If I was to name one property of us humans which led us beyond the turmoil of hunters and hunted, a property which shoved us off the dubious comfort of African trees straight to the top of the food chain, a property which enabled us to achieve what no other known species could be dreaming of – art, science and technology, it would most certainly be our (relatively) immense brain capacity. In the harsh and unpredictable savannah, mere strength and speed turned out to be insufficient in terms of survival, therefore other means had to be considered. Means such as cunning, anticipation, planning and cooperation. Of what use are nimble fingers if you cannot understand the benefits of using a tool or of pouring your thoughts onto paper, what could be the use an incredible larynx, of which many birds would be jealous, should you not find it advantageous to communicate and share your experiences with others? Among all the evolutionary ‘inventions’ incorporated in Homo sapiens it is the brain that causes them all to join forces and cooperate in a way found nowhere else on the planet.
This intellectual power later allowed our ancestors to build the first city, construct a wheeled cart, a library, compose the Four Seasons and paint the pretty Young Ladies of Avignon. Today we have trains, cars, aircrafts and spaceships. Everything from the headphones in your ears to the Large Hadron Collider can be attributed to our capacity to make sense of our surroundings, to think reasonably in order to achieve results and to predict the consequences of certain events. Inconceivable as it may sound, planes do not get carried around the sky by a bunch of fairies – they use engines, earliest of which have been described as long ago as the 1st century AD by a Greek mathematician living in Alexandria, however nobody was eager to give the slaves a good night’s rest so it wasn’t until the 18th century when James Watt patented the device and claimed it his own. I shall repeat the word ‘patented’ for the first time. Alike planes, ideas do not fly on fay wings or spring into existence in the form of a bright light bulb above one’s head but come around through long and tedious process involving many people, often living whole eras apart. Speaking of bulbs, the name of T. A. Edison follows naturally, yet he was simply the first person to get the first commercially practical (et encore) patent. That is, of course, after having tried and failed with many dozen filaments of varying compounds up until the glorious day he discovered… bamboo. I am not by any means attempting to deflate the importance of inventors, but simply stating that no invention can be attributed to one person alone but rather to a evolution of human reasoning.
There is also a troublesome aspect of carrying a large brain in your skull. We are, at least most of us I should hope, very good at understanding the consequences of our own actions and these are often far from being pleasant. It is a part of being human to be ambitious, to aspire and to take action to become more than we are – that is the force that drove us out of Africa to conquer new faraway lands, but we have also taken the art of negligence to a level of recidivism. Not only do we fail to anticipate the aftermath of our deeds, but completely, unreservedly and en masse refuse to think or hear about it. We reject the very same feature which propelled us to the state of civilization we have today. Fifty percent of the Congo Basin forest has been allocated for lodging despite scientists already seeing a correlation with changing storm patterns in Europe and America. They are likely to become more extreme. The temperature at which turtle eggs are kept determine the sex of the hatchlings. Global warming could mean that sea turtles are no longer able to breed. A powdered rhino horn can reach prices of $65,000 a kilo. Rhino horns are made of keratine – the same protein that your nails and hair is made of, but still, on average, one rhino is killed by poachers every day. There are only 600 black rhinos left on Earth, while the subspecies, the western black rhino, was declared extinct on November 10, 2011.
We could easily use this unique brain capacity of ours to become keepers and protectors rather than mindless feeders. As far as our knowledge goes we are the only species capable of preserving balance on our home planet, so let us not take any chances and start thinking of better ways of living our lives.