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Mankind Has Stopped Evolving

 

MICHIO KAKU Professor of Theoretical Physics, CUNY

 

There are no more evolutionary pressures driving gross human evolution, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to genetically re-engineer ourselves in the future.

 

WATCH » Science fiction may lead you to believe that humans in the future will be slender, bald, and have big heads and big eyes, but according to Big Think blogger and futurist Michio Kaku, there is no longer enough gross evolutionary pressure placed on humans to cause us to evolve.

 

"We no longer have any isolated pockets, like Australia, which would accelerate human evolution," says Kaku. "We have jet airplanes...you can go pretty much anywhere on planet earth, meet people, have children and your genes are now spread throughout the planet."

 

This isn't to say that some forms of evolution aren't still taking place inside our bodies — in our immune systems and our body chemistry — but gross evolution, that is, evolution that will dramatically change the physical features of our bodies "is pretty much gone," says Kaku.

 

Despite the fact that humans are no longer evolving, Kaku predicts that in the coming decades genetic engineering will allow us to influence our own evolution. But don't expect to encounter flying pigs anytime soon, says Kaku. At the moment, scientists are only capable of manipulating one gene at a time.

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No. As much as I respect Michio Kaku's knowledge of physics, his knowledge of biology is inaccurate. While it is true that our technology protects us from certain selective pressures, that does ot mean we've stopped evolving. As a prime example, selection for lactose tolerance has been ongoing for the past few thousand years.

PZ Myers has a review of Dr. Kaku's take on evolution here:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/why_do_physicists_think_...

100% agree with Dave (and PZ). 

 

Just because you're brilliant at physics, doesn't mean you're brilliant outside of physics.  

 

Try not to get sucked into the argument from authority logical fallacy.  

Thought I'd pull the video that was embedded on Myers' page.

 

He makes an odd comment towards the end of the video.  "Chances are, decades from now, we'll look pretty much the same."

 

Well, 'decades from now' generally won't be interpreted as more than a few generations.  Personally, I wouldn't expect any prominent cosmetic changes to the species as a whole in such a limited time span.

 

There are a few issues that stand out for me.  Are we still foraging in the forests trying to avoid high mortality rates before we get the chance to breed?  No, but we still live in an environment, and, even if that environment is heavily manufactured, there are still forces of nature at work.

 

I may delineate between man-made environments and natural environments, but many animals (which we often consider pests) don't seem to make the distinction.  Insects, rodents and birds can all be vectors for disease, or can impact our food sources.  We've created environments that seem to be quite suitable for some of them.  Insects, in particular, are a problem.  It seems they can adapt to pesticides much quicker than we can.

 

We are still subject to certain fundamental biological needs.  Food, fresh water, shelter from the elements.  Each of these presents their own set of problems, many of which we use technology to overcome.  Sadly, much of our technology also seems to carry side-effects that are either unforeseen or willfully ignored.  These side-effects present their own unique issues, some of which seem minor, others that may prove dramatic.

 

Overpopulation is always a looming concern.  Perhaps, by the numbers, we are not overpopulated globally, but certain regions are.  I also wonder at countries like Canada where we are far from overpopulated, yet we concentrate our populations in limited regions, develop and use the land in unsustainable ways and consume resources at unreasonable rates.

 

We are still subject to carcinogens and disease in general. 

 

We are subject to mental illness as well.  It may be erroneous to separate mental illness from 'disease in general', but I think things like mood disorders affect natural selection in a different way.  A quick grab of some highlights from A Report on Mental Illness in Canada:

 


  • Mood disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder (combining episodes of both mania and depression) and dysthymia.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. Approximately 1% will experience bipolar disorder.
  • The onset of mood disorders usually occurs during adolescence.
  • Worldwide, major depression is the leading cause of years lived with disability, and the fourth cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
  • Mood disorders have a major economic impact through associated health care costs as well as lost work productivity.
  • Most individuals with a mood disorder can be treated effectively in the community. Unfortunately, many individuals delay seeking treatment.
  • Hospitalizations for mood disorders in general hospitals are approximately one and a half times higher among women than men.
  • The wide disparity among age groups in hospitalization rates for depression in general hospitals has narrowed in recent years, because of a greater decrease in hospitalization rates in older age groups.
  • Hospitalization rates for bipolar disorder in general hospitals are increasing among women and men between 15 and 24 years of age.
  • Individuals with mood disorders are at high risk of suicide.

 

There are other psychological/ neurological factors at play as well.  Canada experiences negative population growth through births.  For whatever reasons, many people are choosing not to reproduce, or to reproduce less.  In the former case, these people are effectively removing themselves from the gene pool.

 

We have wars.  Wars between nations and wars between gangs.  We tend to send our young out as the cannon fodder.  It's unfortunate, but we are one of our predators.  

 

The fact that there are no More Australias was mentioned.  I don't know how true that is.  A region doesn't have to experience that level of geographic isolation for the human population to remain a genetically isolable group.  I'm totally speculating here, but I'd wager that in places like Kenya, immigration and emigration are not playing dramatic roles in population diversity.  The technology might exists for people to come and go easily, but that doesn't mean that the will or the economic means exist for the bulk of the population to do so.  I also wonder about countries like Japan.  The means for immigration exist, but there's just no room.  My understanding is that the overwhelming majority of the people living there are Japanese born from Japanese going back though most of their genetic lineage.  Again, a bit of speculation on my part.

 

I'm not suggesting that the factors I've crudely glossed over are, in fact, significantly impacting human evolution.  I just think there's this notion floating around that man kind has used technology to overcome natural selection, and I just find that very hard to believe.  The world is still a harsh mistress.  It doesn't love us especially.  It is capable of fucking us badly, though I shouldn't phrase it that way (makes it should like the planet is somehow culpable).

There's not much I can do about it.  I've already reached the pinnacle of perfection; there's just nowhere left to go.

I don't think we have reached "the pinnacle" - far from it - and neither did the philosopher (& outcast) CEM Joad - 1891-1953 :

 

Joad on Philosophy

"Philosophy is an exceedingly difficult subject, and most books on philosophy
are unintelligible to most intelligent people. This is partly, but not wholly,
due to the difficulty of the subject matter, which, being the universe, is not
surprisingly complex and obscure. There is no reason, at least I know of none,
why the universe should necessarily be intelligible to the mind of a
twentieth-century human being, and I...remind him how late a comer he is upon
the cosmic scene, and how recently he has begun to think...

"If we put the past of life at one hundred years, then the past human life
works out at about a month, and of human civilisation (giving the most generous
interpretation to the term "civilisation") at about one-and-three-quarter hours.
On the same time-scale, the future of "civilisation" - that is to say, the
future during which it may be supposed that man will continue to think - is
about one hundred thousand years.

"By any reckoning, then, the human mind is very young, and it is not to be
expected that it should, as yet, understand very much of the world in which it
finds itself. Indeed, there is a sense in which the more we know, the more we
become aware of the extent of our ignorance. Suppose, for example, that we
think of knowledge as a little lighted patch, the area of the known, set in a
sea of environing darkness, the limitless area of the unknown. Then, the more
we enlarge the area of the lighted patch, the area of the known, the more also
we enlarge the area of contact with the environing darkness of the unknown. In
philosophy, then, as in daily life, cocksureness is a function of ignorance,
and dunces step in where sages fear to tread. The wise man is he who realises
his limitations.


"It is the business of philosophy, as I conceive it, to seek to understand the
nature of the universe as a whole, not, as do the sciences, some special
department of it, but the whole bag of tricks to which the moral feelings of
the Puritan, the herd instinct of the man in the street, the religious
consciousness of the saint, the aesthetic enjoyment of the artist, the history
of the human race and its contemporary follies, no less than the latest
discoveries of science, contribute.

"He looks for a clue to guide him through the labyrinth, for a system wherewith
to classify, or a purpose in terms of which to make meaningful. Has the
universe, for example, any design, or is it merely a fortuitous concourse of
atoms? Is mind a fundamental feature of the universe, in terms of which we are
ultimately to interpret the rest, or is it a mere accident, an eddy in the
primeval slime, doomed one day to finish its pointless journey with as little
noise and significance as it began it? Are good and evil real and ultimate
principles existing independently of men, or are they merely the names we give
to the things of which we happen to approve and to disapprove ?"

Apologies Adriana - sense of humour by-pass today - a bad one - where's the whisky ?!
9pm here near Gatwick - so cheers to (hick) everyone in (hick) the States & beyon....Zzzzzzzz (hick)zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz_______________
A great many. Dr. Kaku is suffering from the expert fallacy. Being an expert in one field does not make you an expert in all. I'm sure he'd be less than impressed with some expert biologists speculations on astrophysics, too.
"Despite the fact that humans are no longer evolving......" Wrong - we are still evolving. 

Yes we are evolving. For example our brains are shrinking.

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/sep/25-modern-humans-smart-why-bra...

Jerry Coyne weighs in on this question as well.

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