Columns / Opinion

Between existence and biology

by John Gabriel Pabico-Lalu  |  Editor-in-chief


AS OF NOW, IT APPEARS that we human beings are the only species able to record events of the past.  Or at least, that is what we know, since have not yet fully understood what other living organisms would tell each other.  While people, over a long observation period, might get to know why their dogs bark, their cats meow, or their birds tweet, they cannot decipher the exact messages that the pets are sending.

Sure, there are some animals who would leave a distinct mark — a footprint, a specific odor, or a trace of blood — just to tell their folks that they were there, or that there is an imminent danger.  Or that they are ten miles away.  But it does not really indicate that other animals or plants have the ability to make historical accounts, and pass the information down to future generations.

However, just because humans have not yet known if other cellular, living organisms can write their own encyclopedias, it does not mean that they cannot learn how to do that.  Actually, what animals pass unto their offspring is an information of what is to change within their body systems.  If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is to be believed, then the reason why there is a freaking huge mammal under the sea is because the hippopotamus, which lived in swamps, looked at the bigger picture.

Due to physical limitations, the hippo was restrained to swimming at a certain depth.  What the mother and the father hippo did was to pass the needed information to their sons and daughters, and hope that in time, baby hippos would have flippers and be able to breathe easily even under water.

And it did: Live Science’s Ker Than explains in an article that the hippos mutated, placing their noses at the back of their heads, surfacing from time to time.  They also turned their hind feet into flippers, in order to make swimming easier.  It was Darwin who first coined the theory, in the first edition of his The Origin of the Species (1859), although he made the wrong connection.

What Darwin implied was that these hippos, or in his original case, North American black bears, eventually turned into whales.  It was a funny idea, and Darwin was laughed at for it.  According to Than, “Darwin was so embarrassed by the ridicule he received that the swimming-bear passage was removed from later editions of the book.”

Darwin was redeemed from the humiliation, because in 1994, paleontologists discovered the Ambulocetus natans, or the swimming-walking whale.  It was a hippopotamus that had the same tail as with the whale, though having different mutations such as smaller forelimbs and huge hind feet that were used to propel itself in the water.

And if swimming, for the heavy hippo was possible, why would writing be unachievable?


We arrogant men and women

A writer once implied that human beings are pathetic creatures: we think that we rule over the world, but we cannot even walk or talk at birth.  But come to think of it, elephants — these gentle giants, are born into world standing on their own.  Feeble, but not helpless; weak, but not weeping.

So, if baby animals can outmatch an infant in terms of motor skills, why can they not possess a heightened form of intelligence?  Why do we, arrogant men and women, think that humanity is the pinnacle of creation, when we can only use up to ten percent of the brain’s capacity?  In that perspective, we fail as a species, because dolphins, by using more than 20 percent of their minds, possess a sonar capability before humans know what that even was!

(Photo by John Lalu)

Of course, in the future: it may take a long time before dogs, cats, birds, or hippos and elephants for that matter, can come up with their version of the Meriam-Webster or of the Britannica.  Evolution is something that is procedural — and that may mean thousands of years.  But it must be remembered that man, as proud as we are, also took this route.  There was a time where man could not even say the words that we have today, nor accurately describe what their surroundings were like.

That is basically the reason why we have archaeologists and paleontologists: because the primitive man never prioritized writing history books.  They left symbols, bones of their relatives, remains of animals they slaughtered, and pots and pans used for cooking.  Discovery of fire came way ahead of discovering writing methods.

It is a classic case of studying and devoting one’s self to academic matters, versus tirelessly working to avoid a certain death.  While college students may jokingly relate to this, especially those cramming on their research papers, what the pre-historic man experienced was nothing compared to the modern man’s struggle.  The reason why they never put studying on top of the pecking order, was because they had no time to spare.

If they do not plant or hunt, they would die of hunger.  If they do not focus on making fire, they would die of coldness.  If they do not find a shelter, they would die of intense heat.  If they do not get water from the rivers, they would die of thirst.  If they did not procreate, then the Homo erectus would have been extinct, and would have not evolved into us, Homo sapiens.

So what good will writing the history do, if you are going to die by doing it anyway?


Politics and biology

As the level of intelligence grew, man looked for ways to feed their insatiable thirst for further knowledge.  When the world’s population grew, there were two main divisions: the strong and the weak.  The physically and mentally strong lorded over the weak — which meant that people with authority and power had the opportunity to develop a system of writing, account the stories of the old age, and conduct scientific experiments and studies.

And the weak, who toiled the soil and worked for several hours, had little chance to learn as the strong would deprive them of their needs in case they stopped working — which made them ignorant.  We were once (again, if Darwin is to be believed) ruthless animals who thrived on a “survival of the fittest” mantra.

I believe that most of the world still revolves on that idea, though in a more humane way than before.  The elite provide necessities, services and education to the workers, still with a price to pay, but much affordable than what the rich asked of the poor before.  The strong feeds off the products of the energetic though “weak” people, and shares upon the latter what the former does not need.

It has always been that way, that even the world’s major religions can do nothing to stop it.  Of course there are humanitarian causes that help the weak, but how much of the weak learn to be strong?  And if the weak becomes the stronger, does not he or she devour the weaker ones?  All of the cultural problems in the world — racism, financial scrutiny, gender and religious discrimination — stem from a yearning to be above the rest of the pack.

It is a dream to be the alpha wolf.  Sure, we do not kill each other anymore, but is it not that people strive to be different yet famous on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter?  Is it not true, when we say that we want to be over and above one another in today’s digital world?  We try to buy the newest gadgets, hop on to the latest trends, learn more to be technology-savvy, in order to be the modern alpha wolf.  In order to be, the more dominant individual.

And in saying that we still want to be ahead, to pursue the unknowable, even as evolved as we are, as erratic as our decisions are, it draws us back to biology.  As intelligent as man proclaims himself or herself to be, we still have these animal instincts, which makes us no different from wolves, lions, tigers, bears, sharks, whales, hippos, eagles, spiders, insects, and all the other organisms who struggle just to be alive.

We wither when our voices are not heard.  We shy away and cry when we are hurt.

After thinking of all of these, we arrive at the question: could it have been better if we knew nothing at all?  Or would a life without critical thinking and decision making be dull and not worth living at all?


(Featured photo taken by John Lalu)

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