Upon reading this fascinating book, FERAL SPECIES by CHARLES ORANGE, I couldn't help but think of the brilliant biologist Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA. Crick's work with complex proteins eventually led him to an uncomfortable conclusion: The amino acids and proteins leading to DNA could not have had their origin on earth. There just wasn't enough time for molecules that complex to evolve on an earth that was "only" 4 billion years old.
But now Crick had a problem. He was a hardcore atheist, and simply would not, could not, accept a God-based explanation for the development of DNA. So he punted: He suggested that amino acids and proteins must have been "seeded" on the earth by some extraterrestrial agency, perhaps even an alien intelligence.
I tell this story to remind all those who read this engaging book that its author is in good company. Similar to the great Francis Crick, he is proposing an extraterrestrial origin to explain the quality and make-up of the human race on Earth today.
Feral Species is a wonderful and compelling series of essays - written in a lucid and commanding style - which focuses on fundamental observations about humans - observations which, when probed deeper, seem to suggest that human development was facilitated by an advanced race of ancient extraterrestrials. For example, Orange asks: "Why do babies cry?" or "Why do we lust after gold?" and "Why are we so fascinated with the stars and space travel?"
Mr. Orange is one of those rare authors who can make us rethink the obvious, or re-examine what we take for granted. I like that. I'm reminded of what Einstein once said: "It takes a genius to see the obvious."
But the real question is: Is Charles Orange getting it right? Unfortunately, I don't think so. Well, at the very least, I can find argument with most of what he is proposing here, and I can suggest alternative explanations - if not flat out show that he is absolutely wrong in some of his arguments. I'll only take one, and briefly:
Mr. Orange proposes that it makes no natural evolutionary sense for human babies to cry, and cry loudly, for the reason that, thousands of years ago, this would have attracted every hungry predator in the neighborhood - packs of wolves, sabre tooth tigers, bears - who would have eaten our still non-technological and defenseless humans in rapid order. He says all other species of baby remain quiet after birth, which is an obvious advantage for survival.
But the reality about crying is almost certainly just the opposite: That ancient babies wailed loudly not only increased our chance for survival, it also helped us develop more rapidly toward innovation and technology.
Just think of that old adage: "The squeaky wheel gets the oil."
A crying baby is better at communicating to its mother that it needs close and careful attention - more food, warmth and comfort. He or she also gets left alone less often. So squawky baby gets more attention, and has a better individual chance for survival. (Incidentally, large primates are known to carry their infants constantly - and yes, they do cry if they are ever put down. It's likely, then, that early human carried their babies constantly, too, reducing crying to an absolute minimum).
But still, wouldn't crying endanger the whole clan by attracting predators, as Orange suggests? Sure, but take wolves, for example. You know how good their sense of smell is. They don't need sound to find prey. They don't even prefer it. They use their noses to sniff us out. What about large predatory birds which preyed on human children, as did the now extinct 40-pound New Zealand eagle? They didn't use sound either. They used extremely sharp eyesight and surprise attacks.
So all our enemies could find us anyway and in numerous ways - and yet we survived. The fact is, crying helped us adapt better and more swiftly - not less. Our ancestors took whatever countermeasures they had to. Crying forced them to take even more care. Sometimes they got eaten, but enough survived, and "TA-DA!" here we are today, still crying like babies.
I could easily counter many of Mr. Orange's other assertions - such as large brain size making birthing difficult (he fails to mention the reduction of human gestation periods to counter increased brain size) - still I freely admit that I haven't formulated a good counter explanation for all of his ancient alien theories -- yet.
But it doesn't matter - a great book is a great book - and this, yes, is a great book. I strongly urge absolutely everyone to buy this book, have all of your friends buy it -- then get together with some wine or a few beers and have a roaring discussion over what Feral Species is suggesting.
You'll have a great time.
Ken Korczak is the author of THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH