Monday, August 17, 2015

Astigmatism and Face-palm Eldritch

Conventional wisdom tells us that vertical slit pupils in humans are found only (1) in cases of bilateral coloboma; and (2) among the indigenes of Werel / Alterra and among their Tevaran / Farborn hybrid descendents, in whom it signifies their ability to resist the mindspeech deception of the Shing.

It is therefore a surprise to encounter D. Vendramini and his "Neanderthal Predation" theory, in which cat eyes were also a feature of Homo neanderthalensis -- along with gorilla-like pelage and a taste for human meat.

Vendramini is evidently an outside-the-box thinker. So far outside that the box in question is lost over the horizon somewhere and the prospects of finding it again become vanishingly small; it was probably thrown out with the rest of the $mas packaging.
Below: Inside-the-box thinking
Right: Still thinking inside the box
Skipping Vendramini's NP thought-shaped stylings for the moment (in order to pretend that they were not already covered by a smarter blogger several years ago), let us look first at his TEEM theory. This is a kind of psychic Lamarckian evolution. Intense emotional trauma lays down inherited cellular engrams, so that future generations can re-live those traumata and learn from their ancestors' near-death experiences. Our gonads have 'write mechanisms' to record these experiences in the non-coding segments of the genome (a.k.a. "junk DNA"), which "contains a hidden natural language" (the exact language is not reported though it is unlikely to be Esperanto). This comes as a disappointment to those of us who had hoped that the 10 esoteric strands of 12-strand DNA (their existence denied by mainstream geneticists) would somehow be involved. But as consolation, there is a paper! In Medical Hypotheses! Shit's getting real!
Vendramini's novel and challenging concept has much in common with L. Ron Hubbard's ideas about past-life engrams (which breed endless neuroses until they are cleared), and I deduce that it propagated backwards down the time-stream to inspire El-Ron, in the manner of shadows racing into the past.

Returning to Neanderthal Predation... imagine our early hominid ancestors as they spread to Europe and the Levant. Suppose that Homo erectus came under evolutionary pressure from the Neandertals already in occupation -- super-predators, devouring the weak and the slow -- forcing our ancestors to evolve strength and intelligence and hairlessness, traits which would never have developed otherwise.

Not only does Neanderthal Predation account for our transformation into Cro-Magnons; it proves capable of explaining any feature of the human condition -- if not as a response to evolutionary pressure, then through nightmarish cellular memories, or sexual selection as our ancestors chose mates who least resembled the hated Neandertals; or conversely if any traits seem more Neandertalic, then they were acquired by inter-breeding. It goes without saying that the Neandertals regularly raped their female captives instead of eating them -- Cro-Magnate women being sexier than their own -- producing fertile offspring, and contaminating the pure germline with their own genetic taint. This always happens; it must be a tradition, or an old charter or something.* In fact the only point left unexplained by Vendramini's theory is why an earlier wave of H. erectus migrants evolved strength and intelligence when they reached Europe and the Levant, and transformed into H. neanderthalensis, in the absence of evolutionary pressure from themselves.

Cellular memories of those dark days of pre-history explain why we find cats' eyes so sinister.** They bring to mind their bloodthirsty predatory status... unlike lions and tigers which have round pupils so seem benign, and in total contrast to the horizontal pupils of goats and Palmer Eldritch (not scary at all).

This all comes as a surprise to those of us who thought that the Neandertals were the Old-Testyment Nephilim, half-human hybrids bred through artificial insemination by the invading Starlords to be the agents of their occupation; or else they were the Lost Civilisation of Lemuria. But NP theory is SCIENCE so there is no room for argument, Neandertals were the Most Dangerous Game of all.

How much will big-game sportsmen pay for a ride in the Riddled time machine, 50,000 years into the past, for a chance to match their skills against them, to hunt and be hunted? I do not know but it's worth finding out.
* Why Hi there Stanisław Szukalski, creator of Zermatism:
"The history of mankind up to this moment is the enumeration of STRUGGLES caused by the elemental foes of mankind, the results of the rapes of human women by Manapes who, having been born among us and speaking our languages, are mistakenly taken for our own countrymen. But it is these hateful, deadly and fiendishly exterminatory descendants of the Yeti that, on having been throughly admixed with the Humans, think up all the ideological Isms that create subversion, treason, revolution, wars, and the eventual downfall of all Civilization and Culture."

Szukalski's notions about the sub-human strand of human nature, and of the half-human miscegenation-born Yetysyn who walk among us, are clearly inspired by Vendramini's themes, casting their shadows backwards into the past AGAIN. Say what you like about thinking inside the box, you don't have to worry about your insights back-propagating along the time-stream and troubling mankind's dreams.

** [Explaining Voice] A key constraint on the design of pupils is the optical quality of the mammalian lens, which is shite. And the quality gets worse in the lens' outer zones. If for reasons of drugs or ancestry your pupil opens out to F-stop 0.7 there are weird cruciform halos and the focus goes cattywumpus, although this is an acceptable price for being able to see at all while skin-walking in deep forest by starlight, or so I hear from a friend. So a round pupil is generally the best option as it restricts vision (as much as possible) to light passing though the lens' central zones, where the quality is not so crap. Vertical slit pupils produce an image on the retina that is always all jam-smeared and soft-focus along the vertical axis, in a trade-off for better focus along the horizontal axis.[/Explaining Voice]

None of this deterred Banks et al. from running a science-fair comparison of pupil shape and ecological niche, and coming up with their own half-arsed Just-So story in which they claim that small cats have slit pupils to achieve worse focus along the horizontal axis, because ummm depth perception. BUT their press-release has KITTIES, so science churnalists could reprint it without expending any effort of their own, and it has gone prokaryote (as the kids are wont to say) across the Interlattice.

A cynic might suppose that Banks et al. are angling for an IgNobel Prize but I could not possibly comment.
Belatedly UPDATED with Bonus Cat Pupils.
Turns out that Neandertals are still funny-looking even after you shave off all the hair.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Gotta give Man's Life credit for seeing this one coming.

Smut Clyde said...

Not a lot has changed in 30-odd years.

JP said...

contaminating the pure germline with their own genetic taint.


So anyway, goats have particularly good vision along the vertical axis, then? Whatever for? Is it for spotting, I dunno, weeds to eat? Humans to annoy? Inquiring minds want to know.

Smut Clyde said...

goats have particularly good vision along the vertical axis, then? Whatever for?

Banks &c had the not-so-stupid idea that it's to reduce light scatter from the sky. Reducing the lens flare. Same reason as Inuit snow-goggles are horizontal slits.

Sounds like sheep and goats really want to keep their pupils horizontal; the eyeballs rotate as they bend their heads to the ground to keep them that way. So horizontal pupils is a big deal for them. And a horizontal pupil is not so easy for Evolution to make. The default state of a mammalian pupil is the cats-eye vertical slit (in the fetus, the iris develops from both sides, then fuses in the middle).

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I'm so glad that Stan made a cameo here. Of course, the Reverend Ivan Stang turned the yeti-crossbreed thing on its head, making the yetis the good guys (Wilson and Shea probably inspired that bit).

Smut Clyde said...

B^4 has made me feel guilty for not devoting more space to the prodigiously weird Stanisław Szukalski.

JP said...

Makes sense about the reduced-lens-flare effect.

The default state of a mammalian pupil is the cats-eye vertical slit (in the fetus, the iris develops from both sides, then fuses in the middle).

I recently learned that we are all assholes, speaking from the perspective of developmental biology.