Sunday, July 6, 2008

But What Do I Know?

I was on the phone yesterday with one of my pastor friends, and he was telling me about a book he’s reading by a. A. I think he’s a psychologist. And he was writing about the brain. Brain physiology. Brain chemistry. Brain morphology. And brain evolution.

And his idea is that the hemispherical structure of the human brain has a great deal to do with how we humans are different from the other species. About how our brains provide in their basic structure the capacity for much greater complexity and shorter connections. And about how complexity and shorter electrical connections make all other emergent human potentialities and capacities possible.

And I went on a rant. I mean, I blew a cork. Reminded me of all the arguments I’ve read. All the essays and books and whatnot I’ve read—particularly in my Anthropology student days—about how we humans are different from all other species and more admirable, better in some way. Essays and books that more or less pat ourselves on the back for being the wonderful species we are.

Oh, you know. Tools, for example. We are tool-users, and other species are not. Then once evidence was collected that no, other species use tools also, it was tool fashioners. Then once evidence was collected that no, other species fashion tools also, it was makers of tools that in turn are used to make other tools.

Other arguments were based on language. On the use of signs and symbols. But then people found that animals used signs and symbols.

All the way along, there were other arguments about complexity. About how complexity is better than simplicity. And we are much more complex than other species.

And so I said that all this is pure speculation that gets bandied about as though it were actual real science. People who are more or less science-sounding spout off trying to differentiate humans from others along lines that really have to do with morality. Directly or indirectly have to do with morality and ethical behavior. With what is good and not so good. What is admirable and not so admirable. What is valuable and not so valuable.

I don’t know about you, but we’re probably the last species that should be making that quite specious argument. I mean, what with the great misery, pain, suffering, death, and destruction that we humans visit upon one another and the members of other species.

My friend threatened to play back to me all the rants that he’s recorded. All my rants that I’ve subjected him to over the years. He’s convinced that later in life I’ll sound like an idiot to myself. A ranting idiot.

He’s probably right.

But I expect that the science-sounding yahoos who speculate that humans, of all the species, are the most wonderful may also later in life find that they also sound like idiots. As long as they’ve done the requisite reading to qualify them as literate and informed about the history of our work as a species here on earth.

When actually coerced into giving a definition of humanity. A definition that will distinguish us from the rest but not contain the odious smell of moral or intellectual superiority. I repeat something I heard in a classroom a very long time ago: featherless bipeds. Sums it up quite nicely, don’t you think? Featherless bipeds.

All in all, I'd rather have the feathers.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

maybe, just maybe you've stumbled on the truth hidden in the haymakers haystack. What if what sets us apart after all is the rant itself, the very capacity for ranting? The capacity to strut and fret our hour upon the stage, lighting fools the way to dusty death and all that. After all, shouldn't the rest of creation have more cause for ranting than the rest of yes? Yet we hear nary a word from the poor polar bears and their extended family. Unless you count hurricanes and floods and that sort of thing :)

Just kidding. Your post made me laugh today. Just picturing the conversation in my minds ear. Rant on!