The Trouble With Human Evolution

Modern humans have evolved over the past six to seven million years a number of traits that make us, Homo sapiens, a very unique species indeed. We alone of all the mammals (as well as all invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles) have a bipedal gait. We alone of all of our primate cousins are for all practical purposes hairless. Of all the animals that are, or have ever been, we’re top of the pops with respect to brain size as a function of body size, and in terms of intelligence, king of the hill full stop. And while animals can communicate via vocalizations and body language, none can communicate the extremely wide range of practical and especially abstract concepts that we can. Last, but not least, humans are nearly unique in making and using external tools, tools unique in terms of their sophistication.

All five major traits noted above, and a lot more that’s related besides, don’t seem to be a requirement for basic survival, since other species survive and thrive without them, and in fact all these major five defining traits (and more) seem to have some actual evolutionary drawbacks, not the least of which require very serious modifications to basic primate anatomy for apparently no increase in that Darwinian phrase “survival of the fittest”. The proof of that pudding is that our ultimate primate ancestor still survives – the chimpanzee; their ultimate descendent survives – the modern human; yet all those in-betweens hominids who were presumably adapting via natural selection resulting in all those evolutionary changing improvements, went kaput – over twenty species of them. If these “survival of the fittest” evolutionary adaptations were all that crash hot and necessary, then why was their demise? Any ancestral hominoids that went extinct prior to 200,000 years ago can’t have Homo sapiens as the villain. Those 20 plus extinct hominid species aside, why aren’t many of those natural selection improvements really so crash hot for us modern humans either? Here’s the trouble with human evolution. But first consider this.

THE ROOT CAUSE & DRIVING FORCE

The current standard model of human evolution explains the ‘why’ question due to rapid and extreme shifts in climate in continental Africa over that six to seven million year period. The central problem there IMHO is why these shifts failed to drastically produce evolutionary changes in the rest of the animal populations like elephants, lions, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and other African landlubbers as the Dark Continent went from jungle to forest to savannah to arid deserts and back again.

Now of course environmental change is a major driving force behind biological evolution, at least when it comes to natural selection. But one has to look at the Big Picture, the entirety of the bio-realm and not just isolate one changing species and link the two and ignore all else. The environment changes and hominoids change but all the other species seemingly don’t change. That makes for an anomaly.

One of the key phrases in evolution is that “there is a price to pay” for change – no free lunch or get out of jail card is authorized. That “no pain, no gain” price applies whether you’re dealing with natural or artificial selection. But I sometimes wonder whether one is getting a fifty-cent gain return on a dollar investment worth of pain. Consider the following.

OUR BIPEDAL GAIT

* Is an anomaly in that human beings, alone of all the mammals, walk routinely on just two legs.

* It called for a complete redesign of our musculoskeletal system vis-à-vis our chimpanzee ancestors.

* That results in an increase in all our various painful bad back trials and tribulations.

* And it also requires a rearrangement of our internal organ attachments.

* A bipedal gait needs a harder working heart to pump blood up to our now higher upper reaches, like the head and neck, instead of mainly sideways. A bipedal gait means having to fight the better fight against gravity.

* A bipedal gait results in an increase in difficulties in maintaining an upright balance (especially as one grows older) because the centre of gravity has shifted dramatically. It’s much easier to push over a standing human than say a standing dog.

* A bipedal gait further results in a decrease in survival value due to the ever possible loss of or injury to a leg, foot, ankle, etc. Lose the use of a leg and in the wilderness, you’re nearly helpless.

* A bipedal gait has to the best of my knowledge only arisen once before, and that was in the theropod dinosaur branch, like T-Rex, etc. That was the branch that gave rise to the birds, therefore they are also bipedal, but it originated with an early, early ancestor of T-Rex. Some may argue that kangaroos and their relatives like the wallabies are bipedal, but they don’t put one leg in front of the other in a left-right-left-right-left-right fashion. They hop, which doesn’t quite put them in the same category as humans or even birds. Further, the theropod dinosaurs, the birds, and even the kangaroos all have tails to help keep their centre of balance, well, balanced. That’s cheating!!! Humans lack that support structure (a rather sad tale I’m sure), so I’ll argue that the human bipedal gait is still unique among all animals, past and present. Humans remain the one and only really bona-fide bipedal entity. Okay, a few tailless primates can ‘walk’ for brief intervals, but their normal locomotion is via their four limbs on the ground when not swinging in the trees.

C – A bipedal gait isn’t a lifestyle walk-the-walk gait that is commonly noted in cats – in fact it isn’t noted at all. Why cats? Why not cats? C is for Cat; C is for Comparison. So as a comparison, let’s take cats, who have a multitude of feline relatives (tigers, lions, etc.) and who have survived and thrived for quite some considerable time. Why cats? Firstly because I’m familiar with cats and secondly because they are an advanced multicellular relatively sophisticated mammalian species, much liken to us. Cats share a great deal with us humans apart from being warm-blooded mammals. Cats, like humans are curious, playful, tend to look after number one, are territorial, like to sleep, dream, have a good memory, show emotions, and like humans have colonized the globe – except Antarctica – either as domestics or as ferals or as wild animals, etc. But, they don’t walk-the-walk on just their two hind legs!

A LARGE HUMAN BRAIN

* Is an anomaly, along with that associated brain thingy high IQ or intelligence we have, relative to the rest of the animal kingdom, which collectively aren’t quite, by any stretch of the imagination, in Einstein’s league. Humans have the largest brain size as a function of body size in the entire animal kingdom, again, apparently both past and present..

* A large human brain makes for an increasingly hazardous childbirth. The relatively large head of the foetus at childbirth, having to pass through the space available via the hip opening, has resulted in not just a rather painful experience for the mother (and presumably the infant too) but has often led to the premature death of a lot of said newborns and/or their mothers. Now another anomaly here is that if the human body has accommodated all the massive anatomical changes required for a bipedal lifestyle, you’d think an increase in the birth canal hip opening size would have been relatively evolutionary child’s play.

* The human brain takes years to develop fully, nearly two decades worth in fact, leaving infants totally dependent on others for survival. Infants need care not just for a few weeks or months or seasons, but for many, many years, extending right through their teens, thus cramping the lifestyle of the parents. This length of time for brain development and associated acquiring of survival skills to fully develop is unprecedented in all other primates.

* A large human brain is a very energy-intensive organ. In fact 25% of our energy requirements are required to fuel our upstairs grey-matter wetware. That in turn puts additional pressures on hunting and/or gathering for that extra in food resources required to supply that energy need. Apparently the increase in those energy demands is what drove us to begin to hunt down and eat meat and invent cooking (to make the meat easier to digest). Well, maybe.

C – Cats, however endearing, are not a little feline version of Einstein.

A LACK OF FUR

* Is an anomaly since humans alone of nearly 200 species of our primate cousins are considered a “naked ape”.

* Our relative lack of fur makes us dependent on sweating for temperature regulation, also making us highly dependent on sources of freshwater and salt.

* Our relative lack of fur has the apparent advantage of enabling humans to become long distance endurance runners since we can continually keep cool, even while running, by sweating, yet what we are running after (prey), or from (predators), don’t sweat and therefore are quickly overcome by heat exhaustion. We get a meal, or escape from being one. Well that’s the standard scenario. I think it would have made more sense to have used our social group numbers, increasing IQ and tool making abilities to hunt and ambush game rather than running them down. As for escaping predators, perhaps we should have retained our tree climbing abilities, and if no trees were available, there are always rocks to throw and sticks to club predators with. I’m not convinced loss of fur in order to sweat in order to run marathons in order to eat or avoid being eaten are related in a cause-and-effect way. In any event running is also very energy consuming and it isn’t normally sound practice to expend more energy than you have to, especially when you don’t know where and when your next meal is coming from. And if it is advantageous for evolving hominoids to lose fur, take up sweating, take up jogging, and run to exhaustion large prey animals, then it should also be advantageous for other predators, like the lion, to do the same. But that hasn’t happened. Why not?

* Our relative lack of fur requires the need, as a substitution, for clothing in cooler environments. Why a human, originating in and adapted to a tropical climate without need of fur, therefore without need of clothing, would migrate into cooler, even cold habitats where fur, or now a clothing substitute instead, is a near requirement, is itself an anomaly. You swap fur for clothing, but clothing in itself requires a whole lot of special skills to produce – fur doesn’t.

C – Cats, as well as their wildlife big cat cousins, do not lack a natural covering of fur.

A VOCAL LANGUAGE

* Is an anomaly in that only humans vocalise not only everyday, routine, survival ‘language’ (all manner of animals do that) but abstract concepts (which no other animals do).

* A vocal or spoken language required to communicate abstract ideas, as apart from just making sounds, requires an evolutionary rearrangement of the relevant internal organs required; lips, teeth, tongue, hard and soft palate, larynx, etc.

C – Cats meow, lions roar, but their meow (or the lion’s roar) has nothing to do with communicating abstract concepts like basic mathematics.

TOOL USE

* Is an anomaly in that while a few other animals can make and use tools, that relative degree of sophistication relative to what humans have achieved is akin to comparing the survival skills of a day-old infant with that of an adult.

* Tool use requires an evolutionary rearrangement of the finger-hand-wrist-arm-shoulder configuration, as well as that extra-large brain thingy to figure out that a tool is required, what resources are required to make that tool, and how to manufacture the necessary implement from those resources. A lot of just-so conditions have to be met to accommodate even the most basic of tool technologies.

* Tool use could ultimately prove our undoing as tool use, or technology, is a double-edged sword. A gun can put food on your table; it can also exterminate humans.

C – Cats are not adapted at using tools. If they could use a can opener and a spoon they could get their own meals! That would suit me just fine, but alas.

BREEDS or ETHNIC/RACIAL DISTINCTIONS

* Are anomalous in that when taking into consideration the rest of the animal and plant kingdom, breeds (groupings that look different but can still breed and produce non-sterile offspring) tend to be associated with artificial, not natural selection. Are human breeds therefore a product of artificial selection, and if so, by whom?

* Human breeds cannot be adequately explained in the just 70,000 or some odd years since that one unique racial type of Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa and spread throughout the globe diverging into numerous racial types. Even if there were several migrations out of Africa, a wave of migrations, all those migrant waves were of one race or breed. The 70,000 year time period is very short, the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, to achieve this uniqueness of going from a local African uni-race to a multiracial global society. Further, the evolutionary (survival of the fittest) advantage or reason(s) for ethnic distinctions are lacking any rational natural explanation, apart from in some selected races, skin colour.

C – Your standard pussycat comes in various breeds. That’s artificial selection at work, albeit the whodunit in this case is well known.

UNIQUE FACIAL FEATURES

* Are a relatively human anomaly. Apart from identical twins, no two humans from the neck up look the same, and thus this is how we tell human identities, once seen, apart. We tend to tell animals of the same species or breed (if applicable) apart by size, colour, skin/fur patterns, abnormalities, or else we don’t distinguish who’s who at all. To me, all magpie faces look the same. The question is, why humans have unique facial features and not the rest of the animal kingdom?

C – If you took 100 pure short-hair black cats, same size, same sex, same eye colour, could you tell them apart by looking at just their face? I doubt if I could.

THE WHITES-OF-YOUR-EYES

* Are anomalous in that apparently no other animal show them, and based on all the animals and birds I see around my local environment, that certainly seems to be the case. So why do we show the whites-of-our-eyes? There would appear to be no rhyme or reason for this natural human evolutionary (if it was a natural selection) trait. The whites-of-our-eyes: how very, very odd.

C – Cats have whites-of-their-eyes, only you have to peel back the skin surrounding their eyeballs to see the whites-of-their-eyes. Looking at a standard cat, you’ll fail to see the whites-of-their-eyes.

EARLOBES

* Are anomalous in that apparently no other mammal (and certainly not any fish, amphibian, reptile or bird) have them. So why do we have them?

* Earlobes? WTF you ask? Well we all know that our earlobes serve a cultural purpose or function as a prime site as an accessory to fashion – pierced ears and earrings. However, earlobes serve no actual biological function. You could exist, survive and thrive without them. Because we alone have earlobes, and because they serve no biological purpose, they are anomalous.

* On the other hand, earlobes apparently don’t do us any harm. But, biological evolution tends to select for the positive benefit, not the neutral. Why would Mother Nature evolve them if they serve no biological purpose? WTF indeed!

C – Cats have ears; cats do not have earlobes.

RISK TAKING

* Is anomalous in that if done just for the sake of doing it, serves no positive evolutionary purpose or outcome while accenting a negative one, giving oneself a ‘Darwin Award’ for eliminating yourself from further contributions to the evolution of the human species.

* No animal will engage in any hazardous activity that doesn’t have some connection towards its own, its immediate family brood, its community or its species survival. An animal doesn’t take risks just for the sake of taking risks and just for the thrill of it all. Humans however will often engage in extreme risky activities, without any benefit to anyone, including themselves, except to perhaps remove themselves from the gene pool. Risky behaviour might include right up to and including suicide which most decidedly removes you from the gene pool. Suicide is not a trait that tends to be shared by our animal relations, and apparent exceptions, like whales stranding themselves in shallow water, have a physiological explanation.

C – Cats are not known to take risks above and beyond the call of their feline duty, even if they do occasionally get stuck up a tree!

PRIVACY AND EMBARRASSMENT

* Is anomalous in that no animal species, outside of the human species, seems to be the slightest bit concerned with privacy (not to be confused with territoriality or personal space, rather just privacy from being observed under certain conditions or in certain situations usually of a sexual or bodily function nature). Nor do animals, unlike humans, suffer any form of embarrassment. That suggests that there is no evolutionary or survival aspect to the need for privacy or the suffering of being embarrassed. Somehow, in humans alone (but not yet in babies or infants), these concepts have been imprinted onto our collective psyche. Imprinted by whom? What is the ultimate origin and how far back does it go? Why is it so? Who knows! But the upshot is that this has to be a cultural quirk; it’s certainly not a biological one.

* There are apparently two real taboo places in human society where intruders are not welcome: the bedroom and the bathroom, or put another way, sex and bodily functions, where privacy is paramount and when violated, embarrassment ensues. The latter especially is puzzling in that bodily functions are universal. Every human has to go to the bathroom, all women have ‘that time of the month’, so why these should be embarrassments if witnessed by others is anomalous. That’s also highlighted in that sex and bodily functions are not biological events which animals find requires privacy or causes embarrassment to them if witnessed by others.

* Nudity per se doesn’t seem to be the root cause, as people seem to be way less shy of appearing nude in fairly standard social situations than when engaged in more personal bedroom/bathroom matters that require exposure.

* Embarrassment in humans can be caused by many other oops events, maybe comical, like wearing mismatched socks, maybe somewhat more serious like splitting your pants in public. But if an equivalent event happens to an animal, no such reaction comes to the fore. For example, if you stumble and fall down, piss your pants, or vomit in public, you’re embarrassed. If an animal does the equivalent, it just picks itself up and acts like nothing unusual transpired. Animals don’t blush.

C – Cats don’t care if you or another cat sees them mate or go to the litter box. They don’t suffer embarrassment and they don’t blush.

CATS

C – Its only fair to ask in regards to my feline comparison, does a cat have any anatomical or physiological or behavioural feature unique to them and only them? The surprising answer is yes. Cats purr, and the reasons why and how are still not well understood. Humans don’t purr. No other animal purrs. Their big cat relatives don’t purr, but then again lions and tigers, etc. roar, and your pet pussy cat doesn’t. So perhaps the two vocalizations are related from way back when they all had a common ancestor! But purr or roar, there appears to be no evolutionary drawbacks, just positive survival benefits like warning off rival lions (my roar is louder than your roar) or mother/kitten bonding in cats.

CONCLUSIONS

* There are four possible explanations for the various anomalies associated with the existence of the modern human species relative to our alleged ancestral stock which goes right back to the chimpanzees. In descending order of probability, IMHO, there’s the simulated universe scenario inhabited by us as virtual entities (created by ‘persons’ or things unknown and probably forever unknowable); there’s artificial selection (the ancient astronaut theory); there’s natural selection (the Darwinian biological evolution concept); and way, way last, by a wide, wide margin, there’s supernatural creation (the dust-and-rib theory and variations thereof).

* Why this ordering of probabilities? There are many paths to a simulated universe, from wetware to software, via extraterrestrials or maybe a future ‘human’ society, that it borders on the near inevitable. There’s but one pathway to the artificial selection scenario, though that too is just about inevitable. There are many issues to be had with natural selection as this essay demonstrates, though that’s the standard model. Lastly, the concept of an all-perfect supernatural deity who would screw up things so royally is laughable – as is the concept of a supernatural deity in the first place.

* The interesting bit is that a virtual reality simulation could easily be a simulation of an ‘ancient astronaut’ generated artificial selection, or Darwinian natural selection, or even a supernatural creator deity! Truth be known, only the simulated universe scenario makes any real sense, IMHO, because therein, “anything goes”, and when it comes to the problems with human evolution, one needs an “anything goes” explanation.