Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our Ancient Brains

I have been chided by certain concerned friends about falling behind in my posts! Ah me... the pressures of modern life! I actually have a few brilliant and thoughtful posts in the works which, alas are not yet ready, and that is why, was why, all of you dear people haven't been hearing from me. However, in the news this morning I came upon this item from the BBC: "Chimpanzees exchange meat for sex." How can I not put aside my profound exploration of music and liturgy and comment on this.

The thing that strikes me is that we once again come up against the fact that in addition to the overwhelming preponderance of our genes, we share a great many behaviors with our arboreal friends. I say in addition to, I should say as a result of. My mind is deeply confused in trying to decide whether the title of the article is a not to subtle attempt to get attention from the lay reader, or possibly a very wry comment on the structure of human society and marriage. It turns out that the behavior now document is actually what happens in the traditional marriage, hubby goes out hunting and mom rewards him with a sexual adventure, offspring resulting.

Seeming at first to be prostitution, then realized to be marriage, complete with the not too unusual promiscuous interludes, it is a little uncomfortable for our pretensions. The researcher has made the connection:

"This has got me really interested in humans," she said. "I'm thinking of moving on to working with hunter-gatherers."

After we finish our chuckles there is a rather serious matter to think upon. In fact I started to think about this while attending "Dr. Funk's Tour of The Brain" a few weeks ago. She starts her presentation with a very emphatic statement that there is nothing "mental" about Mental Illness. That "it is all physical," meaning that our ideas, our behaviors, wishes, aspirations and most emphatically out transgressions of the norm are a result of the way our brains are formed, through both evolution and individual growth and development. This observation of the chimpanzees is an interesting illustration, in that shows a certain kind of hard wired evolutionary form of what many polite people would call prostitution and which they actively persecute.

There is a discussion whether Darwin and Genesis are compatible. It has come up much lately in both of the discussion groups I attend. I am amazed that in the face of conclusive scientific evidence this controversy can be considered other than an amusing footnote to the story intellectual development, yet it continues to occur with contention and I start now to understand why. I wonder if the discussion of historical verses biblical fact isn't a red herring, and the real threat to regressive religious understanding might not be the idea that in fact our behaviors are not so much within our control, but evidence both of evolutionary predetermination and the state of physical health of the organ we call the brain.

No one would think of putting a person with a heart attack in jail. Perhaps I should use epilepsy as an illustration, because it was once considered a demonic situation and often punished, thankfully now understood to be a serious illness. Likewise we learn that addiction, aggression, most human behaviors, good and bad, are not in the control of some kind of "Free Will," yet we deal with them by invoking demons and severe punishment. We now can add to the list an evolutionary predisposition to prostitution.

This I think is the real source of resistance to Darwin and modern science, that it reveals the moral stance of most religious and civil codes to be impoverished and brutal. When "anti-social" behavior is understood to be the result evolutionary forces, or of faulty wiring or physical damage in the brain, all the moral implications need to be reinterpreted, and the very foundation of the orthodox response is crumbled. There are very few, I am thankful to be able to say not all, but very few religious leaders that are willing to, have the wisdom, intelligence and grace to rise to this challenge. 


kennz said...

Is this why some men expect sex if they pay for dinner? (just kidding!)

I look forward to seeing more posts!

the man from Utz said...

well, kidding or not the answer is "yes it is." Dr Funk will give you the details, come over and chat, she'll be with me for the Bach Motets!

the man from Utz said...

which is why it is wise to only let really attractive men pay for dinner.