What is epigenetic memory?

A reader has written to me doubting what I wrote in my previous posting about birds retaining a fear of men from the time when they used to be caught and eaten in Medieval England.

It’s not strictly an actual memory — as we understand the term — that’s passed on from epigenetically from one generation to the next, but only an emotion, in this case fear, that’s looely associated with particular circumstances.

Go back to the original incident or incidents of 300 years ago. If a bird was caught it would experience intense fear. This would be experienced in a deep part of the brain. The bird would also have processed the perceptual circumstances that occurred at the same time — seeing a man — an unusual animal on two legs. This occurs in higher processing areas of the brain — in our case, the cortex.

If the fear and the perceptual memory become strongly associated in the bird and then the bird escapes, then it is possible for genes involved with the fear response to become ‘marked’ chemically. It is this emotional marking that has been proved in many experiments to be capable of being passed on from generation to generation.

The precise memory of the event in all its details, like all individual memories, cannot be passed on. The higher processing areas of the brain containing precise memories remain unique to an individual. The precise memory would have vanished when the bird eventually dies. However, if the bird had offspring, then its fear responses — to other general situations also — can, in fact,be passed on. This has been shown scientifically in the case of several species — not, as yet, in the case of birds, but I see no reason why not.

It’s not the precise memory of the fearful event that’s passed on. It’s that a fear response that’s associated with a collection of neurons in the higher processing part of the brain that were previously active can be passed on to an offspring. An offspring might have several different collections of neurons that were aroused on entirely different occasions. The same fear but several different general different situations. This sort of preparedness to several different sorts of fearful situations would be of great benefit to any species in which epigenesis occurs.

We possess a few epigenetic memories ourselves. If we see a coil of rope or a spring that moves, or looks as though it might do, then most people will instantly fear a snake even if they have never been close to one in their lives.

The markings that elicit epigenetic emotions can be inherited for two or more generations. They can die out if unprompted. If all English had died out 300 years ago, say, then an y Frenchmen visiting our shores would have found that birds would have been approachable. This is similar to the situation today when ornithologists visit uninhabited islands north of Scotland. The puffins and other birds there are completely friendly.

Whereas genetic mutations last for hundreds of years without change to adjust to long term changes in the envronments, epigenetic markings last for shorter periods and depend on more ephemeral changes.

Why garden birds are still afraid of you

What many bird-watchers, or simply those who are fond of birds, don’t realise is that they are able to see more birds, and species of birds, in a month in their gardens than their ancestors of only 300 years ago ever saw in their lifetimes in the countryside.

The reason is that in years of poor harvests when people were starving they would kill and eat almost anything that moved. I first realised this when, some 30 years ago, I spent a holiday in Majorca. There was not a bird to be seen in the whole island during all the ten days I was there. Even the seagulls which closely followed returning fishermen who were de-gutting the fish into the sea, stopped flying closer than about 100 yards from the shore.

In Medieval England all those below the land-owners learned from childhood that any parts of the countryside or forests that contained birds or other prey animals were strictly off limits. In fact, savage laws against poaching — terrifying mantraps — didn’t even have to be passed until the 17th century when the spirit of freedom — the Age of Enlightenment — finally started to drift down into the minds of the ordinary public. These laws weren’t rescinded until the 19th century

This also explains why, when I used to take my dog for a walk in the countryside some years ago, birds would never allow me to approach them but were totally unperturbed if my dog wandered near to them. However, birds still retain a genetic memory — epigenetic, actually –of the time 300 years ago when they were instantly fearful whenever they saw an animal walking on two legs anyhere near them.

Epigenetic fear of humans is now wearing off, but it’s very slow. Although we don’t capture and eat birds who appear in our gardens, many households also have cats and there’ll always be one stalking the locality. Otherwise we could all make closer acquaintance with many delightful and beautiful birds.

[P.S. This posing was not intended to be a diatribe against household cats but rather giving an example of epigenetics. But instead of scrapping it, as I usually do when a topic goes astray, I decided to keep it this time even though it might upset some of my readers.]

Restoring practical organisations

As organisations grow larger they necessarily acquire bureaucracies of expert functionaries. But as bureaucracies grow larger, the managers within them become more interested in their own departments than the organisation as a whole.

If a large organisation has a succinct objective or simple procedures from sources to consumer products or services, then the chief executive of the organisation is likely to be more knowledgeable about all the expertise that is required and doesn’t have too much of a problem in managing its managers and keeping their empire-growing proclivities well trimmed.

If, however, the objective is diverse or has a multitude of procedures then the chief executive has a harder — if not impossible — problem in maintaining morale and efficiency.

The ‘natural’ size of organisation — that is, one in which the genes responsible for socialization have been refined and shaped for millions of years — is somewhere between 80 and 120 members of all ages according to anthropologists. This is equivalent to little more than a dozen or so mature adults in the modern world of work. Above this, political dissention ensues.  In the case of hunter-gatherers the groups split in two.

Anything above the ‘natural’ size of organisation can only be maintained by sanctions — either physical or financial. Although empires are constantly being created by ambitious individuals with much more testosterone than usual there is also a more powerful undertow leading back to smaller organisations which snaps us back into practicality every now and again.

Ever since the agrarian revolution at around 10,000 years ago, the sizes of organisations have oscillated between the very large and the very small. It has only been in the last 50 years or so, with the development of evolutionary biology, that we have begun to understand the reason. Perhaps when the subject bccomes part of the educational curriculum that we will pay more attention to the engineering of organisations of optimum size and function in order to avoid many of the problems of today.

Drawing the line for Harbour Porpoises

A present the future of the British Harbour Porpoise is mired in a ding-dong of a battle within the UK civil service concerning the siting of a major wind farm. This is the Hornsea Two project, consisting of 300 giant turbines built 55 miles off the coast of Yorkshire which would produce prodigious quantities of underwater sound as well as electricity.

The department supporting it, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is now being resisted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who want to designate a 14,000 square mile tranche of the North Sea — including the proposed wind farm area — as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

There would be many species benefiting from such a SAC, but none more so than the Harbour Porpoise, the most prevalent marine animal in British waters. Let us hope that DEFRA wins. It’s not as though the electricity from wind farms is desperately needed, especially when it costs three times the normal price and especially when we’re already sitting on hundreds of times the potential energy in the form of shale gas..

Porpoises are worth protecting. They are badly affected by noise and any viable species needs a territory large enough to hold all its gene variations. We know that the Harbour Porpoise is more intelligent than most species. Its brain cortex is even more crinkled than ours so this bespeaks substantial processing power.

Until we have devised the appropriate technology to talk with porpoises we won’t know quite how intelligent they are and quite what sort of intelligence they have. This particular SAC is surely one where we have to start drawing a line.

Any chance of a basic income for all?

When I wrote in “What about a socialized basic income?” on Sunday (5 June) that the Swiss were voting on a basic income plan I hadn’t realised that the proposed income was so high — £21,000 or US$30,000 a year. It was decisively rejected, 77% to 23%. The Swiss government and all 14 political parties were against the proposal, but not the original lobby group, Basic Income Switzerland (BIS), which expected a defeat at this stage.

But how far will jobs become automated? How far will welfare benefits for the unemployed have to be stretched in the coming years? It’s really impossible to say. But what we do know is that humans are a highly pecking-order species — all the more stratified these days because of increasing specializations.

At present, the top 20% of earners pay almost all net personal income tax. This is sufficient for almost all welfare payments to the unemployed, never mind the increasing burden of care for old people. It’s hardly likely that high earners are going to afford paying for anything approaching a basic income for all as unemployment rises.

The first of the genetic remedies to come

The recent success in ‘humanising’ pigs’ pancreas glands by means of gene editing is, if confirmed, going to be of huge benefit when transplanted into humans born with diabetes 1 — those born with a defective pancreas. For these unfortunates there is no known cure, only careful management of insulin injections to keep the disease at bay.

There are two sets of objectors to such possible future transplants. Firstly, the usual charge by animal protectionists such as vegetarians. The obvious response to this is that most of us eat pork anyway. Secondly, that the pigs themselves might also acquire humanised brains along with pancreases by the act of gene editing. Therefore the experimental pigs themselves require the full protection of human rights!

This is not so silly as it seems because the genes mainly responsible for insulin production in our pancreases also have, like all genes, multiple associations with other genes carrying out other functions in other parts of the body. However, genes responsible for the development of the brain have far more associations with other genes than any other genes have.

Therefore, although a pig may receive a fully humanised pancreas the distribution of its brain neurons between specialised areas of the brain is never likely to be affected by more than a trivial amount. For this reason the US National Institute of Health is already insisting that any gene edited pigs should be tested for possible human cognition.

On the face of it, it’s looking as though diabetes type 1 will be the first of many genetic diseases that will become treatable in large numbers in the coming years.

Where America is actually headed

America, for all of its bad points as well as its good ones, is still the world trend-setter — which title it acquired decisively in 1944 after imposing the Bretton wood Agreement on the rest of the world — with no other country on the horizon yet. In my paper today, Matthew Lynn summarises what its bad points are.

Firstly, the labour participation rate — the proportion of the fit and able adult population who have given up looking for jobs — is growing smartly.

Secondly, wages in real, non-inflated terms, have hardly grown at all, and even then only in ‘hot spots’.

Thirdly, business is becoming over-regulated. In Tennessee, for example, you can’t shampoo someone’s hair in a barber’s shop without a licence, which normally requires 300 hours of training,

Fourthly, corporate tax rates are now the highest in the world — with the exception of Chad and the Arab Emirates. American businesses are now moving abroad.

Fifthly, the number of business closuress every year now equates with the number of start-ups.

Matthew Lynn likens America to becoming a ponderous social democracy such as the European union and which will be overtaken by a growing China. My own interpretation is that China might not ever reach the same standard of life as America, and that America itself, along with several more countries, is now beginning to adapt to an altogether new occupational era in which genetics-based materials (automated) production and genetics-based advanced services in health care and bespoke education will gradually become the norm.

Leading the way to fairer taxes

Two months ago when “John Doe”, the whistleblower released confidential papers from Mossack Fonseca — (Does the firm still exit, I wonder?) there have been revived calls for more, if not complete, transparency of personal tax information for the general sake of public morale.

Finland, Norway and Sweden already do so, its proponents saying that it reduces dishonest form-filling and reduces using convoluted schemes to minimise the taxes they pay. Also, transparency of incomes of different jobs helps young people to decide on which careers to aim for. It’s very much on the side of social mobility.

Those who oppose tax transparency say that it intrudes too much into personal privacy. It would be better for the government to spend more on tax investigators than rely on nosy neighbours or employees with a grievance and thus with social shaming.

But those who have very high incomes don’t at all mind paying for the protection of their wealth when it’s in danger — cheerfully paying well over 90% income tax in wartime — if the system were fair.

If we had a flat tax on earnings then high earners would pay less on earnings but more — usually the maximum they can afford — on visible wealth for status reasons, such as houses, cars, fashionable clothes and personal ornaments. Also, with higher incomes, they would spend more in buying these things initially.

It is a get-out to say that rich earners save more — and thus invest more — money than do lower earners proportionately, and thus ‘do more good’ for the economy. But while the more dishonest among the rich continue to persuade government politicians and senior civil servants to avoid status-linked taxes then they can continue to evade their full payment of personal taxation. Hopefully, the Nordic countries will also lead the way on this in due course.

Jailing an arch-paedophile

The BBC Home page today gives full spread prominence to the jailing of Richard Huckle in Malaysia after admitting 71 charges against children in Malaysia. He was given 22 life sentences and will serve a minimum term of 23 years. Apparently — hard to believe — one of his ‘subjects’ was a 6-month old baby! At the time of his arrest by the National Crime Agency, he was compiling a paedophile’s manual.

We know from ancient literature that there has always been homosexuality of both the male and female sort but it has always been a minority pursuit, even in ancient Greece and Sparta. So long as it’s voluntary between consenting adolescents or adults and they are reticent about expressing it in pubic — as we expect heterosexual behaviour to be also — then no harm is done.

But the forced seduction of a younger person — particularly during the impressionable years of adolescence — by an older experienced adult can leave lifelong trauma and sometimes a ruined normal sex life from then onwards is not to be tolerated.

However, Richard Huckle’s attempt at a paedophile manual is a reminder that modern life appears to be producing a huge largely hidden world of homosexual and heterosexual exploitation of the worst sort — particularly in this country in and around local authority care homes.

As far as can be judged from historians writing about the subject, sexual perversities of the worst sort are being practised to an extent as never before. All that can be hoped for is that as we leave the present urban dominated industrial era — highly individualized and anonymized — for the next one then sexual matters get closer to normalcy.

More on “national debt”

With reference to my “What does ‘national debt’ mean?” (yesterday), Atanu Dey goes on to ask: “Can we talk about national debt without reference to currencies?”

My reply is, not really. So long as currencies are supposed to have value, just like any other asset, then national debt is the same as governmental debt because it is the government of a country that decides on the value of its currency. National debt therefore consists of a shortage of currency — domestic and/or international — held by a country’s central bank during any one period. How long the period lasts before the debt is considered to be serious — several years or several decades, perhaps — depends on the business reputation of the country and the consequent patience of the creditors.

Atanu further asks: “Still, I find the whole notion of debt related to aggregates rather confusing. If A owes $10 to B, then the national debt of the micro-nation consisting of A and B is how much?”

But you can’t arbitrarily make a “micro-nation” of A and B without joining them under one government. The debt then becomes a national debt, due solely in this case by the nation being divided totally between a domestic creditor and a domestic debtor. That is, the country can’t last for long with such a complete breakdown in its economy.

Minimising genetic errors

A very touching story of two parents, James and Georgie Melville-Ross, who have twins with cerebral palsy, appears in today’s Sunday Times. The children require almost constant care and will remain in this condition for as long as they live.

They were conceived when, after years of trying, Georgie finally had IVF treatment and they were born prematurely. Because twinning in the womb takes place within a fortnight of fertilization then the likelihood is — not mentioned in the ST account — that both twins inherited a pair of similar recessive sub-par genes which, as single genes in each parent would have been unnoticed and, indeed, had no effect.

Births similar to these place almost impossible burdens on parents and it would be impossible, once the bonds of love have formed, to suggest to them that these children should be gently put to sleep. But the equivalent of this used to happen in the case of hunter-gatherer man.  The culling of any handicapped child. Such cannot be done now because the Christian culture, which believes that all living humans have a soul.  It is still very powerful and will pervade society for, probably at least one or two hundreds of years yet. .

But it won’t be long before complete DNA sequencing will be available for a modest fee. Starting with the more intelligent of adolescent girls, it is highly likely that the practice of having one’s DNA sequenced will become standard practice and they will also insist that their boy friends are, too.

Any possibility of the cross-matching of any of the more serious 5,000 or so serious genetic handicaps can be avoided before tragedies such as the Melville-Rosses can be avoided, or at least minimised at a stage very early in an affectionate relationship. My guess is that this will become widespread in the advanced countries within the next 20 years.

Why can’t we use more energy?

In another comment to my posting, “Leave the World economy alone!” (1 June) Atanu Dey asks — “So aside from prejudice, is there any reason why humans cannot use more energy than they have used in the past?”

There’s no reason at all why a lot more energy — theoretically or practically — can’t be injected into the world economy.  And, in fact, since the Second World War, a very great deal more has been added.  But it’s been nowhere near as much as it might have been added if all those countries outside the top dozen had been able to bring it off politically. That is, for those governments to have been able to arrange things so that untrammelled free enterprise could have taken off.

There’s only been one exception worth speaking of and that’s China. Several other countries where one might have expected great surges of economic growth to have taken place due to either large populations or great per capital assets — e.g. Brazil, India, Russia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran — have hardly stirred.

From their point of view the great tragedy has been that they would have had a chance of breaking into the high-value trading network that the top dozen advanced countries still enjoyed if they had been able to develop some uniquely new products in which to take a lead. But this requires scientific research in depth and, since the Second World War there has been little or no fundamental scientific research ouside the advanced world.

Instead, cutting edge scientific research has burgeoned almost exclusively in only the handful of those countries which were first affected by the industrial revolution in the 19th century. There appear to be no niches available now for other countries to break into even if they get things right politically and culturally. China and other countries will be using more energy in the coming 20 or 30 years but nowhere near as much as they would otherwise have been able to.

What does “national debt” mean?

In response to my posting, “Leave the world economy alone!” (1 June), Atanu Dey wrote the following: “Keith, I have never understood what “national debt” means. Would you care to write a short explanatory post on what it is. I know what debt means when it comes to an individual. I owe someone $100. But when someone says “national debt”, I am not sure who owes whom. Thanks.”

As I see it, a “national debt” occurs when one country cannot supply enough of a currency — in quantity and specificacy (a tradable currency) — to satisfy a foreign creditor. The debt may be incurred by the government as a state to state loan or it may be a trade debt of one of its domestic businesses or a collection of them. If creditors are unwilling to accept a discount on the debts — or ‘take a haircut’ — then the country effectively becomes a pariah state which cannot trade and its economy immediately deteriorates .

If a country can subsequently show that it seriously intends to reform its expenditures — often after the government has been overthrown — then some other providor, such as the IMF — will risk a further loan to give it the running liquidity it will need.

On not trying to turn the clock back

With thousands upon thousands of different goods in the shopping malls and, in recent years, available on the net, it isn’t surprising that consumers and economists alike think that the supply will never end and that this is what constitutes ‘economic progress’.

Few realise that we who live in the constraints of urban and suburban environments are now as typecast in our own ways of life as, say, the medieval peasant was in his. It is true that for those who were born with extra testosterone — or acquired it due to conditioning in childhood — there are many more specializations than ever before, and thus opportunities for advancement.

But otherwise the majority of the population are normally well content with their social role and their way of life at around the age of 30 when the main networks of the brain are pretty fully developed. This explains why, in the last 20 years or so, the real — non-inflated — incomes for most in the dozen or so advanced countries, have been going down, not rising. Yet there has been no specific complaint !

Economists and the more intelligent among government politicians are well aware of it, though. They know that a great deal else, far more troublesome, is in the offing in years to come. Pension shortfalls, whether state or private, for a start. This is why they are seeking a revival of the Golden Age of the 1960s and ’70s, and of economic growth of 3% or 4% a year, instead of reconciling themselves to the present situation. They should be leading the rest of the population in how to adapt more comfortably to the new post-industrial era than trying to turn the clock back.

What about a socialized basic income?

Today the Swiss are voting in a referendum whether they should have a “universal basic income”. This is a flat payment made to everyone whether they are in work or not. Finland and the Netherlands are planning some limited experiments in which the inhabitants of a certain area will be paid abut US$1000 a month — that is, above minimum wages but well below a comfortable income. In all cases taxation will have to be raised somewhat.

A basic income may well turn out to be inevitable in due course when the steady automation of jobs is considered but, at present, the top 25% of the population who pay almost all of the net personal taxes in advanced countries wouldn’t accept it willingly. In the case of Switzerland, we’ll have to wait and see the result and any reaction from it.

When autonation starts digging deep into the employment structure and most of the able population are out of work then the idea should return with a modification. It should be paid on a group basis — say to groups of ten or so living nearby in any locality. In townships of Medieval England, where there no policemen, tithings of ten individuals, including a named leader, were charged with keeping to the law.

If a basic income for ten people were paid to a ‘tithing’ once a month then it can make a joint decision each time what to do with the money. It could be dispersed equally or unequally or it could be used in a joint effort, either for leisure pursuits or for a business enterprise. Each of us wants ro work or play in a social group — especially when learning to socialize as children — almost as badly as needing an income.

Another big hitter on the fear-promoting side

Yet another big hitter, JPMorgan, the largest investment bank in the Western world has entered the Referendum debate with the threat that if we leave the EU the bank will cut up to 4,000 jobs, not just in London but also as other branches in the country.

But do we need a bank to give its opinion? In particular, do we need JPMorgan, whose new derivatives, such as Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDO) — a material cause of the 2008 Crash — to give us advice?

As it happens, its statement yesterday, adding to the month-long onslaught of fear by the Remain lobby, would have had a counter-productive effect. According to those who analyse public opinion polls, those who funded the Remain lobby went too far in eliciting fear day after day.  The 2% or 3% advantage that the Remain lobby had until a week ago has already swung to the Brexit side.

If the Brexit lobby keep their cool and continue to bring to the fore some of the quieter, but eminent, voices speaking in favour then we might well be leaving the EU on 23 June. This might go against my own forecast of a few weeks ago but I will not be complaining.

Drones will widen the economy not diminish it

Once the preserve of the military, drones are another interesting example of the stream of innovations that will continue to flow from scientific research. Mind you, drones will never be one of the Wunderkind products that economists are hoping for — one of those that will lift consumer demand significantly and restore the 3% to 4% economic growth rates of the 1970s and ’80s.

Drones, as consumer goods, are not as expensive as effective status goods, such as cars or television were initially. Nor will governments allow them to be mass produced and sold in shops without individual registration first — drones can be as dangerous as guns in the wrong hands.

But drones will have their uses in the producer goods part of GDP and many will be bought and sold. One such use is that proposed by a pest control firm, Mitie. This will search out and destroy seagulls’ nests in high rise buildings. Mitie also intends to use them for cleaning purposes in edifices which were otherwise costly. But there are many other uses and there are many other firms of all sorts currently studying how they can use drones.

In all probability, drones will not be increasing a country’s GDP, as economists are hoping for, but at least they won’t be diminishing it.

Saudi Arabia wants to join the exclusive ‘inner club’ of advanced nations

Saudi Arabia is now diversifying its oil-based economy as fast as it can. It is doing so, some say, because its oil may be running out — or at least will be insufficient to supply energy to the world in the decades to come.

I suggest not. If it were so so, then Saudi Arabia, with large very hot desert areas and plenty of cash, would be developing solar power on a grand scale. It isn’t. Instead, it is building new universities, mainly of science and technology and expanding the curricula in its schools — at present significantly devoted to recitals from the Koran.

Saudi Arabia is doing so, I suggest, because its rulers have noted that any country which disproportionately relies on one resource or technology for its income comes unstuck economically sooner or later. The phenomenon is called the ‘Dutch Disease’, named after the previous policy of Holland relying on its North sea gas resources too much for too long. In contrast, all of the half-dozen or so advanced countries have highly diversified economies and, because of it, are able to carry out a lot of trade with one another.

By concentrating on this single sector, thousands of small and medium sized businesses went to the wall in the 1070s and ’80s. But when Russia came along to supply large amounts of natural gas to Europe, Holland was in trouble. It only regained its place as a leading advanced nation by de-emphasizing its reliance on gas — thus allowing other sectors to regain their former health.

The royal family of Saudi Arabia would have have noted all this — noting in particular that Russia has now fallen foul of the Dutch Disease! — and, because it, too, wants to join the ‘inner club’ of advanced nations, knows what it will have to do — diversification. Whether it will succeed or not in the moderately near future is doubtful but remains to be seen.

How many more thousands will die from drowning?

What many of those who write about or even think about migration are in denial about is the scale, not just the reality, of the African population. Unless there is vast starvation there in the coming decades, or it suffers a major epidemic, then, at present fertility rates, the present population of 1 billion will expand to at least 2 to 3 billion in the coming 30 years.

In short, as many Africans — usually young men on behalf of their families — who can afford the fees demanded by those businessmen whom politicians pejoratively call ‘human traffickers’ will arrive in Libya, or some other launch point, get into a dinghy for Italy.

How many will try to make the crossing — and how many will die by drowning — is anybody’s guess. Mine is up to a million a year. This is greatly exceeded by the natural birth rate in Africa, so the immigration could be vastly greater than what has already happened due to Angela Merkel’s virtual ‘open door’ statement of last year.

In order to prevent even more extreme right-wing parties forming in the EU countries then the Brussels bureaucrats will have to come up with an effective policy. They actually want to increase immigration but they will have to draw a line very soon if they hope to keep the EU in anything like its present shape and composition.

A crazy scheme for the City of London as a glamorous placc

It is a moment of magic when the typical urban inhabitant in an advanced country is able to see the night sky in its natural state — the seeming infinity of stars (mainly galaxies) all over and, in particular our own glorious galaxy, the Milky Way. He cannot do so because of light pollution — the illumination of the city lights into the sky above.

It is difficult to believe that some people, namely the Illuminated River Foundation (IRL), want to add to the light pollution by wanting to illuminate all the bridges of London. The IRL claims that the project will create the world’s largest “free outdoor river gallery”. How absurd !

Even crazier is that the Rothschild Foundation will pitch in with a £250,000 grant, the City of London financial firms with £500,000 and, worst of all, that the new mayor of London is pledging £500,000 of his taxpayers’ money. Meanwhile, worthwhile projects such as affordable flats for nurses and midwives who are now leading London are crying out for investment. Whichever is crazier — the support for one or the lack of support for the other — is difficult to imagine.

What brings new species into existence?

For those of you who have, or have had, a dog as a pet, its origins are of great interest. It has long been assumed that, because dogs can interbreed with wolves and produce fertile offspring, that dogs have evolved from wolves. Since 2000, when effective DNA sequencing was first developed, the origin of the dog has been one of the many thousands of research projects that have been undertaken.

What has been puzzling, though, is that the first research projects clearly established the origin as the grey wolf which iives in north western Europe. Some years later, however, other researches showed that dogs derived from a wolf which had a slightly different DNA composition and lived in south-east Asia.

In a large collaborative study involving DNA samples of wolves in different parts of the world — wolves being able to live in almost as many different environments as man — the lead author, of the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network at Oxford University, Professor Greger Larson, has established that both origins are correct.

This necessarily means that men selected wolf offspring on two entirely separate occasions, thousands of years apart at two opposite ends of Europe-Asia land mass? This begs a deeper question — How is it that none of the dog types that have been bred for different reasons have not yet been able to establish themselves as separate species? This poses yet another deeper mystery which modern biology has not yet been able to explain — What are those genes which enable a new species to actually come into existence?

London — the 2,000 year-old financial centre

As if we needed to be reminded of London’s history as a financial centre, yesterday’s announcement of hand-written tablets found there take us back with a whoosh to Roman merchants, traders and administrators of almost 2,000 years ago. Over 700 documents or artefacts from an archaeological dig reveal serious business bookkeeping as well as chatty personal memos.

All this has been dated to within the first decade of the Roman occupation of England and shows that a second wave of invasion must have occurred very soon after the soldiers arrived in AD 43. Due to its situation, London must have been a busy port linking the Mediterranean and the Baltic. It very possibly already had resident Roman traders there long before the invasion. In any case, the initial changeover in administrations must have been remarkably peaceful.

It’s yet more evidence that, although relationships between different cultures can be fraught with problems and instability — as it was indeed in Roman England in later decades — the two-way act of trading with perceived gains to both sides can be carried out totally harmlessly.

Leave the world economy alone!

Several times in previous postings I have suggested that the best possible remedy for a dysfunctional world economy is to leave it well alone. It will repair itself in due course. I’ve derived this from Richard Feynman’s discoveries about the Law of Least Effort in the 1970s. This also harks back to what the classical economists such as Adam Smith and Jean Baptiste Say were saying in about self-balancing economies in the 18th century.

For the first time I’m aware of, modern reinforcement has come from Prof Adrian Bejan at Duke University, acknowledged to be one of the world’s foremost experts on mechanical systems and thermodynamics. His new book The Physics of Life is saying exactly the same — all systems, if left alone, will seek or ‘flow’ to their most efficient levels of operation.

In the case of the existing world’s production and transportation systems, they have to be driven by the use of energy. It’s not likely that significantly more energy can be injected into the world economy from year to year. Unless the governments of most advanced nation-state can undertake severe austerity programmes and reduce their high national debts in the next decade or two then the world economy will clearly lead them to default, just as Second and Third World countries have to do so quite frequently.

The same immigration rule for all

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have jointly declared that migrants will be barred from entering Britain unless they have skills that the country needs and can speak English. Despite the intensive, and repeated, fear campaign of the last two months, no doubt orchestrated by the Brussels bureaucrats and emanating from one official body after another as well as politicians, the opinion polls have now turned in favour of the Leave EU lobby.

Whether the Johnson-Gove statement was taking advantage of the poll change is difficult to say — probably — but at least, the main issue, immigration, is no longer being buried by both the Leave and Remain lobbies. It was hidden away so far because the leaders of both lobbies were, and are, members of governments, Labour and Tory, that encourage mass immigration.

We’re now into entirely new territory (!) — that of the instinctive antipathy of one group, region, culture or nation to the entry of large numbers of others. Johnson and Gove are now allowing the mass of the public to express their feelings. If the Leave EU lobby wins in the Referendum on 23 June then the general public can share what the social elite already does in penny numbers for foreign professional and business individuals wanting to join them.