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From Laszlo Bencze: On idle “evolutionary” language

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Bencze asks, what are these idle words doing in a sentence?

Here is yet another example of how evolution has permeated our intellectual lives. I quote this passage from Spirit magazine, the airline periodical of Southwest Airlines, from an article about a scientist who studies fragrances and how we respond to them:

The genetic differences in how we perceive odors could have evolutionary significance: Until we know what the receptors are binding to, it’s hard to draw conclusions about things that have evolutionary importance.

When I read this paragraph I paused and scratched my head. What on earth is she talking about when she mentions odors with “evolutionary significance” and “evolutionary importance.” How on earth could this scientist working in a perfume factory ever tell us anything about the supposed sequence of steps by which humans slowly became aware of the world of odors? Would discovering a certain receptor inform her that 300 million years ago a fish ancestor was attracted to the smell of worms or that 10 million years ago a monkey type ancestor first was endowed with the ability to smell ripe bananas?

Actually I think the mention of the evolution words in both instances was simply to endow her musings with great significance in the world of science. “Evolution” words have a way of doing that. After all to state it simply as:

“The genetic differences in how we perceive odors could have significance: Until we know what the receptors are binding to, it’s hard to draw conclusions about things that have importance.”

seems insignificant and unimportant even though it carries the exact same burden of meaning. Spice any humdrum, commonplace thought with an evolution word or two and see how much it improves the tone. Here’s an example:

“I prefer the Riesling to the Chardonnay.”

Now let’s upgrade that banality:

“I prefer the greater evolutionary refinement of the Riesling to that unevolved Chardonnay.”

There. That wasn’t so hard was it? Don’t you feel a whole lot smarter now? Give it a try at the next faculty party.

From News: No, don’t. They might offer you a full professorship, on account of your BS Evo.

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One Reply to “From Laszlo Bencze: On idle “evolutionary” language

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    Our senses of odors never evolved.
    In fact one could say we have never smelled anything ever in our lives.
    All we/soul do is read our memory. Smell only goes into our memory, like all senses, and that is all we then figure out as to scent.
    our smells could fool us.

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