Every once in a while, I stumble across some article I never meant to read, and it gets me thinking in unexpected ways.
The other day, the article that sparked my brainstorm happened to be this one. It was about why animals can’t have schizophrenia, even though they can have other mental illnesses such as OCD and anxiety. The article discussed how schizophrenia, and humans’ susceptibility to it, likely has to do with evolution. As humans got smarter and our brains and genomes became more complex, there was more room for error and mutation. Thus, schizophrenia arose.
I started wondering about why we’re so darn intelligent as a species. There’s a lot of argument out there that we’re not the most intelligent species in terms of sheer brainpower and cognition (which I could definitely agree with), but there’s no denying that the society we’ve created far surpasses anything seen in the natural world. With our cities and electricity and medicine and technology, we’ve done some pretty mind-blowing things. Things that animals wouldn’t even imagine doing.
A lot of humanity’s intelligence is of course due to our evolution. I never really learned about evolution until last year in university, and we mostly talked about animals rather than humans. We talked about how natural selection picked out the most useful traits in the species, developing the instincts and behaviours of the populations to increase their chances of survival. It’s simple enough when you’re talking about Darwin’s finches, but it becomes a heck of a lot more complicated when you’re trying to understand human evolution.
What process of natural selection determined that we’d build concrete and steel buildings? What form of evolution led us to the creation of machines and technology? It’s wild, to see how we’ve come down this insanely advanced path while the rest of the animal kingdom has followed a much humbler course. Why us? Why humans? Why so far?
Big questions, I know. Certainly not anything we mere mortals can answer. But it’s fascinating to think about such things, and intriguing to imagine what it would be like if we weren’t the only ones.
What if there was another species that could build cities and computers? What if there was another species that could speak a bunch of different languages? What if there was another species that had the same profound thought patterns as us and could do math and science and art?
Well, if you’ve ever read a sci-fi or fantasy novel, this concept probably isn’t that new to you.
Because when it comes to those kinds of stories, “race” is rarely a matter of skin tone. More often, race determines whether you have fur or scales, a tail or wings, or even what planet you were born on. It determines if you’re human or elven or dwarven or draconian. And while each of those races may be fundamentally unique, they all share one common trait: they’re the most intelligent and advanced species on whatever world they live in.
You barely have to think about it to be able to name a hundred examples. Video games make good use of this, often allowing players to choose between a wide variety of races:
Then there are the legendary worlds, the kingdoms that rule the fantasy/scifi genres. I’m talking about Tolkien, Lewis, and Lucas here:
And not to mention all of the mythology and real-world legends where many of these races were born or inspired. It seems humanity has long been intrigued by the concept of other species being as smart and advanced as we are. Why is that, do you think? I wonder if it’s because it’s so hard to believe we’re the only species that has the potential to evolve in such a way. Or just the excitement of having competition in this universe that is advanced enough to give us a challenge, but not human enough to feel like we’re fighting ourselves.
Or perhaps do we believe, deep inside, that this earth should not belong to us alone? Why would we be the only ones to develop so enormously? Why wouldn’t animals also have their cities and civilisations? Why wouldn’t they have their own nuanced languages and cultures, similar to our own? Why should humans be the only ones when the world is so big and incredible?
Or do animals already have all of these things, but in a way that humans simply can’t perceive? It’s food for thought, in any case.
I think it would be interesting to see what the world would be like if we weren’t the only race upon it. Would we learn better tolerance, seeing as how we wouldn’t be the dominant species anymore? Or would the racism that already exists today be a thousand times worse?
I want to leave you with this clip of a speech given by the wonderful Bill Nye the Science Guy, science hero of my elementary school days. It’s a beautiful point he brings up and just another reason why I love science. If you start at 13.55 and listen for a couple minutes, that’s the part I really want you to hear.
“There really is no such thing, scientifically, as race.”
Like I said, food for thought. And definitely something that the world as a whole would do well to think of more often.
What do you think? Why would humans be so evolved? What would happen if there were other “true” races?
May you always remember that we are much more alike than different.