Evolution has served humanity well, despite the fact we were genetic underdogs. We don’t have big teeth or fearsome claws or long necks or the ability to spray stench, but we still managed to come out on top. Granted, we did it mostly by being the only ones smart enough to figure out where the top was, but that in no way diminishes the achievement. We owe it all to this big brain and the fancy tricks it lets us do. But like all complex computational devices, the brain isn’t without its bugs.
Let’s look at dancing, for instance. As near as I can figure, this serves no useful purpose in survival. I’ve seen plenty of shows about people getting attacked by wild animals, and not once have I heard someone say, “Thank god I knew how to do the hustle, or that bear would have got me.” I would say that dancing is actually a thing that developed around society, but babies do it. Play music for a baby that has never heard music before and there is a pretty good chance it will dance. Play the same music for a dog and it will probably bark at the speakers. This, one would imagine, is the proper instinctive reaction. “There are unfamiliar noises coming out of this box. There are probably things inside this box, and they are not dogs. That means they are either going to want to eat me or eat my food. Either that or they are potential food. Regardless, I want to bite them.” Now compare that to, “There are unfamiliar noises coming out of this box. I will move my body along with those noises.” One of these creatures is significantly more likely to be prepared for the unexpected.
Obviously, dancing wouldn’t have ever come about if not for another weird side effect of our brain’s excess processing power, music. This, at least, has a little bit of representation in the animal kingdom. Most animals make noise, and birds actually sing. But it took a human to invent the banjo. Again, I’d say that society was to blame, but there are aboriginal societies that have music and instruments. This, at the very least, shows that the human mind hasn’t quite got a solid grasp on the concept of prioritization. Let’s wait until we invent electricity, or at least umbrellas, before we start devoting resources to rocking out. Music might be good for the soul, but without the body, the soul will be homeless, so lets get to work on those vaccines before we develop the tuba.
All of these mental bugs develop from the one main flawed module in the human mind. Creativity. It goes all the way back to cave men painting on cave walls. At some point in human history our brains decided, “All of this stuff that is real is neat and all, but what if we make stuff up?” Creativity is really what set us apart from the animals. Sometimes this allowed us to come up with farming and complex language and advanced hunting tactics. Other times it produced Three’s Company and fuzzy dice. It is sort of a mixed bag. Clearly these days the most pressing concerns have been addressed and we can afford to spend time coming up with new and exciting ways to waste time and resources, but I wonder if the useful/useless ratio of invention has always been the same. Were there protohumans working on the flint arrow head and the whoopie cushion side by side. Was there one ancestor trying to figure out how to build fires and another one trying to develop tic tac toe?
Creativity is a good thing. No one would argue with that. In fact, creativity may have been so good that it is the source of its own flaws. Once we got creative, we started to use the abstract thinking and problem solving that came along with it to grow in leaps and bounds. Before long there weren’t any more credible threats from the rest of the wild kingdom. Evolution slowed down and stopped because we were coming up with non-biological fixes for our shortcomings. We left beta and went into production. And everyone knows that the bugs that make it out of beta tend to last for a really, really long time.