Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Smart" humans ?

August dawned with some amazing news. Was this the end of evolution, as we know it ? And does this mean that we, as humans, have reached the limit of our smartness ?

Cambridge University researchers have announced, that to get any more smarter, was going to need lots and lots of energy and oxygen, which didn't look feasible at all, and so we as humans are now the smartest we will ever be.

This is all fine, if we assume that we basically started evolving in the correct direction, in life.

Sometimes I have my doubts. And many questions.

Just think. We are supposed to have evolved from quadrupeds, over millions of years. A look into the variety of the animal kingdom, replete with the various animals , reptiles and birds seen the world over, presents a wild array of colors. There are animals with stripes, spots, silken manes, bushy faces, displaying designs in brown, yellow , gold, white, grey, deep brown, golden brown, rust, majestic black; birds resplendent in brilliant multicolored plumage, designed to give a desperate complex to a rainbow, and reptiles and others, in smart camouflaging shades of green and brown, metallic designs simulating silk ......

And I often wonder, why, as such amazingly evolve bipeds, we have evolved into folks with such boring colors. Why are humans classified as white,black,dark,fair, brown, and sometimes yellow? At what point and why in our evolution, did we lose out on color ? How come we do not see purple, green, and silver ladies, and orange, blue and pink men ?

Is the evolution of the cerebral cortex, which is the hallmark of a human, related to the sidelining of color ?

Does it have something to do anatomical limitations on how we perceive color ?

Our eyes have photo receptors in the form of "rods" and "cones". The rods enable us to see things in the dark, and the cones have a role in allowing us to perceive colors. But color per se, is NOT just what hits the cones. Color is what results after our subconscious minds/visual brain analyses the input to the photo receptors. We humans have cones that are designed to recognize wavelengths corresponding to Red, Blue and Green, and combinations of these. The limitation is defined by the basic three wavelength ranges, and what we perceive as color is the interpretation by our visual brain that analyses what impinges on the cones.

Turns out that this is a very small part of the entire color spectrum, and many other, so called less evolved animals and birds, have a more detailed perception of color, reaching into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Bees are known to see into the ultraviolet range of the spectrum, and can recognize ultraviolet patterns on flower petals that guide them to where the honey is. Dogs have only 2 types of cones , making them dichromatic (we are trichromatic(RBG)). Turns out Cats are trichromatic too, but also have smarter rods in their eyes, and so can see in the dark. Reptiles are known to be able to see in the infra-red part of the spectrum. Maybe their lifestyle choices over centuries, have made their sight evolve the way it has.

So a blue we see, may not be the same blue that , say a dog, horse or cat sees. While we lose out in the spectrum stakes, where we supposedly win, is in our supposedly brilliantly evolved visual brain , interpreting what falls on the rods and cones in our eyes.

There is a comparison of patterns, before the human brain decides what it is that we are seeing. For example, the banana is always seen as yellow, regardless of what light you see it in; dull light, brilliant reflections on ice, or a normal kitchen light. The power of the visual brain. To give it a fancy name, "Color constancy".

Somewhere in our evolution , as we spruced up our cerebral cortex , wallowed and exulted the grey folds of the brain, , and learned to store, interpret , retrieve, and use information, in complicated decision making, we have become color obsessed with respect to a certain part of the spectrum. It is a classic case of having too much, too soon, so that we have no value for what we have.

A widely versatile cerebral cortex, a fine tuning of the senses, and an ability to reason, may have been a gift to mankind.

But there has been a downside.

We, as humans, have sharpened our color consciousness in the brown/black/white range. We have trained the cones in our eyes to pay more attention to wavelengths that correspond to the making up of the above colors. Thousands of years of paying excessive attention to the complexion in humans, and we have become a society , that, despite declarations to the contrary, pays obeisance to the white.

Yes , we still sense the brilliant plumage of the birds, the sometimes blinding colors amidst the flowers, and the amazing hues and textures of man made textiles and materials, but when when it comes to judging a human, a certain part of the visual brain kicks in with its, if I might say so, 'blind' input.

And so, television is replete with dark girls slathering faces with creams to cheat someone else's visual cortex; employers frowning at dark complexioned girls, and smilingly awarding jobs , albeit unfairly, to "fair" types; a pregnant pause happens, on telephonic matrimonial enquiries, when a prospective bride is described as wheatish, and some parents advise parents of physically active sports girls, to desist from the sports , because their daughter will turn "dark".

These days, I guess the cerebral cortex is really working hard in evolving. The male of the species, has exposed its vanity , and there are creams and lotions for fellows who want to look "white", so that girls who subscribe to this same vanity, can stand around and make a huge fuss over them, in what might just be called, dumb splendor.

You can evolve only thus far and no more when the direction is in error, which here it seems to be.

And so I agree with the fellows in Cambridge. We have reached a dead end in smartness. We cannot evolve any more in the direction that we have.

Maybe the homo sapien version 2.0, will be in various hues. Like in animals, we will have blue, green, purple and blue people. Folks will be more appreciative of color, and the minds will be more open . I would love to know what kind of ads there will be on television, celebrating beauty then. I would have a great big laugh at matrimonial ads , if they actually exist then.

And there will possibly a be a Great Big Bird sweeping through the sky, looking down at all the color, shaking its head, and saying, " Geez. I thought these guys would never understand. Thank God they did !..."


  1. Wow, this is deep. You have given me a lot to think about. Another thing, the male species in the animal and bird kingdom is a lot more flamboyant that the human male. Ever thought of that?

  2. I love this post! I am going to share it :)
    This news item had caught my eye too.

  3. Great post, Suranga! Yes, seems we have been evolving in the wrong direction.

    Maybe it's not a bad thing that the human brain cannot evolve any more?

  4. Very informative post as always. Once someone told me that even with few colors, humanity has created so much of discrimination and exploitation - that it is better that we do not have the range of the colors that rest of the Nature offers. I think he made a right point .. because the moment we come across something our brain classifies it, tries to categorize..and differentiate!

  5. Ah colours ! Thats the base for several things. Including paints ! :)

    The cerebral cortex is working hard. Sure. For those that have it. that is ! :)

  6. wow.. amazing.. food for thought!!

  7. Now that's depressing to read that we have evolved as far as possible in intelligence considering how absolutely stupid some people are.

    As to color, I think species are different colors for different reasons. Colorful males are made that way to attract females. Most colors are camouflage to secure survival from their predators. The pigment in the skin of a human is protection. If the person is born in a hot sunny climate they need more pigment to keep from burning. Someone born in the Netherlands will be white and more invisible in snow. Okay, that's all supposition on my part, but it does make sense to me.

  8. My bananas are looking rather brown.
    I agree with Darlene: if we are as smart as we'll ever be, why are some people so stupid?
    It would, indeed, be interesting to see people with blue or purple skin. As for pink men, I've seen a few of those and they're not much fun to look at.
    Definitely food for thought, as Center Shocker says.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  9. This dead end in human evolution came first in Indian population .
    In the west color discrimination was a discrimination against a race (a race which could have been seen as stronger n indomitable) while in India it's the same race(although there have been many foreign influences and its not a pure race anymore:)) , same nationality and same identity , even then people discriminate against skin color....
    smarter people !!!

    Very well written post as always.

  10. Ritu Yes, I did know about the colorful tendencies of the males in the bird population. But this post was just getting too big, to start talking about their innate honesty ....

    Shail Thank you !

    Manju Thank you !

    aativas So true !

    Kavi You mean Asian plants ?

    Center Shocker Thank you .

    DarleneIf people stuck to their natural pigmentation, and thrived on it, that would be wonderful. But there is this manic obsession here for dark folks to strive to look fair. And thst the brain working, not the latitude and longitude.

    Kay Maybe they are special bananas. My late father always said the bananas tasted sweeter if the skin got darker....

    sangeeta We're so good at messing up stuff, arent we ? As if language, religion, etc was not enough we now add colcr.


  11. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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