Can you see the birdie? Let it merge with the background like your tinnitus.

Steve the tetrapod and his stapes – *‘What we see is governed by what we expect to see’

Professor Jenny A Clack*  studies the dried-out, literally.  Dried out bones and it’s exciting because of what she found.  Like looking for a jigsaw piece, you know it’s there in front of you but you can’t find it amongst the others.   She found digits, loosely described as fingers which previously  had been thought of as a bone broken into three parts.

Using the ‘what if’ principle, what if they were paddles attached to the four limbs? It would explain how he could swim through swamps and move on land.  It was a phenomenal discovery.

Then she found a stapes, a tiny bone in the ear that conducts sound.  It had been overlooked by other palaeontologists, including her boss, who thought it was just part of the dust.  When she looked at it and didn’t understand, she wondered. …

The stapes did not look like the finely tuned ones found in humans.  It was the wrong shape for hearing and wouldn’t be able to filter sound.  Steve couldn’t hear!  Then she thought,

‘What was there to hear?’

There were no animals and no birds at that stage of evolution.   That means there was a time when hearing was not present because it was unnecessary.  Wow!

The onslaught of noise that our ears have to cope with today is enormous.  What if the stapes in human ears can develop a coating or harden and therefore be unable to conduct so much sound?  What if it is a protective mechanism against overloading the brain with information it doesn’t want?  Maybe hard-of-hearing is not a retrograde step. Maybe the process is not a negative at all.  It is evolution and we are at the forefront!

Professor Jenny Clack, who now has stacks of awards in palaeontology, took part in a TV programme from the BBC called ‘Beautiful Minds’.  She said:

‘What we see is governed by what we expect to see’.


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