Posts Tagged ‘evolution’


The Seven Deadly Really Sucky Things

It just so happens that today, the 9th of November in the year 2016, I am rereading Richard Leakey’s  1994 take on how we became what we’ve become, “The Origin of Humankind” . The timing of the read was dictated by nothing more than it being the only hardback book on hand after relocating to Italy, but it all seems somehow prescient upon awakening this morning.


Donald Trump has been elected to be President of The United States. Wow. Aside from underlining just how good an idea it was to leave the US almost 25 years ago, there are no positive points to this now being the actual reality. (Had it been scripted and edited as ‘reality shows’ actually are, no one would ever have believed this situation even remotely possible … no matter how clever the contrived convolutions.)

The New York Times conveniently compiled a list of The Donald’s tacky snipes , so there’s no reason to dwell on the nasty divisiveness that spews forth from His Orangeness, but it does rub against the grain even more abrasively when juxtaposed aside the anthropological construct that says humanity itself … the very basics of what makes humans human and separates us from apes … began evolutionarily with sharing.

As Leakey states in his 1981 book, “The Making of Mankind”, sharing is THE factor that puts us where we are, “ … the food sharing hypothesis is a strong candidate for explaining what set early humans on the road to modern man.”

The Smithsonian’s Richard Potts notes in “Early Hominid Activities at Olduvai”:

The home-base, food-sharing hypothesis integrates so many aspects of human behavior and social life that are important to anthropologists — reciprocity systems, exchange, kinship, subsistence, division of labor and language.

Yet 1.5 million years later where are we?

We are in a world that just made a lying bigot with zero experience, no integrity, ethics or morals the most powerful man on the planet, not only suggesting democracy is a failed system, but also that evolution has come to naught. Sharing made us human, now not sharing will reduce us to whatever form of cockroach-like scramblers we are destined to become as Earth revolts against perpetual rape and some learn the hard way that avarice is actually one of the seven deadly sins.

And … just FYI …

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kägˈni sh ən
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

It seems science is well on the way to proving that, yes indeed, thoughts actually are things, but not in ways many like to consider them to be. Creative visualization for example, the process of wishful thinking that is said to have the power to produce desired results, could now be touted as little more than a molecule doing the backstroke in chemical soup.

It’s this article titled “Evolution of cognition might be down to brain chemistry”, in New Scientist that’s stirring the chowder this morning:

“Brain metabolism probably played an important role in evolution of human cognition,” Khaitovich says, “and one of the potentially most important changes was in glutamate metabolism.”

Glutamate is the “brain’s main energy metabolite”, he says. “And as the main excitatory neurotransmitter it is responsible for virtually every possible cognitive task, including learning and memory.”

Apparently glutamate is not thought, but rather the chemical that “that energises brain cells and ferries messages between them” — the grease on the wheels, so to speak — but there’s no doubt a search is on for the chemical … a combo of chems, perhaps tweaked with a jolt of electro-juice? … that is ideas and concepts.

How much of who and what we are is simple biology — not “simple” in an it’s-easy-to-grasp way, but will someday be a cinch to quantify — is a question I ponder often these days.

David Kingsley of Stanford University in California was not involved in the study, but his team recently revealed genetic differences accounting for humans’ larger brains. “It’s clear that humans have accumulated some interesting differences in the thinking regions of the brain,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how such differences arise from changes in our genomes and those of our closest relatives.”

Are we nothing more than a link on an evolutionary chain with reactions dictated by a dollop of this and a drip of that? Do we fall in love because the smell of someone trips a switch that floods our brain with a feel-good bisque? Is art created out primal dictates to pass along DNA? Are dreams just random spurts in some electro-chemical tango that hears sleep as a beat? Is thirst for knowledge simply an inner empty road we’re primed to navigate for the heck of it?

If this is all we are, biological beings at the mercy of meat and related juice, then … well … the point would be … ?

As meat au jus with glutamate, and whatever else has yet to be identified … My Self Glutamate sounds tenderizing … perhaps all these thought things are merely distractions; jingling keys that draw attention away from the tedious process of living only to eat, shit and reproduce, the true mandates if there is nothing more to us.

What we are has longed seemed to me a waste of evolutionary energy, however. If a hummingbird developed speedy wings and a long beak to fit a niche … if mandrills grew glorious asses because dense jungle habitat favored those who could keep track of others … if hibernation preserved life in cold climates (and, yes, all that did happen) … then why, oh why, did humans become so over-engineered in the thoughts/dreams/creation department instead of growing thicker hair and perfecting the art of arboreal living?

Why must the chemicals in my head put words into verse? What is the evolutionary benefit in concertos and cubism? Where does a broken heart fit into the picture? And why is there any picture at all?

If all this thought stuff is just a series of shiny objects grabbing our attention for a while as we plod, perhaps they’re what keep us plodding. Maybe the chemical for ego is the difference between offing ourselves out of sheer boredom and sticking around long enough to eat, shit and reproduce.

Given the state of the world, however, that prospect seems an evolutionary shot that backfired since just about everything else on our planet would be better off were we not so wrapped up in what we think are our thoughts, and may very well result in us doing ourselves in.

Awash in MSG as I am at the moment, I can’t help but go back to the combo of chemicals that has me asking again:

And the point would be … ?

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Yesterday’s post on You=tube and being all DaDaDandy needs a follow, and although I’m far from growing wings and going chirpy I may possibly have something percolating between synapses that offers other than gloom for a Tuesday.

When in discussions with folks who subscribe to Life is Short and Then You Die and That’s All She Wrote line of thought, one question that pops into mind is: Why?

Not, “Why do you think this is all there is?”, because that actually makes a lot of sense, but “Why?” as a broader issue.

Although I do understand the biological imperative we carry to find meaning to life in our efforts to figure out what’s going on and therefore somehow protect ourselves with the result being we stick around longer, that doesn’t feel quite enough to get us to the point of doing so so well.

In the course of evolution, changes in species arise because something new and different works, and works well enough and is repeated often enough to have those with it make more others than those without. Many new adaptations are very costly involving trade-offs in expenditures of energy.

Bright coloring in male birds, for instance, takes more energy, but results in breeding opportunities, so it works and is worth it.

Humans stand rather than crawl after developing big ass muscles, an improvement on mobility allowing us to use our hands which led to tool making and a decent living for manicurists. The ability to use tools made killing big stuff possible so we starting living in groups … which spread the cost a bit as the society as well as individuals anted up … and talking to each other so we could manage to deal with mammoth leftovers.

Fine. DadaDandy, even.

Where the evolutionary sense runs off the rails for me, however, is where we got so bloody smart.

Where is the biological imperative in moving from beating on a log while blowing through a reed to Mozart? For that matter, why did we start blowing on reeds in the first place? Chimps have been around as long as we have and done well without making music, so what is it in us that needs it to soothe the savage breast?

What good has it done our species to build extra brain making it possible to turn completely effective grunts to poetry, to develop compassion to the point of giving the shirts off our back to help another in need and the determination to go where no one has gone before even when we well know there’s a dearth of fruiting trees in them thar hills?

Big brains need a lot of calories to form and to work. Why go that way when longer arms or wings or bigger lungs may have served better?

If there’s one thing going on making me suspect there’s more than one thing going on, it would be that we’re over-engineered for what’s needed for survival in this world. Because that over-engineering is so expensive, it seems there must be a better reason for it than simple process of effective mutation explains, and because of that there just might be more to us.

So, from a Monday to a Tuesday, and from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to a philosopher of our time, Yoda …

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

Perhaps …

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I’ve been asked to come up with some thoughts on Alien Beings … this is what spilled out.

I am often invaded by thoughts that would to someone else feel alien; weird, formless phantoms that interrupt my work and set me to following bright, shiny objects instead of concentrating on matters at hand.

And what do I do when so annexed? I pull up a chair, pour some tea … or wine, if the hour is right … and invite my visitor to settle in for a while and share whatever it is they’ve popped into to ponder with me.

Today my alien is an alien, and although alien is the most easily accessible word for this guy, he’s not actually alien in the least …

… unless, of course, we all are.

And we are. Or, at least, I am. I don’t presume to speak for anyone else and understand many are distinctly uncomfortable with any notion suggesting they’ve ever been anything else or have even the smallest shred of anything else anywhere in their makeup.

Like the legions of folks who resent the hell out of any implication there might be shared DNA between them and … say … a chimp, others are right pissed off when handed a card reading: What you see is NOT what you are.

Sputter … gasp … choke … but, but, but …

But as I said, I’m only speaking for myself here, and this is what I am, and am not: a human woman of a certain age living on a small island in the Indian Ocean on Planet Earth.

It’s true. But not the complete truth.

I am also:

1) A result of millions of years of evolution

2) A system of biological functions

3) A transport service for a bunch of other beings that digest my food, live in my eyelashes and occasionally make me feel like shit.

4) Energy

The first three are a brief sum of what I am NOW. The fourth is what I am ALWAYS.

Given our biology and our residence, albeit very brief, on Earth, it’s an easy thing to forget the bigger neighborhood. FFS … how many people in Podunk, McMiddleAmerica forget Africa? We get all wrapped up in blankets and burritos and Manolo Blahnik and begin to assume this is what it’s all about … and all there is.

Boring. Limited. And a fucking waste of time and energy if it were the case. But it’s not, at least not in my world.

And, yes, I have a world. I’d say we all do, but that would be pushing the edges of this post’s envelope since I’m sticking to just me and my alien.

We’re one and the same, you see …

I was born Sandra, but before I was Sandra I was. (Okay … maybe not before, since time is an option, but for sake of not spinning this head off my axis and setting out after another shiny object, I’m sticking to linear for reasons of convenience.) It’s very likely I was born before, in the sense that I emerged from a human woman, grew, walked around and all the stuff I do now, only under different circumstances and geography. I have memories and experiences from stuff that happened impacts stuff that happens.

Some people and places draw me, some situations terrify me, some things give comfort and others make me extremely uncomfortable and I have no doubt reasons reach back further than my years.

Because I am, for the moment, human, it is not within my realm to assimilate experiences I had when not human, nor are those relevant. For one thing this little brain I have, all biochemical and wired for NOW, couldn’t process the data, but I do get to access it once I shuck the biological shell.

Not at all Earthcentric, I don’t assume every dance I’ve been to happened here; no, I’m sure my card has been many times filled with waltzes I couldn’t presently recognize if they stomped on my toes and called me Sweetie.

This is a big-ass hanging universe … and it’s just the one we have some idea of presently … and stuck here, as I am, on this little blue marble in my skin I have a lot to deal with through my three-score-and-ten, or whatever I end up with. I’m here for reasons I knew before I arrived, but programed to forget; a set up I like to think of as my way of making sure I don’t cheat.

I’m a blob of energy … even on those days I don’t want to drag my ass out of bed … doing the Macarena through time and space paying no attention to speed limits (I thumb my nose at 186,000 miles per second), temporarily confined to quarters. I’m a single cell in a massive organism free to move about after doing whatever it is I’m to do here and now. I’m an alien being from another world doing time on Earth. I’m a harbinger of doom, a ray of hope, dark matter, bright light.

Ah … what the fuck …

As Popeye so succinctly put it: I yam what I yam.

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