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The human species as a watershed


The human species as an intermediary stage
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Well, think of Lucy. Lucy is, of course, now well-known because her skeleton was discovered some years ago in the Ethiopian desert. Lucy had a brain of about 400 cubic centimetres, so something a little better than a chimpanzee. What happened in her brain, of course, must have been extremely crude. She probably was thinking of finding food, of maybe taking care of her kids, finding a mate and maybe finding a stick and hitting the head of another female – things of that kind. That's probably the best that we can think of that could happen in her brain. She certainly could not have, let us say, imagined or formulated the theory of relativity. She could obviously not have formulated the theory of natural selection. She could not have composed the Ninth Symphony or whatever. I mean, she could not have done what the human brain has... has achieved with a brain size three times her brain size. She could not have imagined... the same way we cannot possibly, with our little brain we're so proud of... we could not possibly imagine what would happen in those hypothetical beings who would have twice the size of our brain. And so they... the only thing that I'm ready to predict is that they will have closer contact with Ultimate Reality. They will understand things about Ultimate Reality that we are unable to understand with our limited brain power. They will... they will have emotions that we cannot share with them because... and so on. So they will approach... this is in a way maybe something of a Teilhardian thought about moving towards the point Omega. I'm not a fan of Teilhard de Chardin, but I can see there is certainly this evolution in the direction of increasing complexity leading to, let us say, closer contact with what I call Ultimate Reality. So this... this finding or recognition, which, of course, I'm not... I'm not personally responsible, for many people have said this before me, but which I share with... it certainly should inspire in us a feeling of healthy humbleness – modesty. We're not the crowning event in evolution. We are not the final outcome. We are not the kings and queens of creation. We are just an intermediary form in a process that is far from finished and may quite possibly give rise to beings who will look upon us the way we look upon Lucy.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008