Human Evolution Is Finally Over And Robots Are likely To Take Over

One man’s radical thinking changed the reality of the beginning of our existence from what had been the mind-set of medieval people for centuries all over the world. Darwinian (biological) evolution has been going on over the past 4 billion years, following the Earth’s formation 4.5 billion years ago. The facts of evolution ie the notion that all living forms are related and evolved in an amplitude of time from one common ancestry could only be denied by an abandonment of reason.

 Although some scientists argue that mankind is still being influenced by the evolutionary forces that created the myriad species which have inhabited the Earth over the past 4 billion years, a group of Western biologists (Deevey 1960, Nettle 2009) controversially believe that they in the West, have seen the end of evolution because of Western lifestyle that protects them from the forces used to shape Homo sapiens.

Writing for the social media, methinks, their idea may be pertinent in that food, hygiene and medical advances allow virtually every member of the Western society to live and pass on their genes to the next generation.  Remarkable as it seems, I don’t see any different changes in the biological make-up of Homo sapiens all over the world over the millennia, which might accrue from mutation due to unfavourable environment. This is rather a racialised observation that was once popular with the Nazis.

I find it something fundamentally uncuddly that someone like me, born and brought up in Manipur, South Asia, but been living in England for over half a century, have half-stopped evolving because of modern Western advances, while my relatives in Imphal are still evolving. I believe the evolution, whether in the West, East or Africa, has reached its pinnacle as it can’t continue forever. It has been 66 million years ago since Homo sapiens evolved from the Cavemen with no change.        

There is an end to everything. I wonder how far the universe can expand. The energy giving Sun is going to die out in 5 billion years when its hydrogen burns out.  Even the cosmos is not infinite. Quantum gravity places a limit to infinity.

Evolutionary genetic variance (no two individuals are identical) can’t alter humans to bigger and bulkier, or smaller and thinner, or having more arms and legs like millipedes, or more skulls like many-headed hydra. The biological evolution by natural selection (Darwin 1859) and sexual selection (Darwin 1913) have to stop sometime.    

 Though split, many view that Darwinian evolution has been replaced by ‘Cultural evolution’ (Durham 1991, Nenrich & McElreath 2003, Richardson & Boyd 2005, and Leyland & Brown 2011).   Though I’m not a researcher my scientific impulse is that cultural evolution has taken over genetic macroevolution while microevolution is still going on eg lactose intolerance. This premise has its roots in the scientific definition of culture, best described by American anthropologist Hoebel (1972) “as an integrated system of learned behaviour patterns that are characteristic of members of a society and are not a result of biological inheritance.”

In 1871, even Darwin considered whether cultural evolution was evolving alongside with biological evolution. That cultural evolution follows Darwinian (genetic) evolutionary principles of variation, inheritance and selection was first presented in 1981 by the Italian population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and the Australian-American geneticist Marcus W. Feldman.  

Anthropologist J Genet (1994) accepts that cultural evolution in contrast to Darwinian evolution, has evolved, based on the concept of cultural fitness with the notion that biological and cultural evolution are going on side by side. Korotayev, the Russian anthropologist (2004) explains how culture and societies change over time leading to a process producing a form of human structure which is qualitatively different from our ancestral form.

From the 20th century with advanced technologies and medical sciences, the West has survived better than Asia and Africa. Demonstrably, the West can grow a chicken four times more quickly than 50 years ago. But I doubt that chicken will continue to grow 4 times more in the next 50 years, while the teeming mass of poor Indians or Africans, will develop more appendages like giant centipedes, to help them move faster for survival, say in the next 50,000 years.  

Darwinian evolution stopped 50,000 years ago when the present human beings replaced Stone Age people. In fact, we have now negative evolution. We have become lightly built and has less brain volume (Pearce 2013) than the Neanderthals. Over the last 2,500 years Einstein’s brain had not evolved better than Socrates. Einstein only became smarter because of advances in scientific discoveries and cultural evolution of his time.

Indication is clear that evolution in the West had stopped long before its opulence and modern technical know-how, while there is no evidence that indigenous people in the world, who scrapped together enough calories for themselves to survive, had continued to evolve. Rather, we have been noticing evidence of cultural evolution among them.

Though Darwin didn’t invent the concept of evolution himself, his two books on evolution demolished the old theory of ‘special creation’ by an intelligent designer. He suffered great indignity for saying that man must trace his godhood down a twisted family line of all the animals that exist and thence to the unknown Adam molecule, rather than to Adam of the Bible. He appeared in caricatures showing him with an ape body.

Darwin set out to show that animals like human beings, can feel pleasure and pain, and their hearts palpitate in terror. They have capacities for maternal love, love of praise and other complex faculties like imitation, self-sacrifice, jealousy, attention, memory, and rudimentary reason. 

 Before Darwin in the early 1790s, while the fire of revolution was burning in Paris, French zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck began a classification of all invertebrates and proposed that evolution resulted from the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck wrote: “Citizens, go from the simplest to the most complex and you will have the true thread that connects all the productions of nature; you will have an accurate idea of her progression; you will be convinced that the simplest living things have given rise to all others.”

With a journalistic instinct I find it quite illuminating how Charles Darwin came to be an evolutionist from a trained man of God. He was born on February 12 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln, in Shrewsbury town near the Wales border. He inherited his naturalist genes from his famous physician and naturalist grandfather Dr Erasmus Darwin, who in 1794 wrote “Zoonomia”. Darwin’s father was also a famous physician Dr Robert Darwin. His mother Susannah Wedgewood, daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgewood, had died when he was eight.

Darwin’s father sent him to Edinburgh to study Medicine. There, Charles made a required visit to the operating theatre where he saw a child being operated without anaesthetics in those days. He ran from the room and never returned. As he was not interested in law either, his father sent him to Cambridge to get a BA degree to become am Anglican priest. There, he was more interested in

riding, shooting and other pastimes, but he liked walking with and listening to Rev John Henslow, professor of botany, and reading Natural history. He reread his grandfather and Lamarck.

Darwin sailed abroad the ‘Beagle’ in 1832 towards Brazil. When he arrived at Tierra del Fuego, he saw primitive Ona Indians sleeping naked at night on the wet and near-frozen ground. The only cover they used was guanaco skin (like Llamas) wrapped around. Darwin decided that “nature by making habit omnipotent, and its effects hereditary, has fitted the Feugian to the climate and production of his miserable country.” He was right. Studies later, revealed that the Feugian’s rate of metabolism is higher than normal for the human species.

Modern humans live in societies and cultures that support humanity as a whole. Christopher Wills, University of California, San Diego, argues that “intellect is now driving evolution. And with enhanced sharpness of mind and ability to have more children, Westerners have a better chance for survival’. He is wrong there. The present population statistics show that it’s the less-lustrous non-Western Muslims who have more children and are likely to survive the Western population.

 Human intelligence that separates us from other animals, may not be growing but smartness is. This enormous progress in modern human society is because of smartness in inventing modern technologies with the ability to control over our environment. Smartness impacts on our brains to improve our culture. This brings cultural evolution.  Researchers stress that cultural evolution is similar (not identical) to Darwinian (biological) evolution, in respect of selection, variation and inheritance.

Cultural research is not unanchored reflection on the subject. Researchers employ the same methods, tools and concepts biologists have developed to explain biological diversity and complexity. These include phylogenetic methods to reconstruct historical relations between cultural traits or tools, ethnographic field studies and laboratory experiments to determine small scale cultural “microevolution” eg whether we preferentially learn from certain people within a group to explore the long term and population-level consequences of these microevolution processes.

Evolutionary scientists now believe that cultural evolutionary theory may well serve as synthesiser for unifying the social sciences, in the way genetic evolution theory synthesised the biological sciences during the early 20th century.

Dr IM Singh

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