Excerpt of On the Origin of Tepees by Jonnie Hughes
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Yet it is neither our life-threatening larynx nor our naked, spotty, sweaty
skin, nor our dangerously large heads, nor our wonderful brains and
sparkling intelligence that singles us out as the weirdest wonders in all
creation. There is something even more peculiar about our species than
all these things, and that is this: we are the only species on the planet that
cannot be fully explained by Charles Darwin's otherwise faultless theory
of evolution by natural selection.
Natural selection is powerful enough to explain how male hammerheaded
fruit bats became flying trumpets, how oarfish came to look
and move so oddly, how elephants developed their trunks and infrasound,
even how naked mole rat queens came to run their reproductive
dictatorships. It does all of this without needing to call on some divine
creator, because natural selection is a theory that can explain how
nature makes marvels without intentional/conscious thought; it can
explain how nature makes marvels mindlessly. Yet even natural selection,
as we currently understand it, cannot explain how you came to be
able to sit there and read this book; and that is because first, there's no
call for you to be smart enough to read, and second, you shouldn't be
wasting your time on this anyway when there are berries to pick and
mates to bonk.
1. THE MYSTERY OF OUR PAST: AN INEXPLICABLE EVOLUTION
For natural selection to work, a species has to have a hard life. Adversity
is at the heart of all evolution because Life's innovations come
only as a response to adversity. The environment - and by that we mean
everything surrounding a living organism, from its neighbors to the
weather - drives adaptation by selecting any trait that helps a living thing
survive and reproduce, and extinguishing every trait that hinders either
survival or reproduction. With nature selecting the fittest living things
out of all those on offer, a species will adapt until it becomes "fit for purpose."
No more, no less.
Humans evolved to survive and reproduce in the savannah of East
Africa. Even the most optimistic evolutionary biologists concede that we
are spectacularly over-equipped to do that.
Australopithecus: 350cc, 3 million years ago
Homo erectus: 800cc, 1.5 million years ago
Homo sapiens: 1,350cc, Today
Just look at the facts: it took just over three million years for us to
evolve from a creature that looked a bit like a chimpanzee into the
disfigured oddballs we are today: naked, sweaty, upright, chatty, brainy
weirdoes. Our catalogue of traits went through the mill while our closest
relatives hardly changed a bit. It was a bout of natural selection like nothing
the world had ever seen - some strange driving force ballooning our
brains from a moderately impressive 350cc to a distinctly overpowered
1,350cc. Would the African savannah ever need such a thing? We've got
a supercomputer inside our heads and all we really needed to continue a
perfectly respectable measure of surviving and reproducing - to enable
our genes to make the short journey from one generation to the next -
was the standard-issue pocket calculator our relatives had. The extent
and the speed of our recent evolution make no sense.
2. THE MYSTERY OF OUR PRESENT: AN INEXPLICABLE LIFESTYLE
Speaking of genes, we humans treat ours with utter contempt, and
that is not only unwise but impossible by the rules of natural selection.
Other living things only ever spoil their genes: they spend all their time
and energy keeping them happy, propagating them. It's one of the universal
truths of modern Darwinism that whatever an organism does or
has, it must ultimately benefit the genes in some respect; otherwise it
wouldn't do or have it. Sometimes we have to look really hard to see the
"gene's-eye view," but we've never failed to find it, except in the case of
Excerpted from On the Origin of Tepees
by Jonnie Hughes. Copyright © 2011 by Jonnie Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Free Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.