Diaries Magazine

It's Evolution, Baby

Posted on the 27 March 2013 by Cfburch4 @cfburch4

I am not a scientiest. I am not a philosopher. I do not play either on TV. However, I am uniquely qualified to bring you the following observations:

1. If we descended from apes, why are we so concerned about hair removal? I wonder what monkeys think about the efforts we give to shaving and waxing: “Oh, sure, you evolved the gift of language and now you’re too good for body hair. You want to see smart? You want to see intelligence? We’re covered with hair, and we have never, ever developed weapons of mass destruction. So who looks more civilized now?”

2. I’m trying to find another married fellow who stresses about the cleanliness of his house as much as his wife does. So far, no luck. But I have a theory as to why. In nature, the one who gives birth or lays eggs seems to be more interested in the condition of the nest. Sure, some men are neat-freaks, and males can become interested in the condition of the nest; it's just probably not natural.

3. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to make decisions related to same-sex marriage, probably by June. I think the band Love and Rockets had some insight into this matter, expressed in their song “No New Tale to Tell.” They sing, “You cannot go against nature / Because when you do / Go against nature / That’s part of nature too.” Which completely undercuts the conclusion of No. 2 above.

4. Arguments for the spiritual element of human beings are challenged by our growing knowledge of how the human brain evolved and how it functions. A soul or a mind or some kind of invisible seat of willpower seem less likely when you consider stories like this one from a 2009 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald:

Elliot had a small tumour cut from his cortex near the brain's frontal lobe.  He had been a model father and husband, holding down an important management job  in a large corporation and was active in his church. But the operation changed  everything.

Elliot's IQ stayed the same - testing in the smartest 3 per cent - but, after  surgery, he was incapable of  decision. Normal life became impossible. Routine  tasks that should take 10 minutes now took hours. Elliot endlessly deliberated  over irrelevant details.... His indecision was pathological.

Elliot was soon sacked. A series of new businesses failed and a con man  forced him into bankruptcy. His wife divorced him. The tax office began  investigating him. He moved back with his parents. As neurologist Antonio Damasio put it: "Elliot emerged as a man with a normal intellect who was unable  to decide properly, especially when the decision involved personal or social  matters."

But why was Elliot suddenly incapable of making good decisions? What had  happened to his brain? Damasio's first insight occurred while talking to Elliot  about the tragic turn his life had taken. "He was always controlled," Damasio  remembers, "always describing scenes as a dispassionate, uninvolved spectator.  Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the  protagonist ... I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation  with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration." Elliot's friends and  family confirmed Damasio's observations: ever since his surgery, he had seemed  strangely devoid of emotion, numb to the tragic turn his own life had taken.

This insight has led my wife and daughters to thumb through the anatomy book and choose which parts of my brain they want to get rid of. If they have their way, I'll be as good as a robot, ever-obedient, by the end of the year.

5.In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the character Hamlet tells Rosencrantz he cannot make "a wholesome answer" because "my wit's diseas'd." Was he sick at soul, sick at heart, or sick at brain? Probably at brain, and this understanding simultaneously could be a leap forward for criminal justice as well as a real threat to civil rights. New understandings of how the brain evolved and how it functions today has led to a predictive application. According to Wired magazine's website:

Brain scans of convicted felons can predict which ones are most likely to get arrested after they get out of prison, scientists have found in a study of 96 male offenders.

“It’s the first time brain scans have been used to predict recidivism,” said neuroscientist Kent Kiehl of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who led the new study. Even so, Kiehl and others caution that the method is nowhere near ready to be used in real-life decisions about sentencing or parole.

And it never, ever should be used in real-life decisions about sentencing or parole, because that would be punishment for crimes not (yet) commited.

However, this study could be evidence for what neuroscientists like Sam Harris have argued, that human beings ultimately do not have much in the way of free will. Stuff is just hard-wired from the get-go.

So, when I eat all of my wife's expensive non-dairy Almond Dream ice cream, I really had no choice in the matter.

Nor did I have a choice other than to blame the disappearance of the Almond Dream on our defenseless 7-year-old.

-Colin Foote Burch

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