Children of a Lesser Prefrontalasaurus

Intelligent design -- my favorite impulse buy.

| Mon Jun. 13, 2005 3:00 AM EDT

So there’s this guy on the radio and he’s talking about the lizard brain, as opposed to the pre-frontal, the pre-frontal cortex. The lizard brain is the part of our brain, he says, that’s impulsive and rash and irrational and emotional and causes us to act before we think anything over too much. And according to this guy, who’s written some book about it, the lizard brain is responsible for a lot of human behavioral phenomena, including the fluctuations of the stock market.

And supposedly, this part of our brain dates back to our evolutionary link to lizards. Very primitive. So I’m listening to all this and suddenly start feeling very reptilian, all scaly. I mean, how many times don’t I act on impulse? Speaking of which, I have to return those new reversible shoes.

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The lizard-human brain link sounds sketchy, but a lot of people think of evolution itself as sketchy and that it should only be taught as a theory, along with the competing theory of intelligent design. But the idea of intelligent design appeals mostly to the lizard brain, right? You’re going on a gut impulse that even though there’s no tangible evidence to support the existence of an intelligent designer, our existence can’t just be the result of random selection. So you’re jumping to the conclusion of there being an intelligence behind it all. Maybe not jumping -- that would be more froggy, more amphibian, than reptilian.

Now pre-frontal people generally put their faith in evolution, tending to favor quantitative analysis, and to make dispassionate decisions based on so-called facts, like fossil records. Thing is, if evolution means Darwin, then intelligent design must really be all about the designer, even though that part usually gets left out. I kinda like that better, though, than creator. Designer. Like maybe he just figured it all out on paper and outsourced the actual work with a stipulation that all bids should be based on a six-day turnaround for the project.

That’s still much more plausible than the interior design theory, gaining marginal support in some school districts, suggesting that what we commonly refer to as reality is nothing more than some very good trompe l’oeil murals strung together.

It’s all very confusing, because I happen to know that my lizard brain occasionally throws its voice to make it sound like it’s the pre-frontal talking. I’ll browse the erotica section of a bookstore, thinking that I’m obeying a pre-frontal call for some elevated literature that captures the essence and beauty of human sensuality, when actually it’s my lizard brain hoping for pictures.

And I don’t think intelligent design and random selection are entirely incompatible, either. I have a CD box set of the Bible that I like to play in shuffle mode, thereby introducing random selection right into the Scripture. Keeps it interesting, with twists like Noah building the Ark after the flood. And it’s narrated by James Earl Jones. How perfect is that? Darth Vader reads God. Blessed are those who have The Force ... this is CNN.

That’s exactly as I would imagine the voice of an intelligent designer--deep, authoritative, resonant and disarmingly persuasive. Although, I also like the voice of Desi Arnez and the idea of meeting my Maker, who then bids me to account for my transgressions with, "You’ve got some 'splaining to do."

But, I’m getting a pre-frontal twinge behooving me to ask: if we concede the existence of an intelligent designer in the age of bad intelligence, couldn’t there be such a thing as a bad intelligent designer? I don’t mean bad as in evil. I mean as in an intelligence susceptible to the same kinds of oversights as any multi-tasker that might be spreading himself a little thin. Otherwise, how to explain a human body that can live to over a hundred, when the knees give out at forty-three?

Where’s the quality control? The more I obsess over all of this, the more I feel myself slipping into a persistent vegetative state, where faith-based evolutionists swear by survival of the meekest, while secular creationists Photoshop a grazing triceratops into the garden of Eden.

And as my pre-frontal reasoning powers start to short-circuit, defaulting to my lizard brain, my last rational impulse is to question the very term lizard. It seems way off, doesn’t it? Don’t you think of lizards as being more cool-headed than emotional? When was the last time you looked into the eyes of a blue-tongued skink and saw any irrational exuberance?

I’ll take my answer off the air.

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