Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Brain Versus Brawn: Evolution of the Bubble-Headed Weakling

By Darren Curnoe

Differences in metabolism explain why humans evolved brains while apes evolved brawn.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

One of the most important questions we can ask, and one that continues to take up much of the time of scientists, philosophers and the religious minded alike is, why are humans so different to the rest of the living world?

Philosophers and physicists have even celebrated the appearance of humans 200,000 years ago on the African savannah as marking the arrival of consciousness or self-awareness for the universe.

Despite the remarkable promise and advances of science and technology over the past 155 years since Charles Darwin published his paradigm shifting book, On the Origin of Species, I find myself increasingly pessimistic about whether this ‘riddle to end all riddles’ will ever be solved.

Mind the gap

In our quest to disentangle it, our scientific gaze usually turns to examining the differences between our close living relative, the chimpanzee, and ourselves.

The physical and behavioural distinctions between us are obvious to all: pointedly, it is we who are destroying their habitat and threatening their very existence.

We share a common evolutionary ancestor with them some 7 or 8 million years ago – a mere ripple in the stream of time of Earth’s history – and more than reason enough to ensure their survival as a species.

Our genetic blueprint, our genome, is different by a mere 1-2 percent: barely enough to explain the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.