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William D. Hamilton: Unfrozen Caveman Darwinist
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William D. Hamilton (1936-2000), likely the greatest evolutionary theorist of the second half of the 20th Century, was a memorable-looking fellow. He had this amazing head of men-who-look-like-old-lesbians white hair, along with a ruggedness of jaw and brow ridge that made Russell Crowe look like Johnny Depp. And he tended to go through life bashing face first, metaphorically and sometimes literally, into whatever obstacles were in his way.

Reading Ulrica Segerstrale’s biography Nature’s Oracle: The Life and Work of W.D. Hamilton, I was pleased to learn that Hamilton’s rugby teammates in school nicknamed him “Caveman” and “Apeman.”

(Also of interest, Hamilton grew up in the Kent countryside only five miles from Charles Darwin’s Down House. When he was about nine, the whole family walked to Darwin’s house and back again.)

Now that we know that some genes from Neanderthals were passed on to modern humans, I sure hope that somebody preserved a sample of Hamilton’s DNA.

 
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  1. Here is Phil Hartman doing his Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer schtick on SNL.

  2. Here is Phil Hartman doing his unfrozen caveman character on SNL.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Firstly, I very much doubt if Hamilton had anything other than 2 to 3% Neandertal DNA in his genome, which is typical for any European, (incidentally if you want to find your own neandertal quotient, along with a whole host of other genetic goodies, then 23andme are doing a great deal at $99).
    The exaggerrated ‘rugged’ ‘masculine’ features of Hamilton are, more prosaically, the result of differential hormonal influenced growth factors that vary greatly amongst individuals, due to various ‘genetic tweaks’ producing stronger than typical bone growth in the facial and skull bones. Probably all down to one or two genetic letter substitutions amongst thousands. Incidentally Darwin himself, and your man Francis Galton had well defined brow ridges.

    On another note, the great WD Hamilton came to a rather unfortunate and sticky end. He died of malaria contracted in the Congolese jungle whilst in the immortal words of Marek Kohn ‘packing chimp-shit into test-tubes’. Some crack-pot scientifically illiterate journalist at the Sunday Times proposed some daft theory about HIV being ’caused’ by western doctors performing vaccinations, or some other cap along those lines. Back in the ’90s this nonsense was taken seriously by those who shouldn’t. WD Hamilton took himself off to Congo to find evidence either way, and the rest is history.

  4. “The exaggerrated ‘rugged’ ‘masculine’ features of Hamilton are, more prosaically, the result of differential hormonal influenced growth factors that vary greatly amongst individuals, due to various ‘genetic tweaks’ producing stronger than typical bone growth in the facial and skull bones.”

    Sure. But wouldn’t it be awesome if whoever discovers the single most important gene controlling this feature decides to call it, rather than the usual random jumble of ASCII characters, the “Hamilton gene?”

  5. I’ve been noticing the rugged, primitive features among the highly intelligent lately. Take a look at Magnus Carlsen, the top-rated chess player in the world. He’s young and still developing, but looks like he could also become the top-rated power lifter in the world. It seems like the craniofacial configuration shared by Hamilton and Carlsen has an ancestral basis in Northern Europe.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Anonymous wrote:

    “He died of malaria contracted in the Congolese jungle whilst in the immortal words of Marek Kohn ‘packing chimp-shit into test-tubes’. ”

    God what a nasty disease. Still to this day. And I really think it has shaped human history to a large extent.

    Anyone know of a good book on this disease? I’m not looking for a technical medical book, but something like Salt:A World History?

  7. Anonymous wrote:

    “He died of malaria contracted in the Congolese jungle whilst in the immortal words of Marek Kohn ‘packing chimp-shit into test-tubes’. ”

    God what a nasty disease. Still to this day. And I really think it has shaped human history to a large extent.

    Anyone know of a good book on this disease? I’m not looking for a technical medical book, but something like Salt:A World History?

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “He had this amazing head of men-who-look-like-old-lesbians white hair.”

    A head of white hair, no matter how styled, does not directly contribute to that hair looking like an old lesbians’ hair. Although to say Hamilton had silver hair and styled it in a manner that would make doting lesbians envious or see similarities with their own hair is admittedly less pointed it is indeed much more accurate and trenchant as a descriptive statement of said hair.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “He had this amazing head of men-who-look-like-old-lesbians white hair,” : A wonderful example of how skill in observation aids skill in writing! Here, it’s the intrinsic humor (as applied to any man) doubled by the extra incongruity of lesbian (or cross-dressing?) caveman Hamilton, which means it helps build up the essential point of the blogpost.

  10. Ron Perlman’s handsome older brother.

  11. “But wouldn’t it be awesome if whoever discovers the single most important gene controlling this feature”

    I don’t think it works that way with complex traits. Angelman syndrome, yes, but not looks.

    Ghastly death. Don’t go to Congo.

  12. You see a lot of faces like that in the remoter spots of the UK: North Wales, Forest of Dean etc.

  13. Neanderthals had protruding central face structures that made their lower jaws look positively receding. So if Hamilton’s face structure were influenced by surviving Neanderthal genes, he shouldn’t look as he does. I read somwhere that Cro-Magnon facial characteristics do tend toward large rather boney faces.

    It would be interesting to see whatever differences there are between modern Europeans and their Cro-Magnon ancestors. Both are of course, modern humans, but enough time has elapsed to permit some evolutionary change.

  14. Hamilton didn’t die of malaria. From the coroner: Hamilton died of “Multi-organ failure due to upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage due to a duodenal diverticulum and arterial bleed through a mucosal ulcer.”

  15. “WD Hamilton took himself off to Congo to find evidence either way, and the rest is history.”

    According to Dawkins’ obit, he was a strong supporter of the crackpot theory and was looking for evidence to support it.

    It seems possible that malaria could exacerbate diverticular bleeding.

    10 miles on a country road in Kent is not so far, even for a 9-year-old.

  16. I was waiting for the punch line. Did Hamilton support or digress from Steven Jay Gould’s nurture (e,g. Idly) theories regarding nurture as opposed to historical evolutionary (or at least Darwinian) nature?

    Which side did or would Hamilton support in 2014? Fellow Brit Nicholas Wade’s theories esp. those in his most recently released book or Steven Jay Gould’s the Mismeasure of Man?

    Of course, as one previous poster indelicately pointed out he died whilst picking up “ape-shit”. That should definitely tell us something but I’m not exactly sure what it is.

  17. Within non-African communities that have stable and homogenous populations, I wonder if the amount of Neanderthal DNA varies significantly. If it does, I wonder how it correlates with IQ. Of course if more Neanderthal DNA correlates with higher IQ, this wouldn’t necessarily entail that Neanderthals were smarter than H. sapiens, but it would hint at that possibility.

  18. Apparently, Hamilton refused to take anti-malarial prophylaxix.

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