When we consider the brain and the intricate web of its subservient nervous system, we practice a kind of unwitting archaeology. In the nineteenth century, biologists were fond of saying that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; the fully developed member of a species carries the entire history of its development within it, and restates that journey in its coming into being as an independent life.
Although this theory, taken to extremes by its inventor, Ernst Haeckel, is not specifically true, there is a kernel of pertinence to it, which might now be overlooked in the rush to discredit the idea.
Gregory Bateson concluded that it is for all practical purposes impossible for an organism's genetic material to unlearn anything. Far easier to build more sophisticated mechanism on top of old structures, utilizing, modifying and restraining their properties from above.
We see, in ourselves, the distributed neurology of the insect, with its nodal ganglia, in our autonomic nervous system, organized around the sympathetic chain that parallels the spinal cord (as well as the vagus nerves, which do not). The autonomic ganglia float free and vulnerable, as they did at the time of the Cambrian explosion, 500 million years ago.
© 1995 Morgan Garwood
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