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The weirdest swerve when it comes to vavilovian mimics is that some weeds got so good at imitating crops that they made their seeds really big an nutritious and BECAME CROPS. Both rye and oats were once weeds in wheat fields, but they got so good at mimicking wheat that THEY BECAME STAPLE CROPS.

Anyway, the bigger the solution, the more problems it causes, but that doesn't mean life was better before it. It used to be that we could rumble through life without understanding the damage that we did. In part, that was because there were fewer of us, in part it was just ignorance. But the only reason there are more of us now is that people wanted to live...and have their children live, which I can't really blame them for.

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Good morning, John.

About 12,000 years ago, some people started to get really good at controlling the plants that made their food. They would take care of them, they'd move them around and water them and remove their competition. And they started to plant seeds from the plants that were just a little bit better; they were a little easier to take care of, they made some more food, they tasted a little bit better-- that kind of thing. In choosing something that was a little bit better, and then a little bit better, then a little bit better, it made things a lot better over the long term.

This is one of my favorite examples: That's just the tip of some grass that you are looking at right now. And that we selected into THIS GIANT HUNKIN' CRUNCH OF SWEETNESS!

It's usually called "artificial selection", but I think that might be a term that we eventually move past, because we're not fake, we're just humans. But also because the term "artificial selection" makes a little less sense when you notice that there are cases of unintentional evolution through human selection. Let's talk about it.

One of the ways we take care of crops is we eliminate their competition. We pull up weeds. But you can't ever pull up all of the weeds, and you are least likely to pull up the weeds that look a little bit like your crop, because you don't want to pull up your crop. And so the weeds that looked the most like their crops were most likely to get left, and then their offspring would look more like the crop, and the ones that look the most like the crop would be most likely to procreate. You see where we're going here? Eventually you end up a weed that looks almost entirely like your crop.

Plants that do this are called "Vavilovian Mimics", named after the guy who first figured this all out. And vavilovian mimics remain, to this day, a problem. As an example: camelina sativa is a plant that is also sometimes called "false flax". Kind of impractical to separate them out in the field, so we ended up separating out the seeds, making sure we only planted flax seed in the field. We created big machines and a lot of infrastructure to do this and you know what happened? We created a new evolutionary pressure to have false flax seeds look and act, to that machine, exactly like flax seed. 
So now the machines can't tell false flax seeds from flax seeds. What a gigantic pain in the butt! 

John, I sometimes worry that we look at our world and we only see the problems. It makes sense that we would do this. If you're a flax farmer, you have to think about false flax a lot. But false flax is a problem that was created by a solution; that solution being agriculture. And agriculture, safe to say, has created a lot of problems. But it's also solved a lot of problems, including probably the biggest problem an individual human can have, which is the "I don't want to watch my child starve" problem.

Solving problems creates new problems. Like, the last hundred years of remarkable increases in quality of life, and increases in the value we place on human lives would not have been possible without coal, and oil, and gas. And those fuels created a huge number of problems, some of which we solve, some of which are going to require us to stop using them in order to solve.

Global Warming is not a problem that was created by evil. It's a problem that was created by people solving problems. 

I was listening to "The Ezra Klein Show" a couple weeks ago, and Maggie Nelson said something that I don't know if I've ever heard a more true thing said more beautifully. She said that, "People right now have a deep hunger for a tool with no blood on it." And I do, I do, but I don't know that that exists. I don't know that it can exist.

The world is messy, and we need to stop thinking that we can survive in it without doing any harm. We need to find ways to mitigate the harm, and ways to solve the problems. We also need to understand that the solutions to those problems will create yet more problems. The internet is an amazing solution that has created a lot of problems! I wanted it to be a tool with no blood on it. It is not. But the human experiment, that we are all a part of, is not an attempt to arrive at perfect. It has always been, and will always be, an attempt to select for a world that is just a little bit better than it was before.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

P.S. John, because I know you weren't going to let me get away with this, my cat's name is "Gummy Bear", which is the decision that Orin made, and it's a cute name because he's, like, cute and bouncy. But also, secretly I like it because a good nickname for a cat named "Gummy Bear" remains "Gaberker", which I do still sometimes call him.

Bit of a heavy video to end with a cat name. But look, the human experience is varied, and we celebrate that.