Is evolution over for mankind?

The inevitable march of evolution

Lancelot Link
Lancelot Link at home in Malibu

Plato
Plato in a reflective mood

Fred Durst
Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst spies a quarter on the sidewalk and considers saving it for when his 15 minutes of fame are over

There’s a troubling notion taking hold in some circles that the age of Darwin has passed. Man has vanquished each and every predator the Earth has thrown at him. Technology has insulated us from any natural impetus towards further evolution. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner where natural selection no longer applies. Well I beg to differ with these pessimistic pundits: The evolution of man continues on today!

Beginning on the day our ancestors crawled out of the primordial ooze, we have faced a constant struggle for survival, just like any other species. Among the mammals, some survived because of their strength, others by their speed. The Neanderthal had two things going for him: his opposable thumb, and his massive brain. These things have carried us from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age, and have allowed us to decimate all opposition to our primacy on Earth. There are scores of animals that are faster, stronger, more rugged than man, but all of them now live by our grace. Those who have gotten in our way have been culled, driven out, or even exterminated. But without those predators, what forces remain to impose natural selection upon humanity?

Consider the trends that have been with us since the dawn of civilization. Murder rates and violent crime have increased steadily. Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. The world is changing in a big way. There are 6 billion of us on this planet now, all jockeying for position. These trends are symptomatic of the greatest predator man faces now: himself.

Unlike some, I don’t see mankind destroying himself as a species. The natural imperative for survival is strong, and man is far more adaptable than he sometimes realizes. Our lives are very short in the context of the universe, and a worst case scenario that sets us back 300 years is only a blip on the screen when you consider how many billion years it took to get to this point. People tend to look at time in terms they can understand; for them, the world will exist for about 5 generations. It began somewhere during their grandparents’ lifetimes, and will end with their grandchildren. The rest is merely an abstraction. When you look at it from this perspective, evolution becomes so intangible that it’s virtually meaningless to those who merely try to live their lives in the here and now.

So what are the possibilities for the future? What awaits us around the next bend in the road? I see several factors that will push mankind over the evolutionary precipice: Environmental pressures will be one of the keys to transforming humanity. The earth is changing at an accelerating pace. Man has been locked in a constant struggle with the elements since the dawn of time, and that struggle continues today. The only difference is one of scale. Where we once struggled to find shelter from the storm on an individual or tribal level, we now battle nature on a global scale. Dams and levies stand ready to hold back the rising tides, and the first sign of famine mobilizes international efforts to combat it. The planet is changing, and if we aren’t careful it will change into a much less hospitable place.

These harsh conditions could very well be the catalyst for biological changes in man as he adapts to a new environment. Space travel has gone from science fiction to routine fact in a mere 40 years. Over the next century, man will explore other planets, and perhaps choose to colonize them. These colonists will be one of the great evolutionary experiments of the next millennium. Life on another world will have profound effects upon their physiology, and if they can adapt to their new homes, it will be the greatest evolutionary leap since Cro-Magnon man gave way to Homo sapiens. The Computer Revolution offers some very interesting possibilities for human evolution. Great hordes of people living in the developed world spend eight or more hours a day in front of a computer terminal now, and there are sure to be mutations brought on by this.

As the field of Cybernetics advances, it may become possible for man to actually engineer his own evolution. Imagine having a computer inside your head, with all the processing power available to you any time, any place. Now imagine a child who has had that power since birth. To him, the use of computer implants would be as natural as breathing. Over the course of several generations, the magnitude of this change will become even more apparent, and people will one day look back upon this step as one of the biggest in human development, ranking up there with tools, agriculture, flight, and splitting the atom. These and other changes we can’t even begin to imagine will insure our continued development as a species.

So to those of you who say that man’s evolution has come to an end, I have a simple request: please step aside and let the rest of us get on with the business of realizing our full potential.