I’m talking about The History Channel’s new series Evolve. Tonight’s premiere episode discussed the evolution of the eye. The show was rather general, and didn’t have time for more than a brief overview of this subject. After all, the eye has evolved independently on many occasions, and each variety differs widely from others in structure and function. No one-hour show could go in-depth on even a single variety, let alone all of them.
The show really didn’t teach me anything new, but it was nice to watch a program that was based entirely on science. From beginning to end, every conclusion was based on evidence and testable hypotheses. It was very refreshing.
The show offered one particularly interesting observation that I had not considered before. When primates evolved binocular vision – that is, when both eyes evolved to face forward – they lost the ability to see to the side and rear. Binocular vision provided depth perception, which was very helpful in an arboreal environment, but it left primates vulnerable to predators.
To compensate, primates began living in groups, literally watching one another’s backs. This led to a very fortunate side-effect: with more individuals to keep track of, the brain began to enlarge.
So, in other words, binocular vision led ultimately to the development of human civilization. That is certainly a fascinating hypothesis, and I will have to spend some time thinking about it.
I highly recommend Evolve, and will be tuning in next week.
UPDATE: Here's PZ's take. He live-blogged it, and came to the same conclusion I did - "Not bad" - and had most of the same criticisms, though his review is better.