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
Chimpanzee: 450cc, 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 us humans.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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