When Evolution Stalled
Evolution Stalled and Asleep
Evolutionary Insight: Where Are We Now
Jared Diamond places us in our evolutionary tree, talks about how we got here and where we go next.
Since evolution is not well understood, I thought I'd add a simple note explaining how quickly it happens.
Actually, it's never instantaneous and all species have their own individual paces. Some have hardly evolved at all over millions of years, most turtles for example, in the absence of evolutionary pressure.
Some, like us, experience a plateauing, a cessation of change. Without reproductive advantage to heat up our DNA, nothing much takes place.
Has Evolution Stalled or Why Do We Watch So Much TV
Back in the good old days–well, maybe not so good, but definitely old–our human ancestors broke off from the line of reptiles in which we'd lived so far. Speciation, a word we didn't even have then (or any others), is the process by which living things break away from a common ancestor and evolve as a freewheeling branch, innovating, becoming.
Anyone who doesn't "believe in" human evolution is excused from reading further.
While the theory itself is continually being amended with new discoveries, it's well-known to be densely populated with facts while discoveries consistently expand and reinforce our knowledge.
No debates about intelligent design. Religion can be nice, but when it plays dishonestly with reality, it isn't useful.
So, back to that big familial break up. This one was gradual enough that there probably weren't many tears or recriminations, although resentments continue. Calling a human a "reptile" is an insult universally.
Still, what eventually evolved as homo sapiens went courageously off into a new environment with some advantages and many dangers.
The dangers, predatory animals, unpredictable weather, food shortages, and long reproductive cycles, created what can be called evolutionary pressures.
According to our understanding of natural selection as the strongest driver for change, the human strains best able to deal with these pressures and most successfully produce offspring won. In other words, they got to be us, the stars of the current millennium.
As a species, we have been astonishingly successful.
We've learned to protect ourselves from weather as well as predators by living in shelters, caves at first. We evolved effective digestive systems that allowed us to thrive through the use of, maybe, our greatest invention, agriculture.
We developed social systems that protected children from the time they began as fetuses until adulthood. We've been masters of environments all over the world, even to the extent that we are now left as our own worst enemy.
The others, with the possible exception of some virulent viruses and microorganisms, have been vanquished.
Our development of agriculture, largely powered by advanced genetics, has enabled us to feed a population much greater than we thought, even if the political logistics haven't been worked out.
The development of urban populations and government has, in spite of the Tea Party Movement, sustained a safer, healthier world than ever before and one that shows no signs of losing momentum.
Scientific research, with the invention of tools that let us "see" what can't be seen, has taken us far into realms even our most recent ancestors never imagined.
Strange then that we are running out of gas.
Nothing realistic scares us much anymore. That fact is evidenced by routinely flipping on the TV or going out to movies to buy the thrill of terror, of mayhem, of war, of medical emergencies.
Cop shows, I was startled to find recently, have grown more grisly and violent, the element of thought-provoking mystery having taken a back seat to visceral thrills. Can you just imagine the average viewer now sitting still while Joe Friday coolly builds a case or Perry Mason picks apart a witness in court?
Having overcome human evolutionary pressures, having defeated them, the reality we face is that change for us has stalled, and while this is a great sign of success, it also heralds the prospect of enormous tragedy.
Tragedy for humans.
Think about it. What is threatening enough to us as a species to favor special features in natural selection? Intelligence and logical thinking, probably the most powerful of our evolutionary developments, are neither highly valued for reproduction or even for social recognition, at least not these days. Richard Feynman may have been the last scientific rock star. Maybe Carl Sagan.
The more advanced intelligences in our culture have moved on, leaving the majority of us behind, gaining weight, lost in the cosmos, employing TV, movies, videos and other vicarious attractions as substitutes for real lives and real challenges.
Maybe speciation is gloriously at work. The great artists, philosophers and scientists of our day may be separating from our common ancestor, Post Industrial Man, and evolving a new lineage. The rest of us may sinking into obscurity, safe, secure and entertained.
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© 2010 David Stone
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