Badass Sci Fi Loves Lucy- The Evolution of Opposable (Thumbs)- Part 1
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lie. I don’t. I haven’t taken any CPH4. What I do know, however, is Badass Sci Fi loves Lucy. But, why?
Firstly, Lucy wears it’s flaws on its sleeveless cocktail dress. It’s a sometimes painful marriage of inaccurate, convoluted speculative fiction and hyper-violent gangster crime thriller.
Secondly, Luc Besson is a master of throwing wacky ideas at you. More so, he isn’t afraid to carry them out to an asinine, bombastic, ridiculously entertaining conclusion.
He’s so concerned with delivering a visually stunning experience filled with quirky characters and imaginative set pieces, the science becomes collateral. A true magician, Besson dazzles us with bright colors and pretty sights to distract us from the implausibility of what’s transpiring before us.
Well, with Lucy, he stripped away much of the flair and put the science front and center. As a consequence, he opened himself up to scrutiny.
The Science in Science Fiction
Now, if you’re going to advance scientific hypotheses in fiction, you better a) do your homework and make sure they’re critic proof, or b) make them so flippin’ off the wall that experts won’t bother poking holes. Christopher Nolan accomplished both with Interstellar.
Luc Besson did not with Lucy. He threw himself headlong into a catch 22. By introducing Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), and having him lecture about both the capacity of the brain and cellular response to its environment in front of a crowd of, what looks like, well-educated colleagues and students, he invited scrutiny.
Worse than that, he dumbed it down. And worse even than that, he dumbed it down with falsehoods. Now you have the average moviegoer saying, “That’s pretty cool, but can we get back to the action?”, over here, and experts or any naysayer who can Google ‘brain capacity’ saying, “That’s a bunch of horse shit,” way over there.
I, on the other hand, think it has the perfect balance of ‘pretty cool’ and ‘horse shit’.
The 10% Myth
Yes, I realize the brain isn’t a power grid with nine out of the ten electrical substations mothballed. I believe it’s more like all the substations are operating, just not at capacity.
Furthermore, based on the above statement, nootropics, fictional (CPH4 in Lucy, NZT-48 in Limitless) or real (modafinil, amphetamines, caffeine, nicotine) don’t ‘wake up’ dormant regions of the brain, they enhance already occurring cognitive processes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fascinated by the possibilities of an expanded or enhanced mind, I just know the catalyst of said transformation won’t come from a little clear pill or super-meth.
The brain is an adaptive organ just like any other. The key to expanding the brain’s abilities lies not in drugs, but the introduction of new capabilities in other organs; bipedalism, stereoscopic vision, language, and opposable thumbs. Guess which one I’m going to focus on.
Opposable Thumbs and Intelligence
Opposable thumbs are the result of a series of mutations passed down over the last, we’ll say, 70 million years. Focusing on the opposable thumb as an evolutionarily advantageous trait, we can shorten our search to about 5 million years ago.
Badass Sci Fi’s Half-Baked Lesson on Human Evolution
Several million years ago, a bunch of CHLCAs (chimp-human last common ancestors), whoever the hell they were, split up. Some decided to keep climbing trees and walking on all fours. Some got lazy, stayed on the ground, and did some serious social distancing (geographic isolation). Remarkably, both factions survived.
By that time, Gorillas, Gibbons, and Orangutans already branched off, doing their own thing.
After that, about 4 million years ago, some of our oldest, 100% for sure, after the CHLCA split ancestors, Australopithecus afarensis, of which Lucy was indeed a member, noticed their hands were all deformed.
Some discovered they could now pick their own butts with remarkable efficiency. Others balled their freak hands into fists and clocked their weaker clan members with vicious combos. The fighters eventually evolved into Homo habilis. Yes, some believe our hands evolved to punch.
Over the next few hundred thousand years, our ancestors thumbs, along with bipedalism, stereoscopic vision, language, and infant cognition, ushered in progressive lines of ever more intelligent ancestors; Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and neanderthals.
Each subsequent line possessed higher intelligence brought forth by the necessity to use their inherited traits, including opposable thumbs, to their full potential.
Now, if this all seems convoluted, haphazard, and tossed together, you’re right. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find human evolution is just one big stupid mess. Futurama nailed it.
The Opposable in Opposable
Finally, to bring our discussion full circle and conclude this portion of the program, indulge me as I explain why I identify so much with all this pretty cool, convoluted horse shit.
You may have noticed the repeated use of the word ‘convoluted’. This is not by accident, its lifted from a review of Opposable.
The novel employs an odd mix of campy grotesquerie, self-referential gag humor, and convoluted SF concepts, which makes it alternately intriguing and incoherent.
Make no mistake, as mentioned above, I knew the dangers of addressing science in science fiction. And I tried to put in as many Besson-ish distractions as would allow.
But, there is no escaping science. It is a ruthless, unflinching mistress.
That being said, however, the concepts I felt most confident advancing were the mechanism (Tactical Opposing Opposable Thumbs (TOOTS)) and results (artificial punctuated quantum hyper-evolution) of expanding a feline’s mind.
In the next post, we’ll look a little closer at the products of an expanded mind and debunk the theory that individuals don’t evolve, just populations.