Jan. 3rd, 2006

flewellyn: (Default)
My family, growing up, was not a neat family. We weren't absolute slobs, but...oh, who am I kidding? We were absolute slobs. We kept surfaces clean for eating, and clothes clean for wearing, and dishes clean for eating off of...but that was about the sum of it. Vacuuming happened if and when my sister remembered; the garbage was taken out (by me) irregularly; clutter would pile up until somebody remembered to do something with it (usually shove it to the side); and, of course, when laundry was done, there was the inevitable debate on natural selection.

"Wait, what?" I hear you asking. (Actually, I don't, but let's just pretend, okay?) "What in the blue peeping hellacious eyes of Samuel W. Scratch does natural selection have to do with laundry?"

So glad you asked.

You see, as my father documented in his famous-among-lunatics home-taped nature documentary, the common household sock, or Hosius socka, has a rather odd lifecycle. It is mostly a parasitic organism, living its short life on the feet of wandering mammals, from which it feeds on the skin of the feet. Once it has fed, it drops off onto the ground and then begins the long, slow process of migrating across the floor, moving in a sluglike fashion, towards the hamper, at which point it jumps up and seeks out a mate in the pile. The products of this union, in turn, emerge from their nest in the dryer and then attach themselves to the nearest host, whereupon the cycle begins anew.

This process leads to a number of interesting phenomena. Obviously, the most common one is the sight of exhausted socks, flopped on the floor, pausing to catch their breath before resuming the arduous voyage. Another point of interest is the genetics: socks that mate with others of similar color will, of course, produce more of the same, but when you get socks of different colors mating, the results can be quite bizarre. I speak here, of course, of striped, polka-dotted, and multicolored socks, which arise mostly because the genes for various colorations are mostly codominant, except for the "white" gene, which is recessive. (Argyle socks, I believe, are the result of a mutation involving exposure to ionizing radiation, excessive inbreeding, and copious amounts of Scotch whiskey.) The migration, being quite an ordeal, often causes injuries to the socks, some of which can result in actual holes in the body (or "socka bifida"), which can be fatal if untreated.

However, the most interesting thing to note when discussing the migratory and mating habits of socks, and the salient point here, is naturally the question of human intervention. The arduous nature of the migration of H. socka serves to weed out the sick and old from the herd, as with many other species. If humans intervene and place the socks in the hamper directly, this removes an important selection pressure from their environment. Clearly, this would be bad for the overall health of the species. So, as my father argued in his groundbreaking (and patience-trying) documentary, the only ethical choice we have is to allow nature to take its course.

I will not repeat my mother's response to this, my father's greatest contribution to science since his seminal work Evolutionary Regression and Table Manners: Why Forks? Why?, but I will say that it was, sadly, not very scientific.


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