The human eye and why I focus so much on mistakes
Human biology is full of mistakes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that in our evolutionary travels that we ended up with a few glitches along the way. What is surprising is that we don’t think we have any glitches. We understand that we have limits. We know that we can’t run a mile in under 3 minutes. We know we can’t breathe underwater. We know that our bodies are not perfect. Yet, we never seem to take the reasoning a step further and recognize that our body has mistakes and lots of them. Things that are straight-up stupid, and counterproductive. Things like the retina in our eyes being wired backward.
We don’t like to focus on the bad. I think in a lot of ways that is a good thing. If all we do is sit there and complain about our situation we never get up and accomplish anything. Why focus on the bad when there is so much good in the world to enjoy? I think focusing on the good in life is a cop-out. It’s just another way of saying I give up but instead of sitting you run around talking about how great it is. When we are purely optimistic we tend to become just as apathetic as the purely pessimistic. Life isn’t about being happy and content in life. Life is about progress and survival. We need to focus on the bad just enough to give us a problem to solve, and a difficulty to overcome. Why focus on how 30 to 40 percent of the United States/Europe, along with 70 percent of Asia have myopia (nearsightedness)? It’s so that we can learn that the eye is too long and thus brings images to focus before they reach the back of the eye. We can then improve and make glasses that focus the image at the optimal point. I say this because as I continue to write about mistakes and everything that is wrong with the world I am not trying to be pessimistic or cynical. I am rather hoping to provide the groundwork for our improvement. Here are just a couple more things that are messed up with the human body:
We can’t make the amino acids and vitamins that we need to survive.
Vitamin C is a very important vitamin. If we don’t have Vitamin C we develop scurvy. It can cause us to not make collagen and we start to bleed from the inside out. A lack of Vitamin C also inhibits our ability to absorb iron, causing anemia, and a lack of oxygen in the blood. Without Vitamin C we are destined to a painful death. Most vertebrates can make their own vitamin C but a few exceptions involve species that have lost the ability to make it. Humans happen to be one of the exceptions. It is most likely due to our ability to find food rich in Vitamin C. When the GLO gene mutated such that we lost the ability to make Vitamin C it is likely that it was rather inconsequential to human survival as adequate amounts of Vitamin C was consumed in the everyday diet. Similar cases probably occurred in other vitamins and amino acids that are essential to our diet. They are essential because we can’t make them on our own. There are 9 essential amino acids and 13 essential vitamins making us highly dependent on a varied diet containing many different foods. Plants are amazingly self-sufficient and can live without anything more than a balanced soil containing Nitrogen and at least some water. They produce almost everything that they need on their own. Many animals can also survive by simply eating grass, as they are able to produce the nutrients they need through bacteria in their gut or through other means. Human dependence on so many different foods makes us highly susceptible to disease and death in situations of famine or in environments with a low variety of foods. Sometimes I wonder how we managed to still live on the Earth.
Our Reproductive process is embarrassing.
The survival of any species is largely contingent on how rapidly a species can reproduce. The world can be very harsh but when there is a large potential for repopulation the chances of some surviving and continuing on increases significantly. Bacteria are incredibly good at reproducing with reproduction rates occurring in minutes. In the case of cats, in one year, a population of 2 cats can turn into a hundred. For humans though, in one year, the population might increase by 1 and that’s actually optimistic, especially before the development of modern medicine. Humans mature late. This means that a human baby is hugely dependent and cannot survive on its own when born. Humans also conceal ovulation so if a couple wants to get pregnant they have to hit the optimal 3 days in a 28-day cycle without knowing when those 3 days are. Then we have serious troubles making healthy sperm and eggs. We also create embryos that don’t implant or are just plain missing chromosomes (happens more often than you would think). Many pregnancies that are initiated don’t end up successful (miscarriage). If all of that somehow ends up working out, babies and mothers still die at shockingly high rates when giving birth. That’s a lot of problems and it’s kind of amazing we can reproduce at all. It would be one thing if these problems were characteristic of most other animals but they are embarrassingly mostly our own. Even for childbirth, other primates have about the same rates of successful births as we humans do after the advent of modern medicine. How we made it to the modern era is simply amazing. How we are now the dominating species on Earth producing in the billions is astounding.
When someone talks about the amazing rise of our species I think it is always important to remember that we barely even survived. All the other hominids have gone extinct. At one point we would have been considered an endangered species by today’s standards. The process of evolution was sending our species to extinction. Our survival happened largely because we stopped playing by the rules. We took all our problems and mistakes and we started to fix them ourselves. We didn’t wait for evolution to take its course and wipe out our defects and species in the process. Of course, it was the evolution of our species that developed our brains but what we do with our brains seems to defy evolution. Humans in a lot of ways are not the kings of the court. We are more like the small kid on the street that keeps standing up after he gets knocked to the ground. Yes, I’m looking at you, Captain America. In a lot of ways, our species was the underdog that never should have won, but we play smart, we’re scrappy, and have an incredible will to survive. Although we best not get complacent now that we are at the top. We can never overlook the importance of the fragile ecosystem upon which we stand so tall.
Much of the information for this article can be found in the book Human Errors by Nathan H. Lents. If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out his book because it dives deeper into the analysis of human biology and goes into more of the problems that we have.