About Me

My photo
I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Friday, April 6, 2012

How did We Really Get Here...and Why?

This little piece of dwelling has...uh...evolved (hehe) out of the few conversations that we've had about evolution and human design, and such. Did we evolve through random chance? Were we stuck here, in the form that we enjoy today, from "day one"? Why do we have the form that we have?

First, and I can't stress this more: I don't know. BUT, as Socrates was apt to say: "I'll be glad to inquire into it with you."

So my basic thinking is that we are where we are as a net result of an initial design augmented by evolution, some gradual and some spontaneous, some at least somewhat random and some as a result of environmental pressures.

First, CarrieBoo raises a question about my thoughts: Are you saying that only humans are "designed"?
No; it is my thinking that not only humans benefited from an early design. From years of training in engineering, I have become very adverse to making sweeping assertions, so I'm not going to assert that ALL life forms enjoyed design, but for the life of me, I can't put my finger on one that might NOT have been designed.

From the eating meat conversation, Lions, Tigers, Sharks, and other pointy-toothed animals appear to me to have been designed to eat meat. Anteaters? Not so much. Although, are bugs meat? Hmm...

Well, cows, horses, bison, and other not-so-pointy-toothed animals appear to me to have been designed to eat plants.

These designs don't stop at eating meat, though. It takes a different sort of digestive system to eat meat as compared to eating plant. Cows have four stomachs to do that. Lions have sharp claws for catching their meat.

Giraffes live off of twigs and leaves. Unfortunately, very often the plants that they eat are nestled away among thorny branches. What's to be done? Nothing! They have long, tough tongues to contend with just that problem! Convenient, eh?

The Aye-Aye is a specific type of lemur. It lives off of grubs that they find in trees. And when I say "in trees", what I mean is that the grubs are inside of the trees, not among the leaves and such. Without drills and tweezers, how do they get those grubs? Without stethoscopes how do they find them? The Aye-Aye has a long finger on each hand full of otherwise relatively short fingers. They use this one long finger to tap on the wood, and somehow (I suspect echolocation), they can find the grubs inside the tree. They then gnaw a hole in the tree and stick that nice, long finger in to get the grub. Yum!

What a great stroke of luck that they just happened to develop the finger that they need to reach those grubs, and (before starving) figured out how to use it to find them. Very cool, and to me: very designed.

What about those baleen whales that eat krill? Isn't it just a little TOO convenient that they have those filters at the front of their mouths that enable them to catch krill? That's a bit specific, I think. For a random process to look around, review all the possible food sources, and come up with 'I want to eat those tiny things, I'll need a colander to pull them out of the water...here's a colander', that seems a little to the side of random. Pure evolution would state that the early whales with that colander made it more probable that the whales survived to pass on its genes. I think that the whale that ate the large stuff instead would have had a better chance of that. It's got to be easier to catch a ton of shrimp than a thousand tons of much smaller things.

Now, it may be that evolution is nothing more than the designer making minor changes and tweaks to the design over time. I've worked in product development for almost my entire engineering career, and this is really how products are developed. I've drawn this analogy in my head many times over the years, and sometimes I think it's genius, and other times I think it's hysterical, but it's always entertaining to me.

Concept: This is where an idea is born. Someone gets the notion like "hey, we should build a gizmo". In God's head, this would have looked like "Hey, how about a 'life form'...something to watch run around on this little exercise wheel'

Feasibility: Where some research is conducted and enough work goes on to determine that this idea is possible. In God's lab, this looks like single-celled organisms, perhaps simple multi-celled ones. Just proving that it could work.

Development: Work goes on in earnest to develop this gizmo for real. Designs are gradually developed and refined, Prototypes are made and tested, flaws cause the design to be refined and reworked...this is a cyclical and iterative stage. God would make this look like the Cambrian through Permian eras of earth's past. Oops! We're not going quite the right direction, we're going to have to redesign and rework. Or: Triassic through Cretaceous.

Manufacturing Pilot: We work at building devices in a manufacturing environment, and refining the design for manufacturability. It's a design improvement step to make a more refined product. God will call this the Mesozoic, specifically the Paleogene and perhaps the Neogene.

Manufacturing: We all know what this is: the rise of man! The Quaternary!

During many of these steps and phases, changes creep into the design, some purposely and some less so, but always improving on the basic design and making things gooder. Sometimes something "falls into the vat" and results in a spontaneous improvement (or deterioration), and we can call this random evolution.

Random? Hmmm...the Grumpy IT Guy suggests that there's nothing random about this process. The way that I interpret what he's saying, it sounds like evolution is a response to some external pressure.

I always wondered why it might be that there are white folks running around the planet. I assume that since man came first out of Africa, and today's Africans are dark-skinned, then the first Africans must also have been dark skinned. Which means that whites showed up when man moved north. Why would that be? Why would they turn white? Changing the design takes energy. The external pressure argument would suggest that there must have been an evolutionary advantage to becoming white.

In talks with a Nigerian friend of mine, he had been having similar thoughts. He tells me that when you move north, you don't have the same access to the sun that you have in the south. Being that we need to be able to get that all-important vitamin D out of the sun (which is different from non-solar vitamin D), you need a more efficient method to do that. The more efficient method: white skin.

This is a great theory as to why we got white skin. It demonstrates the evolution-by-pressure argument nicely. Is it true and accurate? I don't know, but it answers questions nicely.

I also like the argument that as climate change caused the jungles that early man lived in change to savanah, early man developed his upright posture, which helped him keep a better watch-out over the plains, and to carry food around, and also to move more efficiently across the plains. This is another argument for evolution-by-pressure.

OR, it could be that man developed his upright posture, and the earth changed to suit him! Pfpt! hehe.

CarrieBoo watched a show on Chaos Theory, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that any given evolutionary solution would show up more than once. But statistical theory, as I understand it, dictates that any given solution should eventually show up again. On the other hand, you might have to experience all those countless pressures and variations in a certain order. This is an interesting black hole of thought. I'm sure that it'll germinate in my hollow head.

You know what random evolution doesn't account for (for me, at least)? Redundant design. Why would we, along with so many other species, have two kidneys? They do the same things as each other...why two? Two eyes and two ears I understand the value of.

What's the advantage of 5 digits as opposed to 4? Why are there the same number of digits on our feet that there are on our hands? In fact, most animals that have digits have this parity (4 up front, 4 in the back, for instance), no matter the number of digits that they have: always the same parity. If random evolution is so unusual as to make it nearly impossible for a given solution to appear repeatedly, why this constancy? Or rather, how?

Finally, on a spiritual note, we have "Through evolution, could humans have evolved souls?

Wow...what a provocative thought. I think that I'd love to sit around a table with you, CarrieBoo. "COULD" they? Sure! Why not? Does this question presume that non-humans do NOT have souls? Does my dog have a soul? Is that what makes her so sweet? If the soul evolved, when did that happen? Why?

Harumph! I don't know!

Ugh...look at me go one! I keep trying to tell my wife that longer is not necessarily better, so I'll move along now with one last suggestion:

I get a lot of my thoughts and information from watching documentaries. If you like documentaries, especially on animals and nature, please go our of your way to watch the movie "Mating Habits of the Earth Bound Human". Hysterical mockumentary narrated by David Hyde Pierce. It's ostensibly a documentary made by aliens on the dating culture of humans. It's awesome.


  1. I like the idea of design with a little bit of random evolution thrown in for variety. After all, we still have to explain the Platypus.

    1. I *love* the Platypus! Extra parts, kind of like how I cook sometimes: look around for what's in the 'fridge, throw it in a large frying pan, add spices and eat.

  2. The point you make about the chaos theory is interesting. Seems that humans are so eager to try to say "That'll never happen again"... Lightning doesn't strike the same place twice... BS. No two snowflakes are alike! I call shenanigans on that one too. I'd like to see it proven.

    1. My father first presented me with the snowflake response: prove it! It's an interesting assertion, and folks just buy it.

      I remember when I was a kid, there was a 'conserve water' commercial on where the spokesman looked at you through the TV and asserted that since the beginning of time, not a single drop of water has been added to the earth's supply. I remember thinking that there was NO WAY that he (or we) could possibly know that; we'd have had to measure that quantity at the beginning of time, and then again today. Another "prove it" moment.

  3. LOL! Everything sounds like a Conspiracy Theory to me these days, even nature!

  4. LOLOL! I am giggling away. I know, I could sit around and question this stuff and have random thoughts 'til my head exploded. Most of it results in getting myself even more confused. I have to think there have been two snowflakes that turned out alike somewhere in history! It's probably possible. :P (I'll pop the kettle on.) :D

  5. P.S. Me thinking about souls and good/evil (and evolution, in a roundabout way) led me to the concept of the book I'm working on. I apparently get just as stuck as you on these things. :) I was looking at how cells worked and the origins of life, from water to land, and then I was wondering where evil came from along the way and what made evil, and why some people were pyschopaths and malignant narcissists (ie, my mother) and thinking that some people truly did lack souls (if "soul" equates a higher level of consciousness -- learning to understand and use the human portion of our brains -- empathy, and morality).

    Well, we'll never be bored. ;)

    1. I don't think that I've ever actually been bored...there's too many interesting things to read and think about!