Thursday, February 13, 2020

Roses Are Made

This year, if you get a picture of a rose instead of an actual rose, keep the following in mind: Roses that make a good picture don't smell like much, so you're not missing anything!

Roses are popular, and they have been cultivated over centuries to have all kinds of different features. Some are chosen to smell good, and some to look good. That usually means the roses that look good do not smell good. (Some varieties are simply more durable; when you're shipping those flowers all over the world, durability is a desired trait.)

And wouldn't you know it; people tend to like the kind that look good more than the latter. This means most of our roses these days have lost their multisensory seduction.

This is great example of natural selection at its most sophisticated –in the domain of the anthroposphere. It is true that humans are selecting the flowers they want to propagate, and that doesn't sound like nature at the wheel.

But these humans impose their artificial selection pressures only in response to market forces, or customer demand, or fashion, or whatever you want to call it. And as any fashion designer will tell you, there is not much reasoning behind the preferences of populations. Individuals perhaps, but populations not so much.

In a game of complexity theory, every individual makes decisions that are a result of every other individual. The resulting decisions then determine the kinds of flowers selected. Channeling Dawkins' Memetics, the scentless rose is an extended phenotype of our collective selection process. Is that natural or artificial?

Susan Milius for Science News, 2018

O. Raymond et al. The Rosa genome provides new insights into the domestication of modern roses. Nature Genetics. Published online April 30, 2018. doi:10.1038/s41588-018-0110-3.

Mental Floss, 2018

Richard Dawkins, 1982

Post Script:
Favorite "Rose" perfume:

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