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This month's Scientific American is devoted to the wild ride that has been the 7 million-year long and running course of human evolution.

Despite the many advancements in paleoanthropology, experts are still in the dark as to how to account for the genetic differences between humans and the great apes. The evolutionary tree is forked with many branches, each a distinct evolutionary line, but the path leading to homo sapiens is a crooked and broken one.

The so-called missing link separating modern humans from the great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos) accounts for the 1% difference seen in our DNA. Evidence has emerged for a "ghost lineage" in the DNA of living modern humans from 100,000 years ago.

Valiant efforts have been made to explain this evolutionary mystery, with scientists advancing such phenomena as climate changes which brought small ancestor populations together and gave rise to new traits at rapid rates; but these theories don't convincingly account for the differences between humans and apes. These differences include the capacity for language, ability to cooperate and intuit what others are thinking.

And indeed humans are very peculiar primates. As curator emeritus of the American Museum of Natural History Ian Tattersall writes, "We walk upright, precariously balancing our heavy bodies on two short feet. Our heads are oddly swollen, with tiny faces and small jaws tucked below the front of our balloonlike braincases. Perhaps most remarkably, we process information about the world around us in an entirely unprecedented way. As far as anyone can tell, we are the only organisms that mentally deconstruct our surroundings and our internal experiences into a vocabulary of abstract symbols that we juggle in our minds to produce new versions of reality: we can envision what might be, as well as describe what is."

We are animals, but clearly we are something more.

Consider anatomical differences such as brains which are twice the size of our furry-chested relatives, opposable thumbs, and the presence of a chin, in addition to sex organs which are forward facing, making face-to-face copulation (and the intimacy it provides) possible. The last of which by the way may explain our tendency towards monogamous relationships. We are 1 of among less than 10 percent of mammalian species known to form exclusive sexual relationships, though without much success - 90 percent of people marry by age 50; however, nearly 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. Humans stayed (mostly) monogamous for a good reason: it helped us evolve into the big-brained world conquerors we are today. And indeed historically monogamy increased the fitness of our children - keeping them safe from predatory males and ensuring they'd live to see a ripe old age, or at least live to reproduce and carry on the genetic code, which is the purpose of mating anyway. But nowadays people live 7 or 8 decades on average regardless of whether or not their parents divorce or remain together until they die. So why is marriage still around. Is it a case of old habits die hard? Maybe, but that's the subject of another post.

Back to the 1% difference separating our DNA from that of the great apes, and all the varying traits arising therefrom, and the fact that many of these traits (such as hairlessness) don't exist in other primate species. So where did we get it from?

Take the movie The World's End, featuring Simon Pegg, the same guy who wrote such instant classics as Shaun of the Dead, Paul, and Hot Fuzz. The premise is that a group of old high school friends reunite 20 years after graduating high school and return to their former home town of New Haven to hit every pub in the area, have a pint of beer at each pub, culminating at the World's End bar. They weren't able to finish the circuit as teens because they all got too smashed to make it past the ninth or tenth stop. Anyway, they find out along the way that their small town has been taken over by aliens who are absorbing members of the human population, replacing them with replicas, and possibly mating with them.

Now this is not a new concept, and in the movie it serves as a flimsy skeleton on which to hang a series of really funny shticks and jokes. But there are many books on the subject of extraterrestrial/human interbreeding. For example, one good read is entitled Mankind: Child of the Stars, and there are other books on the subject by Zecharia Sitchin. In essence otherworldly beings have visited Earth at key points in our evolution to mate with us and share/pass on genetic traits that would cause humans to evolve at much more rapid rates than they otherwise would if only random mutations and natural selection were at play. Consider the massive explosion of technological advancements and interplanetary exploration that has occurred in a fraction of cosmic time. How else would this be possible?

If we take the more than seven million years since humans split from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and convert it to a 24-hour day, the past 10,000 years (Agricultural Revolution to present) would take about a mere 2 minutes. And in that time, my what innovation! Vast migrations into new environments, dramatic changes in diet and a more than 1,000-fold increase in global population, not to mention the invention of computers which are getting smaller and smaller and faster and more powerful seemingly by the minute. This from Sitchin:

Is this so much evidence that human evolution has had a helping hand from elsewhere in the universe? It's an interesting notion, one that has been even more popularized in the History Channel's show Ancient Aliens (Anunnaki is the name given to our progenitor race - they must have had Mork say "nanu nanu" for a reason). I think 2001: A Space Odyssey touched on it too, with the apes encountering a monolith that caused them to evolve.

Alien interbreeding is a notion that as yet is a bit too far-flung for the scientific community. But even if such a concept never gains mainstream appeal, best keep your eye out for one of them, but keep in mind that "they" may already be in you.

But the truth remains: whether alien, ape, or average Jane or Joe, the body is just a vehicle and we are really the Oneness that alone is. Be it! (As if you could do anything but!)


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