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Human Evolution: The Future

Updated on April 9, 2012

A Tantalising Question

What does the future hold for human evolution? In order to answer that question, we must understand the past.
What does the future hold for human evolution? In order to answer that question, we must understand the past. | Source

A Parade of Ancestors

Our earliest known ancestor, 'Toumai'
Our earliest known ancestor, 'Toumai' | Source
Australopithecus Afarensis, a human ancestor from 3.5 million years ago. Possibly the first hominid to explore the new savannah habitat.
Australopithecus Afarensis, a human ancestor from 3.5 million years ago. Possibly the first hominid to explore the new savannah habitat. | Source
Australopithecus Africanus, the first hominid species to be discovered in Africa by Raymond Dart in 1925.
Australopithecus Africanus, the first hominid species to be discovered in Africa by Raymond Dart in 1925. | Source
Paranthropus Boisei, a robust australopithecine from 2.5 million years ago.
Paranthropus Boisei, a robust australopithecine from 2.5 million years ago. | Source
Homo Habilis, the first member of our genus to evolve around 2.5 million years ago. Habilis was also the first to make stone tools.
Homo Habilis, the first member of our genus to evolve around 2.5 million years ago. Habilis was also the first to make stone tools. | Source
Homo Erectus- the first truly human like creature, also the first to tame fire some 1.5 million years ago.
Homo Erectus- the first truly human like creature, also the first to tame fire some 1.5 million years ago. | Source
Neanderthal Man- our closest cousin who only vanished 24,000 years ago.
Neanderthal Man- our closest cousin who only vanished 24,000 years ago. | Source

Defining a Biped

The position of the foramen magnum directly beneath the skull indicates that we are bipedal. Scientists use it, when examining fossil ape skulls to determine how they stood and walked.
The position of the foramen magnum directly beneath the skull indicates that we are bipedal. Scientists use it, when examining fossil ape skulls to determine how they stood and walked. | Source

Two Awesome Books

The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans
The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans

A very highly recommended book with detailed summaries on all of our ancestors. Well worth a read.

 
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

This book, explains the theory that the taming fire and development of cooking helped change us both physically and behaviourally. Definitely worth buying.

 

More on Human Evolution

The Past

Human evolution, like all other species technically began billions of years ago, with the very first life forms dwelling in the boiling primordial soup on an Earth we would barely recognise. But when scientists start talking about the origins of humanity, the story begins around 7 million years before our time. At this stage, there are no humans, no chimps just a common ancestor of both swinging through the trees of a tropical rainforest that covered the entire African continent. We have never found any fossils of this mysterious creature, but scientists have already christened it Pan prior. At around this time, according to genetic evidence, the respective lineages split, going their separate ways.

Climate change probably played an important factor in causing the lineage split, at this time Antarctica was entering the final stages of its transformation into a frozen continent, with the process also occurring in the north, with a giant ice cap gradually engulfing Greenland. The freezing of the poles had an extraordinary effect on the world’s weather; lush, tropical rainforests shrank back, replaced by open savannahs covered by a strange new plant, grass, which in turn resulted in the appearance of many grazing animals familiar to us today, such as cattle, deer and antelopes etc.

It was once thought that early hominids walked, blinking and dazed out of their forest homes into the new savannahs. But recent evidence suggests that the first members of the human family tree remained tied to the forests in some capacity for millions of years after their shrinking. Currently, the oldest member of the human family tree is a creature known as Toumai (meaning ‘hope of life’ in the local Dazaga language of Chad- where it was found). The only evidence of this creature’s existence is a skull and a few teeth dated to around 7 million years, precariously close to the human/chimp split. Indeed some scientists have been bold enough to postulate that Toumai may be Pan prior, our last common ancestor with the chimps, but it’s just speculation. How can scientists deduce Toumai’s relationship to us just from us a skull? The key lies in something called the foramen magnum, a tiny hole where the spinal cord slots in. By looking at the position of this hole on a creature, scientists can determine exactly how the spine attached to the skull, and thus reveal whether the creature is a biped or a quadruped. Our foramen magnum unlike all other mammals is positioned at the base of our skull, revealing that we are indeed bipeds. Toumai’s foramen magnum is positioned more similarly to ours than other apes, making it the first biped and our earliest known hominid ancestor.

As time rolls on, these biped hominids adapt to a more open grassland landscape with clumps of forest clinging on. They diversify and speciate, but essentially they retain a close similarity with their chimp cousins, in terms of appearance, behaviour and mental complexity; the only difference being their method of locomotion.

Two of the most famous of these creatures, now known as australopithecines, are Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus afarensis. Africanus was first discovered by Raymond Dart in 1925 in South Africa; it was a monumental moment at the time, as it was the first creature discovered that vindicated Darwin’s view that our origins lay in Africa rather than elsewhere. Dart, a charismatic scientist adamantly believed that africanus was a vicious killer that used the jaw bones of carnivores as formidable weapons. He also hinted that africanus may have been a cannibal on account of numerous decapitated hominid skulls discovered in South Africa. However, several decades later, one of Dart’s students Bob Brain revealed the truth behind the skulls. He noticed two distinctive puncture holes on top of the cranium, he found the jaw of a leopard and inserted the lower canines into the holes and found a perfect match. So instead of being vicious killers, africanus was cat food, and judging by the quantity of skulls found, a very popular prey item.

Australopithecus afarensis was made famous in the 1970s by an extraordinary discovery in East Africa by Don Johanson; he nicknamed the fossil ‘Lucy’ after the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ which was playing on the radio at the time. Her remains were astonishingly complete, and seemed to reveal that by 3.2 million years ago, hominids were definitely walking around on two feet. An even more tantalising find was discovered in 1978 at Laetoli, Tanzania by Mary Leaky. A set of footprints left by a bipedal hominid had been perfectly preserved in ash that was laid down around 3 million years ago. As well as hominid footprints, the ash has also preserved footprints of rhinos, antelopes, elephants, carnivores and even records raindrops that fell at the time the ash was being laid down.

By 2.5 million years ago, australopithecines like Lucy were long gone; the climate had continued to deteriorate. The start of the ice ages was just around the corner, the African environment had continued to dry up. In response, two distinct forms of australopithecine evolved; firstly, the robusts, who come to resemble lumbering, bipedal gorillas, they adapted to eating tough vegetation such as reeds that no other ape can live on. The other form was known as the graciles, and they remained similar to their ancestors, except that their craniums, and more importantly their brains were much larger than before. No one knows for sure why brain size began to increase, was it changes in social structure or sexual selection, or a change in diet? Maybe it was a combination of factors; an interesting theory proposed by Richard Wrangham suggests that one of these gracile apes, Homo habilis, normally given the honour of being the first ‘human’ ape on account of its tool making ability, was using these new tools to pound and tenderise meat scavenged from a carcass to make it easier to chew and digest. It seems trivial, but the less time an ape has to spend chewing, the more time it can spend engaging in other tasks, thus stimulating the brain and growing smarter.

Fast forward 500,000 years and a new kind of hominid has evolved; they are first creatures to look like us, the first that we would call human, if we were to gaze upon them. They represented a monumental intellectual leap forward from the australopithecines, possessing brains 50% larger than their ancestors. Again, mystery surrounds the evolution of these more human like creatures, most scientists speculate that a total adaptation to savannah life was responsible for our body proportions and some of our curious quirks such as nakedness and sweating. These new human creatures were the first hominids to step out of Africa, populating large areas of Asia and Europe. Over hundreds of thousands of years, they evolve and adapt in accordance with their local environment. Due to their intelligence, they are also able to adapt their technology, creating better stone tools, better hunting weapons and utilising the power of fire for protection, cooking and warmth.

200,000 years ago, sees the first appearance of our own species in East Africa, at the time we shared the world with four other human species; the Neanderthals, widely distributed across Europe and Western Asia, Homo erectus, still living in Southeast Asia 2 million years after their ancestors first colonised the region, the recently discovered Denisovans, possibly an eastern cousin of the Neanderthals inhabited parts of Siberia and finally the dwarf species from the island of Flores, Homo floresiensis.

Over the next 170,000 years, our species evolved all of the behavioural faculties that make us what we are today, such as art, religion, advanced culture and trade. These factors helped to us gradually break out of Africa, and colonise the entire planet, in the process all of our human relatives go extinct, probably at our expense. Eventually our unique capacity to learn, innovate and literally change our behaviour, result in extraordinary inventions and discoveries; crucially agriculture, then civilisation. With the arrival of civilisation, humanity was now ‘free’ from the daily grind of survival; culture and technology now blossomed like never before.

The Future

So here we are, in the 21st century; 7 million years after the human family tree split from the rest of the apes. What exactly does our future hold? Of course, we can entertain notions of what new and wonderful technologies we’ll invent and what impact they will have on society and culture. We can envisage spaceships gliding through the cosmos at tremendous speeds; we can imagine huge machines terraforming a previously lifeless world into an earth like paradise. But what does the future hold for our evolution?

Is Human Evolution Dead?

Could it be true, that we humans have become so powerful, that we have successfully halted the processes of evolution that have operated uninterruptedly for over 3 billion years? Some scientists seem to think that this is the case. Their argument stems from the fact evolution mostly occurs in small, isolated populations, such as Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches, who spawned over a dozen species, from a single common ancestor, each one adapted to their unique niche.

Darwin’s outline of natural selection, the main driving force behind evolution is that it occurs when a genetic mutation is passed down through the generations, because it offers some sort of benefit to the organism. Eventually the mutation becomes the norm, and you have a new adaptation.

But when you live in a world where isolation does not exist, where the human population continues to grow exponentially and in a world where travel is as easy as it has ever been; then the possibly of any notable evolutionary changes is highly unlikely. It may well be, that the human racial definitions familiar to us today may become blurred as populations continue to merge. But the fuel that drives natural selection may have been totally extinguished. In 1859, the same year the ‘On the Origin of Species’ was published less than a quarter of British children made it into adulthood, today the figure stands at nearly 100%. It seems that the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ is no longer applicable due to medical advances that allow the so called weakest members of society to survive and pass on their genes. Indeed, scientists even have a name for this, dysgenics- a process where ‘defective’ genes accumulate in the population of a species.

Ian Malcolm Speaks Sense in Jurassic Park

More on Malaria and Sickle Cells

The Final Frontier

Will the colonisation of other planets give rise to new human species.
Will the colonisation of other planets give rise to new human species. | Source

Life Finds a Way

I’m a great believer in the simple power of nature; one of my favourite quotations comes from Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, when he disputes John Hammond’s claim that the dinosaurs cannot breed, due to them all being female. Malcolm is unfazed by Hammond’s confidence and makes a simple statement ‘life finds a way.’ It seems that there are a few scientists out there who agree with Malcolm. They, and I believe that no matter how powerful we become, we will never shut down a force that has operated for billions of years, not entirely anyway.

Indeed a team from Yale University carrying out studies on human reproduction characteristics, have found that over the last few decades, on average shorter, slightly plumper women with low cholesterol levels are having more children than their peers, they also tend to have low blood pressure, as well as choosing to have their first child earlier in life, and experiencing menopause later in life. This trait in turn is passed on to their offspring, suggesting that Darwinian natural selection is alive and well in Homo sapiens, even those living in the developed world.

In other areas of the world, natural selection is also alive and well in humans. I watched a documentary called ‘Human Planet’ on the BBC that profiled an isolated community living high in the Himalayas who have managed to adapt to the altitude spectacularly over thousands of years. It was quite funny to witness these people breathing comfortably, while the camera crew were forced to don oxygen masks.

It’s often thought that humanity has managed to eliminate all of its natural competitors, and while I admit we no longer live in fear of mammalian predators and other megafauna. We still have competitors and predators, except that they no longer have sharp teeth or claws, instead they tend to be so small that we can’t see them, unless under the scrutiny of a microscope; I’m talking about viruses. One of the deadliest viruses in human history is malaria. This disease, carried by certain species of mosquitoes was probably spread by early farmers who cleared forests to create fields, which allowed the mosquitoes to lay their eggs in pools of water. As the deadly virus spread, natural selection favoured humans with greater immunity against the disease. The defence comes in the form of a variant of a haemoglobin gene that makes it hard for parasites to reproduce in blood cells. While one copy will give you virtual immunity against malaria, two copies will give you sickle cell anaemia, as is usual there is a very fine balance between life and death in nature.

We live in an overcrowded, densely populated world, therefore the risk of a global pandemic with a considerable loss of life increases. I mentioned in my hub on ‘Human Extinction’ that no pandemic could wipe us out entirely. Instead, natural selection will favour those humans who have greater resistance to lethal diseases such as HIV, Sars and Influenza.

If we were ever take the leap and spring forth into space and colonise other planets. The colonisers will become an isolated, self sufficient population of Homo sapiens. It’s very doubtful that any colonisers will seek to return to earth one day because of the vastness of the cosmos, therefore the processes of natural selection may operate on these communities, but any notable changes would be determined by the local environment. It’s worth pointing out that the people of New Guinea and Australia remained isolated for over 30,000 years and yet did not evolve into another species. The same goes for the Native Americans, who remained isolated for 13,000 years and experienced no notable evolution.

Artificial Selection

Just like with domestic animals, we may decide to take charge of our own evolution, using genetic engineering to promote desirable characteristics while eliminating others. We’ve already heard talk of designer babies, essentially humans stuffed with all the best possible genes, essentially this is a mixture of artificial selection and sexual selection, because parents will attempt to ‘make’ a baby with desirable physical and mental traits. As these children grow up, they will then select mates with all these desirable traits, things like attractiveness, height, muscularity (in men) and energy levels.

Another consideration is our growing relationship with machines. According to Nick Bostrom at the Future of Humanity Institute, the future of human evolution lies with learning to transcend our biological limitations using machines. This process is called ‘Transhumanism’ and could potentially lead to the creation of super soldiers, super athletes and even humans who cheat death through immortality, through having their minds downloaded to a computer. He also envisions evolution occurring just as often as it does naturally, but on a much shorter time scale, due to these new artificial beings being able to reproduce much faster than your old fashioned Homo sapiens. As a naturalist, this hypothetical future fills me with dread and fear; I’d much rather put my faith in the power of the natural world; nature is life, life is nature, therefore life will find a way.

What do you Think?

What do you think the future holds for human evolution?

See results

Life Will Always Find a Way

Even in the middle of the Sahara Desert, life exists. The same rules apply to humanity.
Even in the middle of the Sahara Desert, life exists. The same rules apply to humanity. | Source

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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      Wow! What an interesting and amazing hub. Your research is obviously extensive and your pooling of ideas is so informative - with some hope and, as you say, some dread. I'm an optimist so I would hope that nature will prevail but sometimes I feel scared when I read or listen to a piece about stem cells, robotics, computer/human brains. Let's hope nature does prevail and that the optimists win! Voted up, interesting, useful and awesome.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi annart, thanks for commenting. As I was researching for this piece, I couldn't believe that there are people out there who actually envisage us merging with machines someday. I too, have great faith in the power of nature.

      Have you ever heard of Pripyat- the city abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. Despite being classed as unsafe for human habitation, it's a thriving wildlife haven, home to many species that are rare elsewhere. For me, that's the best example of life finding a way. Even in an area associated with death, there is still life.

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 5 years ago

      Wow! I never knew how detailed the ancestry of humanity could be so detailed! I never really studied it that much in my spare time.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I know, its fascinating to read about where we came from, and how we got to where we are now. The future is equally fascinating, because its the great unknown, nobody knows for sure what's going to happen. Thanks for dropping by, mikey.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      No, never heard of Pripyat - sounds amazing though. I suppose it's similar to those plants that need fire to regrow and survive, and cockroaches supposedly being the ones who would survive a nuclear holocaust - is that true, by the way?! Nature is an awesome thing, to be respected and wondered at. I'm so glad of all the plants and wildlife around us.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi annart,yep Pripyat is wonderful, it's a natural miracle. As for cockroaches, I know that they have a higher tolerance for radiation than us, because of their simple bodies and slower cell cycles. They can withstand exposure to radiation but only to a point, if the radiation level was high, even they wouldn't survive. Check out this link, it explains it a little better than me: http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/db/a...

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "At around this time, according to genetic evidence, the respective lineages split, going their separate ways."

      Actually, no. Homology does not prove morphology. Common genes are not an indicator of common ancestry. Humans also share about 50% of their genes with bananas.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Evolution took millions of years, I believe we are continuing to evolve at this snails pace.

      What is possible, given our very toxic world, is that mutations could develop that are dominant, compelling an unexpected evolutionary step.

      Interesting hub earning you a vote up and interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Phil, I think you're right, no matter how powerful we think we are, there's no way we can stop something that's been around for billions of years. The problem is that when people think of evolution they think of the massive, e.g. bats and birds evolving wings etc, but there are so many aspects of our evolution that are not immediately obvious. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Nathan Orf profile image

      Nathan Orf 5 years ago from Virginia

      Well put. You made me think of humanity and nature in an entirely different way.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much Nathan, appreciate it.

    • HSAdvocate profile image

      HSAdvocate 5 years ago from Home

      Really nice job. I have two competing views toward human evolution. One being that the future will bring about human devolution ala "Idiocracy" (great movie). The premise being that with out selective pressure, less educated people tend to procreate more leading to a dumbing down of society (complete with a professional wrestler as President). My other view is that genetic engineering of humans will lead to superior humans, but for a price. Income disparity will lead to stratification of the human race into those that can afford engineering and those that cannot creating the reproductive isolation required for speciation.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I think I read about something similar to this theory somewhere, that we will split into two different species, you'll have the highly tuned engineered humans descended from the finest and brightest, and then you'll have some small, almost troll like humans descended from less educated people. I don't really buy it to be honest, but its certainly an interesting possibility to consider. Thanks for dropping by, HSAdvocate.

    • HSAdvocate profile image

      HSAdvocate 5 years ago from Home

      I believe the work you are referring to is "The Time Machine" by HG Wells. Although he could not conceive of genetic engineering in the 19th century he did imagine the Morlock and Eloi species that represented the working class and elite. The Eloi are supported by the Morlock who live underground, but it is then revealed that the Morlock feed on the Eloi. Good Book.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      That's it, the report even referred to the two species by those names. Thanks for that, because I couldn't remember the names. I haven't read the book myself, but I'll check it out.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "The only evidence of this creature’s existence is a skull and a few teeth dated to around 7 million years,"

      How were the remains dated?

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      The dates are calculated by firstly looking at the remains of other fossil animals found in similar deposits, this gives scientists a rough idea. Secondly the scientists radiosotope scan the bones to get a more accurate reading, in this case, the bones were aged roughly at 7 million years. Thanks for popping by, nicomp.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "The dates are calculated by firstly looking at the remains of other fossil animals found in similar deposits, this gives scientists a rough idea. Secondly the scientists radiosotope scan the bones to get a more accurate reading, in this case, the bones were aged roughly at 7 million years. Thanks for popping by, nicomp."

      What were the other fossils found in similar deposits? What were the similar deposits?

      The bones are not bones, they are fossils. What radiosotopes are found in 7 million year-old fossils?

    • danfranch profile image

      danfranch 5 years ago from Ecuador currently in the Netherlands

      I enjoyed reading this hub!

      I think evolution can be analyzed from two perspectives: brain and the rest of the body.

      I can imagine that in some years humans will be more intelligent. The brain is always challenged and any new development creates the conditions to force brain to go to the next step.

      However, the human body is not only brain and lots of deficient genes are being accumulated generation after generation.

      My vision is that in the future humans will be extremely intelligent beings, but extremely weak as well.

      Is this frightening? I think so. Then genetic evolution does not sound so bad after all.

      @danfranch

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Dan, its so difficult to know what we'll be like in the far future (assuming we don't become extinct). If we ever colonise the cosmos, then that will play a major role in any evolutionary changes. As for Earth, the only thing that I am certain of is that in the future I think the differences between the races will become less obvious.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      carbon dating is very unreliable and so is the sediment/site chronology method[contamination of the site]

      for carbon dating....its the nitrogen that's converted to carbon 14..all u need is more radiation/gamma rays and a higher level of c14 is formed so a misleading age profile is formed

      it could be that c14 has become more accurate over the years...but DNA seems the way to go

      DNA clocks are another red herring....so is mtdna....its the nuclear DNA that yields more interesting results. here is an interesting , possible contradiction..with mtdna....maternal mtdna[eve] is older than paternal[adam]..by 10-15,000 yrs....why should that be so....one would think they should match....

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Very true, Vin, mtDNA not only helps us discover who are our true relatives are, but can even tell us things about our evolution that no amount of carbon dating can. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      Nathan Orf 5 years ago

      Although I think danfranch has an interesting point, I disagree that humans will become more intelligent. That suggests that modern humans are more intelligent than, say, ancient Romans.

      We certainly know more than we did then, but we have not learned a whole lot from previous mistakes. In short, we humans are still ruled by passions, not rationality, and I do not think that will ever change. Its part of how our brains work.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Good point Nathan, its almost important to note that there has no been significant increase in brain size in the last 100,000 years, and its doubtful that they'll grow any bigger, as women have a hard enough time giving birth naturally as it is. Like you say, we are still ruled by our innate desires, we are, were and always will be animals. Nothing will ever change that. Thanks for popping by.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Like you say, we are still ruled by our innate desires, we are, were and always will be animals. "

      'Animals' that build hospitals for other animals. 'Animals' that care about the extinction of other animals.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I see your point, nicomp.We're not the only animals capable of altruism. All of our great apes show it, elephants and of course the grey whales. In fact whales and dolphins often show empathy and compassion to other species, including us.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "All of our great apes show it, elephants and of course the grey whales. In fact whales and dolphins often show empathy and compassion to other species, including us."

      Actually, no. You are anthropomorphizing apes, elephants, and whales.

      Empathy is not altruism. Empathy is cognitive: recognizing the feelings of another being. Altruism is behavioral.

    • profile image

      Nathan Orf 5 years ago

      nicomp; I am pretty sure that other animals can recognize our feelings. My dog realizes when I am mad at her and keeps her distance from me (not that I abuse her when angry, though dogs understand that too). Dogs seem to have a great sense of empathy, as do elephants and apes, as JKenny pointed out. That is a part of how some animals evolve.

      Notice that all of the animals above are social animals. They develop in groups and learn to interact in them, just as people do.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      sorry my fellow homo sapiens sapiens,,,,,we are not the most intelligent species....FELIX SILVESTRI is and his offshoot , the kitty in your house

      so....submit to your Overlords...hehehe....hehe

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Nathan, that was the point I was trying to make. My dog can also sense when I'm sad, and she'll try to gain affection from me. Also, elephants will mourn their dead by picking up the bones of dead relatives and just feeling them, such powerful stuff.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hahaha! I must be worse than everybody else, as not only am I ruled over by cats, but also my dog. All she has to do is look at me in a certain way and I'm under my command hahahah!

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Excellent article. Very interesting.

      I remember reading when I was younger that each generation would be more intelligent than the previous one. I have to say I don't see it. Does this mean evolution has stopped or temporarily paused.

      On the question of technology and nature, i am a firm believer in the more we alter the base of nature the better.

      Nature is at its core a heartless brutal, savage thing.

      I loved your article and found it very interesting and informative.

      Thank You

    • mj2991 profile image

      mj2991 5 years ago from Pehawar

      rate it , good job , very nice to hear

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you mj2991, appreciate you stopping by.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Highland Terrier. You're right that intelligence does not increase with each generation. If that was so, then we would all be more than a hundred times more intelligent than Aristotle and Plato.

      Evolution never stops, what you have to bear in mind about us, is that we are long lived animals and evolution (even on the smallest scale) occurs from one generation to the next. So we won't see any wholesale changes in our lifetime.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      nature is not heartless or cruel, Highland Terrier, it has no human value to it, on the other hand Humans are cruel and heartless. Evolution is a very complex thing...it can be very quick or take eons.....intelligence is very subjective...perhaps humans are not smart as they think they are.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yep, Vin makes a great point. If nature were just heartless and cruel, then no animals would bother to live in herds/groups or rear their young with devotion, they would just kill each other (survival of the fittest). You should watch videos on youtube of an African Buffalo herd that saves ones of its fellows after it got pinned by some lions. It was truly remarkable.

      In fact the term 'Survival of the Fittest' was only ever used metaphorically by Darwin. But was misinterpreted by (surprise, surprise) an economist called Herbert Spencer (just goes to show how his mind worked).

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "If nature were just heartless and cruel, then no animals would bother to live in herds/groups or rear their young with devotion, they would just kill each other (survival of the fittest)."

      You're anthropomorphizing nature. "heartless" and "cruel" are not quantifiable traits.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      lions "care" about their young, elephants likewise......each species has its own behavioral traits...it serves a function to allow the animal to survive for its specific niche.....what u say is also correct nicomp...but i do think animals do also have some of our behavior traits

      a cat will bring its "food" home and "play" with it, be it dead or alive....to is it seem "cruel"...to the kitty...well kitty just killed the rat or whatever way to quickly than it wanted and it plays with the "food" because it wants to get rid of that pent up energy..but we would the average person would think this is cruel..

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Are you suggesting that 'caring' evolved in lions?

    • buddinglinguist profile image

      buddinglinguist 5 years ago

      Very interesting! I've always been fascinated by evolutionary processes, and I think that humans are continuing to evolve both physically and mentally, but the process has slowed.

      I can't remember which theory it was, but I read that in times of danger (whether it be starvation, thirst, environmental quality, or flight response), genes are switched on or off and passed down, complementing natural selection and speeding up evolution. I'm not a geneticist, but it sounded like an interesting idea. Do you know anything about that?

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I have heard about certain genes being switched on and off, and the fact that evolution can speed up and slow down depending on the environment. I came across it in a couple of Richard Dawkins books 'The Selfish Gene' and 'The Ancestors Tale' They're pretty good books, and show that Dawkins is much at better at writing about he knows rather than stepping into the murky world of science vs religion.

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      Nathan Orf 5 years ago

      I've read somewhere that one of the reasons people seems to prefer dogs over cats is that dogs appear to have a wide variety of expressions, whereas cats do not. We look at dogs and can tell when they are "guilty", or "excited" or "happy". Cats look cute and cuddly, but we can never tell what exactly they are feeling. Canines evolved to be social animals. Felines, with the exception of lions, did not.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yep, I like that, its so obvious why ourselves and dogs evolved such a close relationship. As a wolf pack does have some similarities to a human society. You have those at the top who enjoy the greatest amount of social freedom, you then have the betas, the biggest and strongest members of the pack; effectively the equivalent of police or soldiers, and then you have the specialists, it really is a simplified version of human society. No wonder we're a match made in heaven.

      As for cats, I remember reading that really they domesticated themselves by venturing into early villages. They never were that interested in associating with us, and it still shows today. Thanks for popping by again, Nathan.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Yep, Vin makes a great point. If nature were just heartless and cruel, then no animals would bother to live in herds/groups or rear their young with devotion, "

      They live in herds because it's *safer* in the herd. Their DNA tells them to herd up. Herding up is not an emotional response nor is it analogous to human 'caring.'

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      No, Nicomp...I'm not suggesting caring evolved in Lions....we can't equate our faculties with other species....evolution may not be complicated as we think it is...there may only a few genetic factors involved, the rest would be chemical, triggered by the external or internal factors. Scientists, when they first began to study the Human genome thought it was very complex but they have to the conclusion it is not that complicated...

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @Vin Chauhun: "Scientists, when they first began to study the Human genome thought it was very complex but they have to the conclusion it is not that complicated..."

      Really?

      'Nature Magazine: Human genome at ten: Life is complicated'

      http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100331/full/464664...

      'Human Genome "Far More Complex Than Anyone Imagined," Lament Researchers'

      http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20070518214749dat...

      Craig Venter would also disagree with you.

      http://www.amazon.com/Life-Decoded-My-Genome/dp/B0...

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      yep......but in my defense....i have slacked off on reading more into it :).....so i will chek out those links....there were a few articles that spoke about the need to reduce the number of genes[some were doing duplicate function, some just junk, the picture could have changed over the last 2 years]

      point taken.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "yep......but in my defense...."

      Defense? For being uninformed?

      Read Dr. Venter's Book. I'll send you my copy if you want. Then tell me how simple the genome is.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      Not bad articles…..From 100,000 genes to 21,000 to code proteins, less genes involved but certainly more complicated…..I found the information on ‘junk DNA’ interesting,

      Venter seems like an interesting character.

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 5 years ago from Durban

      and updated me on what's happening in the world of genetics......

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 4 years ago from Pune, India

      Great Hub with great details, thank you for sharing this information.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much jainismus, glad you liked it.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I just wrote a hub on transhumanism that you may be interested in. Seems to me that we may have a split in society where some people will evolve through technology and others will reject it and evolve naturally. Your hub is a really interesting and thorough. Voted up!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      That does sound interesting mperrottet. I think I'll probably end up rejecting any genetic or technological enhancements and just continuing to be a natural human (or a very close example of one). I remember reading a book by Stephen Baxter that mentioned in the future, wealthy individuals may have children with all sorts of genetic enhancements. The child in the book even had a whole extra chromosome, thus making her a separate species from the rest of us. Eerily fascinating. Thanks for stopping by.

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      vin 4 years ago

      i saw the picture of the Neanderthal, its out of date, or more precisely, represents the current theory on Neanderthals, in reality, neanderthals are varied according to time and and location. Neanderthals in Vindija , Croatia look different from ones in a region of France.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Vin, you're certainly right that Neanderthals did vary at least as much as we do, but one thing I am certain of is this- they had darker skin than the average European. This is because I subscribe to the theory that white skin is actually a rather recent development in our species and is related to a fundamental change in diet that occurred after the Neolithic Revolution. Check out this link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-121...

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      vin 4 years ago

      i don't think so.....maybe to a small extent... but the gene for for skin color goes back roughly 10,000yrs....in theory that is...as for neanderthals....i believe they had similar genes for skin color but they could have separate genes also, like some Polynesians have for hair color not found in most other human populations. Archaic humans could have been just like humans today from dark to light.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Maybe, I do remember reading somewhere that Neanderthals possessed genes that occasionally gave them red hair, so I think that they were just as varied in skin colour and appearance as we are today. The link I posted just deals with how we developed white skin. Neanderthals may have evolved it independently, although I still think that they weren't as pale as some of us are. I doubt whether there were any blonde Neanderthals for example.

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