Why We Do Not Understand the Origin of Any Adult Human Being

A common boast of modern scientists is that they understand the origin of the entire human species. But I maintain that they do not actually understand any such thing, and that they also do not even understand something much simpler: the origin of any single adult human being. 

Upon hearing such a statement, the average adult might  laugh and say, "Why, of course I understand my own origin." If asked to supply explicit details, a person might say something like, "I originated because my mother and father had sex, and my mother's egg was fertilized by my father's sperm." But if you state such an account, you are not explaining how you originated. You are merely explaining how your mother got pregnant.  You should not confuse understanding how your mother got pregnant with understanding how you originated. Explaining how you originated is a task very, very much harder than merely explaining how your mother got pregnant. 

There are two things we would need to explain before we can say that we understand the origin of an adult human being. The first thing we would need to explain is the origination of an adult human body,  a state of enormous hierarchical physical organization and also gigantically dynamic functionality. The second thing we would need to explain is the arrival of the mind of an adult human being. The second task should not be reduced to some mere "problem of consciousness," as if all that we need to explain is some mere awareness of any type.  The second task is the task of explaining all of the mental faculties of an adult human being. Such faculties include awareness, self-hood, thinking, memory acquistion, instant memory retrieval, and the preservation of memories for years.  Scientists have no credible explanation for either the arrival of an adult human body or the arrival of an adult human mind.  Let's look at why existing explanations don't get the job done. 

If someone defines a fertilized human egg as a human being, a definition that is very debatable, you might be able to say, "I understand the physical origin of a human being," and merely refer to a sperm uniting with an egg cell as such an origin.  But the question we are concerned with is whether anyone understands the physical origin of an adult human being. The physical structure of an adult human being is a state of organization millions of times more complex than a mere fertilized speck-sized egg cell.  (A human egg cell is about a tenth of a millimeter in length, but a human body occupies a volume of about 75 million cubic millimeters.) So you don't explain the physical origin of an adult human being by merely referring to the fertilization of an egg cell during or after sexual intercourse. 

We cannot explain the origin of an adult human body by merely using words such as "development" or "growth." Trying to explain the origin of an adult human body by merely mentioning a starting cell and mentioning "growth" or "development" is as vacuous as trying to explain the mysterious appearance of a building by saying that it appeared through "origination" or "construction."  If we were to find some mysterious huge building on Mars, we would hardly be explaining it by merely saying that it arose from "origination" or by saying that it appeared through "construction." When a person tries to explain the origin of a human body by merely mentioning "growth" or "development" or "morphogenesis," he is giving as empty an explanation as someone who tells you he knows how World War II started, because he knows that it was caused by "historical events."

There is a more specific account often told to try to explain the origin of an adult human body. The account goes something like this:

"Every cell contains a DNA molecule that is a blueprint for constructing a human., all the information that is needed. So what happens is that inside the body of a mother, this DNA plan for a human body is read, and the body of a baby is gradually constructed. It's kind of like a construction crew working from a blueprint to make a building."

The problem with this account is that while it has been told very many times, the story is just plain false. There is no such blueprint for a human being in human DNA. We know exactly what is in human DNA. It is merely low-level chemical information such as the sequence of amino acids that make up polypeptide chains that are the starting points of protein molecules. DNA does not specify anatomy. DNA is not a blueprint for making a human. DNA is not a recipe for making a human. DNA is not a program or algorithm for making a human. Not only does DNA not specify how to make a human, DNA does not even specify how to make any organ or appendage or cell of a human. There are about 200 types of cells in human beings, each an incredibly organized thing (cells are so complex they are sometimes compared to factories or cities).  DNA does not specify how to make any of these 200 types of cells. Cells are built from smaller structural units called organelles. DNA does not even specify how to make such low-level organelles. 

Here are a few relevant quotes by authorities:

  • On page 26 of the recent book The Developing Genome, Professor David S. Moore states, "The common belief that there are things inside of us that constitute a set of instructions for building bodies and minds -- things that are analogous to 'blueprints' or 'recipes' -- is undoubtedly false."
  • Biologist Rupert Sheldrake says this "DNA only codes for the materials from which the body is constructed: the enzymes, the structural proteins, and so forth," and "There is no evidence that it also codes for the plan, the form, the morphology of the body."
  • Describing conclusions of biologist Brian Goodwin, the New York Times says, "While genes may help produce the proteins that make the skeleton or the glue, they do not determine the shape and form of an embryo or an organism." 
  • Professor Massimo Pigliucci (mainstream author of numerous scientific papers on evolution) has stated  that "old-fashioned metaphors like genetic blueprint and genetic programme are not only woefully inadequate but positively misleading."
  • Neuroscientist Romain Brette states, "The genome does not encode much except for amino acids."
  • In a 2016 scientific paper, three scientists state the following: "It is now clear that the genome does not directly program the organism; the computer program metaphor has misled us...The genome does not function as a master plan or computer program for controlling the organism; the genome is the organism's servant, not its master.
  • In the book Mind in Life by Evan Thompson (published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) we read the following on page 180: "The plain truth is that DNA is not a program for building organisms, as several authors have shown in detail (Keller 2000, Lewontin 1993, Moss 2003)."
  • Developmental biologist C/H. Waddington stated, "The DNA is not a program or sequentially accessed control over the behavior of the cell."
  •  Scientists Walker and Davies state this in a scientific paper"DNA is not a blueprint for an organism; no information is actively processed by DNA alone...DNA is a passive repository for transcription of stored data into RNA, some (but by no means all) of which goes on to be translated into proteins."
  • Geneticist Adam Rutherford states that "DNA is not a blueprint." 
  • "The genome is not a blueprint," says Kevin Mitchell, a geneticist and neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, noting "it doesn't encode some specific outcome."
  • "DNA cannot be seen as the 'blueprint' for life," says Antony Jose, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, who says, "It is at best an overlapping and potentially scrambled list of ingredients that is used differently by different cells at different times."  
  • Sergio Pistoi (a science writer with a PhD in molecular biology) tells us, "DNA is not a blueprint," and tells us, "We do not inherit specific instructions on how to build a cell or an organ." 
  • Michael Levin (director of a large biology research lab) states that "genomes are not a blueprint for anatomy," and after referring to a "deep puzzle" of how biological forms arise, he gives this example: "Scientists really don’t know what determines the intricate shape and structure of the flatworm’s head."
  • Ian Stevenson M.D. stated "Genes alone - which provide instructions for the production of amino acids and proteins -- cannot explain how the proteins produced by their instructions come to have the shape they develop and, ultimately, determine the form of the organisms where they are," and noted that "biologists who have drawn attention to this important gap in our knowledge of form have not been a grouping of mediocrities (Denton, 1986; Goldschmidt, 1952; B. C. Goodwin, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1994; Gottlieb, 1992; Grasse, 1973; E. S. Russell...Sheldrake, 1981; Tauber and Sarkar, 1992; Thompson, 1917/1942)."
  • Biologist B.C. Goodwin stated this in 1989: "Since genes make molecules, genetics...does not tell us how the molecules are organized into the dynamic, organized process that is the living organism."
  • An article in the journal Nature states this: "The manner in which bodies and tissues take form remains 'one of the most important, and still poorly understood, questions of our time', says developmental biologist Amy Shyer, who studies morphogenesis at the Rockefeller University in New York City."
  • Timothy Saunders, a developmental biologist at the National University of Singapore, says"Fundamentally, we have a poor understanding of how any internal organ forms.” 
  • In an essay pointing out the vast complexities and interlocking dependencies of even simpler aspects of biology such as angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels),  Jonathan Bard of Oxford University states, "It is pushing the boundaries of belief too far to believe that it is helpful to see the genome as holding a program." 

The lack of any specification for building a human in DNA is only one of two major reasons why a reading from DNA cannot explain the physical origin of a newborn baby or an adult. The second major reason is that there is nothing in the human body that would be capable of reading a DNA specification for making a human, if such a thing happened to exist.  Consider what goes on when a house is built. Dumping some building materials and a blueprint will never cause a house to be built. The house can only get built if there are intelligent blueprint readers smart enough to read the complex blueprints, and carry out their instructions. With about 200 types of cells, each so complex they are often compared to factories, a human body is something a million times harder to build than a mere house. If there were some instructions for building a human in DNA, such instructions would be so complex that they would require something extremely intelligent to interpret such instructions and carry them out. But we know of no such intelligence existing in a human womb where a baby grows. 

The "DNA as blueprint" idea is further disproved by the C-value paradox under which many relatively simple organisms have genomes much larger than more complex organisms. For example, a certain flower from Japan has a genome 50 times longer than the human genome, and quite a few amphibians have genomes 10 times bigger than the human genome. 

There is no blueprint or recipe or program for making a human in human DNA, and there is nothing intelligent enough in a human womb to read and execute such immensely complicated instructions if they happened to exist. So the physical origin of each full-sized human body is a miracle far beyond our understanding.  

We lack any understanding of how the supremely hierarchical organization of an adult human body arises. Consider all the different levels of organization. Subatomic particles are organized into atoms, which are organized into amino acids, which are organized into protein molecules, which are organized into protein complexes, which are organized into organelles, which are organized into cells, which are organized into tissues, which are organized into organs, which are organized into organ systems, which are organized into the human body.  There is nothing in a speck-sized human egg that explains how most of those different levels of organization could arise. 

We take for granted the miracle of a speck-sized egg growing into a human body a million times more organized than such a cell. Why is that? Mainly because it is something that happens most of the time. It seems that we will not be astonished by any transformation, no matter how inexplicable it may seem, as long as it happens most of the time.  Imagine if you lived on a planet in which you could plant acorns in the ground, and they would grow into three-story houses complete with electricity and running water. You would not think such a thing was very marvelous if it happened most of the times that acorns were planted in the ground, and if such a thing had been happening for as long as your race could remember.  The arising of a full-sized human body from a speck-sized fertilized egg millions of times less complex and organized is a marvel a thousand times more impressive than a three-story house with electricity and running water arising from an acorn planted in the ground.  We do not at all understand how this marvel happens. We do not understand the physical origin of any adult human body. In a section entitled  "Developmental Biology," a paper by a University of Oxford biologist confesses, "We...rarely understand what is going on in any detailed way."

Below we see the very large number of interlocking dependencies in merely a tiny fragment of human biochemistry. Showing such a diagram for the whole human body would require a similar graph, but one that was wall-sized.  And such a wall-sized graph would merely skim the surface, because systems biology is in its infancy. 

biological network

From the scientific paper here

There is a second major reason why we do not understand the origin of any adult human being.  The second reason is that we do not understand how there appears any such thing as the mind of an adult human. We are told a story about this matter, but it is a false story. The story goes like this:

"All your mental capabilites are just produced by the brain. So as a child grows bigger, and his brain grows bigger, his mental powers gradually increase." 

But the idea that the brain explains the main types of human phenomena is dead wrong. Although they have the very bad habit of constantly making groundless claims that brains explain minds, scientists have no understanding of how neurons could create any of the most important aspects of the human mind. Specifically:

  • No neuroscientist has ever given a credible account of how neurons could produce any such thing as consciousness or self-hood.
  • No neuroscientist has ever given a credible account of how neurons could produce conceptual understanding or abstract ideas. 
  • Far from resembling an information storage system for storing learned data, the brain has none of the hallmarks of such systems. 
  • No one has ever presented a credible theory of how human learned information and conceptual information and episodic memories could ever be translated into neural states or synapse states. 
  • Brains seem to have nothing like a mechanism for reading or writing memories. 
  • No one has ever discovered any non-genetic information stored in any animal brain, nor has anyone discovered any of the token repetition that might exist if brains stored memories. 
  • Scientists lack any credible explanation of how a brain could instantly retrieve a memory.  

Such items are mainly just shortfalls in which neuroscientists have failed to produce the type of evidence they would need to produce to substantiate claims that brains produce minds and that brains store memories.  There are also many known facts and discoveries that discredit such claims, including the following:

  • Common facts of human experience (such as our ablilty to instantly form permanent new memories) stand in opposition to widely spread but groundless claims that brains store memories through slow mechanisms such as "synapse strengthening." 
  • The average lifetime of proteins in synapses (the reputed storage place of memories) is less than two weeks, 1000 times shorter than the maximum length of time that humans can remember things (more than 50 years).
  • Human minds and memories are well preserved even when half of a brain is surgically removed to stop severe epileptic seizures, which completely contradicts the claim that the human brain is the source of the human mind and the storage place of memories. 
  • There are many case histories of people with good minds and average or above-average intelligence even when almost all of their brains were destroyed by disease. 
  • Inside the human brain there exists many types of severe signal noise which should make it impossible for the human brain to be the explanation for memory recall when can occur almost flawlessly in many people, and accurate human calculation such as occurs in savants. 
  • Because signal transmission is relatively slow in synapses and dendrites, human brains should be way too slow to explain instant human recall and very fast numerical calculation such as we see in mathematical savants. 
  • Abundant evidence for human extrasensory perception (evidence which has been systematically gathered and published for almost 200 years) suggests the human mind must involve something far beyond the brain, such evidence being inexplicable under any neural hypothesis. 
  • A large body of evidence for out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences (such as discussed hereherehere and here ) suggest that the human mind can operate outside of the brain, and that the mind can often keep operating well when the brain has shut down during cardiac arrest. 

It is very clear that the human mind and human memory is something far beyond the understanding of today's neuroscientists. It is far from true that such neuroscientists "pretty much understand" the origin of an adult's mind. To the contrary, the things mentioned above tell us in the loudest voice that the notions of such neuroscientists about the origins of an adult human mind are mostly erroneous, involving an untrue assumption that minds and memory can be explained by brains.  

Long before anyone understood the enormous functional complexities of the human body's cells and the gigantic fine-tuning of the human body's biochemistry, scientists began spreading the boastful legend that they had figured out the origin of the human race.  To help maintain this legend, scientists have found it necessary to commit many intellectual errors, such as these:

(1) the error of telling us the enormous lie that human minds do not differ fundamentally from animal minds;

(2) the error of telling the false fairy tale that a human body forms because a specification of a human is read from DNA (a molecule that contains no specification of human anatomy);

(3) the error of ignoring a host of anomalies and massive evidence for paranormal human abilities incompatible with the claim that human minds are merely the products of brains;

(4) the error of habitually portraying supremely complex biological systems as being far simpler than they are;

(5) the error of ignoring the extremely hierarchical organization and fine-tuned intricate behavior of vastly complex dynamic biological systems, and suggesting that such marvels of organization with a multitude of interlocking and cross-reliant dependencies can be achieved by a  mere accumulation of random tiny changes (a biology paper by a University of Oxford biologist tells us "the assumption that speciation occurs through the slow accumulation of simple mutations is simply wrong");

(6) the error of ignoring a great deal of evidence about the human brain, evidence telling us that it does not have the characteristics it would have if it were the source of the human mind and the storage place for memories that can last for fifty years or more. 

Once we identify how these errors are being committed, we can realize the humbling truth: that our scientists (who cannot even explain the reproduction of an average human cell) do not understand the origin of the human race, and do not even understand the origin of any single human adult, because they are unable to credibly explain either the appearance of the mountainously organized wonder that is the adult human body or the arising of any adult mind.  

So we do not at all understand the origin of an adult's body, and we are just as ignorant about the origin of an adult's mind.  The arising of an adult human with such stratospheric levels of hierarchical bodily organization and also with the common features of an adult human mind (such as imagination, self-hood, abstract reasoning and instant accurate recall of very old memories) are both miracles of origination a thousand miles over the heads of today's scientists.  

premature scientist celebration