Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[science] Evolutionary overdesign in the East African Plains Ape

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.

Tags: cool, nature, religion, science

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