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Thread: The "horse" question.

  1. #1 The "horse" question. 
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    Last night I was stargazing in a paddock with a few friends, when one of them proclaimed, "if humans were put in an enclosed paddock for a few million years, with horses, we'd evolve into horses." Obviously a hypothetical, but I went as far as to say this was impossible and that he didn't understand evolution. But I am lacking in my complete knowledge of evolution, so when he remained adamant his theory was possible even after my constant battering of logic, I said I'd raise it in a forum.

    Is there even the slightest possibility of this occurring? My hypothesis was that we would evolve into some creature (certainly not a horse) that would display characteristics for chewing grass and surviving the sun (which I would have thought would be the only selecting factor other than food scarcity).

    After a big argument my friend changed his line to "if humans were placed in an enclosed paddock with horses, given ENOUGH time, they would one day evolve into horses." I conceded that given infinite time anything is possible (or is it?), but it would be unlikely. Would this be the correct position to take on that issue?

    I know this is a bit silly, but it was interesting arguing about it last night.


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    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Marley

    As you said, it is a pretty silly argument. If humans were with horses only for that long, they would kill and eat the horses, and then die of starvation due to lack of horses. Both would go extinct.

    If there were alternative resources in that paddock, humans would evolve in such a way as to be adapted to optimal exploitation of available resources. This would probably involve something other than an equine adaptation. The resources would not be grass, since humans cannot digest grass, and it would not be possible to evolve that attribute before all dying of starvation. Evolution takes time!


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    Time Lord Paleoichneum's Avatar
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    Not totally convinced that the humans would go extinct. I agree that the horses would quickly become dinner and removed from the picture, however there is the distinct possibility that the humans would turn on each other and become a cannabalistic group, or series of groups leading to increased evolutionary forcing as the weaker members of the group are eaten.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    so what is the reasoning behind the phrase "if humans were put in an enclosed paddock for a few million years, with horses, we'd evolve into horses." ? that there is some contagion of human DNA with horse DNA ? in which case, why wouldn't the result be a horse-human hybrid

    for humans to evolve into horses would require a substantial degree of convergent evolution, which imo would not be affected by the presence of horses (after all, Thoatherium developed its 1-toed foot without any contact with horses) but more due to environmental circumstances that make a horse-like body of survival value over the current human shape
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    I guess a symbiosis could evolve that focused on close relationships between the species where at least one of the species became attuned to the behavioural pattern of the other species.

    Dogs have for instance.

    But horses will not turn into humans or vice versa.
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    Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer, I'm impressed. My mate is too, after looking at this thread he was appreciative of science's ability to be open minded in the oddest of circumstances.
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    Did anyone else get that spam?
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    Quote Originally Posted by marley View Post
    After a big argument my friend changed his line to "if humans were placed in an enclosed paddock with horses, given ENOUGH time, they would one day evolve into horses." I conceded that given infinite time anything is possible (or is it?), but it would be unlikely. Would this be the correct position to take on that issue?
    To be philosophically accurate, yes. Anything is possible, including the evolution of humans into horse-like animals. It's just so very, very, very, very, very unlikely that anything even remotely close to that will ever happen that we can effectively say it's impossible. It would require a great deal of very specific and well-timed environmental pressures.

    But I'm not sure why your friend thinks this would necessitate the presence of other horses. He seems to think there exists some evolutionary process that would cause one species to adopt the physical traits of another species in its environment. He is mistaken. Covergent evolution happens when general physical traits are preferred for a specific environmental niche. Like flight. The reason the wing has evolved so many times (in birds, pterosaurs, and bats) is because it just happens to be a very good shape for propelling vertebrates through our atmosphere, not because the ancestors of bats were hanging out with birds.
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    Forum Freshman jsloan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marley View Post
    "if humans were put in an enclosed paddock for a few million years, with horses, we'd evolve into horses."
    LOL. Okay, I'll leave out the humans-eating-the-horses angle and just look at the evolution of humans into horses (!).

    Natural selection would be the most likely way for this to happen, but only if there was some selective pressure from the environment in favor of horse-like characteristics in humans. For natural selection to happen some of the humans would actually have to have those characteristics in the first place (natural selection works on phenotypes, not genotypes). So, one question that should be considered is, what horse-like characteristics, if any, do humans already possess (some humans are a horse's ass, but I dont think that qualifies ).

    However, given an environment that favors horses there is also the probability that the horses already in the paddock would outlast the humans, because already being horses they are better able to compete with the humans in an environment that favors horses over humans (the horses would outcompete the humans for resources; by being better able to eat grass, for example).

    And, if the environment doesn't favor horses, then it's unrealistic to imagine that humans in such an environment would ever evolve into horses because natural selection for horse-like characteristics in humans wouldn't happen.

    So, it doesn't really matter whether the environment favors horse-like characteristics or doesn't favor horse-like characteristics. Either way, humans are unlikely to evolve into horses in the original scenario as a result of natural selection.

    What about the humans mating with the horses and mixing genes (Ugh!). This is very unlikely to happen, because the offspring of such a cross, assuming that one species could even fertilize the egg of the other, would probably be sterile or die before reaching a reproductive age. There are many biological reasons why different species cannot interbreed, and those reasons would also prevent humans and horses from producing offspring.

    So, short answer: in reality, the scenario is not likely to happen.
    Last edited by jsloan; September 24th, 2011 at 01:40 AM.
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