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How wise are we really?

By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.” – Galileo


Homo sapiens, so Wikipedia tells me, can be translated from Latin as “wise man,” which means that scientists have a better sense of humor than we may have expected. More to the point, Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped under the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct. For example, there once was Homo erectus, thus triggering the inner Beavis and Butthead living inside the middle school DNA of most adult males.

Yuval Noah Harari has written a couple of massive worldwide best sellers about the development and potential future of what we refer to as mankind. The books are fascinating and remind me of how little I know about most things.

As a side note, the zealous moms now attacking school boards for teaching Critical Race Theory would better aim their spears at any library that carries Harari’s books. As a scientist, he almost nonchalantly dismisses all religion – including Christianity – as quaint little beliefs that were once necessary to provide an explanation for the world’s mysteries. As a scientist, he says we now have facts to explain these things and, as humans, we need to concentrate on the here and now since there is certainly no afterlife.

Harari can get your mind going. There were all these different species of man, he notes, and no guarantee that Homo sapiens, or only Homo sapiens, would survive and ultimately rule. What if there were all sorts of “humans” walking – or slouching – around? How differently would religions have developed in order to explain that? How would they cope? Where would these multiple versions of mankind have directed their biases and prejudices? Would all of the colors of Homo sapiens teamed up to declare Homo erectus as the inferior ones? It’s fascinating.

But it didn’t turn out that way, and the debate over how that happened raises some troubling thoughts about the scientific community. There are different schools of thought as to whether the other species just faded out by failing to survive, for example, or because they were eliminated by Homo sapiens. Or, there could have been a meshing of the species with Homo sapiens evolving as dominant. Both theories have their adherents and both have had their moment in the sun.

One of the consequences of the debate, to put it simply, is whether we are truly alike beneath the colors or our skin, or whether there are potentially different and significant differences among the global family of man. From a sinister viewpoint, you can see where this could go. If we aren’t all basically the same, then racists could – as they have – pounce on that to make scurrilous claims about the natural inferiority of the “other.”

But what if it were true? What if there were essential and measurable differences within the creatures we label as Home sapiens? Shouldn’t science, in its never ending quest for the truth, uncover and trumpet such findings, regardless of the social fallout? Harari, perhaps unwittingly, suggests that is not the case. He implies that scientists were biased to the “we are all the same” thinking because they didn’t want to support the racist chorus. Admirable, perhaps, but hardly in keeping with science as truth.

And it could be damaging as well. There was an Icelandic company that, for arcane reasons, had a tiny office based in Brighton. The company had super smart scientists who specialized in genetic research in the search for medical breakthroughs. They were thwarted in one venture, though, when they attempted to analyze the genetic difference in Black people who might be more prone to diseases such as sickle cell anemia. Research funding was blocked less any credence be given to the notion that there were intrinsic difference to racial makeups. But Blacks do get sickle cell anemia more than whites do – by a lot. Failing to know why inhibits the ability to develop cures and preventive measures.

Wise men should know this.


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