Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Are humans still evolving

Even though I've only just discovered this amazing man yesterday, I just have this overwhelming desire to attend his classes at Harvard.

E.O. Wilson is one of America's most prominent scientists and the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, "On Human Nature" and "The Ants," as well as other groundbreaking books such as "Naturalist," "Sociobiology" and "Consilience." A professor of biology at Harvard from 1955 until 1997, Wilson has received many of the world's leading prizes in science and conservation.

His work in sociobiology forms the foundation of current evolutionary psychology study. His research on insect societies has informed the work of contemporary complexity theorists who are looking at complex natural systems. In his most recent book, "The Future of Life," Wilson focuses on the state of the natural environment, analyzing the threat to our biosphere and offering a set of recommendations for the protection of life on Earth.

In an interview with, he spoke of humans and evolution, and the possibility that the 6th mass extinction is indeed iminent.

Are humans still evolving at all?

No, at least not in any directional sense. But we are changing quickly in another sense. We are changing into a more homogeneous gene pool -- a trend that in a few more centuries could result in a fairly similar human population. The genes that make up traditional racial differences will be more and more shared.

Stephen Hawking recently said that the human race won't last this millennium unless we start to colonize space. Do you agree?

I admire Stephen Hawking but I think he's completely wrong. All of the evidence shows that we can turn Earth into our permanent, safe home. This is where our species evolved. It's what our biology adapted to, in exquisite detail -- our physiology, the way our mind developed.

What about colonizing space just to take the load off a little bit?

The great majority of physicists and biologists who have given thought to this agree that colonizing space would be one of the most ruinously expensive ways to try to alleviate human overpopulation. It's not the destiny of humanity to pilot escape vehicles away from a dying Earth. We are the first species to really have the ability to control the planet as a biophysical force. We are also the first species to see far into the future and plan our impact on the planet. We are also the first species to have volitional evolution: We can turn ourselves genetically into what we wish to be.

Does that mean we could use bioengineering to change human physiology to live in a deteriorated environment?

This raises the question of whether we will be stupid enough to continue to let the environment deteriorate, and not worry about it because we might be able to change ourselves to be able live in a hotter world with more atmospheric pollutants and a different diet. But it would be substantially removed from what we think of as a natural human condition.

If we do everything we can to sustain life on Earth, how much longer have we got as a species?

Oh, I think until the sun dies.

But what if we do stay on the same track we're on now?

Then Stephen Hawking might turn out to be right.

He's a funny guy too.

From Physics Post:

Understanding now that evolution only works over the course of many thousands of years means that the claim that ‘humans are no longer evolving’ translates into ‘humans will not evolve at all over the next few thousand years’. Realising this, to maintain the claim that humans are no longer evolving is to claim that our control over our environment is so all encompassing and so certain that nothing that happens will break our control. It is a claim that we will never run out of food, that our population growth will never reach maximum capacity, that rising waters will never cause massive loss of farmland or living space, and that no virus or bacterial pathogens will ever break out into a pandemic. It is to claim that humankind has already completely conquered nature in all of its forms.

So where are we heading? Here's an interesting commentary of the possible imprudent predictions, from a homogenized human race to alienized denizens of earth.

Did you know that all Harvard professors are required to drive Volvos?


andrew said...

Sodhi, who spent his previous sabbatical at Harvard, has a person take on Wilson. You could try asking him. The Ants is a fascinating book but pretty formidable in length. You could try getting the condensed version titled Journey to the ants instead. Anyway, right now the last thing I want to be reminded of is ants...argh

kungfubunny said...

:D thanks! been substantially distracted with evolution websites. and laughing at IDiots and creationists *oops.

ants have been good to you, andrew. lol