13 July 2010

Back in the Saddle

Now that I've thoroughly alienated any regular readership I might have had, I figure it's time for a fresh start.  Things have settled into their established patterns here at the hospital, and I'm hoping to start blogging again.

In the personal realm, the ordination has changed things in many, many ways.  It really does "feel different" to be ordained a deacon, and I am pretty excited about the upcoming ordinations of my brother seminarians.  I'm enjoying CPE a great deal, having been thrown into a fairly intense ministerial situation and finding my way through the grace of God, day by day.  And I'm keeping up the reading, which I hope to share on the blog through another couple of entries in the Desk Chair Review of Books.

One recent article that called up memories of a recently read book was an interview with a British entomologist, Jeremy Nivens, on the NYT website.  I became interested due to my recent enjoyment of an anthology of J. Henri Fabre's classic works, The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre.  It seems that the possibilities for the advancement of human biology, the derivations of animal instinct, and the simple wonder at some of the most abundant (and complex) species on the planet was not retired with the passing of the wizened Frenchman nearly a century ago.  He offers some interesting perspectives on his most notable discoveries:

You know, there’s this pervasive idea in biology that I think is wrong. It goes: we humans are at the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree, and as you get up that tree, brain size must get bigger. But a fly is just as evolved as a human. It’s just evolved to a different niche. In fact, in evolution there’s no drive towards bigger brains. It’s perfectly possible that under the right circumstances, you could get animals evolving small brains.

Interesting, no?  I certainly haven't thought out all the consequences of this, but it does give the lie to some perspectives on human evolution.  What "niche" is it that human beings have evolved to fill?  What biological need is there for a city-building, novel-writing mammal?  Food for thought.

It's good to be back.

1 comment:

Mitch Minarick said...

Great article, I never thought I would be so interested in entomology but Niven's research is very intriguing.

I envision one possible scenario for evolving smaller brains:
1) Our brains get so big that we can build weapons to destroy all the earth (check).
2) Our technological prowess inspires pride, and the resultant fall into war destroys all but a few neanderthal-types like the bearded junior high bully who happen to be more resistant to radiation.
3) Propogation, and wala, the evolution to smaller brains is complete.

Certainly the cockroach has a smaller brain than humans and is supposedly resilient in the face of radiation, as another example.

I will read Fabre's book.