Hi Paul. does not Neo Darwinian Natural Selection apply to the phenotype rather than the genotype?
I think an important point that is being overlooked here is that material culture is natural, and really should be taken as part of the environmental niche in which we fit.
The phenotype is what makes an individual organism susceptible to selection. But the phenomenon of evolution is a function of population genetics, which implies that the phenotypic differences in a population have a genetically transmissible basis.
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I completely agree. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't "know better" and change our behavior under certain circumstances, though, but of course one of our main evolutionary advantages has been our inventiveness.
This occurred to me long ago and keeps cropping back up so I'd like to see what opinions are out there. Responders: If you don't adhere to the theory of natural selection or evolution, these questions won't mean anything to you; in which case, please know that this isn't a thread on whether or not you believe in natural selection. So yea, your beliefs are respected; move along... nothing to see here... have a nice day! But for those who subscribe - at least in some part - to these theories, I have some questions for you predicated on two ideas:
[INDENT][QUOTE]Premise 1: Human beings have stopped, stunted and thwarted the natural evolutionary process of their human race through medical care, preventive medicine and the gadgets we've come up with (everything from pace-makers to glasses). This is fine, this is good, yee haw and have a happy.
Does this now mean that any evolutionary processes we might have since enjoyed since the industrial revolution, age of enlightenment and information age simple won't happen? Are we destined to become more and more hopelessly reliant on the very gadgets and systems we've created?
Are we to become less robust, less able to withstand? In short, have we sapped our future by short-circuiting the very evolutionary systems that have enabled us to survive this long? And of course the kicker: Does it matter?
Perhaps we should drop the word stunted and substitute another word or idea.
Human intervention has changed human evolution from that which it was on. It was on an animal path; it is now modified by human intelligence, human compassion, human greed, and other qualities that make us human. To that affect we may be becoming more human and less animal-like.
I admit that on our present path our average IQ will decrease and our physical robustness will decrease. But these artifacts may be temporary.
The path we are presently on is but a jog in the road. The future promises an exciting, if not frightening, road.
In July, in an interesting and provocative essay in New York Review of Books entitled "Our Biotech Future", Freeman Dyson wrote:
[INDENT] The Darwinian interlude has lasted for two or three billion years. It probably slowed down the pace of evolution considerably. The basic biochemical machinery o life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbial evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them.
Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.
[/INDENT]It's clear from these developments as well as others, that we are at the end of one empirical road and ready for adventures that will lead us into new realms.
This year's Annual Edge Event took place at Eastover Farm in Bethlehem, CT on Monday, August 27th. Invited to address the topic "Life: What a Concept!" were Freeman Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd, who focused on their new, and in more than a few cases, startling research, and/or ideas in the biological sciences.
Physicist Freeman Dyson envisions a biotech future which supplants physics and notes that after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. He refers to an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer, a subject explored in his abovementioned essay.
Craig Venter, who decoded the human genome, surprised the world in late June by announcing the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another.
George Church, the pioneer of the Synthetic Biology revolution, thinks of the cell as operating system, and engineers taking the place of traditional biologists in retooling stripped down components of cells (bio-bricks) in much the vein as in the late 70s when electrical engineers were working their way to the first personal computer by assembling circuit boards, hard drives, monitors, etc.
Biologist Robert Shapiro disagrees with scientists who believe that an extreme stroke of luck was needed to get life started in a non-living environment. He favors the idea that life arose through the normal operation of the laws of physics and chemistry. If he is right, then life may be widespread in the cosmos.
Dimitar Sasselov, Planetary Astrophysicist, and Director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, has made recent discoveries of exo-planets ("Super-Earths"). He looks at new evidence to explore the question of how chemical systems become living systems.
Quantum engineer Seth Lloyd sees the universe as an information processing system in which simple systems such as atoms and molecules must necessarily give rise complex structures such as life, and life itself must give rise to even greater complexity, such as human beings, societies, and whatever comes next.
A small group of journalists interested in the kind of issues that are explored on Edge were present: Corey Powell, Discover, Jordan Mejias, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Heidi Ledford, Nature, Greg Huang, New Scientist, Deborah Treisman, New Yorker, Edward Rothstein, New York Times, Andrian Kreye, Antonio Regalado, Wall Street Journal. Guests included Heather Kowalski, The J. Craig Venter Institute, Ting Wu, The Wu Lab, Harvard Medical School, and the artist Stephanie Rudloe. Attending for Edge: Katinka Matson, Russell Weinberger, Max Brockman, and Karla Taylor.
We are witnessing a point in which the empirical has intersected with the epistemological: everything becomes new, everything is up for grabs. Big questions are being asked, questions that affect the lives of everyone on the planet. And don't even try to talk about religion: the gods are gone.
Following the theme of new technologies=new perceptions, I asked the speakers to take a third culture slant in the proceedings and explore not only the science but the potential for changes in the intellectual landscape as well.
... hmmmmmmmmm - seems to me that human culture is evolving at an insanely rapid rate (relative to the rate at which speciation occurs) ... and that's just the tip of the multi-level-evolution iceberg ... there's good ol' natural selection ... with the appearance of intelligence, there's now artificial selection ... there's inter-species co-evolution/selection ... in higher primates there's cultural evolution ... there's the evolution of an individual mammal's immune system that occurs within the lifetime of an individual, elements of which are passed on to the next generation through mother's milk (Lamarckian evolution is not dead!)
Lot's of tangents to go off on, but I believe the thrust of your questions are oriented toward the Darwinian speciation flavor of evolution (and the natural selection variant at that) ... some recent speculation in that area would tend to confirm your hypothesis ... for speciation to occur, small isolated populations are required over large timescales in order to give individual mutations a reasonable chance of taking hold ... however, this is distinctly not the contemporary human situation ... so there seems to be little room for human evolution in any direction purely due to the globalization of the human race.
As for reliance on advances in prosthesis technology (power tools, contact lenses, cell phones, computers, etc.) - the "gadgets" you mentioned ... sure, if a meteor strikes tomorrow there are going to be lots of folks dying of starvation because the only way they know how to obtain food is from a grocery store ... but does that mean we should all return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle because it's a more adaptive strategy in the event of such a cataclysm?
Speaking of cataclysms - let's try a thought experiment ... generation after generation, human technology allows individuals to survive and reproduce who wouldn't have been able to in eons past ... stated another way, mutations that might have not been viable in the past are now filling up the gene pool to overflowing ... so then a meteor hits and drastically changes the environment ... is having an overflowing gene pool a good thing? - that is, if humankind is faced with an evolve-or-go-extinct situation due to such a cataclysm, does having a giganto number of directions in which to evolve increase the odds of the successful evolution of humankind?