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Name: Harold D.
Status: Educator
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: December 2002

In the process of human evolution, how was it possible for humans to get so smart in such a small amount, (~3 million years), of time?

Interesting question...Although I consider 3 million years quite a while to evolve (about 10,000 human generations!). First off it depends on what one considers "smart". My dog must think I am pretty dumb by missing many of the sounds and odors that allow him to detect so much of the natural world that passes me by. Our intellectual ability is partially tied to our advanced ability to communicate in speech and written form. This has allowed the human species to advance and accumulate its knowledge rapidly. This is somewhat supported by the impact movable text had on our history. No doubt the human is an amazing species but so also are its primate cousins. As a physiologist I often find many of what many people take for granted in their body as minor miracles of complexity...swallowing, tasting hot peppers.

If I choose any one of the senses and try understand it I am overwhelmed by the amount of detail, integration and complexity that makes the sense work...much of which we do not understand. I find most of the "understanding" of the sensory organs is exhibited in our mimicry of them in the crude machines we build, any single one of which seems ingenious...a video camera for example. But any mammal is such a complex system. I have heard said that even our basic biochemical pathways are so complex that evolution could not have created us...sometimes referred to as irreducible complexity. Some scientists/philosophers have used the mouse trap as an analogy and stated that if any part of the trap is eliminated it cannot work so how could it have evolved? To me this is a supreme example of dearth of understanding of simple animal systems and evolution in addition to an equivalent absence of imagination.

I consider it a different way. I consider living systems as INCOMPREHESIBLY COMPLEX. I nevertheless, believe we are products of evolution from the immense amount of evidence that supports it and from how no other explanation fits so well with the evidence.

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Office of Science
Department of Energy

A very complex question. A new article in online Scientific American addresses the question: AF71809EC588EEDF

J. Elliott

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