Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Evolution is over, everyone go home.

Evolution of man may be over

I don't normally link to other blogs, but this is a subject I've actually discussed with others in the past, so seems like a convenient time to re-hash some old ground, like the typical narrow-minded friend who suddenly says 'and another thing...' two weeks after the original argument was settled by someone else when you weren't there to witness it, resulting in confusion for all. Hurrah!

Anyway, it's been proposed before in sci-fi books and what not, but given the effect of our intelligence on our overall development, is human evolution at an end? A fundamentalist would say no, seeing as it never happened in the first place, so that's the end of that now shut up and eat your Bible or something like that. But it's a valid concern, because pretty much all the things that drive evolution such as survival of the fittest, environmental pressures and genetic mutation can, to varying extents, be counteracted by our marvelous technology. Why would humans adapt to colder environments when we have central heating? Why would keen hunting skills be needed when Asda's has a Deli counter? And so on.

I personally think this analysis needs to be refined. It might well be the end of Natural evolution, but I don't think evolution can logically stop. Our society is more complex than ever, but still there are selection pressures. Look at Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer. 8 Gold medals, world fame, and if he wasn't involved already he most likely has women throwing themselves at him now. Apparently, he has the perfect build for swimming, naturally so, so any children he has will have similar traits, and anyone who wants to beat him ever will have to have an equal or better capacity for swimming. So we see a pressure here, albeit a small one, to produce the perfect swimmer. Don't mock it, as if it didn't exist, would Michael get the chance to pass on his genes? Uncertain, as he is clearly a hideous man. But because the Olympics exist, he and his type will now become sought after, rather than dismissed by potential mates on account of their resemblance to every Frankenstein's monster spoof combined with Plug, from the Bash street kids.

(Note: I have no issue with Michael Phelps, he's clearly a supreme being of some sort, and as a lifetime shunner of physical activity such people scare me, so I lash out in defence at the impressive yet ugly and probably mentally deficient demi-Gods)

Part of the original article cites the belief that humans are living longer, so evolution slows as a result. But isn't that an example of evolution? How long was the average lifespan 100 years ago? 6 months? And yes, many genetic diseases and illnesses which would normally kill off victims before they could grow to pass on their DNA are now manageable, so that doesn't happen, so the diseases stay around. But that doesn't take into account the general shallowness of 99.99% of breeding partners. I have no issue with people with Down syndrome, but I'll hold my hand up and say I'm not attracted to them and I'd genuinely worry about someone who was. That's an extreme example, obviously, but people do still seek out the most healthy and physically attractive partners, people with genetic defects need not die out they'll probably always be marginalised.

Some people see it differently, I've heard numerous people who believe in 'traditional values' (can generally be interpreted as 'Bigoted Wankers') complaining about all these hideous, pregnant teenagers and 'chavs'. Society is 'going to the dogs' blah blah blah. I don't think 'Chavs' (inverted commas will persist because I don't like the word, but can't think of an equally concise acceptable alternative) are any more or less smart than anyone else. They're a product of their upbringing and environment as much as anyone else. And people complain that they're always on their mobiles, well I find that impressive. Most modern mobiles confuse the hell out of me, and I'm 26 and can do Brain surgery. My little brother has mastered Sim City 3000 on the PC and he's only 8. Compare this to only a few generations ago, when your average child was amazed for weeks on end by the concept of the Hula-Hoop, which is, let's be blunt, a circle. Circles have been around for a loooong time, but they still fascinate us, don't they!

No, they don't. Circles are being phased out, what with downloading and MP3 players, CDs and that are just a storage medium* now. Even machines evolve.

I can't see how we've stopped evolving, but now I think we're more in control of how we evolve. Obviously with genetic engineering this is going to be literally true. People these days are afraid of it, like GM food, it's 'not natural'. Neither is sustained single crop agriculture, crop rotation, industrial fertilisers or taking produce and making it extra shiny before putting it in a shop in a display alongside identical sized and coloured produce of the same genus before throwing it in the bin because nobody buys Veg when there's Snickers to be had.
A lot of people balk at the idea of human genetic manipulation, for themselves or for their children. But not everyone will. I state this with 100% certainty, seeing as there are millions of people who willingly slice their guts or faces open and inject them with all manner of crazy chemicals just to look slightly better. And when one bunch starts GMing themselves, we'll all have to join in to keep up. There's your selection pressure again. And back to the start. And who knows what challenges lie ahead? I imagine there'll be a distinct advantage for humans who can breathe CO2, but not for literally tens of years.

There appears to be a fear of the human race stagnating, and some other race usurping us in the distant future, a la Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. Unlikely, as if we wouldn't notice the slow development of another species technical infrastructure that could rival our own. And given our current progress, we'll have wiped out all other higher life forms before they even get started. You don't normally hear of the upsides of our ecological vandalism do you? But damn it if there aren't a few.

So yeah. Evolution, it would be arrogant to think we've beat it, we're just working with it. In my opinion. The good thing about evolution is, whether you believe in it or not, it just keep happening.

(*CDs have always been just a storage medium, that's what they're for, but the point I was making was nonsensical and I couldn't really back it up, so I just thought I'd say it. I'm very sorry)



Benjamin said...

Cyborgs are another source of evolution in my view.

faceless said...

I'm so evolved I glow in the dark.

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