Just go ask your nearest neighborhood crow about that.

If there existed a perfect clone of you, would it also be you? Would it act in exactly the same manner as you (like a mirror) or would it act differently? If it acted differently then would it still be you? At what point would it not be you?

Short answers: No. Hell no. Of course not. From creation.

Nature’s perfect clones are called identical twins, and they’re really not. Yes, some identical twins are impossible to tell apart in general, but if you really look at them, then you’ll spot differences.

Some are “mirror twins,” meaning that they developed with different symmetry and so look like mirror images of each other. Others can look identical until you look closely at things like hair patterns, moles and birthmarks, shape and size of genitalia, muscular development, and so on.

And that’s just for two people who developed from the same fertilized egg that split into two after being a zygote and developed in the same womb.

As for a clone? Good luck. It would be nowhere close to being you. The idea of “perfect” clone is utter bullshit, unless you consider “perfect” to be one that doesn’t die in utero and actually makes it to a healthy adulthood.

“Cloning” simply means that your human DNA is used to create a genetic copy of yourself, but we can’t just do it with human sex cells. Why? Because both eggs and sperm only have 23 chromosomes, as opposed to the normal 46 in humans.

We haven’t yet figured out a way, either, to get two sperm or two eggs to mush together to make a baby. Instead, the technique has involved getting a donor egg cell, removing its contents, and then injecting it with all of the DNA from another donor cell.

So, technically, this cell would have all of your DNA, but there are other problems. For one thing, your DNA is not necessarily 100% identical in every cell in your body. You may have different junk DNA, you may have chimeral cells which are genetically different from the DNA that made “you”, or the DNA that got grabbed has already been degraded through telomere shortening to the point that your clone isn’t going to live long.

But let’s harvest that DNA from you, shove it in a denucleated egg cell, and sprinkle some magic science dust on it to make it start dividing to create life. Now what?

Well, naturally, it needs a host womb. And the ideal one for that, of course, would be your own mother, but if you’re old enough to afford to clone yourself in the first place, then she’s probably either long dead or not a fertile plantation for your clone.

Nope, you’re going to need a well-paid surrogate to carry your clone to term.

And this is where the second big “Not You” change occurs. Your “clone,” who already does not have your exact DNA and is developing in an egg that came from a complete stranger, has now been dumped into a pre-natal environment that not only has completely different body chemistry from the one that you grew up in but… guess what?

Your clone is also tethered to that womb and, therefore, that mother, via the umbilical cord, meaning that they are sharing blood chemistry, oxygen, and a whole lot more.

At the very best, your “perfect” clone would come out as maybe some kind of fraternal twin, and while they might share your DNA, the way that those traits got expressed could be completely different. Don’t be shocked if your twin doesn’t even look like you.

Finally, since from that point it would grow up with entirely different experiences, it would never act like you, it would never act like you, and it would never be you from the moment of conception.

Sorry, rich dudes.

If language influences how we perceive color, what other things could languages be changing our perception of?

Language influences how we perceive absolutely everything, from colors to directions to time to numbers to honesty.

Just look at Chinese, which has no verb conjugations or noun declensions, so relies on adding context clues in order to indicate things like past/present/future or gender.

“Today they go class together.” “Tomorrow chief boss review us.” “Now believe us Mao shithead.”

It also uses the same word-order as English: Subject, verb, object.

Contrast this to Spanish, where object, verb, subject is often the norm. For example, “me gusta los limones.” In English, “I like lemons,” but in Spanish it is literally “I am pleased by lemons.” (Even expressing it as “lemons please me” is just putting it in English word order again.)

One of the more extreme cases of this is in the Australian aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr, where time is not expressed in terms of past, present, and future, but rather cardinal directions, and this is quite literal.

Meaning, of you ask a speaker of this language to line up a series of photos from past to future, the order they do so will depend entirely on which way they’re facing. For them, past to future travels from east to west, just like the Sun,

If they’re facing north, then they’ll line up those photos past to future from right to left. Face them south, and then they’ll go left to right. And if you face them either east or west, then they will deal those photos toward or away from them.

But because of this time and direction sense, any speaker of the language just knows which way is which, even if they’re in a windowless building.

So, yeah… there’s a really big example of how language can change perception.