Between Evolution and Involution

History

When i was young i learned in school about humans and the Darwin’s theory. At that time the implications of this theory together with what i learned about natural selection and later about genes and the genetic material meant little to me. Yet i was intrigued by one idea that my anthropology teacher presented to me. The fact that over time we have evolved from simple monkeys to the smart humans we are today was amazing and what was even more amazing was the next step in evolution: homo sapiens sapiens cerebralis. We are to become very smart and with a big brain ! Nice !

The problem

This was true in my mind for few years, i actually believed my teacher but i did not tried to look forward, past his words. When i think about me, about us, about humans i generally consider that we are on top of the evolution chain, that we are smarter and better than any living species on this planet and due to this evolution we are smarter than any humans that might have lived on this planet. Some time ago i started by chance to read about the Neanderthal an extinct genus of Homo. They had bigger brains than we have today, and they had more muscles and more power. This finding made me rethink at what my teacher told me. That we are to have bigger brains, not smaller. Some will say the Neanderthal disapeared do to interbreeding and that is surely true, but why this interbreeding did not make our brain bigger, why did did not become smarter ?

The question now was why ? What determined humans to involve to what we are today and what the future reserves for us. And by looking at the current trends we can surely say that we will continue to involve for the next thousand of years until we will be too dumb to take care of ourselves ( of course we will have computers to do that ) but what will be the point in being a baby all your life ? There is none.

Reason for brains

Our brain is built for movement.  I recently watched with great interest a TED talk on this subject that made it more clear to me than ever this simple fact.  Movement can mean many thing, means moving from A to B, means jumping, means listening to the sounds of the forest so we can detect predators and protect ourselves etc.  The evolution of a species is a step by step process and by stating this i don’t argue with some that say evolution happens also in big steps not only in small. A small step on a evolutive scale means a lifetime of the organism and the means to achieve this evolution is natural selection.  So, back then, people had to climb trees, find shelters, do an extraordinary amont of things, everyday just to survive.

Hunter-gatherer, agriculture and beyond

We believe that nowadays we think more, we do more things, we have more informations but in fact we are wrong, before the agricultural revolution people had to accomplish laborious tasks just to survive from day to day, tasks that involved a lot of brain power. The ones that wore slow died faster and did not have enough time to produce offsprings and such their slowness died with them. Only the best, the fittest could survive. At that time the difference between a woman and a man was less evident than today. A woman had to fight also, had to catch prey, had to do some of the things man did, so it had brain, it had power, same like a man. Repeating this process one step at a time, generation by generation humans became faster, smarter, stronger. Even eating poisinous plants had it’s say in the evolution of man.  The plant would kill some, but not all, and those surviving wore in better shape to not die from eating that plant. Viruses and diseases did the same, and even if at times killing entire human populations there still was that 5-10% that survived and that wore immune.

Today we have disrupted nature’s system of natural selection and this disruption has not even started today, has started with the introduction of agriculture. When people started planting their food, started using the land to produce their food, when they domesticated chicken, cow and other animals that we eat today. From that moment natural selection started to fade, people did nor relied on hunting anymore, being weak didn’t mean that you would die without offsprings, in fact the weak persons stayed home and had offsprings and the strong ones went to fight with other tribes and doing other dangerous things.

Present

Nowadays, a big inherited fortune might be all you need to survive a generation and to have many many offsprings, far more than people without money and without problems have. This inherited fortune does not guarantee you are smart, or fast or strong. In fact in many cases can only guarantee you are fat. And it’s not only about money and rich people. It’s even more about today’s medicine. Today sick people find their cure with the latest achievements in medicine and they don’t die as was the natural way. They live longer and even have offsprings that will carry their genes forward predisposing their kids to the same diseases their parents had and even more, because the process is one of accumulation of bad genetic material not one of selective cleansing as normal natural selection would imply.

So all the technological evolution, all this advances in medicine that for us mean longer and happier life have the opposite efffect on our species. This tools/advances are providing good for us and bad for our collective future and they are now presenting us with the Prisoner’s dilemma to solve. Let’s hope that we will eventually choose what is in the best interest of our species.

Possible solutions ?

Self restraining from having babies –  The understanding of this simple fact about our evolution can significantly improve our changes of stopping this process. We can choose NOT to have offsprings, NOT to pass our problematic genetic material to another generation and this can be a decision everybody can make on it’s own depending on his health problems and it’s genetic material. I would not like to see the day if this would be enfoced upon us, but in any case we should be willing to do this. There are a lot of alternatives out there, most common including adopting children an raising them as your own. This solution might be very simple yet i am almost sure the implementation of this will be incredible problematic ( as we already have an bad example in China, and remember that China is a comunist country that can enforce some rules that are unpopular much better than other countries ). Some people would simply not accept to not have babies and not to have somebody to inherit their enormous material wealth.

Genetic manipulation – The other solution i can see to this incredible dilemma is that we will use the medical information we have today to manipulate our genes and remove from our offspings genes that can cause disease and even add genes to make our children smarter and better. Unethical ? I think is not the time yet to decide on this important matter.

    Inaction – We can choose not to do anything, like we already did, but we will be only left to the first conclusion that, in few thousands years time, maybe even less we will be much dumber than our ancestors one hundread thousands years ago, and our golden age today will be in fact the begining of the end of the human race. So inaction is not an option for our species survival.

What’s next ?

This genetic problem that the world is confronting now, and it has done so for the last 50.000 years it can be reversed, it only depends on our determination and will as a species to survive. Is it now the problem has become really important, in the age of medicine and abundance. Of course there are more stringent matters to solve right now but it’s not all lost, we still have time. My only regret is, as with the case of global warming, we will delay this until …

Do you believe otherwise ? Please comment or email your opinions!

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