October 3, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Of Minds and Men

It takes a mind to know one.  Can cognizant, sentient minds evolve from slime?  Most of the secular science press takes it for granted.  Here’s a journey into storybook land, where imaginative reporters see visions of slime climbing out of the mud to look back at an unobservable history of matter becoming mind.

A brief history of mind:  In “A brief history of the brain,” New Scientist reporter David Robson began with an unknown cave artist 30,000 years ago creating art that would rival today’s skilled artisans.  Then he makes a daring promise:

How did we acquire our beautiful brains? How did the savage struggle for survival produce such an extraordinary object?  This is a difficult question to answer, not least because brains do not fossilise. Thanks to the latest technologies, though, we can now trace the brain’s evolution in unprecedented detail, from a time before the very first nerve cells right up to the age of cave art and cubism.

The latest technologies he spoke of appear to be crystal balls.  Robson took onlookers for a view back into the shadowy past, where his story began: “The story of the brain begins in the ancient oceans, long before the first animals appeared.”  Somehow, he tells us, simple cells became able to create electrical currents. “Recent studies have shown that many of the components needed to transmit electrical signals, and to release and detect chemical signals, are found in single-celled organisms known as choanoflagellates.”  In his trance, he sees these cells becoming neurons, then axons, then a clump of neurons with hopes of becoming the first brain.  “Our view of this momentous event is hazy,” he admits, but later all becomes clear: “What is clear is that the brain size of mammals increased relative to their bodies as they struggled to contend with the dinosaurs.”  Apes and Chauvet Cave artists are only a matter of slime plus time. 

Are humans still evolving, as Jennifer Walsh said on Live Science?  Robson thinks so, but gives his fortune-telling an escape hatch: “Crystal-ball gazing is always a risky business, and we have no way of knowing the challenges that humanity will face over the next millennia.”  (He forgot that crystal balls can look into the past as well as the future.  Was that what he was doing?  No doubt.)  His trance ended with a vision of what might have happened had sentient beings evolved from birds instead of mammals after the dinosaurs went extinct.  In the sidebar “The feathered apes” [Note to reader: no feathered apes have ever been found] he imagined evolution taking the tweety route.  “How smart could birds get? For all the tool-making talents of crows, a beak is clearly not as good for manipulating objects as the hands of primates,” he noted.  But such empirical concerns should never place a limit on evolutionary imagination. “That may limit the development of bird brains, though some have speculated that the wings of ground-living birds could yet re-evolve grasping forelimbs.”  What’s the problem?  All he has to do is watch Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

New Scientist promoted Robson’s crystal ball routine with a gallery of seven line drawings showing how it all happened, from hydra to Hypatia via the last universal common ancestor, lamprey, amphibian, primitive mammal, and chimpanzee, to human.  “Our brains followed a twisting path of development through creatures that swam, crawled and walked the Earth long before we did,” the picture show began, failing to detect irony in the word twisting.  “Here are a few of these animals, and how they helped make us what we are.

Re-analysis, and your analysis: Meanwhile, paleoanthropologists keep finding things that challenge what they thought they knew.  The BBC News reported, “Skull points to a more complex human evolution in Africa.”  Anything as recent as 13,000 years old in the evolutionary timeline should be pretty modern (considering anatomically modern humans supposedly evolved 100,000 years ago or more in the standard scheme), but this article says, “Reanalysis of the 13,000-year-old skull from a cave in West Africa reveals a skull more primitive-looking than its age suggests.”  What could that portend?  Is it possible that anthropologists have been mischaracterizing human skulls since Darwin?  Why, no, not at all:  “The result suggests that the ancestors of early humans did not die out quickly in Africa, but instead lived alongside their descendents and bred with them until comparatively recently.”  Such an explanation is much more satisfying.  It leaves human evolution intact (i.e., unfalsifiable).  Do not, by all means, read this next sentence!  Look away now!  “The researchers say their findings also underscore a real lack of knowledge of human evolution in the region.

Who’s lost?:  While Robson wasn't looking, New Scientist brought readers an update about the mysterious Denisovans, those contemporaries of Neanderthals found in Siberia that shook up the human family tree last year (10/29/2010).  Now, Michael Marshall, in “The vast Asian realm of the lost humans,” lifts the veil further: “The Denisovans, mysterious cousins of the Neanderthals, occupied a vast realm stretching from the chill expanse of Siberia to the steamy tropical forests of Indonesia – suggesting the third human of the Pleistocene displayed a level of adaptability previously thought to be unique to modern humans.”  Even more astonishing, they interbred with modern humans before dying out, leaving their genes in the people of Papua New Guinea.  One anthropologist, Mark Stoneking of Max Planck Institute, remarked, “I don’t think many people would have predicted that.”  And the New Guineans were not a freak.  “The Denisovans were spread across an extraordinarily wide [north-south] geographic and ecological zone,” Stoneking continued, “wider than any hominin other than modern humans – wider than Neanderthals.”  You mean – all those Neanderthal Time-Life drawings and Alley Oop cartoons were for nothing?

Chef Neanderthal:  By the way, the Alley Oops of the Neanderthal era weren't slouches at the Cave Cookout.  They weren’t limited to mammoth burgers every day.  Charles Q. Choi claimed on Live Science, “‘Dumb” Neanderthals Likely Had a Smart Diet” including salad, smoked salmon, and chicken a la king.  Noting that “the term ‘Neanderthal’ has long been synonymous with ‘stupid.’’ Choi admitted that this makes the textbook brutes look pretty sophisticated.  Bruce Hardy [Kenyon College, Ohio] told the reporter, “We can now move away from this view of Neanderthals as dim-witted big game hunters.”  Question: how witty must one be to bring down a twelve-ton mammoth?

Cave kindergarten:  Speaking of lost, we moderns might be more at risk of getting lost a kilometer underground than stone age cave-kids were.  The BBC News reported a find of imprints in the pitch-black of a cave in France that look for all the world like finger painting, as if that’s where they had arts and crafts class.  A short video shows examples of the cave art.  The discoverer thinks they were made by children as young as three to seven, even though some of the imprints are seven feet above the floor of the cave. Anthropologists think the drawings are 13,000 years old.  Time for anthropologists’ favorite activity again (speculation): “‘We don’t know why people made them,’ said Ms [Jess] Cooney, adding that they may have been part of ‘initiation rituals’ or ‘simply something to do on a rainy day.’

Still evolving:  So if humans are still evolving, as Jennifer Walsh reported on Live Science, what are they evolving into?  “Seeing natural selection in modern populations is incredibly difficult,” she admitted, but such concerns should never be allowed to hinder the imaginations of experts on human evolution.  If evolutionary anthropologists pass on their genes faster than the rest of the general population, the earth may someday be dominated by Homo sloppiens, a kind of ruminant that chews the fat rather than basing beliefs on evidence.  The upside is that they make great storytellers.

Don’t you just love these people?  If you do, have them make a 180 fast.

Among the things these evolution-drunkards fail to take into account is the human mind's capability of abstract reasoning.  A human mind can take a concept, such as mathematics, and manipulate figures and symbols in amazing ways internally, then take materials from the external world and make machines to actualize those concepts.  Consider that a programmable computer Charles Babbage conceived in 1833 (see our biography of Babbage) is just now being built by the Science Museum of London, according to the BBC News.  In addition, as the cave art story shows, humans appreciate beauty and art.  Not the least, as the 180 film shows, humans are capable of language, logic, moral judgments and thoughts of eternity.  These are so far beyond any animal capability, and so different in kind from what any animal does, that they constitute an impermeable barrier to the bottom-up story the evolutionist tells.  Not only that, but even if the evolutionary story were assumed to be true, evolution itself would undermine its own credibility.  If the mind evolved from the motions of atoms, how could it know that it evolved from the motions of atoms?  Use your brain.  That's what your Maker gave it to you for.

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  • graceout says:

    A tough but worthwhile read is “The Emperor’s New Mind” by Roger Penrose (English mathematical physicist at Oxford; parter of Stephen Hawkings).

    The premise of the book is to try and determine if there is any possible way that AI (Artificial Intelligence) can possibly be achieved in a deterministic universe.  After an exhaustive search, he determines that there is nothing that can overcome causality and generate true, decision-making information.

    Yet, he concedes, “somehow” it has happened once, since WE are here.  It is the “miracle” of Free Will—God’s first gift.

  • derwood says:

    “Can cognizant, sentient minds evolve from slime?”

    I don’t know.  But it sure looks like they can be zapped into existence from the dust of the ground via no known or knowable magical force.

  • Editor says:

    Your subsequent sarcastic rants had nothing to do with the articles and broke the rules for comments.  If you continue in that vein, you will be banned.

  • graceout says:

    It would seem to me to be very shallow, narrowminded, and un-scientific to assume (without any research) that the force which transformed dust into life is “unknown”.

  • Rkyway says:

    The basic message of Genesis is pretty straightforward; it takes the intentional intervention of an intelligent, personal agent to create life forms from inert matter. We all know that certain things require intelligent design for their origin (e.g. the computer) the question at hand is deciding which do and which do not.

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