Rapid Domestication (or OMG Cute Foxes!).

I have this obsession with esoterica; things that are hard to find or to track down trigger this thing in the back of my head that just won’t go away until I find them. Most of the time its pretty harmless stuff, usually only sending me down a flurry of Google searches, but sometimes it can drive me to apparent madness like when I scoured eBay for hours looking for a copy of Uncharted 3 Explorer Edition when I found out they were no longer available through stores. One of the weirder times this desire for the esoteric hit me was back when I was researching dog breeds for a potential new puppy and I stumbled across something quite intriguing.

Back in the 1950s a Russian scientists by the name of Dmitry Belyaev began a breeding program with wild foxes. His aims were simple, he wanted to study the origins of domestication and gain insight into the differences between our dogs and their wild counterparts. For this experiment he selected the Silver Fox and began selectively breeding them for more domestic tendencies. The results were quite remarkable and within a few generations Belyaev had foxes that were nothing like their wild counterparts, even to the point of them developing different coats, curling their tails and behaving much more like your garden variety canine than anything else.

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It didn’t take me long to track down a breeder that had them available (SibFox, who appears to have shut down) and the low low price of US$6000 seemed reasonable, at least compared to some other types of dogs. Australia’s quarantine laws and a concerned wife thankfully put this idea firmly out of the realms of plausibility but I still think that a domesticated fox would make for a pretty good pet.

I just couldn’t take it out to my parents farm, however.

Interestingly enough there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that cats and dogs actually domesticated themselves, foregoing their wild behaviours in favour of living side by side with humans in order to increase their chances of survival. This has certainly worked well for them with domesticated animal numbers far exceeding that of their wild brethren and suffice to say its a much easier existence for many of them. It’s quite a recent phenomenon too, in evolutionary terms, as the first evidence of domesticated animals only dates back 9,000 years or so.

Pretty wild (ha!), isn’t it?

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  1. This is an excellent example of what I call the rapid evolution paradox. The fact that, provided that an individual variation already exists, natural selection theory predicts that it can very quickly be turned into differences between groups. This means that the entire application of biologistic psychology/psychiatry to humans predicts that racial differences in intelligence and behavior should exist, just like the theory of a lumniferous aether predicts that the speed of light should be different in different directions. Thus, the evidence against such racial differences is evidence against hardwiring theory. Interestingly, as shown by Kurt Fischer and Christina Hinton in “Mind, Brain and Education”, tolerant environments are the key to extreme recoveries from brain damage unexplainable by conventional neurological theory. So the reason why studies of individual differences have favored “nature” explanations while studies of ethnic differences have favored “nurture” explanations is most likely because the latter effectively took the tolerance factor into account (since racist discrimination is intolerance) while the former did not. But the fact that this does not seem to apply to animals, despite the fact that some of the recovered patients are so extreme it should be the equivalent of animals learning to think like humans by right of all known physics, suggests that some unknown phenomenon is causing this difference between humans and animals. But I have not completely ruled out the possibility, although remote, that it may simply be that none of the animal brain-training experiments done to this date followed the tolerance pattern linked to those extreme recoveries.

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