Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why aren't we any faster ?

The other night, i was driving on my bike back to my place. It was around 9.30 . I was in no hurry, but for the thrill, I was driving faster than usual. Absolutely speaking, the speed was not much. 65-70kmph is not very fast, but, the road was not appropriate for that speed. In a residential area, with a not very well lit road, and with a large number of lanes joining in at right angles, 40-45kmph would be okay. At ~70kmph, by the time i spot someone/something, realize the direction it is going, calculate the intersection, decide to press the brake or turn the handle, it would be too late, especially when the road is not very wide. Considering what the driver of the other vehicle and vehicles around me do during that time makes the scene even more complicated. Our brain is simply not made to handle that level of dynamism. Our brain and sensory organs have to be faster in order to handle that kind of a situation. In this case, we are limited by our brain :(
The big question then is - why are we limited ? If the brain is as fast as it is now, why is not any faster ? Why can't we(humans) drive at 80 at places where we currently can't go beyond say 50 ? Imagine the amount of time and money that will be saved, if the average speed on all the roads in the world increases by 20kmph!
I am no expert in this field but, IMO the reason can be traced back to - evolution!
We are not any faster because, probably nature never required us to be faster! When man became a biped, there were a huge number of changes that took place in his body. Walking on 2 feet instead of 4 is considered to be a very significant event in human evolution. Along with structural and muscular changes, it brought about changes in the brain and shifted the larynx to a favorable position for language to be spoken and evolve (eons later). Language and intelligence in general gave man a very big advantage over other species. Language does not necessarily mean the meticulous syntax and semantics ridden constructions we use everyday. I mean to refer to any preliminary mode of vocal or non-vocal communication which must have existed before the languages of today evolved. A sharp brain (as compared to other species) and language must have been enough for us to save ourselves from predators and hunt successfully when hungry. Man then, would not have been able to outrun a wolf or a tiger, but he had the brains to light a fire and scare the animal away.
Too few individuals must have died due to slower physical responses, so there was no natural selection based on the ability to move/act fast and hence humans might not have evolved to be any faster.
Evolution is a cost optimization problem. There are limited resources, and they have to be put to use in such a way as to maximize the returns. It is analogous to solving the knapsack problem. The individuals who use their resources (for example - the energy they get from food) to get more returns will be selected(in long term) in the evolutionary race and will survive to produce the next generation. Suboptimal use will not be tolerated for long by nature, and individuals doing that will eventually become extinct.
We humans, might have hadPublish Post stronger, faster cousins in the past. While we evolved better brains, they might have evolved stronger muscles and faster responses. But, since we are alive today, we can be sure that, we were the ones that were optimal and not them...

Related Content

No comments: