June 2, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: Handy Dandy Modus Operandi

Charles G. Gross and Asif A. Ghazanfar win the prize for this gem in Science1 from a book review of The Sensory Hand by Vernon B. Mountcastle (Harvard, 2006):

In one of the first systematic attempts to describe the differences between primates and other mammals, Thomas Huxley argued that the former are distinguished by virtue of their adaptation to arboreal life.  Central to this arboreal life is the grasping hand.  Indeed, the primate hand is so fundamental to how we define ourselves that some, including Friedrich Engels, have claimed that hand use (particularly with tools) was the driving force that gave rise to our sophisticated cognitive abilities.  Though this idea is an overstatement, our hands do represent a masterpiece of Darwinian evolution; its elegant design is on a par with the eyes and ears.


1Charles G. Gross and Asif A. Ghazanfar, “Neuroscience: A Mostly Sure-Footed Account of the Hand,” Science, 2 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5778, p. 1314, DOI: 10.1126/science.1125179.

Well, since eyes and ears evolved, obviously, hands must have, too.  In fact, natural selection not only invented the hand, but used it as a driving force for more natural selection.  Now that just drives it out of the park, doesn’t it?  Darwinian evolution makes hands that make Darwinian evolution make brains.  Who needs artists and engineers any more?  Darwinian evolution, the masterpiece maker, the masterpiece-maker maker, renders all other makers obsolete.  It even makes masterpiece critics who know what “elegant design” means.
    The reviewers must be communist sympathizers, because they ended with another quote by Engels, a guy on the dustbin of history known more for his radical economics than knowledge of anatomy: “Man alone has succeeded in impressing his stamp on nature … and he has accomplished this primarily and essentially by means of the hand … step by step, with the development [i.e., evolution] of the hand went that of the brain.”  They add, “Mountcastle’s book shows us how we are beginning to understand this process.”
    You can’t know you’ve understood a process at the beginning, but only at the end.  Their “masterpiece of Darwinian evolution” statement shows that they understand little, if anything, about the origin of masterpieces.  Their choice of guru (Engels) shows that they understand even less about economics – and logic.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Human Body

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