Future evolution of the Human-is this the finish line or not?
More than a century and a half ago, Charles Darwin has shed light on our evolutionary past as a species. But where are we heading next?
As our contemporary lives rely more and more on technology, it might seem like we have replaced improving our bodies with improving our tools. Scientists have divisive opinions: while some state that this is the end of the race for is, others believe that humans have never stopped evolving. Even if our civilization is relatively recent and hasn't had the chance to notice any major changes, there are numerous theories about how they may differ from us in the distant future, and more importantly, why. In an interview for National Geographic, anthropologist Ian Tattersall from New York's American Museum of Natural History explains his theory: since humans are extremely mobile in our age, populations are less and less isolated from one another, making crossbreed mutations a lot less likely. Steve Jones, a genetics professor at University College London, states that we are at a point in history where Darwin's "survival of the fittest" no longer applies in humans: our medical science has reached such advances that even the weakest individuals will get the chance to live and pass on their genes.
On the other hand, a large number of scientist’s consider that there is still a lot in store for us in the future. One potential development is the mono-ethnicity: as our modern society becomes more and more multicultural, it is expected that humans of the future are expected to evolve into a single ethnic group, thus losing a large part of the distinguishing features of particular ethnicities and evolving into a genetic "melting pot" where the concept of race will lose its relevance or even cease to exist.
Quite a few physical traits are expected to change in our future. A very visually striking feature we might have are - don't laugh! - Tentacles. As digital technologies are taking up a bigger and bigger role in our lives, our hands and fingers might start to change their shape into more keyboard or touchscreen-friendly limbs. Our hands are incredibly capable of fine, precise movements even now, but with all the technical interfaces around us it seems like there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to flexibility.
As far-fetched as this may sound, the constant use of digital devices might determine our fingers to lose their rigidity but retain flexibility. Apart from our limbs, flexibility is expected to become a feature of our entire body: in the increasingly health and safety conscious world that we live in, the rigidity of our body may not be as necessary as it once was, resulting in a much more flexible skeleton. Our toes might change as well: before humans could walk upright, they were used for grappling as much as the hands and fingers, but they have reduced to their current size when they lost this function. Now that we no longer need them for grasping branches and such, evolution has taken care of the issue by keeping the thumb relatively big for balance purposes, while shrinking the other four. However, since we barely need the smallest, fifth toe, it is very likely that we might lose it at some point - it is not uncommon for animals to lose a no longer necessary digit through evolution.
Height is also likely to change in future humans: in the last 150 years alone, an average human's height has grown by 10 centimeters, and chances are it will keep on growing. The reason is believed to be the abundance of available nutrition: the more available food we have as children, the more energy we have to grow into taller adults. Is there a limit to how high we can grow? We couldn't know now, but while famine is still far from eradication, a large part of the population does have the opportunity to eat in excess, our species has high chances to grow even taller in the future.
Another hypothesis claims that we might one day have the ability to change our skin color. As the beauty industry has developed a profitable market for false tanning and skin whitening, it is expected that one day there will be a technical method that enables us to elude racial prejudice or beauty standards, even going beyond standard socially-accepted skin tones. One way to do this would be using chromatophores: they are compounds of cells that contain pigments and reflect light, thus giving the color of skin and eyes in a wide range of animals such as amphibians, fish or reptiles. Mammals differ by having a different class of cells with a similar function, called melanocytes, but it seems like we could one day borrow some of the fashion sense of the cold-blooded creatures through the use of their cells.
There is evidence that in the last 100 000 years alone, our teeth have grown half the size, and further changes in size are not unlikely. The so-called "wisdom tooth" now serves no use to modern humans, and has already started having low occurrence rates in certain ethnic groups. Since our food has changed its texture massively, we no longer need such powerful teeth, and our jaws are also expected to grow smaller for the same reason. Hair will likely have a similar fate: humans have become less and less hairier since their appearance, mainly because we now rely on clothes to keep us warm. However, as body hair is currently seen as unattractive, especially in women, it is expected that we will eventually find ways to remove it completely and even become completely hairless. On the other hand, since men are under less social pressure to lose their hair, it is not very likely that a major change affecting our entire species will occur.
However, some of our evolutionary perspectives are not so pleasant. As we rely more and more on modern medicine for survival, our bodies' natural strength is expected to grow weaker and weaker. Our immune system is growing more and more dependent on supplements, we might expect that one day it might get so used to the artificial helping hand that it might stop doing its job on its own. The natural process of producing hormones will become less and less important, since your body knows it will always get enough through artificial means, so it might one day simply stop producing them organically. This perspective is both scary and intimidating: should we admire our species for its power to sustain its life through technology, or should we fear the intervention that makes natural functions of the body obsolete?
Our muscles are also expected to suffer major changes. As we rely more and more on technology and machinery for heavy work, every generation is less and less dependent on physical strength. Our everyday activities require less and less physical strength even now - imagine how will it be in the scenario in which human civilization will relocate into space and live its life within the controlled environment of spaceships, far away from the forces of nature. It is not uncommon for astronauts who return to Earth to suffer from muscular atrophy, but what if we all become eternal space explorers, never returning to our home planet to get the chance to recover our physical strength? Another change induced by technology use will very likely affect how our brains function. How often do we rely on the internet or the digital storage devices instead of using our memory? Our efficiency-oriented brains will grow less likely to remember the actual facts, but start remembering where the facts can be found, and the age of the internet does nothing but favor this process. What we gain in efficiency, we will very likely lose in our natural memory.
But beyond the question of whether we will continue to evolve or not, there lies a third theory: that of the unnatural selection. A philosophy called "transhumanism" expects future humans to start taking charge of their own evolution, through the aid of technologies like artificial intelligence, gene selection or the use of bionic organs. Negative traits might be eliminated from our species simply by controlling the DNA and choosing the traits of a future baby before birth. Despite the obvious ethical dilemmas of "playing God", transhumanism opens the door for a number of extraordinary possibilities, like creating super-athletes and invincible soldiers, whose brains can be scanned atom by atom and connected directly to computers, ensuring instant "upload" and "download" of information from their minds. This is a fascinating hypothesis, and numerous scientific developments suggest that we might not be that far from the point where we can improve our own species, through our own powers... However, the question is: do we really need this? There is no easy answer to this one, but one thing is clear. We are the most curious and knowledge-hungry species on Earth, and as long as there is progress to be discovered, someone will strive to discover it.
http://i.ytimg.com/vi/LBX8_HawFPQ/maxresdefault.jpg - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBX8_HawFPQ
Published by Andreea Dobre