Vinnie, the Evolutionary Mechanic
Evolution is very practical. And cheap. It doesn’t reinvent shit if it doesn’t have to. Think of the cheapest ass landlord you ever had, the guy for whom no repair required an expert beyond his own steadfast intuitions and a roll of duct tape. The same guy who handed you a cheese grater when the garbage disposal failed. Now combine this guy with the most unscrupulous auto mechanic (hey, why should we give this guy a new axle when Vinnie here can straighten out this old one in the shop vice?) and you will begin to understand how evolution works. Just about everything in you is recycled or refashioned from something else that has been around in one form or another since the first couple cells joined together into tubes and started ingesting and excreting.
Need eyes? No problem, I got a star fish here with warts that detect ambient light, I bet we can fix those up for you into some super smart eyes.
Need nerves? Bingo Bango! I got squids over here makin’ nerves the size of New Jersey. What, are you kidding me?
Need hair, feathers or a shell? Lemme get Vinnie right on that, he’s got a pile of old fish scales laying around here somewhere.
Need lungs? Don’t have that but we got some swim bladders here that in a couple million years should do just fine.
Need a brain? Jeez, that’s easy. I got nerve bundles, I got brain stems, I got amygdalas, I got olfactory bulbs, I got fully loaded low density myelinated white matter up the wazoo! You want a what? A human brain? Well let’s see. Let’s just take that brain stem over there, scoop some alligator brains on top, put another scoop of cortex on that and slap some of this here new fangled neocortex on top of the whole wad and bam! There ya go, another satisfied customer.
All Hail the Neocortex
In evolution’s defense, the human neocortex is a rather remarkable adaptation. Just a wispy thin sheet, six cell layers thick, draped over the rest of an ordinary cortex. Its characteristic folds (sulci) and ridges (gyri) are an elegant solution to the problem of how to pack more brains into a hard skull. Make that skull any bigger and it’s gonna be one bad trip out the vagina, someone’s gonna die. But the folds in the neocortex increase its total surface area more than four fold, from about 78 sq. inches were it smooth, to a whopping 360 sq. inches, all without increasing volume. Problem solved. Yes, your neocortex is a super smart Thomas’ English Muffin. It is also 77% of your brain’s total volume, more than the cortex of any other creature on Earth. This wrinkled sheet contains 20 billion neurons. Those neurons are joined by an estimated 150 trillion synaptic connections. That is this many: 150,000,000,000,000. It packs more computing power than any other device on Earth, living, dead, mechanical, biological. And you can make one easier than you can make a Lego Deathstar. But be warned, they cost a lot more.
This amazing neocortex of ours is the source of every literary work, artistic expression, scientific and technological breakthrough, social and cultural advance. It is the engine behind the Merchant of Venice, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, MRIs, the Polio Vaccine, Quantum Mechanics, Cities, Bullet Trains, Constitutions, Bills of Rights.
Check the Stats
But Evolution couldn’t give a shit about any of that highfalutin stuff. There is only one metric of importance in the big game of life: reproduction. So is the neocortex a success? Let’s look at the numbers:
Human population 100,000 year ago: ~10,000.
Human population today: 7,000,000,000.
Keep in mind that 100,000 years on an evolutionary time scale is equivalent to a single blink in the course of your entire life. It’s not even enough time to test whether two testicles are better than twelve, though we all know the answer to that. That’s not a population explosion folks, it’s a Type II population supernova, a population Big Bang if you will.
Mother Nature tried her best to keep us in check and for the first couple of millennia it kind of worked. Eat plague, monkeys! Suck down this influenza! Choke on some malaria! Smallpox, Typhus, TB, Cholera, Polio. But when our clever Big Brains got involved these scourges were largely handled, now no more threatening than bullets to Superman.
Our massive neocortex has also removed the yoke placed on most species’ population size: starvation. We are masters of flora and fauna, plunderers of the oceans, domesticators of dangerous herd animals, terraformers of worlds. We will gather it. We will plant it. We will fabricate it. We will raise it. We will slaughter it. We will cook it or cure it. We will eat it raw. And in a serious pinch we will even eat each other. Neocortex, you rock.
Even the very perturbations of Planet Earth itself are no longer a match for our brawny neocortex : Ice Ages, Volcanism, Floods, Earthquakes, Tornados, Hurricanes, Locust Storms! Far from cataclysmic, these events are effective only at scratching trailer parks, towering brick hovels and nuclear power plants off the crusty mantle. They are no match for the neocortex.
Whatever is thrown at us, our big brains figure out a way to keep us multiplying faster than yeast in hot pants on a Georgia summer’s day. So does this neocortex shit work? You bet your ass it does.
The Real Hero: Humping.
But let’s pay homage to the other reason for our species’ success. It’s not poetry, or music or medicine nor is it empathy, wit or will. It’s horniness, horn-doggery and humping.
That’s right, horniness. We are hands down the horniest life form ever to sully this planet. Rut? Estrous? Biological clocks? That shit is for prudes and prey. We get it on when we want, where we want and however the fuck kinky way we want. Compared to our libidos, salmon crashing head first up miles of rocky rapids look like a bunch of eunuchs parading around in a cloistered monastery. Have you ever seen an alligator wacking off along the river bank every time that voluptuous, scaly caiman from up-river swims by?
Yes, big brains are important. But without horniness they are a non-starter. Consider this, there may have been half a dozen human sub-species that came and went because they were too damn busy solving the mysteries of the Universe to get down to some good old-fashioned, population replenishing, fornication. It doesn’t matter if you know the secrets of Dark Matter if you don’t also take the time to hit some hot and wet matter. Oh yeah, I went there. You and your astounding knowledge, artistry, talents, whatever, can enjoy a brief blip of relevancy while us human heathens fuck you and your kind straight into extinction.
But don’t believe for a second that the credit lies with perpetually horn-dogging dudes. If not for women’s willing participation in this fuck-fest we would be nothing but a stump on the tree of evolution. Despite their frequent complaints about our sexual obsession it is women who drive the libido wagon. Just in case you can’t hear the sound of their eggs screaming for fertilization, women harbor a reservoir of proven tricks deep in their DNA to effectively crank up the volume on their call to copulate. They appeal to our primitive reptilian olfactory senses with an array of manufactured pheromones. They tantalize our ancient avian visual systems with shiny trinkets and elaborate plumage. They strut, dance, and gyrate with all the sultry and come-hither allure validated eons ago in the wildly enticing gesticulations of the female sea cucumber in heat. Ladies, men only think about sex, sex and more sex because that’s all you are saying to us.
The clamor coming from the women readers should be approaching a roaring din right about now. “We aren’t always acting sexy!!” And this is true. But realize that one rain drop going up does not stop the deluge. For every woman bristling in a moment of dampened sexual energy, there are ten more around her lobbing hand grenades of love. Not to mention the non-stop barrage from our arts, music, advertisements, television, films and just about every human endeavor that all eventually boil down to some or other bearing on penis and vagina.
So be thankful you have a big brain stuffed full of neocortex but also be thankful you are a serious horn-dog. Alarmists will say that things have gone too far (as they always have and will), that we are too successful in our reproduction, that we are too successful in our manipulation of the environment. But I for one am confident. Confident that our Big Brains will help us right the course. Confident that our libidos will remain unassuaged. And I am horny. Good thing too, because without a chronic overflow of sexual impulses there would be no art, no science, no civilization, no bikes, no blogs, no Greg Bot 2012, no people. So stay smart and stay horny.