Since the birth of molecular biology it has been generally assumed that most genetic information is transacted by proteins, and that RNA plays an intermediary role. This led to the subsidiary assumption that the vast tracts of noncoding sequences in the genomes of higher organisms are largely nonfunctional, despite the fact that they are transcribed. These assumptions have since become articles of faith, but they are not necessarily correct. I propose an alternative evolutionary history whereby developmental and cognitive complexity has arisen by constructing sophisticated RNA-based regulatory networks that interact with generic effector complexes to control gene expression patterns and the epigenetic trajectories of differentiation and development. Environmental information can also be conveyed into this regulatory system via RNA editing, especially in the brain. Moreover, the observations that RNA-directed epigenetic changes can be inherited raises the intriguing question: has evolution learnt how to learn?