The Fortuitous Evolutionary Design of Human Ears

If not for our ears, we might all be wearing a pince-nez

Every once in a long while I get a flash of insight. It happened again yesterday morning as I was putting my glasses on and glanced over at our cat. As I slipped the eyeglass “temples” – the supports that extend along the side of the head – back over my ears, I realized that it’s only thanks to evolution’s shaping of the external ear that we humans can conveniently sharpen our vision with eyeglasses.

Where would we be – how would we correct near- or farsightedness – without an external ear so conveniently designed as an anchor for our glasses? If, rather than the relatively stiff cartilaginous appendages evolution has given us, we had the floppy ears of so many canine breeds, or the thin-skinned triangles that top the heads of our feline friends, we’d find it difficult to improve our vision. As our eyesight weakened with the passing years, we might be obliged to adopt the pince-nez. Now that would be a fashion statement!

Proponents of “intelligent design” could be excused for supposing that at the Creation, the Supreme Being presciently foresaw the 13th-century invention of eyeglasses and fitted us with ears ideally suited to support them.

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