Sunday 12 October 2008

Evolution- Where Are We Going?

Can we make definite statements on what our descendants will be like?

Well, the cautious answer, is no.
Because we cannot account for every circumstance that may come our way. And our descendants will almost certainly live on a lot more rocks than this one.

But actually, we're being over cautious.
Our ancestors had no control over the environment that naturally selected them. The ones that survived were the fittest to survive circumstances outside their control.
Whereas, our descendants will survive by being the fittest to control those circumstances.

So we need to remember that every environment our descendants live in, will be one over which they have full control. And the dynamic of survival will be, those fittest at surviving in terms of the universe itself.

So the different groups of mankind that fare forth from Sol, will not probably deviate over much in the forms that spring from them.

It's the principle of parallel evolution. Our descendants may deviate from eachother in small genetic traits, but ultimately, they will tend to evolve in parallel. The options available will often be limited by the laws of physics themselves.

I've always argued that contrary to popular belief, human society DOES select the fittest to survive. Put bluntly, those having most sex, are usually those who should be. They are the ones carrying genetically useful material.

And over time, the knock on repercussions of this are, certain traits are passed on. Little things that you wouldn't think of, over time, will make a difference.

One thing that's often been observed is that morphologically, we don't seemed to have changed much in 40,000 years. Some say this means evolution stood still.
I don't accept that. Evolution can take place in other ways than in skeletons, its the other features that have long since been eaten by the worms, its there I think we were different to Cro-Magnon man.

People often say reading about great scholars of antiquity 'They were just as clever then'.
No. It means that there were people alive then who were as clever as people alive now. And maybe the average difference in intelligence might not seem great. And I'm sure Aristotle would still today, be far more intelligent than the average person today.

But I still think, if you subjected the entire population of Solon's Athens to an IQ test, you'd find you came up with a score of 95 or so as the mean score.

It stands to reason. Communicative ability, like most things, is passed on by genes. Ability to master language, reading and writing. and essentially of course- a criticism often made- IQ tests are largely based on these abilities.

Since Solon's day, the nature of human society has meant that on average, better talkers, better readers, people who mastered these things younger and better, have got on better, had more children, and less of those children starved or got pushed to the front in battle as cannon fodder.

These are the skills that have mattered.

And look at language. Looking at Middle English, it seems clear to me that people actually did speak slower. And used much less words. I'm not sure they would have been able to deal with using a language of half a million words at the speed we do.

I actually believe that in two thousand years, the average IQ will probably be about 110, on our scale of today. Generally, people will know more words, think with them faster, speak with them faster, and be able to type at huge speeds.

Communicative intelligence will ALWAYS be a favoured evolutionary dynamic. And of course, it is pretty much the obvious one to be sexually selected. It has to be far and away the primary reason for sexual selection in the human species. It will be favoured above all others.

And what of our emotions?

Well, again, we live as a collective species. So actually, evolution is NOT going to breed automatons. Automatons aren't much use to eachother. Again, look what's being selected. A bit of understanding and a bit of empathy goes a long way.

So our descendants probably will be a lot better at reading eachother, understanding eachother, and emoting to eachother.

A bit more on this later.

What will they look like? Well, here technology will play a part. And here we come to the principle of natural economy.
We don't have three arms. Why? Because two is good. Three might be better, but the cost in energy used to maintain a third arm, is more than the extra benefits the arm gives. Whereas the second arm complements the first enough to be worth it.

Use it, or lose it. That's nature's way. Moles don't need eyes, so moles survive better if they stop wasting energy on having eyes. The moles that are born without them are FITTER to survive than those WITH them.

So we probably are looking at descendants a bit like the Eloi of HG Wells in appearance.
No, we won't be looking at things that look Grey Aliens, or bald worms or something.

Think about it. We choose sexually on aesthetic grounds. Since our aesthetic tastes are what they are, we'll carry on with attractive people breeding most, I guess. Just in time, they'll be attractive, but smaller, frail by comparison with today. What use is a rippling torso, when your muscles rarely do more than flick a switch? What do you need strong calf muscles for, when you're never going to walk much more than a few hundred feet at a time? Certainly never run.

I imagine to a large degree, we'll neotonise in a way.
The adults of two thousand years time will physically resemble late teens of day, I suspect.
Because that's pretty much as fully formed as we'll need to be. That'll be the optimum human frame.

The future isn't egg headed borg, it's a race of angelic nymphs.

But what of other features?

Firstly, I believe we're already starting to evolve not one, but two incipient extra senses. I tend to be sceptical of the paranormal, but I do believe we are starting to evolve a sixth and even-maybe- a seventh.

The sixth, is simple enough. Intuition. I don't mean intuition of the old kind. I mean the ability to read between the lines. And I guess a lot of you know what I mean. I think many people who've been doing this a while are surprised how over time, you find that you really can read people better. You learn to pick up on nuances in writing to form judgements.
When I come online after work, I'm amazed how anyone who talks to me online knows if I'm worrying about something. And I think this sense is something that will evolve dramatically, the ability to understand the minds of others, even when others are not physically present.

The seventh is more complex. I've argued for it's possible existence before. It goes beyond the sixth. And that's actual thought transmission. Now there are two questions to ask here. First is whether it COULD exist, or come into existence. Secondly, is whether it already exists, somehow.

The first question can be answered as follows. Of course it could. A radio broadcasts electro-magnetic impulses, your thoughts are electro-magnetic impulses. If you had an organ, or a part of your brain that could transmit over the airwaves, then of course it's perfectly feasible.
How would it evolve? Well, your eye operates like a camera, so evolution is perfectly capable of evolving complex structures that operate exactly like machines, if they're useful enough to warrant it.

When your eye started out, it wasn't much use. Just a curious mutant cell that picked up light. In itself, useless. But for some tiny reason, it gave the possessors a tiny edge. Over time, mutation upon mutation became a discernible light sensitive organ. And in time, an eye.

Now I would argue that the ability to transmit and receive thought is so obviously beneficial that not only could it evolve, but it MUST at some point, law of averages, happen. One day that mutant cell that is able to somehow detect vibrations at a distance, far off electro-magnetic impulses in another brain, will appear. And give someone an edge. And slowly spread.

And actually, I'm pretty sure it already has. But at present, it's like the early mutation in the ancestral worm that later became the vertebrate eye. I think that in the human brain there already exist the rudiments of the organ that in time, will transmit and receive thoughts.

And what after that? Would such an organ perhaps one day leads to an eighth sense? Telekinesis?

You might scoff. Because we look at that these things now with scepticism. I doubt telekinesis exists today. But of COURSE it could do. It doesn't conflict with physical possibility. Nor is it impossible to see how it could evolve and why evolution would favour its occurrence.

But of course, we should never forget something else.

There have been many things that COULDN'T evolve in the past for simple reasons. The jump. What do I mean by that?
Well, several things could never evolve because they'd be no use in the transitional stage. Iron creatures never evolved, because useful as an iron body might be, how do you evolve a blast furnace inside you?

Our knowledge of genetic coding means that our descendants really might be able to affect genetic changes that nature never could. Our descendants really might just rewrite their genetic code.

Because evolution has given us flaws, flaws in our make up. You can tell no one designed us, because if they did, we wouldn't have a passage linking our noses to our throats making swallowing something that can choke us. Nor would we pass reproductive fluids through the same passages we pass waste fluids.

Our descendants may well genetically alter our own bodily functions. They may well decide to redesign us, to give us the attributes we may have had, had a God sat down and planned us, rather than us just being worms who moved on from the mud.

Who knows? They may find more efficient fuels to power us on.

Because our descendants will be rewriting the laws. They will know what is fittest, they'll be able to look at the genetic code, not leave it to chance. So evolution will speed up, because for the first time an intelligent being will be directing it, not just the weather, the odd asteroid and continental drift.

So maybe our future will be more intelligent design than evolution.

Either way, I don't think we should see the journey of life as having finished yet. We haven't reached the top of the steps yet.

There is a throne at the top. We know that much. We're walking up to the top expecting to find someone sitting in it. But when we get there we'll look in the mirror and sit in it ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining post Crushed.

I hope the thought transmission only goes one way if it ever evolves. In other words no mind reading.