Babies are useless

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Today, I’m trying out something different. I’ll tackle this post from a scientific point of view, instead of a philosophical one. I’ll try to explain something, in the hopes that at least one person leaves this page with a slightly higher level of general knowledge. Sources are at the end.

No matter what your definition of intelligence or success is, we can all agree that on earth, we are pretty much the dominant specie. Many species would probably win a fight 1 on 1 against a human, and many species exist in larger numbers than us, but we have tools, weapons and reasonable physical abilities that allowed us to control the most territory, and when we organize, we can take down anything. I’m willing to bet that if every single specie on earth teamed up and turned against us and did their best to anihilate us, we’d suffer heavy losses but we’d win. We would also all die shortly after because the circle of life would be so messed up (even bacteria are dead) that the planet would no longer support any life whatsoever, but that’s not the point.

Either way, at least until decent artificial intelligence shows up, we’re likely to stay the dominant specie for a very long time.

And then, we see babies. A baby horse can walk in its first few seconds of life. A baby sea turtle has to run for its life as soon as it is born (and most will get eaten). A baby duck can find food by itself as soon as its mom showed him what is edible once. Some baby spider species literally burrow and eat their mother’s corpse within a few hours. Baby moutain goats climb moutains mere hours after birth.

Our babies, on the other hand, are utterly helpless. They can’t fight predators and they can’t run away since they can barely move. They can’t look for food, and even if they were born swimming in food, they can’t even eat until much later. Actually, we can’t even hold our head up enough by ourselves for some time, so we have to rely one someone else (again). To be honest, it seem that our only skill is crying, and most of the time in the wild crying would make things worse, not better. Also, some babies can’t cry at birth and actually need help to learn how to breathe.

So yeah, we’re really useless babies.

So why do we go from useless annoying ball of meat to rulers of the planet in just a few decades?

Actually, after doing a little bit of research, it seems like “useless babies” and “planet rulers” are not two traits that we got through an ironic coincidence, but are actually linked to each other.

Our brains are far more developed than, for example, monkeys. On the other hand, newborn humans have far less developed brains than newborn monkeys. That is because we are born with a small fraction of our brain development complete, and continue to grow it for years. A human baby’s brain can become twice as developed in the first year. This is because of the size of our females. In order to be born “ready”, we’d need to have a pregnancy 21 to 24 months long, which is completely unreasonable for a human woman. Not only are women not physically able to survive the accelerated metabolism required for pregnancy for much longer than 9 months (keep in mind that the strain in weight and extra calories needed also grows with time), but we are already past our limit when it comes to actually giving birth. We have lots of trouble giving birth, at least more than many species, and without medical attention lots of women would just die giving birth (And that was actually the case for thousands of years). And that’s mostly because babies already have huge heads on birth. Imagine a head two or three times that size from a longer pregnancy. Ouch.

But that alone is not just because our babies (or their brains) are too big. This also comes from the fact that, as a bipedal specie, our pelvises are extremely small compared to our size. This reduces the acceptable size of newborns by a big margin.

We became smart (for some reason), so we learned to use tools with our hands, and therefore became a bipedal specie in order to keep our hands free. Our pelvises shrunk (comparatively to our body sizes), while our brains grew. This forced our babies to need more development time, while forcing their mothers to give them less development time. This resulted in babies getting expelled from the mother (double) prematurely, so they stay helpless for a very long time after birth.

Basically, we could say that our babies are still in the pregnancy period for 12 to 18 months after birth, they just happen to do it outside of a woman to keep said woman alive. And they cry during that time, probably because when they are in the womb, the mother automatically takes care of them, but outside they have to conciously act, so a reminder is useful I guess. It’s also a lot easier for the father to do his part of the work with the “outside” configuration. Hey, making a baby (and keeping it alive until 18) is a coop challenge.

I just found this incredibly interesting. I also really love calling babies “useless annoying balls of meat”, and that post was a good chance. You’d be surprised at what motivates people to learn and then share what they learned sometimes.

PS: Lots of animal species are equally as useless at birth as we are, for various reasons. We’re not the only ones, I just wondered why we were one of them considering our power as a specie when we reach adulthood.

 

Sources:

http://www.livescience.com/54605-why-are-babies-helpless.html

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-humans-give-birth-to-helpless-babies/

https://www.quora.com/Are-human-babies-weak-when-compared-to-other-animals-If-so-why

http://io9.gizmodo.com/5938929/why-are-human-babies-so-helpless

http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/why-are-babies-so-dumb-if-humans-are-so-smart

  • Kingfisher12

    Interesting take on it. I’d like to try to summarize, with some additional comments.

    We’re not the longest gestational period, but those that are significantly longer (great whales and elephants come to mind) are much bigger than us, so moms can survive the long pregnancy. Nor, as you said, are we the most helpless at birth. Besides marsupials (which have really short true pregnancies), many mammals and birds have equally helpless newborns.

    Our enormous heads (compared to our body size) is the main reason. We put a huge investment into our brains, and protect it with a solid cranium. A solid cranium cannot come out of a human woman, so we can’t be born with finished brains either (or we’d all be born with brain damage).

    If we were the size of elephants, perhaps we could be born as walking, biting toddlers. But it would also slow our reproduction rates significantly, and make it harder for us to survive in the niches our ancestors carved out. It’s a small evolutionary trade-off to stay smallish, and carry our half-baked offspring for a couple years like a pouch-less marsupial. It probably helps our development as social animals too.