After bumping my foot into a scrappy computer on the floor and experiencing the appropriate pain I starting thinking about evolution and why the hell we humans still have toes. What is the point of toes?
According to evolutionary theory, natural selection not only weeds out the weak and infirm, but it also tends to preserve characteristics that are truly beneficial to the evolution of those organisms. If six fingers were really a beneficial mutation most men and women would be six-fingered, and the same goes for three or four fingers. However, for me, this seems very arbitrary. Why five? And if toes really are so great, why are they made so fragile and easy to break?
The easy answer is: who the fuck cares! Or, perhaps; because we do.
But according to most scientists humans are primates, a group of animals that was initially adapted to living in trees. When you are a tree dweller it is advantageous to have a grasping ability on all your limbs. However when human ancestors left the trees they became more adapted to running on the ground. Part of this adaptation expressed itself through shorter toes. This adaptation was advantageous because running on the ground was more important to the early human lifestyle than climbing in the trees. Unless you are a creationist or feel that the Annunaki story offers a more compelling background, this explanation seems very feasible.
However, this doesn’t really explain why no other form evolved or why the number is five. For me it seem highly improbable that five out sticking easily to break limbs stuck to us throughout the ages without evolution discarding it with lots and lots of bumping-into-things events. And even if our current evolutionary situation, historically speaking, hasn’t lasted that long, when will we see another evolved human with zero toes? It is not that hard to imagine that a life more suited for desk dwelling and computer typing will sooner or later discard attributes no longer needed. Toes should be one of the first things to go since they are in the way of cables and we don´t really need to run anymore.
This will not happen overnight and its very likely that humans has colonized space long before this evolution takes effect. However it may give us a clue how a potential “humanoid” creature beyond the stars visiting our planet will look like. Wouldn’t such an Alien be without limbs all together?
In the evolutionary process the basic body plan does not change unless two things happen. First, a genetic trait has to appear (through mutation or through a novel recombination of established traits) that allows for the change. Therefore, all vertebrates will have five toes unless they possess a "gene" for fewer toes. Second, that gene must somehow confer an advantage on those who have it. Is ‘not bumping into things’ a big enough advantage for a non-toe human to evolve? Probably not, but all in all, with running only being for athletes, it is not unthinkable either.
So remember were you read it first; twenty-eight thousand years into the future we will have less or no toes at all. I cannot wait for this to take place, much easier than to actually clean the floor…