What Would a Caveman Do? Part 2

Homo sapiens (that’s us), pretty much stopped evolving once we became intelligent. So I can’t sit here and say that we stopped evolving 100,000 years ago, or 125,000 years ago. But whenever we became smart enough to start modifying our environment, we stopped evolving. I won’t haggle over 25,000 years.

Evolution is a process by which the species improves its ability to survive and reproduce. The function and the appearance of the organism changes so that they are better equipped to thrive in a given environment. In the natural world, this is an ongoing process. But once humans began to be able to modify the environment to compensate for our weaknesses, evolution essentially came to a standstill. We are no longer improving and in fact, as a species, we might even be devolving.

Let me give a couple of simple examples. There’s no question, we all think we can do without our appendix. Before the time of surgery, people died if they had an attack of appendicitis. Over many centuries, those humans with a beefy appendix which was predisposed to getting infected died off. They didn’t get an opportunity to pass on the beefy appendix genes to their offspring. Those who were born with an appendix that wasn’t as likely to retain fecal material and get infected got to pass on their improved appendices. Less of them died as a result of appendicitis. If we weren’t so smart, eventually the process of evolution would have completely eliminated the appendix. But because we were so smart, we learned how to do surgery and take out the infected appendix. And no one is going to reject a potential mate just because he or she has had appendicitis. Therefore we keep the appendix gene in our gene pool and we keep having children who will eventually have appendicitis and will eventually have to have their appendix removed.

Is there any doubt that this is true and that if we figured out a way to manipulate our genes, one of the first things we would experiment with would be the elimination of the appendix from our gene pool? That would be a no-brainer. There would be no downside to it! The appendix is totally worthless and even though it can be removed through a simple operation, there are still a fair number of folks every year who die from the disease or even complications of the surgery itself.

So let’s go a step further to something up my alley (surgically speaking), but something nonetheless very important. Let’s talk about the anterior cruciate ligament. That’s something that’s dear to my heart, not just because I do bunches of operations on folks who have torn their ACLs, but because I have torn mine and I’ve had three other close blood relatives who have torn theirs. That means that my family is pre-disposed to tearing their ACLs and I have likely passed on the crummy ACL gene to my children. And if each of my kids has two kids and their kids have two kids…you do the math, mainly because I can’t. Never was any good at math and I think I passed that gene on too.

But no potential spouse is going to count my kids out as a result of some theoretical potential to tear their ACLs or have kids with weak ACLs. However, if we were cavemen and living closer to a time when reproducing adults selected potential mates based on the appearance of vitality, the ability to get food and the ability to care for their offspring in the natural world, then a limping cave girl/boy would be rejected, just like a limping mare will be rejected by the stallion or vice versa. That lameness, no matter what the cause, would be naturally rejected as a potential weakness and over time, the knee ligaments of the human species would have improved rather than worsened, because we humans, as a species, have got to have some of the crummiest pieces of crap for knee ligaments and cartilages in the world of animals.

We learned how to modify our environment to keep from hurting our knees. We learned how to compensate for weak knees by being charming and having more things to entice potential mates other than the strength of our knees and bodies.  Chicks even learned to love scars! And finally we learned how to do surgery on knees. As a species, our knee ligaments will NEVER get any better and in fact our predisposition to knee cartilage and ligament injuries will only get worse with the decades as people with bad knees get together and have babies with doubly bad knees!

That’s a lot of information to absorb. More in a few days…

2 Responses to What Would a Caveman Do? Part 2

  1. Rattlesnake January 25, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Dear Dr. Barbara,
    I love this and read it over again ever now and then – I love the cave man concept and yes I understand about the gene pool. If a cow on our farm had the slighest defect- it was a goner and I used to wonder how that related to us humans – now with my puny, aching little knees, just like my mother and her mother I understand but I wouldn’t trade my mama’s for big ole strong knees. Thank you for taking the time to share with us. ra

  2. blb January 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m so glad you went back to this entry again, because I often do too. I referred to the “caveman concept” several times yesterday in my clinic and then again in a weight loss seminar I gave at the office. It lends to a better understanding of the way we are and actually gives us peace with ourselves and our physical shortcomings. Still gotta do something to help or fix our shortcomings, but a little peace with the process is always good.

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