Human beings are the peak of evolution, right? Our advanced brains allow us to poke one another on Facebook, send rockets to the moon, and order complex drinks at Starbucks. We can even fall in love. How are we able to do all of that? NPR’s Science Podcast has been doing a running series “The Human Edge” in which they discuss various things about humans that make us, well, human. NPR’s John Hamilton tackled brain evolution and how we humans still carry parts of other ancestral animal brains within us. Feel that pebble in your shoe? Thank a jellyfish. Ever duck before a rogue Frisbee collides with your noggin? Thank a lizard. Remember where you left your keys? Thank a mouse.
Hamilton interviewed David Linden from John Hopkins University who explained that our brain is the way it is because evolution is “the ultimate tinkerer and cheapskate.” Evolution built our brain by taking simpler brains and just piling more brains on top – like adding scoops of ice cream to an ice cream cone. Hence, the pieces of our brain inherited from these other creatures are largely unchanged. The result is that our advanced, intricate, special gray-matter is spectacularly inefficient, poorly designed, and ill-suited to many of our daily needs. On the flipside, evolution’s Frankensteinian cobbling together of various animal brains is precisely why human beings can experience higher emotions like love. Our ice-cream-cone-brain has created some of our best, and most uniquely human, attributes. After the jump is an illustrated guide of how the forces of natural selection shaped your mighty mind from distant relatives of jellyfish, lizards, and mice. Read More