December 16, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Blame Hiccups on Your Inner Fish

Why do humans get hernias and hiccups?  Neil Shubin says it’s because of your inner fish.  In the Scientific American series on Darwin, the discoverer of Tiktaalik was trying to show how evolutionary theory sheds light on human anatomy.  He looked back to fish and amphibians and found insight.
    “A glimpse inside the body reveals structures left inside of us during the course of evolution, which often seem a confused jumble, with arteries, nerves and other structures taking odd paths to get from one part of the body to another,” he said.  “….To make sense of our own bodies, we need to examine the history we share with everything from microbes and worms to fish and primates.”  In search for clues from “our fishy past and our mammalian present,” he pointed to gonads and nerves for the diaphragm that made more sense in fish anatomy.  Believing that existing patterns were adapted by evolution to changes in the primate body, he claimed that they wouldn’t have been designed this way from scratch, any more than a rewiring job in a building.

Our deep history was, at different times, spent in ancient oceans, small streams and savanna plains—and not office buildings, ski slopes or football fields.  This extraordinary disconnect between our past and present means that our body falls apart in certain predictable ways.  The major bones in human knees, backs and wrists arose in aquatic creatures hundreds of millions of years ago.  Is it any surprise, then, that we tear cartilage in our knees and suffer back pain as we walk on two legs or develop carpal tunnel syndrome as we type, knit or write?  Our fish and amphibian ancestors did not do these things.
    Take the body plan of a fish, modify it using genes altered from those that build the body of a worm, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal to make a creature that walks upright, talks, thinks and has superfine control of its fingers, and we have a recipe for disaster.  We can dress up this fish only so much before paying a price.  In a perfectly designed world—one without an extended historic legacy—we would not have to suffer from the infirmities of hemorrhoids or hernias.  Nor would our buildings be so expensive to renovate.

Shubin did not inventory fish maladies, or inquire whether Methuselah ever got a hernia after living 200 times longer than a fish.  His hypothesis seems to suggest that evolution is regressive.  Following his reasoning, the best-designed animals were the earliest ones.  Bad design has led to more maladies the higher one evolves up Darwin’s tree of life.  Maybe natural selection should have left well enough alone and not invented a Shawn Johnson or Michael Phelps.  It terms of design, it’s been all downhill since those happy days under the sea.

We can’t help but award multiple SEQOTW prizes this week, with all the contestants vying for attention in Scientific American’s Darwin Extravaganza.  We may have to go to SEQOTD.  Please notice; we don’t laugh at the Darwinists out of some perverse sense of satisfaction at irritating them.  We know they hate being laughed it.  We just can’t help it.  We laugh because they really are funny.  Let’s all sing like the fishies sing:

Adaptation always seems better in landlubber’s four-limbed physique
You dream of evolving up yonder, but that is a faulty mystique.
Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor;
Such wonderful things surround you; what more is you lookin’ for?

Under the sea, Under the sea, Darwin, it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me. Up on the shore they walk on all fours, out in the sun they sweat in they chores, While we is a-breedin’ in de Garden of Eden under the sea.

Down here all the fish is happy, as off through the waves they squirts;
The man in the office got hiccups, he sad ’cause his hernia hurts.
But man in the jungle ain’ lucky, he in for a worser fate;
One day when tiger get hungry, guess who’s gon’ be on de plate.

Under the sea, Under the sea, That’s why it’s hotter under the water Ya we in luck here down in the muck here Under the sea. They take themselves so seriously – that’s what makes this so much fun.  Thank you, Neil, and all the Scientific American staff, for giving us one of the best comedy acts [hic] in a long time.  OK, we’ll get serious.  See?  We’re serious.  (chortle) (sniff) (snicker)  Honest!  (guffaw)  Sorry.  (pause, deep breath) (snort) (giggle) (choke)  We in luck here down in the muck here, under the sea… Yeeeee, HAW!

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