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human evolution
i'm ready for my close up mr demille
Location: Columbus, Ohio

Darwin's Five Theories of Evolution which he outlined in Origins was a ground breaking achievement in modern science. While it is certainly a flawed hypothesis, it is not without its benefits. I don't want to get off an a tangent, perhaps another journal entry can deal with issues I have with Darwin's theories. For the purposes of this entry though, I want to talk about the concept of natural selection. Of the five theories, this one probably most aptly explains the mechanism by which species on this planet change over time. One only has to take a look at the natural world to see it happening.

The concept of natural selection means, roughly, that evolution of a species is directly impacted by the natural world. Incremental changes in the species due to slight genetic mutations which make an organism more adaptable to its environment are then passed on genetically from the parent to future generations, giving it an advantage in competing for limited resources.

In thinking about this it occured to me that humans are no longer affected by this model. Modern medicine has kept once lifethreatening ailments in the gene pool that otherwise would've eventually been weeded-out on the presumption that given a long enough timeline, people with certain genetic dispositions to these frailties of the human condition, would've died before having the chance to breed. Couple this with that, since the sexual revolution, the overall selection process for mating has gone WAY down. It used to be that women and men were more selective in their mating practices with drawn out courtship rituals, dowries, etc. Now, birth is sometimes an unfortunate side-effect of sexual escapades. This is a blanket generalization I know, there are obviously still people who select mates based on qualities they find attractive. But I also see lots of people who have children by less than desirable mates.

In our increasingly compassionate society, people lacking intelligence, subjective attractiveness, and basic survival skills 1) live long enough to breed and 2) hook-up with someone else because the stigmas which used to surround casual sex and single-parenthood in our society no longer exist. Of course, it's questionable that humans even really need anything approaching survival skills these days. We have no natural predators and have the capability to transform our environments into more hospitable living conditions. With the exception of countries where there are very real famine issues, a good majority of humans all over the world live long enough to breed, and do breed.

I know it sounds crass to talk about things in the simple terms of breeding, but don't mistake this as a lack of compassion on my part. Nature is not compassionate, it simply is or isn't. I'm not suggesting that we should kill the affirmed or return to more puritan relationship models, however, given this criteria, I think it's safe to say that there will be no "next" human evolutionary step, at least, not an incremental one. The only way we will evolve as a species will be in a near catastrophe - one in which a vast number of humans are wiped from existence and the survivors are those who were lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery or have acquired enough power and wealth (either individually or collectively by right of citizenship) to protect them from this unforseen event.

Simply put, there are no conceivable adaptations we could undergo as a species that would give us an advantage over those who didn't have it. It's not like a 6th finger or a different way of breathing will give a person an advantage in survival in contemporary society.

So until this catastrophe comes, be content with humanity, because it's not going to get any better, or at the very leat, different.

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You are wise, young one. I agree totally.

my opinion: opportunites for evolution

I think you are right about natural selection - if you only consider the very very near future -- or of you assume that the current civilized, westernized world order will continue many thousands of years into the future. I agree that all the societal factors you mention affect the degree of natural selection that occurs now, definitely. But I think that there will be a next step in human evolution (even without the intervention of a global event, which I agree, could toss the populations in a who new evolutionary). It may take many, many of generations for genomic mutations to proliferate to the extent that they become visible in a measurable percentage of the entire human population (although admittedly, traits and genes may be affected by natural selection within subpopulations much faster). Based on that time scale, there probably exist mutations in humans that emerged at the dawn of development of the civilized world that have not reached their evolutionary endpoint (i.e. they haven't been wiped out, or contrarily, established) via natural selection. Who knows what mores, values, and living conditions will be dominant even 10 generations from now?

In addition, the vast diversity in the human race as it exists now provides innumerable opportunities for natural selection to occur - and for specific genes to persevere. While things may be more "normalized" in modern Westernized countries; we really are only a fraction of the human race. An example: I am currently working with some scientists that are studying a population in a mountainous region of India near its border with Tibet. The women of this culture have cooked with brush (wood) fires *inside* animal skin tents, for generations. The scientists have found the female population *might* have a natural resistance to lung diseases that would normally be associated with the inhalation of so many combustion products. Say the air of the earth continued to become more and more polluted -- who knows if that trait, after hundreds of thousands of years, might proliferate to the population at large?

Even in westernized societies, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity pose huge public health risks. Does that mean that again, after hundreds of thousands of years, we will be a race of people fairly resistant to these killers? I think it depends on far too many factors to tell. As far as our outward appearance is concerned, what would happen if a genetic mutation emerged that linked the gene for a sixth finger with that for resistance to colon cancer? Who knows?

I think that if ones thinks on a grand time scale, there is simply know way of knowing what our evolutionary future holds.

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