Natural Selection in Homo sapiens alchemis

(Picture from here.)

This week we watched the new Harry Potter movie. Quite aside from the odd dreams it gave me (think Harry Potter vs. Stargate) the subculture of the wizards and witches, and their intrinsic abilities, suggested a subspecies of humans much like Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and our own Homo sapiens sapiens. I have named this subspecies Homo sapiens alchemis.

Consider the qualities of H. s. alchemis: There is limited reproductive communication with the neighboring subspecies, H. s. sapiens, as evidenced by the ferocious self-policing of the culture from outside contamination. It is not clear if a cross between alchemis and sapiens is fertile. We’ll have to wait until part two to find out of there will be Weasley/Granger offspring. Fertility of the cross does not necessarily invalidate alchemis subspecies’ status, however. There is evidence of cross-species fertility in other animals. Liger and tiglons, for example, though thought to be sterile have been shown to be fertile.

The dominate salient trait in alchemis is paranormal abilities. The trait is significantly variable in the population (note Harry Potter’s aunt who did not inherit) and common in a distinct population. One would presume it is advantageous– or is it?

Wizards have been documented as long as there has been documentation. Before written descriptions there are shamanistic artifacts from the neo– and mesolithic periods in human development. It would hardly be a stretch to mark the introduction of the genetic variation that led to alchemis according to these indicators. Therefore, we can estimate its appearance sometime in the last thirty thousand or so years. There’s some evidence that sapiens and neanderthalensis coexisted for some time before extinction of the latter began. Possibly the introduction of the alchemis variation had something to do with it.

The actual age of the alchemis variation will remain speculation until DNA sequencing of an alchemis specimen.

Regardless, it is certain that the introduction of complex of genes that comprise the alchemis variation had some impact on the natural selection of the root population. A truly advantageous mutation would spread rapidly through the population in a selective sweep— such as the duplication of salivary amylase genes in sapiens enhancing utilization of starches in the diet. However, the alchemis variation has only resulted in a relatively small population of magicians, powerful though they may be. Clearly, the situation is more complicated than it appears.

The genes responsible must be involved in brain development– an hitherto unknown organ in other parts of the body being unlikely. Since speech appears to be involved even in very experienced wizards the speech centers may well be involved. We know the actual content of the words has little if anything to do with the effect since these “incantations” are in the form psuedo-latinesque gibberish and based on a language occuring long after the appearance of H. s. alchemis effects. One wonders on the variations of FOXP2, for example, in alchemis family trees.

Genes often have more than one effect and genes involved in brain development are no exception. It is entirely possible the traits under observation (i.e., wizardry) are concommitant with other traits that limit the spread of the alchemis variation in the general human population. While we don’t have controlled scientific evidence of such limitations, we do have indirect observation of them as expressed in the way the culture uses the variations:

  • The culture is hiearchically rigid and self-limits innovation. Use of magic is limited to repitition of earlier magical forms. There are few spells involving electricity or internal combustion and those that do use primitive forms.
  • The culture is slow to adapt to innovation from the surrounding culture. Note extensive use of archaic technology in the schools. Candles, for example, instead of electric lights. Extensive use of hand written books in lieu of printed material. No computers or internet.
  • The culture is violently xenophobic secretive and appears to barely be able to apprehend the existence of non-European cultures.
  • The young are inculcated into this culture early and only dimly recognize the possibility of educational institutions past high school.

This latter point bears some investigation. Recent work on neanderthalensis suggest that their maturation process is considerably more rapid than that of sapiens. The extended childhood of sapiens may have an advantage in allowing more brain development. The cognitive impairment of alchemis coupled with their rapid maturation and localization to a European locale could indicate that alchemis was the fertile result of a neanderthalensis/sapiens cross.

The xenophobia of alchemis is well documented to be self-destructive. In fact, I think this is the qualitiy that self-limits propagation of the alchemis variation. Alchemis qualities strongly favor in-breeding within the population. The vicious hierarchical nature of alchemis introduces culling as a means of limiting reproduction to the alpha wizards and their cohorts. Triumphant male lions kill the cubs of the previously dominant male. Wizards selectively kill the opponents of their dominant male. This has the effect of preserving the bloodline of the alpha wizards and destroying the bloodline of the opponent. That this effect is not the wizard’s intention is immaterial.

This localizes the population in two directions. The xenophobia prevents outcrossing and the dominance slaughter prevents competition. The net effect is to isolate and reduce the population, limiting both the spread of the alchemis variation through the sapiens population and the size of the alchemis population itself.

In this case cultural isolation is a product of biological isolation rather than the reverse.

The future of Homo sapiens alchemis is in doubt. Though the population is influential it appears to be in decline. Sapiens is clearly outcompeting it on two levels: numerically, a few thousand alchemis versus billions of sapiens, and technologically. The rate of sapienstechnological innovation far surpasses the magical innovation of alchemis. Within a generation any advantage of alchemis magic will be overcome. Since this is the only advantage over sapiens possessed by alchemis, its future is in doubt.

This is a problem.

Alchemis is the only surviving subspeicies of genus Homo sapiens other than H. s. sapiens. Though the subspecies is difficult and unlovable, it is our kin and deserves our protection. It is also in our best interest to preserve the population. We have made great strides in antibiotics and medicines by examining the exotic plants and animals elsewhere in the world. Alchemis has also been studying the world’s plants and animals and has made discoveries we would find beneficial. Not to mention that some magical technology can be used to accelerate our own understanding of the natural world.

Finally, like our studies of chimps and gorillas, examining our own neighboring subspecies can only benefit our own understanding of ourselves.



Natural Selection in Homo sapiens alchemis — 11 Comments

  1. Wicked, wicked, man. you’ve nailed so many loose ends in the investigation of the paranormal mind. go forth and preach this gospel.

  2. I believe there is substantial evidence of the fertility of matings between H. s. sapiens and H. s. alchemis: Voldemort and Snape had muggle fathers and witch mothers, I believe, and the same is true of some of the Hogwarts students.

    In fact, given both Hermione and Harry’s mother — both of whom were born with magical powers to parents who lacked any such powers — it appears likely that there has been significant intermarriage in the past, leading to the occasional appearance of H. s. alchemis in what would otherwise be assumed to be an H. s. sapiens family. There are also examples of persons who lack magical powers who are born into H. s. alchemis families.

    Your analysis of the culture of H. s. alchemis raises a number of interesting questions, particularly the points about technological innovation and reliance on old-fashioned methods. It would be interesting if the next generation of H. s. alchemis, following on the defeat of the most xenophobic and violent elements in their society, might be prepared to open up their relationships with H. s. sapiens.

  3. I salute you, sir. This is a perfect example of what we may term Deep Fandom. The principles were first articulated by Dorothy Sayers, who was writing about Sherlock Holmes fans — the debate rooted in the Holy Writ (in this case the Holmes short stories and novels); the use of outside information to explain lacunae and inconsistencies in the Writ. Another great example is THE FLIGHT OF DRAGONS by Peter Dickinson.

  4. Given the family histories of the various Potter characters, it’s rather obvious that the base magic ability is conferred by a recessive gene that has incomplete penetrance even in homozygotes, because of additional genetic or epigenetic factors crucial to its expression.

  5. I salute your work. The note from Nancy Jane Moore about “mixed marriage” was an excellent addendum. We in the wizarding world have long known that intermarriage is our strongest tool for survival. It is only the most backward of our kind that have ever objected to it.
    The need for secrecy came from the burning times in Europe. We were never so hidden before that time. As attitudes have shifted in the last century, it has become clear that we may well be able to start offering our skills to the world at large again. Technology can only carry one so far, after all. We still have the edge of travel – including the port key concept that has, so far, eluded your science.
    While your sociological discussion is as accurate as it could be given your limited exposure through JK’s seminal work, there are large elements of progressives among us who are coming to the forefront in the wake of both JK’s success and the reception of all that we are in both book and movie form. We hope to change the view of us as a xenophobic people in the near future.

    Thank you again for your discussion of Home Sapiens Alchemis.


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  7. Wonderful essay.

    Deep Fandom is also explored brilliantly in Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Janeites,” regarding Jane Austen.

    It must be noted that Kipling equates Deep Fandom with head trauma and other neurological maladies.

    Also, concerning the biological propagation of magic, epigenetics may play a role to unleash the phenotype, but prionic or non-Mendelian inheritance may be the prevailing theory by the wizarding community. It is assumed by the alchemis subculture that inbreeding increases power, as does age.

    Initial prion load, age, and destabilizing mutations form the descent pattern for prionic inheritance, such as the PSY trait in yeast or increased susceptibility to BSE in mutant genotypes in bovines and humans (PSYchotic yeast, mad cows, and Englishmen.)

    In prion disease or traits, aberrant forms of the protein catalyze a conformation change of normal proteins to produce more aberrant proteins. Increased initial concentration of the aberrant form of the protein, time for catalysis, and mutational instability of the native form of the protein all increase production and eventual concentration of the pathogenic conformation of the protein.

    Sporadic prion disease arising from a spontaneous transformation of a native protein to the pathologic conformation, which then goes on to catalyze reactions to produce more prions, is an analogy for the occasional production of a magical person from a non-magical line (“mudblood.”)

    Prionic descent can be considered Lamarkian evolution.

    TK Kenyon (who has also thought waaaay too much about Harry Potter.)

  8. I suspect the spontaneous appearance of magic from muggles is more the result of outbreeding previously. Two muggles who have magical ancestry meet and have children and the appropriate alleles are in place. Given the long history of alchemis there are probably some genes in the normal sapiens population just like there are Neanderthal genes in the normal sapiens of European descent. It would be interesting to sequence alchemis mitochondrial DNA and see how it compares with sapiens.

    Were it only the variation that combined periodically to create alchemis properties, culturally reinforced, then there would be little basis for a sub-species description. Use of magic would be no more a basis for subspecies division than Tay-Sachs disease or sickle cell anemia.

    But we have to consider the whole organism. There are some virulently xenophobic qualities to alchemis. In addition there are the cognitive deficiencies that I don’t think can be attributed to culture. The Amish eschew the modern world but are aware of it and are quite adaptive and ingenious in working around the limitations imposed on them by their faith. Alchemis, by contrast, not only rejects the modern world, it creates only the most primitive of mechanisms to replace it. It is analogous to an Amish farmer not only using a buggy but insisting on it having square wheels.

    It is possible that there was an ur-alchemis form in the past, reproductively isolated where the population inbred and fixed these qualities and where alchemis was not in a position to compete with sapiens. (Since, as we know, sapiens has reproductively outclassed alchemis at every turn.)

    Then, at some point, the reproductive isolation was breached and the alchemis population began re-breeding with sapiens stock. The resulting groups are then more robust and intelligent when compared with their forebears but possibly less magical and perhaps in the process of losing their genetic sub-species identity. Some of the conflicts currently playing out might be the result of this as cultural classes, threatened by both the infusion of non-alchemis genes and the rising technological prowess of sapiens, lash out.

  9. Ah, but we already know that a Muggle and a Witch can produce a magical child–Tom Riddle Sr. was a Muggle, while Merope Gaunt was a witch. We also have the example of Tobias Snape and Eileen Prince producing the magical Severus Snape.

    Interesting how both characters were hated by Rowling, though. Perhaps she thinks that sort of thing is unnatural, too.