All humans are born premature – the fact of this is patently clear on every nature program you watch; where the offspring is birthed and almost immediately goes about the business of independent foraging; many standing and walking within minutes, others taking a few days to reach some independence.
But humans take years to become mobile, let alone acquire their own food; a decade or two (which is longer than most animals’ lifetimes to become sexually mature and vaguely independent.
This is because we are born prematurely – half-baked, as it were.
And, the reason for that is our brain.
The nature of a brain is that it must be protected, encased in a thick boney skull. Now – the sheer size of a brain is less important than the brain-mass to body-mass ratio (and of course the sophistication of the brain itself; but that’s another story). Whale brains are a lot larger than human brains – but a whale’s body is vast, and us comprised of many times the number of individual cells – each of which must be served by a nerve that necessarily terminates in a brain. The sheer mass of arriving neural connections forces brain size in very large animals, to be equally massive.
So it is the additional brain capacity over and above the brain size necessary to run physiological processes that is important in providing intelligence.
And, humans, as you might expect, have among the highest ratios in the animal kingdom. We have these large(-ratio) and sophisticated brains as a result and consequence of our evolutionary path – which favoured social animals that have good memories (and I’ll dig into that in another essay), guile, social skills, and ultimately tool making/using, and cooperative capabilities – all highly reliant on brain processing power.
For many fairly well understood reasons, humans became bipedal – although puny of stature and physiology, inherent attack or defense capabilities, our success first as scavengers and then as hunters relied on our ability to run; not to run fast, but to run unceasingly far; to run our quarry to death (as our efficient perspiration cooling system allowed us, but damned them).
But the upright posture that imparted to us these advantages, dogged us in another sense. The biomechanics of being bipedal requires narrow hips – but the pre-existing birth canal arrangement of our mammalian and simian ancestry already routed through the pelvic aperture. Our evolutionary path faced a literal and figurative bottleneck – widening hips slowed the mother in her gait and survival, narrowing hips killed mother and baby in labour.
But natural selection is a wile interrogator that always finds a way – a narrow(ing over generations) hipped mother who gave birth (over generations, ever more) prematurely, allowed the relatively smaller foetus with an un-formed (not yet solid) skull to pass through; she (many generations, increasingly) had the right structure to be bipedal and the baby did not die (along with her) in the birthing process; it proved to be a good compromise.
Since she (many generations of small progress) tended to survive with her superior stature, she would naturally leave a genetic linage with that same predisposition to do likewise. And, in the same vein, all that was needed next was increasingly potent mothering instincts and pair bonding with the male culprit – typically through monogamous sex (religious folks – read “the roots of marriage”), and, interestingly for those curious about its unique appearance in all the animal kingdom, a phallus with a plunger-like head or glans that ensures the male taking on the pair-bonded role is the one who cleared out possible rival sperm, but left his as the successful sperm, etc. (It is a vast topic – I could add more – then again, you could take a good book out on the topic – I recommend Frans De Waal’s “Our Inner Ape”)
As with all things evolutionary, the reader is asked to appreciate that this process occurred over thousands of generations; millions of miserable un-successful deaths and evolutionary dead ends for those mothers, babies and couples that did not have the right combination of good fortune.
And so it is that the human female, to this day, suffers through childbirth for our increased brain capacity more than any other animal. The human community must cooperate, the pair bond must last several years (social institutions are allowing this strict requirement to abate); non-fertile grandparents with fixed (not vacillating teenagers) ideas (that in a time before writing needed to carry the clan wisdom) need to survive past the age when our compatriot and animal cousins normally die; all in order to help carry the additional load of bringing that premature baby to an independent and viable age.
The topic, as I say, is fast and complex:
Of course – to “teach the controversy” as some bay to hear it preached – there is a ‘competing’ notion that a particular woman a while ago once ate an apple and fairly holy-ghost got rather upset and vindictive, cursing all her linage to suffer agonies for all time. Against the backdrop of the aforementioned scientific hypothesis, how does this piece of magic sound, for a serious challenge?
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