You’re Not As Evolved As You Think

Trust Me, I’m a “Scientist”: A Column by Evan Martin

Imagine, if you will, the world as it was about three and a half million years ago. A typical summer day in central Africa in the year 3,497,987 B.C. – the sun is shining, grassy plains are littered with trees and shrubs, and animals of all different types are running around killing, eating, and mating with each other (though not necessarily in that order). And if you know your human evolution timeline, you know that there was one particular animal walking around. To nerds like me she’s known as as Australopithecus afarensis, but you probably know her as “Lucy.”

Lucy is an ape, a little under four feet tall, and basically looks like a cross between a chimpanzee and a really, really, really hairy lady. What’s so special about Lucy, you ask? Well, as you may have already guessed from the description, Lucy is both your and my great, great, great, you get the idea, grandmother. She does walk on two legs, but other than that, she seems much more ape than human. Not only that, but she’s not particularly fast or strong either. In fact, she’s really just good at three things: eating, grunting, and making more of herself. Pretty much what you’d expect, right?

Now, fast forward to 2013. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Okay good. So just a couple of weeks ago, my buddy turned 21, the last one of my friends to do so. Naturally, we celebrated the occasion by going to a nice restaurant and having a drink or two. And by that, I mean that we all had about four times that many and went out to West 6th street, which is, of course, packed with bars, most of which also have dance floors. It was about the scene that you would expect—just about everybody there was in their twenties, somewhere on the spectrum of tipsy to blackout drunk (I was somewhere in the middle), and generally looking to have a good time and meet some members of the opposite sex. Oh, and Super Pimp was there. If you don’t know who Cleveland’s Super Pimp is, do yourself a favor and google him. But I digress.

So there I was, in my state of alcohol and strobe light-induced enjoyment, when as usual, the science nerd inside of me squirmed his way out from under the weight of drunken shenanigans, started looking around, and suddenly wondered when he was. Not where, but when. I looked around, and I suddenly found myself in the middle of what appeared to be a tribe full of Lucys, seemingly interested in nothing but eating, grunting, and engaging in reproductive behavior.

“Oh wow, what a brilliant observation,” I hear you saying. “Alcohol and dance clubs make men think about meeting hot women and vice versa. In other news, I heard recent study that found that water is still wet.” To which I respond, why are you talking to your computer screen? You know I’m not actually here, right? Regardless, yes, you are correct—alcohol and parties turning people into raving sex machines is not news. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that, if you know where and how to look, you can find some Lucy in everyone. Not just in bars, mind you, but everywhere. And with that, is the key to understanding human behavior.

If there’s one thing that I truly believe, it’s that looking to human evolution, including our modern day genetic cousins such as apes and old world monkeys, can explain just about everything about humans and why we do what we do. It’s a topic that I’ll explore in more depth in future columns, but for now, I leave you with this: a study out of Duke University Medical Center found that male rhesus monkeys (from which our ape ancestors diverged about 25 million years ago) were willing to forgo fruit treats to look at pictures of attractive female monkeys’ behinds—in other words, they were willing to pay for porn. So do we humans have some monkey in us, or do the monkeys have some human in them? I’ll let you decide.

Evan is the product of 85 million years of primate evolution. He enjoys sports, Star Wars, living in Cleveland, and seeing the world as one giant science experiment with too many variables and not enough explosions.

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