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Evolution and the F1 Driver

Humanity has got to be one of the strangest creatures on the planet. For a start, he walks on two legs, whereas most other mammals opt for four. He is also almost completely defenseless, with teeth that are hopeless for threatening anything bigger than a mouse and an unarmored skin that does not even have much hair for protection. Yet most other animals are scared of him. Weird, isn’t it?

But this is only the beginning of the odd decisions taken by evolution in designing mankind. There are aspects that can only be described as overkill and the perfect illustration of this is the F1 driver. Here is an animal that, without external aid, can reach a top speed of about 20 mph; yet has reflexes and processing power that enable him to control a vehicle going at ten times that speed.

Superman

Man lives on a planet that defines gravity in terms of itself – we live at 1G. Yet, for reasons known only to itself, evolution has decided to give him the power not only to exist at over 3G but to perform delicate and precise tasks at the same time. Then the humble backside, an anatomical part that cannot reasonably be expected to need more sensory perception than the discernment of the difference between a hard rock and a pillow, proves capable of sensing how much adhesion is left in four tires remotely connected to said backside through suspension parts, a car body and a seat. And all this happens while he is being shaken around, vibrated and thumped by his environment with an engine screaming in one ear and a disembodied electronic voice speaking to him in the other. Yet he copes with it all and even professes to enjoy the experience.

Our F1 driver, designed for a home of natural forces, turns out to be capable of functioning perfectly well at speeds, g-forces, pressures and sound levels many times that which could have been predicted before his brain allowed technology to make such things possible. What on earth made evolution design the human being with such huge tolerances above and beyond what could be expected?

If the human were a car, we would say he is massively over-engineered. He has no evolutionary need to cope with pressures so much greater than any encountered in the natural environment of Earth. It is as though evolution, in the act of fitting this harmless upright ape with a brain that could help him survive, had stopped suddenly and thought, “Hang on a mo, if I give the creature this brain he will eventually make things that go really fast and encounter forces that will rip him apart. I’d better give him a little more capacity for survival in such circumstances.”

Which, of course, is ridiculous – evolution doesn’t “think”. Pretty weird, isn’t it? Makes you wonder what’s really going on…

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