Where Are We, What Are We, Why Are We? Cover
This is an extract from Chapter 18 of

Where Are We, What Are We,
Why Are We?

And Why Do We Want To Know?

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An Unfortunate Consequence of High Intelligence

       Our level of intelligence may possibly have developed by following a very similar evolutionary dynamic to the one that caused the giraffe to develop its long neck.
The primary dynamic was probably basic survival. For the giraffe, a longer neck meant that it could reach higher leaves in trees, while for people bigger brains meant that we could reach higher levels of understanding of the workings of an alien and hostile ground-based environment.
There is a theory that the giraffe’s neck is not only a practical survival adaptation however, but has a sexual dimension as well. Here, by an interesting coincidence, it still echoes the development of the human brain. As well as being useful for reaching greater heights the giraffe’s neck is also a useful sexual appendage (just like our intelligence): it is used by males for the purpose of impressing the opposite sex (just like our intelligence), and is also deployed by males as a weapon against members of the same sex (just like our intelligence). Male giraffes fight each other by swinging their long necks and using their heads as clubs in very much the same way that male humans use their heads (or at least the brains in their heads) as clubs to bludgeon each other at a psychological level.
As well as being developmentally similar, the giraffe’s neck and human’s brain share some similar qualities on a metaphorical level too.
Although the giraffe’s neck is primarily useful for the purposes of enabling the giraffe to eat leaves high in trees and for impressing/whacking other giraffes (depending on their gender), it also has the side-effect of allowing the giraffe to see further into the distance from its elevated vantage point. Our intelligence has a similar by-product of its own: although it originally developed as a result of the pressure on our ancestors to survive in an ill-fitting environment, our intelligence has allowed us to “see” further, by endowing us with our abilities for conceptualisation and analysis.
And like the giraffe’s neck, our intelligence isn’t without its down side. The giraffe’s long neck makes it very difficult for the creature to sit down and relax (although it’s a myth that as a result giraffes have to sleep standing up). Similarly we find it difficult to sit down and relax too, due to our unwieldy intellects.
When the giraffe looks into the distance from its great height it can, quite usefully, see an approaching lion that remains unnoticed by the other, shorter creatures with which it shares its habitat. When we look into the distance from our intellectually elevated vantage point we see something unsettling approaching too – something that other creatures don’t have an inkling of.
We see our own death.
Now, there’s a burden for you if ever there was one!
I mentioned not long ago that it wasn’t only the need to survive and the need to impress the opposite sex that drove the advancement of the human intellect, but also the ever-present prodding of our innate dissatisfaction.
It seems that this tendency towards dissatisfaction, by virtue of its agency in increasing our intelligence, has revealed to us the fact that we’re all going to die. By a great irony it has revealed to us what seems to be the most dissatisfying thing of all.

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