Heart Disease and Evolutionary Medicine

Although heart disease is common today, it was likely a far less frequent cause of death than predatory assaults among our prehistoric ancestors. Anyone reading this article is the fortunate descendant of an unbroken lineage of organisms that escaped or survived predatory attacks before reproducing.

The responses that help us survive predatory attacks are collectively called the fight-or-flight system. This system drives three major vascular responses to injury: coagulation (to counter blood loss), vasoconstriction (also to counter blood loss), and inflammation (to combat microorganisms and to promote wound healing). Together they helped our predecessors survive a predator’s bite. These responses are called upon reflexively no matter what the source of injury.
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The Next Black Swan: Global Depopulation

We’ve all heard the thesis on real estate investing: “They’re not making any more land.” It turns out that before too long we may not be making enough people either.

Global population has been expanding since antiquity, interrupted by wars, disasters, pandemics, and famine. Malthusian predictions of overpopulation, unsustainability, and resource depletion have also been a part of conventional wisdom since antiquity and remain popular today (see Paul Gilding’s “The Earth is Full” TED talk). It is, after all, a common trait of the human mind to assume that the past is an accurate predictor of the future.
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Value Investing Getting Too Crowded? Another Golden Age of Growth Investing Is On The Way

One of the landmark events on the calendar of investors took place last month—the Value Investing Congress in New York. But it behooves us to remember that an alternative approach also exists—that of growth investing.

While the two styles share many common principles, growth investing focuses on identifying companies with above-average growth rates, whose share prices today are considered inexpensive relative to their intrinsic value over the long term.

The dearth of investors who publicly tout the principles of growth investing is one sign that its golden age may now be upon us. The Wikipedia entry on “Value investing” lists more than a dozen current well-known value investors including Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett. Value investing is a sensible discipline, and its success has attracted many acolytes. When too many people are performing the same analysis and arrive at the same conclusion, however, it becomes the crowded trade.
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Why Rising Healthcare Spending Can Be A Good Thing

Human endeavor creates value. Healthier people endeavor more. Thus, health is a creator of value, of prosperity. The converse is also true. Wealthier societies demand more healthcare. When life is grand, people want to live longer and they want to maintain healthy bodies. Therefore, health and wealth form a virtuous, feed-forward cycle.

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Another Golden Age of Growth Investing

One of the landmark events on the calendar of investors takes place this week — the Value Investing Congress in New York. But it behooves us to remember that an alternative yet equally tenable approach also exists — that of growth investing. While the two styles share many common principles, growth investing focuses on identifying companies with above-average growth rates, whose share prices today are considered inexpensive relative to their intrinsic value over the long term.

The dearth of investors who publicly tout the principles of growth investing is one sign that its golden age may now be upon us. The Wikipedia entry on “Value investing” lists more than a dozen current well-known value investors including Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett. Value investing is a sensible discipline, and its success has attracted many acolytes. When too many people are performing the same analysis and arrive at the same conclusion, however, it becomes the crowded trade. By contrast, the only investor listed in the Wikipedia entry for “Growth investing” is Thomas Rowe Price, Jr., who died many years ago. Philip Fisher, another legend whose Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits is generally considered to be the reference work on growth investing, goes entirely unmentioned.
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Xenovation: Innovation from the Outside In

Abstract

The immune system defends hosts against internal and external biologic threats. It also records an antigenic map of the environment such that it can appropriately respond to stimuli as benign or threatening.

A lesser-known function of the immune system may be to sample the microbiome for potentially beneficial traits it can add to the host inventory. Rather than executing wholesale destruction of pathogens, the host can benefit by domesticating invading organisms or parts thereof. The function can be summed in the word “xenovation”, innovation achieved through the selection and integration of foreign traits. Implications for biologic evolution, meme evolution, and computing evolution are discussed.

Discussion

Components of pathogens can be processed and rendered benign or useful through various mechanisms. A historical example of this phenomenon is the domestication of one prokaryote (or at least its energetic machinery) by another to form a eukaryote. A current example is the processing of pathogen antigens for surface redisplay to other players in the immune system. The ability to protect against reinfection is a trait acquired via the pathogen. It is intuitively appealing to speculate that the immune system is in a perpetual state of exploration for innovative traits through domestication.

The exact mechanisms by which immune cells domesticate microbial traits remain to be elucidated. How sequences associated with those traits might end up in the germline also remains to be investigated.
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Relationship Liquidity

Social mobility enabled by innovations in technology, communication, and transportation has dramatically increased the liquidity of our relationships. Some of the hard-wired social traits that we inherited from our tribally-minded ancestors may be maladaptive and not properly suited to handle modern relationship dynamics.

Our attraction to new social opportunities was shaped when such opportunities were far more limited than they are today. Not unlike our attraction to sweet, fat, and salty foods, little selection pressure existed in the old world for evolving upper limits on our attractions for new social opportunities. But does a tendency to be intrigued by new social opportunities make us happier people in a world where access to new opportunities is virtually limitless?
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Twenty Blinks

When I was young, the concept of a thousand years was too vast for my comprehension. When reading about historical events that long ago or hearing stories about our family that far back, they seemed too remote to be real. Thousand years seemed an interminable amount of time, not too different from epochs of geologic scale such as the Big Bang or the book of Genesis.

Now I am forty-four and, casually rounding up, have lived almost a half century. It sounds trite but some days it feels like those nifty near-fifty years went by in a blink. Then one day, as I was helping put on shoes for my six-year-old son (wasn’t it yesterday I was in his shoes?), he declared, “Daddy, it takes only twenty fifties to make a thousand. A thousand is really a small number.” I barely recall finishing tying his shoes.
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Curate

To “curate”, in the modern vernacular, is to select and design a collection from a larger set. In a world where people have access to too much of nearly everything — things, experiences, information, and people — curating has emerged as a core skill to succeed in life.

In a way, we are all curating whether we realize it or not. When we furnish a house, we select specific artifacts from a vast number of potential options and arrange them in a way that enables particular form and function. When we speak or write, we select words from an ever-burgeoning lexicon and order them in a way that produces a particular narrative. When we spend time during the day, we pick our activities from a virtually limitless set of possible choices according to a design of our choosing and call it a day. The company we keep is the small subset of people with whom we have chosen to interact out of the 6 billion other humans with whom we share this planet.
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Darwinian Rubbernecking

Introduction

This year marks the 50th anniversary of “American Girl in Italy”, Ruth Orkin’s iconic photograph of men ogling Ninalee Craig as she walked down a street. Despite the cultural stigma now attached to its practice, the rubbernecking of young beautiful women is an everyday phenomenon. From an evolutionary perspective, prehistoric males who did not instinctively tune to visual cues of potential mates with beneficial traits and fecundity would face adverse natural selection pressure. Presumably, males living today have inherited the tendency to rubberneck nubile females because such proximate behaviors translated to improved ultimate fitness during natural selection.

In similar fashion, people driving by a car accident turn their heads to look. In nature, an organism that does not tune to signals of carnage is ignoring potential useful cues of threat in their vicinity and could be subject to elimination. Our tendency to rubberneck trauma, thus, is an adaptation inherited through evolution through the survivorship bias of those who attended to cues of stress that can improve our Darwinian fitness.
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