Complexity By Subtraction

13 Apr

Fish BrainsHumans are so pathetic. Fish have more bones in their skulls than people do.

Summarizing the results of previous paleontological studies, they show that vertebrate skulls started out complex, but have grown simpler and more streamlined. “For example, the skulls of fossil fish consist of a large number of differently-shaped bones that cover the skull like a jigsaw puzzle,” McShea said. “We see a reduction in the number of skull bone types in the evolutionary transitions from fish to amphibian to reptile to mammal.” In some cases skull bones were lost; in other cases adjacent bones were fused. Human skulls, for example, have fewer bones than fish skulls.

Computer simulations like Hordijk’s will allow scientists to test ideas about how often ‘complexity by subtraction’ happens, or how long it takes. The next step is to find out how often the phenomenon happens in nature.

“What we need to do next is pick an arbitrary sample of complex structures and trace their evolution and see if you can tell which route they proceeded by, [from simple to complex or the opposite]. That will tell us whether this is common or not,” McShea added.

I’ve waited so long for scientists to start taking the easy way out – this is so good for lazy social scientists!

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