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It’s now disgust’s turn to have shaped human evolution

Gettin’ near the bottom of the barrel? Further to “There is nothing ‘controversial’ about materialism”, we are now allowed to know, by New Scientist, how disgust shaped human evolution. Disgustologist Valerie Curtis explains:

YOU wake up in the morning. Your partner burps and drags on a smelly dressing gown. You can’t find your toothbrush so you use his, and then wipe some muck off the floor with it. Leaving the house, you step over a turd deposited by a neighbour, then drive into a traffic jam caused by everyone ignoring the lights. In your office, everyone interrupts each other until a spitting match breaks out. Leaving work, ill-groomed strangers press up against you in the lift and one sneezes in your face. (Paywall)

Yes, that’s pretty disgusting. The thesis seems to be that the people who knew better than to behave this way were naturally selected for survival and thus shaped evolution:

The acquisition of manners was one of the first baby steps humans took on the road to large-scale cooperation, and cooperation, underpinned by our moral sense, was the great leap forward that allowed humans to become a hyper-social species. We have since worked together to achieve technical dominance of the planet. If we can better understand how microbes gave us manners and manners then shaped our morality, it might hold clues for our future as a species.

As with all these evolution theories, it is just so much storytelling. What is disgusting varies widely among cultures and generally, one must follow one’s own culture’s rules, not a general one. In the culture in which I live, for example, left-handedness is treated with indifference; in some cultures, it is disgusting to use the left hand. Scram, lefties! Yuck to you.

Handwashing promotes health, but only if the water is clean. And who knew for sure way back when? Exposure to germs in general may kill or may confer immunity, depending on whether they are serious disease pathogens or just chronic ones.

Whoever lived or died in this complexity many thousands of years ago are our ancestors, and that is all we can really say about it.

Let us pray to the God of the Gaps, to create an opening for another circus wagon. We will soon need to expand the town square.

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3 Responses to It’s now disgust’s turn to have shaped human evolution

  1. Imagine where we’d be if science itself were disgusting!

  2. OT:

    I’ve been documenting from various biology textbooks how the OOL is presented as part and parcel of evolution and came across the following review question:

    “Explain the difference between science and, for example, a religious belief.”

  3. Have they discovered the gene for disgust yet? I’d love to see that phylogenetic tree!

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