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Thursday, December 14th 2006

Our Evolution Stinks

Ah, an article finds flaws with many parts of the Homo sapien construction.

Take this whole business of walking around upright. I love the way walking rhythms turn into music, and it is a tremendous convenience to have one’s hands free, but our erect body plan is unfinished and full of bad structural compromises. Hazardous birth (as a result of that inappropriately narrow pelvis) is only the most appalling; we also suffer from sciatica, knee and foot failures, and on and on.

Nevermind similiar failings occur in just about every major species. So the criticism focuses on the wrong thing – it isn’t human evolution that seems imperfect, it is the process in general.

In anycase, he goes on to imagine what the perfect sapien would look like…starting at those unprotected testicles.

Eureka sapiens might have seen the balls migrate into the belly, like the ovaries. To cool them, air-­intake vents around the belly button, like those on the hoods of sports cars, might have evolved. The Eureka sapiens female pelvis might be able to spread apart, like the jaws of snakes.

From physical changes to aid birthing, to gestation.

Eureka sapiens babies would remain in the womb for at least a full year and would be born with more robust digestive tracts, so they wouldn’t need to cry so much. Colic is at least as hard to explain as an advantageous adaptation as vulnerable testes are.

I’m not sure I buy this in its entirety.

Had birthing technology not intervened, natural selection would have worked out many of our kinks…

Humans are unusual, though, in that we have more or less stabilized ourselves at what would normally be a transitional, problematic stage—”more or less” because, while technology lets us minimize many of the old evolutionary selection pressures, it also introduces new ones..

Now don’t get me wrong, I concede we’ve kind’ve superseded evolution with our technological innovations. A better description is that we’ve put unique pressures on evolution with our intelligence and advances that has led to. What I have a problem with is the characterization that H. sapien finds itself in a particularly “transition, problematic stage.

Not anymore than plenty and plenty and plenty of other creatures.

Plenty of species make irreconcilable sacrifices in one area in order to have evolutionary success in another. At least over the short term. Bipedalism requires a narrower pelvis to be efficient. In return birthing is more difficult in the human species (but certainly not to an extent as to risk the species itself). As well, the comparative (to some vertebrates) gestation period of the human child must be shortened (so s/he doesn’t get too large to fit through the canal), which makes the human child helpless and dependent for a long period of time since so much of the maturing takes place outside of the womb.

I mean, to sum it up, I think he’s overstating the evolutionary pressure of say…a narrow birth canal. The fact is our intelligence is part of our evolution. It is difficult to say, “well, we’ve superseded evolutionary forces with our intelligence.” So, in a way, and I say this with a straight face C-sections were inevitable.

There are other evolutionary advances Mr. Lanier chose to ignore in selectively targeting human reproduction as an evolutionary mess. For instance, there is a genetic component to the human nature for very strong nurturing of our young – which I think many biologists would argue is one of the strongest in the animal kingdom.