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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-06-26 05:36
Subject: [science] Evolutionary overdesign in the East African Plains Ape
Security: Public
Tags:cool, nature, religion, science
A topic of conversation that's cropped up several times recently is the question of evolutionary overdesign in the East African Plains Ape, also known as Homo sapiens. Which is to say, us.

Consider some of the basic performance specs for said plains ape.
  • Sustained running speed of 8 mph

  • Bursted running speed of 12 mph

  • Daily walking range of 20 miles

  • Deadweight lifting capacity 50-100% of body weight

  • Throwing accuracy to twenty yards

  • Sufficient social organization for group hunting and long-term foraging

So this five to six foot tall ape that runs about as fast as a moderately slow herd animal and can knock fruit out of a tree with a rock goes on to do what…
  • Pilot an aircraft upside down at 900 mph 100 feet above the earth

  • Break the four minute mile and run ultra marathons

  • Invent cost accounting and actuarial tables

  • Compose breathtaking symphonies

  • Build thousand-mile-long walls

  • Create instruments that see through time almost to the beginning of the Universe

How is any of that implied in the design specs? What was the evolutionary selection pressure that gave us the capacity for differential calculus or pentatonic scales? Why can anyone manage a parachute jump or a deep sea dive? How does looking for ripe fruit in the jungle canopy correspond to hunting for exoplanets?

Our species' evolutionary overdesign allows us to work marvels, every day. I am continually astonished at all we do, from small tasks in the kitchen to the workings of entire cultures the world over.

if I were sufficiently deranged and mentally incapacitated to be a Creationist, I would take all this as evidence for a Creator or an Intelligent Designer. Since I actually have a logical mind capable of empirical thinking, I take this a signifier of the majesty of nature and all her creations.

We don't need to look to the world of the imaginary for miracles. We are miracles.

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User: browngirl
Date: 2012-06-26 16:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is a gorgeous, uplifting post.
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User: quaero_verum
Date: 2012-06-26 16:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
May I suggest that believing that we were created rather than somehow coming from nothing doesn't undermine the idea that we are indeed miracles. Neither does it mean that one is incapable of empirical thinking.

No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot - philosophically, theologically or scientifically - wrap my head around the idea that there was no divine creative force behind the universe and all of the resultant reality. For every effect, there must be a cause. And yes, infinite regression and all that...but despite our miraculous status, our brains cannot transcend the regression because inifinty is, well, infinite.

Which of course does not even begin to explain the cause of the divine creator....but.....that's what mystery is for.

For the record, I share your astonishment at the width and breadth and depth of human creation, ingenuity and imagination. Thinking that it is God who made us this way doesn't change any of those things one iota.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-06-26 16:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Note that I am denying Creationism, not a Creator. I am comfortable with the idea of a Creator as First Cause. However, I think the idea of Young Earth Creationism and its Siamese twin Intelligent Design are pure, simplistic idiocy.
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User: quaero_verum
Date: 2012-06-26 17:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ditto. ;-)
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: bad girls marlene make my day
User: matociquala
Date: 2012-06-26 17:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bad girls marlene make my day
Actually, we're the best endurance runner on the planet, bar none--and faster at a sprint than horses and many other herd animals. (A horse beats a human over a quarter mile. But the human wins over 100 yards.)

In pre-projectile days, we probably hunted by running our prey down until it gave up and quit, then walking up and stabbing it.

So the marathon is a baseline accomplishment, not an extreme one--except in these desk-job days.

As for the rest of it--we stand on the shoulders of those who came before. It's not as if Hypatia of Alexandria just sat down and figured out differential calculus from scratch (it took a while longer before anybody got there, as I recall). Knowledge is iterative. You figure out a few things, and then so does your kid.
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Jay Lake: tech-sythnoscope
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-06-26 17:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In steam engine time comes the steam engine woman.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2012-06-27 02:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I beg to differ on your main premise. We are not evolutionarily over designed. Once you you have the curiosity and capacity to pick up a rock and modify it, and tell others how to do it, there's no stopping you in the long run. All the rest is an extension of that.

"What more can I do with this rock?" is the only question we've ever asked, really.
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User: cissa
Date: 2012-07-04 07:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We're like border collies. If we don't have requirements to keep us busy, we'll INVENT stuff to keep us busy.

Hence calculus, et alia.

I think that's pretty cool.
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