“There was a sequence of increasing complexity and perfection, reaching its apogee, of course, in civilized man.”
–Alice Roberts, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being.
On my advanced state, I am getting high.
Behold my multitude of adaptations!
Look through the shiny window of my eye
And see my brain, the seat of cogitations!
How glorious my many complications!
How wonderful my placement under skies
That are mere planetary exhalations
And lack my human power to realize!
But, if you smirking, whiskey-bibbing guys
Challenge my evolutionary status
And suggest that my braininess ain’t wise
And offer your subversive queries gratis,
Look it up – and you’ll see that I am right!
The entry’s “Evolutionary Height.”
(Note: Some time ago, a Facebook friend started a thread on evolutionary matters, as viewed from a Christian perspective, and on his own thread posted the ludicrous comment that there was nothing in the universe more complicated than the human brain.
I reacted to this arrogant and unscientific formulation with the scorn that it deserved. I confess that I wasn’t thinking solely in evolutionary terms. It seemed clear to me that, however complex the human brain became, and, yea, even if it became the brain of the Hulk supervillain known as the Leader, it could never be the most complex object in the universe. My simple little brain told me that even the imaginary superbrain was only a part of the body, so that, if the brain was complicated, the body of which it was a part had to be even more complicated.
This is Aristotelian – and maybe even Scholastic – logic. But it’s not a bit less valid in its proper context for all that. It has all the overwhelming force of a geometric proof, at least as far as I can see.
And beyond this argument, of course, if you really know your Darwin, you know that all this humans-as-the-apex-of-biological-evolution stuff is ridiculous. Human beings are really rather undeveloped animals. No man can even take on a chimp in an arm-wrestle, let alone engage in hand-to-paw combat with a tiger. The human brain is much smaller than the elephant brain and presumably contains fewer neurons. Plus, if there’s life elsewhere in the universe, there may be biological brains many times as complex as any brain on earth. If humans are exceptional, it may be because of something in their brains – but it’s not because their brains are the most complex objects in the universe. Q.E.D.
I didn’t get to express my scorn in these terms on the Facebook thread. My Facebook friend abruptly cut me off. How was it possible for us to say that the human brain was the most complicated blah, blah, blah? My Facebook friend told me: “You could look it up!” Another participant in the thread – a science writer in the Boston area – appeared to think that I was some sort of naïve Biblical fundamentalist, as he imagined that category. More arrogance from the most complicated brains in the universe! He referred me to “The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being,” by Alice Roberts, as a place to start in revising my mistaken worldview.
And there my involvement in the great controversy concluded.
Now I know why my Facebook friend excluded me from the realm of acceptable discourse. He at least could not have supposed that I was unfamiliar with evolutionary theory. He understands that I know Darwin a lot better than he does. My Facebook friend was worried about something altogether other.
He thought I was going to go off on his science writer friend. He thought I was going to start pouring forth abusive Spenserian sonnets. “Contra me loquebantur qui sedebant in porta et cantabant bibentes vinum.” And, although I didn’t have this course of action on my mind when I was cut off, my Facebook friend was probably right. In the long run, that’s the kind of thing that I always do.
So was I too guilty of arrogance? Not at all. I went and did the assignment. I acquired and read “The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being.”
It wasn’t a bad book. It wasn’t something I really needed to read, since I already knew Darwin and his heirs pretty darn well. But it wasn’t a bad book.
And it was well worth the trouble for a reason that my Facebook professors didn’t even imagine. Dr. Alice Roberts turned out to be the most gorgeous biologist who’d ever directed a dissection. Ouch, that girl was a babe! I would be joyfully present in her lecture hall every day of the week, though I might have trouble concentrating on the class material.
Besides, when I read the book, I found that my new evolutionary girlfriend – characterized as an “anatomist,” no less! – explicitly took my side in the brain controversy, not the side of my opponents. All that beauty and rectitude, too! In the passage quoted above, the Goddess of Darwinism is mocking the very arrogance that I sneered at! She’s dismissing it as a corruption of Darwinian theory. She too thinks that it’s positively imbecilic to say such things as, “The human brain is the most complicated object in the universe.”
And, naturally, since she agrees with me, she’s right.