Thursday, April 13, 2006

It seems that someone has lent us a hand.

I'm looking through information trying to formulate some thoughts on the anthropic principle that I've been meaning to write about and I came across this interesting note worth saving.

The Hand:
In addition to our brain, our linguistic ability, and our highly developed visual ability, we possess another wonderful adaptation, the ideal manipulative tool—the human hand. No other animal possesses an organ so superbly adapted for intelligent exploration and manipulation of its physical surroundings and environment. Only the great apes, our cousins, come close. Yet the hand of the chimp and gorilla, although possessing an opposable thumb, is far less adapted to fine motor movement and control. Although some chimps are remarkably dexterous, when one sees them attempt even simple manual tasks, they appear clumsy and inept compared to humans. Even a chimp with the intelligence of a human would have considerable difficulty carrying out many of the manipulative tasks that we take for granted, like peeling an apple, tying a knot, or using a typewriter.
One of the earliest and still one of the most fascinating discussions of the adaptive marvel that is the human hand was given by the first-century physician Galen: “To man the only animal that partakes in the Divine intelligence, the Creator has given in lieu of every other natural weapon or organ of defence, that instrument the hand: applicable to every art and occasion.” And he continues: “Let us then scrutinise this member of our body; and enquire not simply whether it be in itself useful for all the purposes of life, and adapted to an animal endowed with the highest intelligence; but whether its entire structure be not such, that it could not be improved by any conceivable alteration.” The adaptive perfection of the hand was a popular topic among nineteenth-century natural theologians.
In the context of explaining man’s biological preeminence on earth, the crucial question is not whether the human hand represents the absolute pinnacle of manipulative capability, but whether any other species possesses an organ approaching its capabilities. The answer simply must be that no other species possesses a manipulative organ remotely approaching the universal utility of the human hand. Even in the field of robotics, nothing has been built which even remotely equals the all-around manipulative capacity of the hand.
The hand not only provided man with the ability to manipulate and explore his environment but also with the ability to construct all manner of diverse tools and instruments, the use of which has been crucial to the acquisition of technological and scientific knowledge. It is impossible to envisage man progressing beyond the most primitive technology without the hand.
The hand, like any other organ, does not function in isolation. In fact, its utility is dependent to a large extent on that other crucial and unique adaptation of man, our upright stance and bipedal gait. Without these, the human hand would not be free to execute its manipulative explorations. All the great apes are basically quadrupeds, defined as knuckle-walkers by Owen in the nineteenth century.
[T]here are other aspects of our biology which have enabled us to be truly Homo sapiens, most notably that we are a social animal, a condition of great significance. Being social was not only almost certainly essential to the evolutionary development of language and other key aspects of our intellect, but only a social species could have ever developed an advanced technology through which to further the exploration of nature.
(Nature's Destiny: How the Laws
of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe
by Michael Denton :241-242)

That is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to our opportunity to be here in the way that we are here. For example, a totally different note on the music of the spheres that must be set to play in harmony in order that we can be here to hear:
If inertia had been less, then the wind could well have set a boulder in motion. In such a world we would be subjected to a continual bombardment by all types of objects in our environment. However, if inertia had been much greater, then unless the strength of muscles was much greater, we would have profound difficulty even in starting to move our finger. And once in motion, control of its direction and speed would be next to impossible. It is clear that the inertia of matter must be very close to what it is for an animal of our size to function in an environment similar to the earth’s. Extraordinary as it may seem, physicists have proposed that the inertial forces experienced by objects on the earth are generated by the total combined gravitational attraction of all matter in the cosmos, including the most distant stars and galaxies. Because most of the matter in the universe is far from the earth, this means that the greatest contribution to the inertia of objects on earth is made by the most distant galaxies. As Dennis Sciama comments in his Unity of the Universe:
The idea that distant matter can sometimes have far more influence than nearby matter may be an unfamiliar one. To make it more concrete, we may give a numerical estimate of the influence of nearby objects in determining the inertia of bodies on the earth: of this inertia, the whole of the Milky Way only contributes one ten-millionth, the sun one hundred-millionth, and the earth itself one thousand-millionth. . . . In fact, 80 per cent of the inertia of local matter arises from the influence of galaxies too distant to be detected by the 200-inch telescope.
In a very real sense, then, the existence of beings of our size and mass with the ability to stand, to move, and to light a fire[<--something necessary for the eventual evolution of things like the internet] is only possible because of the influence of the most distant galaxies, whose collective mass determines the precise strength of the inertial forces on earth. If this view is correct, then it means that our existence is critically dependent on both the mass of the earth and the total mass of the universe being very close to what they are. There is a distinct echo in these curious coincidences of the old medieval doctrine of man the microcosm, which held that the dimensions of the human body reflect in some profound sense the dimensions of the macrocosm.
(ib. :253-254)

Leonardo da Vinci was one of those, a scholar who some now believe was hiding knowledge about the Logos instead of promulgating it...will the ignorant absurdities of American pop-culture never cease?

[Related posts: Those who have eyes, let them see.
The Moon]

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