Before I tackle the tough questions on evolution sent in to me here at Lonesome Pine Science Review Online, let me remind my readers that there are essentially two evolutionary problems. I call them the hard problem and the soft problem. The hard problem is how life got started at all. The soft problem is how it kept going after that. I have given endless thought and work to the hard problem in particular. Every morning I wake up and confront the hard problem. Let’s ignore the obvious joke coming up here, if it’s not too late, and jump straight to your questions.
A talented young lady writes us: What good is an appendix?
Not much these days, dear, but in the Pleistocene Era when Nixon was president, the organ actually hung outside the stomach like a lizard’s tail, and could be broken off and devoured as a delicious, quick protein pick-me-up. Usually you broke off and devoured your own appendix, but it was perfectly acceptable for a family member or close friend to reach over and snap off your appendix and devour it, too. After all, they were with you in the hard game of survival, and a timely appendix treat during a dangerous hunt or exhausting berry roundup provided a real boost. Modern man has lost this characteristic due to the advent of convenience stores, and the appendix has retreated into the interior of the abdomen, out of reach. Man still hungers for appendix but now can only get it on Thursdays at Ponderosa.
An immature boy writes: Why do men have nipples?
Same reason women do, son. Sure, it’s a thin, tasteless gruel that dad produces, and prehistoric fathers nursed only in the most hardscrabble times, but male breasts can come through in a draught or if mom goes hysterical and dries up. Even today, in the library or supermarket, I’ve seen mateless male parents pull out their flat chests and, by squeezing and grunting, produce a dusty, weak meal for junior to suck down. It isn’t clear if the law in all states permits nursing pops to do so in public, but I was in Ohio, a hotbed of decency, and it’s OK there. Tell you what, though. After seeing what dribbled out of an hombre’s teat one day last week in an Ohio Target store, if I were a kid I’d prefer a woman every time.
A conscientious objector writes: We humans only use around 10 to 15 percent of our brains. On the job I have — recycling discount coupons for a grocery store chain — I use maybe only 2 to 3 percent of that. So that’s about three or four pounds of useless gray matter I’m carrying around in my oversized skull, and the same goes for everybody. What’s the point, according to evolutionary theory? Why lug excess brain and head around, when we only need brains the size of tater tots and heads not much bigger? Without all that extra brain and bone, we might be able to jump farther or dive better or something else useful.
No mystery here, guy. Man needs a good-sized head to keep his eyes apart. Next question.
A free spirit writes: What’s the point in being conscious? It seems to me that I do most of my worrying and fretting conscious, and most of the pain and nausea I feel is a result of my being conscious, so why did nature do this to me?
You’ve put your finger on it, friend. The main function of the brain is to turn all sensory input of any kind into shocking, revolting fear. Fear so bad you shake all over and sweat at night. All visual, auditory, and tactile sensations — raw feels, as we scientists call them — are but the beginnings of outlandish, unavoidable, irreducible terror and fear. Fear of everything, terror at all! Once you understand that, you can begin to relax.
Now, it is true that a very, very small part of our brains gives rise to the incredibly profound and abstract thoughts that separate us from the beasts. I mean such deep ratiocinations as “Electric fences make good neighbors,” and “What’s Jennifer Aniston up to right now?” Yet even these profundities cause suffering. In fact, I’m just about worried to death over Jennifer, and if I don’t see her in ten movies and on six magazine covers a week, I can’t hold down my food.
An uncut cowboy writes: How did language evolve, and why?
Well, pard, consider a guy I know named Ralph. Ralph uses language every time he opens his mouth, unless he’s chewing his cud. Roughly, this is what goes on with Ralph. There are two areas in Ralph’s brain, Broca’s area and Werneicke’s area, both named after Swiss physiologists who meant it when they said “Let me pick your brain.” In effect, Wernneicke’s area goes first, offering up a rough draft of what Ralph wants to say, and then Broca’s rewrites it and hands a polished version to Ralph to read out loud. The two areas split the joint fee that Ralph pays them fifty-fifty.
Now, one day Ralph’s Werneicke’s area wanted to say “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” It also wanted to say “Pairs figure skating is between a man and a woman,” since it knew Ralph was running for office, and it wanted to help Ralph poll well. But Ralph’s Broca’s area refused to go along with these statements, since it secretly supported a gay rights amendment to the Constitution. In fact, the two areas of Ralph’s brain belonged to different political parties. The areas exchanged words, and then things got ugly. Broca’s area enlisted Ralph’s right arm to sock Ralph right in the Wernicke’s area, and Wernicke’s area persuaded Ralph’s left arm to slug Ralph right in the Broca’s area. The US Supreme Court is now hearing the case, the areas having decided to sue each other over assault and marriage issues. It’s impossible to say how the court will rule, due to Kennedy’s swing vote and Roberts’s recusal.
To generalize, Werneicke’s area allows you to shoot off your mouth with your foot in it, and Broca’s area allows you to shoot yourself in the foot every time you open your mouth. Thanks to this, man has survived as a species.
That’s all I have space for today. Be sure to email me your questions for next week’s topic: Hearsay on the Heuristics of Hermeneutics.