English Comp I
Did you know that in this exact moment people are being born without wisdom teeth? Probably after reading this you are thinking about how great will it be for these lucky ones not experiencing the pain you had to go through when those wise bones were growing out or the anxiety you felt the day the surgeon removed them for good. You also might be asking yourself a question: Why this is happening? The answer can be found in Charles Darwin's most important legacy: The Theory of Evolution.
Scientific research shows that wisdom teeth are vestigial molars that originally evolved in ancestral humans when our jaws were bigger and our diets included hardier plant material. Today our jaws are smaller and our diets changed significantly, and the reason why they must be removed is because their presence disrupt all the other teeth. Humans in the future will not need for professionals to remove their wisdom teeth anymore because nowadays 35 percent of people are already born without them and many others are born with just one, two or even three. This is an evolutionary explanation which proves that when a human trait is no longer necessary it disappears. Some other explanations analyze the beginning and evolution of a trait with a similar perspective.
Lets take a look to V.S. Ramachandran's work for example. Ramachandran is a prominent neurologist and a professor of psychology. As an author he published the book “Phantoms of the brain” (1999) and more than 180 papers in scientific journals. In one of this papers, “The Woman Who Died Laughing”, he argues that laughter is a trait that evolved in humans; a trait which “Allows an individual to alert in a social group that a detected anomaly is trivial, nothing to worry about. The laughing person in effect announces her discovery that there has been a false alarm” (Ramachandran 774)
How is it possible that something as trivial as laughter might have its origins in a dangerous situation? The author will lead us to the answer. He starts his dissertation telling two stories about the appearance of an uncontrollable laughter in people going through stressful situations such as the feeling of a strong pain or the death of a loved one. In both stories the protagonists die a few days after the laughter was manifested and the postmortems revealed that the cause of death was that a hemorrhage had occurred in their brain. These cases give Ramachandran a reason to believe that a laughter circuit exists in the limbic system of the brain, “a set of structures including the hypothalamus, mammillary bodies and cingulate gyrus that are involved in emotions” (Ramachandran 770) But what the writer is trying to prove is not the existence of this circuit; he wants to discover the biological function of it. In other words, the question asked by “the Marco Polo of neuroscience” is: Why laughter exists?
A concept strongly associated with laughter is humor. Humor and what people find funny is influenced by cultural factors but the author is convinced that there is a deep structure that underlies all types of humor. In order to prove this point the author introduces two jokes just to show us the logical structure of a joke and then defines humor and laughter. “When a person strolls along a garden path of expectation and there is a sudden twist at the end that entails a complete reinterpretation of the same facts and the new interpretation has trivial rather than terrifying implications, laughter ensues” (Ramachandran 774). This is what the author calls “the false alarm theory” and he claims that setting off this false alarm mechanism distracts the anxiety felt when dealing with genuinely disturbing anomalies by laughing. Ramachandran concludes that “the limbic system produces an orienting response to a potential threat or alarm that is also involved in the aborted orienting reaction in response to a false alarm” (Ramachandran 775) and this reaction is nothing more and nothing less than laughter.
“The Woman Who Died Laughing” is a text which creates more questions than answers. This is due to the nature of the discipline that deals with these kind of topics, evolutionary psychology. Creativity seems to be the main skill that a scientist needs to research in the evolutionary field, this is “The ability to reinterpret events in the light of new information” (Ramachandran 774).
Just like you heard in an English composition class back in your school days your brain is divided in two hemispheres where different functions and activities take place. The left hemisphere is in charge of the logical thinking, it helps you with those mathematical equations and prefers order against chaos. Imagination, emotions, music, painting, poetry, humor and creativity are hosted in the right hemisphere of the brain instead. Scientists like V.S. Ramachandran seem to approach to the world with a right minded perspective while professionals in the fields of hard sciences make sense of the world with their analytical side of their brain. One of these fields is in fact a branch of the neurology discipline, a specialization named neurosurgery and a great exponent of this practice is one of the remarkable members of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Roy C. Selby Jr.
In Selby's reporting essay, “A Delicate Operation”, we can appreciate the meticulous details of a difficult brain operation. The patient in this procedure was a woman in her early fifties that after experiencing issues in her eyesight went to see a neurologist. The professional performed some test on the patient and discovered the presence of a tumor growing between the optic nerves at the base of her brain. This diagnosis left two options opened: removing the tumor or leaving it alone. The first option represented a great risk for the patient (death was one of the possible results) and the success of the procedure was not guaranteed, while the second one meant that the tumor would continue to grow and produce blindness. The common decision was to operate and after seven hours (and a glass of orange juice) the operation was a success.
Selby's text is a masterpiece, it's precision in every step of the process described leaves one marveled. His style is comparable to his work as a neurosurgeon. Just a microscopical mistake while performing an operation in such a fragile organ like the brain is enough to cause a severe trauma in a patient for life or even to kill him. Imagine yourself having the life of a person in your hands, would you be able to sleep at night if you fail and the patient does not survive? The author shows these concerns along the text when he says: “The surgeon explained this to the patient's husband, and both of them waited anxiously”(Selby 358), or for example when he chooses the following sentence to end the essay “She appeared to be in better shape than the surgeon or her husband”.
The procedure reported in “A Delicate Operation” has a perfectly linear order. It is the result of hundred of years of research in the neurosurgery area. The conditions where an operation is performed are absolutely controlled and corroborated by the history, the evolution and the experiments practiced in the field. When Selby says: “All the routine instruments were brought up” we can picture that it is not the first time that he faces a situation like this one and that he is ready for any complication that might appear. On the other hand “The Woman Who Died Laughing” flows in a circular way. Ramachandran can not appeal to nothing else but his creativity. He claims that in evolutionary psychology “You can't run experiments to prove or disprove the proposed theories, they are just ingenious” (Ramachandran 771)
How is it possible that this two professionals study the same discipline but at the same time approach to it with a completely different perspective? Perhaps each of our brains are shaped since the moment we are born with different interests, some of us with an inclination for the order of science and some others with a passion for the absence of rules of art or a combination of both. If this would be true then who decides which ones of us are going to be mathematicians and which ones will be rock stars? Darwin's theory also provide an answer for this question. Evolution wouldn't be possible without a key mechanism known as natural selection, this mechanism is the gradual, non-random process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population. Our brains were not always divided in two hemispheres, this was also a trait that evolved in humans beings about two million years ago. Biologists claim that right handedness evolved in our hominid ancestors as they learned to build and use tools and that the left hemisphere of the brain specialized in order to control the dexterity of the right hand. The left hemisphere also controls language, our greatest mental attribute; thinking that speech and language evolved from a manual talent for toolmaking it is simply astonishing.
Evolution is everywhere, it has an awareness of its own and a mechanism which works always for the better of the species. We could think about evolution as the sculptor who gave form and shaped the human kind for uncountable years of existence, it knows our species better than we do and provides us with the tools needed to adapt to any new situation. It is hard to predict where the paths of evolution will take our species, we want to think that it will create a better human capable of evolving into a being of light and peace. The word evolution comprehends more than just biological and mental traits, there other ways in which we can evolve. As Nietzsche said in his Zarazhustra: “What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.”