Have you heard of Chicxulub?

by phil on Monday Mar 10, 2003 6:10 PM
Chicxulub, really random theory

Have you heard of Chicxulub? Chicxulub is the name of the theoretical asteroid that hit the earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. The asteroid was "only" 10 km in diameter but left a 150 km crater over the Yucatan peninsula. A quick synopsis of what happened: 1) Massive earthquakes and fires from ejecta falling back and burning up forests 2) total darkness for 6+ months due to gaseous cloud of dust 3) toxic chemicals invading the air causing asphyxiation.

Then, I started to wonder, what would happen if such an event happened right now, like within the next 10 min. Who would survive? Well, the earthquakes, fires, tidal waves, and the explosion itself, would cause mass killings. The toxic chemicals would then kill pretty much the rest of the population. I haven't yet worked out the details and extrapolations, but I'd make the rough estimate that 99.999999% of the population would be wiped out.

Okay, sucks, right? But what about the other .000001%? Who would these people be? Well, I know President Bush would be safe, and if not him, then Dick Cheney. They'd all be in their undisclosed locations and bunkers, probably making their way to NORAD. Other leaders of other nuclear powers with similar bunker-style hideouts would probably survive. In addition, there would be the usual set of paranoids with their own bunkers and other people who are randomly sheltered for random reasons, let's say, like researchers in the Antarctic or something.

Also surviving would be the computers, and libraries, unless they weren't all destroyed by the fires. But I bet there's enough redundancy to preserve a lot of civilization. Not to mention, those surviving handful of heads of state who could maybe perpetuate some knowledge of us.

Then, here's where it gets interesting. Well, what IF, and this is a BIG IF. But, what IF, we are evolutionarily designed to fight nuclear wars so that we'll have people who are prepared for nuclear war and in tandem, prepared for things like Chicxulub. It's not entirely implausible. I'll later try to argue for the layers of embedded methods within evolution. But I'll take a stab at how this might have worked now.

The theory goes that every 26 million years, mass extinctions occur across the globe. Why these happen, the scientific community is still uncertain. However, things like Chicxulub and the Nemesis Theory lend credibility to the notion that asteroids come thumping around in cycles coinciding with the mass extinctions.

So, this has supposedly happened 10 times before. Then, during those 10 times, many species are wiped out. The question then is, who or what is naturally selected because of this process. Well, first, very advanced species. But how advanced? Or advanced in what ways? Well, if the reset button gets hit every 26 million years, DNA's gonna get pretty pissed off when that all it's hard work is lost. Eventually it'll come up with a system that survives. First, an evolved trait would probably be conflict within the species. Better intra-special conflict should help the efficacy of evolved stronger traits. Conflict, I'm sure, is also aided by emotion. If animals learnt about enemies and developed fears and aggressions, I'm sure that would help them fight each other more.

In addition to a new conflict gene, or a gene that supports emotion, species would also develop a physical resistance to these chicxulub extinctions. They would be small, maybe have a different type of blood, or the ability to hibernate. I'm no biologist, but the pieces can kind of come together. Mammals are the predominant group of species to emerge from Chicxulub, mainly because they were small, but probably aided in no small part by things like warm blood, fur, and hibernation. I bet also because they had other things like emotion (which reptile don't have) and intra-special conflict which gave them other features, such as intelligence in finding shelter and caring for themselves. I think memory must be a necessary prereq for emotion so that might have aided them in survival skills.

So, now you have humans, humans that conflict with each other to help them evolve even better. And it's not like other species don't fight each other. Au contrare. The difference between us and other species, is that humans actively seek to hurt each other, aided in no small part by such random things as jealousy and xenophobia.

And so, conflict has helped us evolve and become stronger. But, also, the capacity to destroy ourselves is based on our knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses. In some ways, to effectively hurt ourselves, we'd have to break past our physical resistances. Resistances as broad as intelligence or a simple as having puncturable skin, warm blood, and sleep cycles. Simple resistances, such as flesh, could be hold overs from the Chixulub days. It seems far-fetched that such small things are important, but if you think of the evolutionary pressure that 10 chicxulubs would have on evolution, you could find thousands of little features of man that are designed specifically to resist chicxulubs.

As a result, things like nuclear bombs, are like exercises that the human race puts on itself to break past its limits and adapt. The only way to win conflicts now is to destroy by mass bombing. These bombs demonstrate how far we've gone in breaking through our resistances and killing ourselves. And through the process, we've further learnt (through fear), how to protect ourselves. We now have nuclear shelters, gas masks, and nuclear preparedness programs.

If there is another asteroid that hits and the only thing that survives of the human race are those in nuclear shelters, don't look to God to explain this coincidence. "Thank you God for the A-bomb. You were right, there's a plan for everything, and you prepared the human race for what was going to come every 26 million years." Rather, thank the evolutionary process that loves to thread hidden genius at every leap of genetic and cultural progress.

PS, thanks to Jason Dolatshahi for a good paper on Chicxulub.


dnk said on November 21, 2003 3:38 AM:

A researchers group will report soon at a American Geological Union that they found in Antarctica fragments of a meteor that killed most life on Earth 250 million years ago. Scientists generally agree that about 90 percent of species disappeared during the extinction 250 million years ago, in a period known as the Permian-Triassic boundary.

Josh said on February 18, 2004 8:16 PM:

Here's something else to think about......what if all the neat little gadgets we have today, such as the microwave or the mp3 players, already existed thousands of years ago, but the human race had to start over completely because of one of these mass extinction events?

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