virus: quantity vs. quality in reproduction

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Thu, 26 Dec 1996 23:06:25 -0800 (PST)

XYZ and John Schneider argued back and forth:

> >>>Then again, if you have tons of kids, you'll probably have more
> >>>'fit' kids as well, no?
> >>No, that is not a gaurantee that they will be more fit.
> >So? Nobody guaranteed they would be less fit. Statistically, if
> >I've X% chance of having a fit kid, then as long as X% doesn't
> >change from kid to kid, I might as well have as many as I can,
> >in hopes of making more fit ones.
> So, pay attention. Unless you *can* gaurantee they are fit, you are
> wasting your time. You don't gaurantee fitness by making more bad
> copies. Evolution is concerned with QUALITY and not QUANTITY. The
> trilobites are extreme proof of that but you just can't seem to
> understand that simple concept.
> >My point was: why not have two fit kids instead of one fit kid?
> >Why can't a species perfect both 'making fit kids' and 'making
> >many kids'?
> My point was having more kids isn't serving my genes. Quality
> raising of kids is serving my genes. You can't raise quality children
> when you have thousands of them.

These two are each arguing for a survival tactic. Both tactics and the
full range between them appear in nature.
Among, for instance, oysters, the usual method is to spew sex
cells across the ocean and hope they meet up somewhere with others
compatible. The parent's commitment to reproduction is purely in churning
out such cells by the millions and casting them to the waves, where some
of them are likely to survive, by probability. The investment in a single
offspring or potential offspring is minuscule, and its loss trivial. This
sexual strategy (not a conscious strategy on the oysters' part, of course,
but describable as a strategy from our perspective nonetheless) is
referred to by scientists who study these things as "r".
In contrast, large primates such as gorillas and humans usually
have one child at a time, and must care for it intensively for years. to
ensure its survival. This strategy is referred to as "K".
Both strategies work, given the right conditions: a female oyster
must be able to produce those 500,000,000 eggs a year, and a human must be
able to invest sufficient care to ensure survival of eir infant, in order
to keep the population stable and their genes in the running. An oyster,
even if it was capable of deciding to produce fewer gametes, would fail to
reproduce successfully with "K", because oysters cannot care for their
young. Similarly, a woman who can produce one baby a year and must
care for it for about 18 can't opt for the oyster's strategy. There is a
little leeway, though: since we have not only consciousness but
understanding of the processes of reproduction, a human is capable of
deciding whether to have five children, or one, based on eir ability to
care for them all. Given the right circumstances (a worldwide harim of
government-supported artificial-insemination recipients) a single man
might even be able to beat the oyster at its own game. But circumstances
such as these are, um, rare, and usually such mundane considerations as
time and money (resources available for care of the offspring) play a
major limiting role.
My point being that both XYZ and John Schneider here had valid
points: more is better (if you can get more without losing quality), and
better is better (if you can get better without losing quantity to the
point of losing the race with attrition). Evolution deals in both.


{My source for the 'r' and 'K' stuff is _Lucy_, pg. 321 mostly and for the
rest of the chapter somewhat. This section, which I used for a paper in
junior high biology, is a discussion, from the 'selfish gene' perspective,
of why gorillas are endangered, among other things, and what all this has
to do with the origins of humans, which is what the book as a whole is

PS: If you're wondering why I bothered, when this doesn't have anything to
do directly with memetics, consider applying the 'r' and 'K' concepts to
memetic reproductive strategies. Which works better: Bombardment
advertising? Or carefully engineering memes to hosts and nurturing them in
place a while? Depends on the circumstances....