Monthly Archives: April 2023
The Giraffe’s Long Neck, or Why Margaret Still Grieves
“Our persistent urge to care for and about each other may have begun as a device to keep the evolutionary ball rolling. But in humans and in other species too it has taken on a life of its own that holds creation to account for its own lack of compassion.”
Unless you’re a fish, the nerve that controls the muscles in your larynx and allows you to go on breathing without choking when you eat travels a roundabout route from your brain to down under your heart before heading up again into your throat. Why doesn’t the nerve go straight from brain to throat as it does in a flounder or a guppie? Because fish have no necks. When necks evolved, evolution didn’t bother to redesign the connection, so it just kept getting longer and longer. In a giraffe the impulse from brain to larynx can travel a dozen feet. In humans it extends several extra inches more than necessary (at least it does so after a fetus develops a neck).
What kind of way is that to run an evolution? In a world where so much seems so elegantly put together, how could clumsy good-enoughs like the route of the vagus nerve occur? Evolution had hundreds of millions of years to get it right. Why did it settle for work-arounds like the laryngeal nerve and other gerry-rigged operations?
More importantly, why did evolution or creation or God or whatever you want to call the forces driving not just biology but everything in the cosmos from star nurseries to starlings have to include pain and suffering? Unless you believe in Original Sin or subscribe to some other way of blaming the victim for their misery, there seems to be no reason why something as well-organized as life has to be beset by the miseries to which the flesh is heir. Life is precarious and fraught from start to finish, thanks to miscarriage, disease, predation and a host of other calamities….