The evolution of mankind
The evolution of human beings did not occur in an ordered, linear manner, as suggested by the famous March of Progress. On the contrary, evolution was complex, disorganized, and from our standpoint, it was a puzzle that we must strive to piece back together.
But what of the future of human evolution? Homo sapiens (sapiens) is the only extant member of the homo genus. Through our evolution, we have conquered our environment and created a world of our own. But humans have not stopped evolving. So, what are our next steps?
Evolution does not always improve a species. Sometimes, it can very much lead to reducing its population. See the cheetah, struggling to survive in its natural environment, as nature gifted it with incredible speed, but not with incredible strength. Or pandas, who might have gone extinct due to their lackluster reproductive dynamics if it was not for human intervention.
For us humans, our evolutionary prospects would be brilliant… if it were not for our tendency to drain resources and destroy our environment. We have found ourselves stuck between a desire to progress and create a superhuman species, and the urgent need to face the consequences of our behavior. Therefore, will the next step of evolution lead to the transcendence of humanity, or to human extinction?
Currently observable evolutionary changes
Despite being supported by a great amount of evidence, many people do not believe in the theory of evolution – or some of its aspects. Indeed, some believe that the basic principles of evolution go against their personal religious beliefs. Also, they argue that the lack of evidence for evolution, as well as the absence of a “missing-link”, debunk the theory. Most scientists would consider these arguments questionable. But instead of listing the evidence of past evolutionary steps, why not review the proof that we can actually see in the present?
Evolution is happening right now. By looking at your own body, you can observe and touch the very evidence that the human race is pursuing its path into change, continuing its metamorphosis into humanity. Our appendix, for one, is one organ we used to need, but can now remove without any issues when we suffer from appendicitis. Take a look at these three other traits to see if you could pass as walking proof of the theory of evolution.
Before humans knew how to make and use fire, they ate their meat raw. Meat constituted a great source of protein and fat. It acted as a superfood of sort. However, to digest raw meat, humans needed the right “tools” to chew it properly. Thankfully, our wisdom teeth helped us chew down and absorb the precious nutrients from this calorie-dense food.
Meat held a decisive role in the evolution of mankind. Many scientists believe that eating meat allowed humans to obtain sufficient energy to develop their brains and therefore, intellectual faculties. When we discovered fire and its abilities, eating and digesting meat became even easier. It also came with fewer risks, as the cooking process lowered the possibility of bacterial infections.
With the new revolutionary technology that was fire, wisdom teeth lost their use. This explains why modern humans usually have their wisdom teeth removed when they come out. For most of us, wisdom teeth cause a great amount of discomfort, as our jaw is no longer adapted to them.
Wisdom teeth clearly show that we have gone through an evolutionary process. First, because our jaws have become too narrow for them, to the point that many of us (but not all of us) require a procedure to remove them. But also, because some humans have stopped growing them. Which means that somewhere along the line, humans with these specific traits have started reproducing more, making them more prevalent. In the future, wisdom teeth might completely disappear.
If you look at your wrist, palm facing up, clench your hand into a fist and lift it forward, you might see a vertical line appear on your wrist. That is the tendon connected to the palmaris longus. Like the appendice, this tendon can be surgically removed without causing any negative consequences.
In fact, up to 15 percent of the human population are born without this particular trait. Are you part of them? If not, you possess in your body one vestige of our human past.
If you enjoy milk with your cereal for breakfast, splash it in your coffee or love to sprinkle cheese on everything, you might be a bit of a dairy fan. Except, humans are not really supposed to have the ability to digest milk. They developed it overtime, thanks to the process of evolution.
Normally, humans should only drink their mothers milk as babies. The super nutrient-dense liquid not only feeds infants their required amount of fat, but it also contains antibodies which help babies fight potential infections. But babies produce a specific enzyme, called lactase, which helps them digest lactose. Normally, the body stops producing it after infancy. Nonetheless, some humans have evolved, through genetic mutation, to keep producing it through adulthood.
So why do we even consume milk beyond infancy? Well, the reason is the same as for any other type of food: its nutrients. Milk contains a lot of fat and is very nutrient-rich. Developing the ability to digest lactose gave our ancestors the ability to obtain a source of food more durable than meat, while still enjoying the benefits of animal-based food: energy, fat and protein.
So, if you happen to suffer from lactose intolerance, that may mean that your ancestors’ eating habits did not involve any dairy. So, they did not possess the special enzyme meant to help us digest milk.
Possible evolutionary changes
A cyborg future
Yes, cyborgs. Fusion of human bodies with technology might be one next step in our evolution, this time, man-made. Something Darwin might not have seen coming, yet seems evident when you look at the path our society is heading. Look at you, reading this blog on your phone or computer. Internet use has become widespread, almost a second-nature for human beings. While a few years back, people carried the equivalent of a radio in their bags – calling it a mobile phone – and used it for one purpose (calling people), we can now behold the sight of three-year-olds casually playing games on their parents’ Iphones in their strollers. While some might find this appalling, this might really just be the onset of a huge stride in human evolution.
Now, phones and the Internet are one thing. However, they do not quite meet the criterion of “fusion with the human body”. But throughout this decade, technologies meant to merge with the body were created. But not without controversy. Microchips, for instance, have caused an uproar when they entered the market.
Techies and adepts of transhumanism have know of microchips for years, but they might be new to you. Microchips, also known as RFID-ships (radio frequency identification), consist of small devices meant to store a certain amount of data. They are usually implanted into the wrist. Effectively, they can contain private information about you, and allow you to interact with other devices.
For instance, you could use a microchip to access a building (whether it is your home, or else). You can open doors, turn on lights, in short, communicate a plethora of information through one simple swipe of the hand. More importantly though, they could serve as a tracker.
Many people worry that microchips might not only compromise our privacy, but also lead to creating a surveillance society. This could essentially rid us of our agency, as a society which surveils, tracks and monitors our every move might in the end lead to authoritarianism. All it takes, is for the government to start punishing us for certain behaviors and force us to behave a certain way. That might not sound scary if only bad behavior is punished, but that may not be the case.
Most governments are far from the point of wanting to force everyone to get microchip implants. Actually, that sounds pretty unlikely. However, more and more people have taken a liking to the idea. And, some corporations have started experimenting with the tool to see if they could increase their workers’ productivity. The US Army has also shown interest in the technology, as well as certain countries who seek to put the technology to use.
Will humans merge with machines in the future? Technology already helps us hear, with hearing aids, move with robotic arms, or do just any activity with microships. Could it allow us to attain another form of humanity? A healthier version of ourselves. A version of humanity without degenerative diseases, with endless energy… What if it could make us immortal?
That is the premise and goal of transhumanism. Transhumanists believe that the next level of human civilization will be reached through technological progress. So far, science, medicine and technology have made our life easier, more exciting and propelled human civilization to achieve unthinkable prowess. Human evolution could transform us into a partially man-made version of homo-sapiens with technologies like microchips, nanobots, or even cryogenics, or technologies enabling us to save our consciousness.
Like most of the speculated newly-acquired traits, this remains uncertain, as scientists can not know for sure whether humans will evolve to grow bigger or smaller craniums. But it is definitely a possibility.
A caesarian section is a surgical procedure meant to deliver one or several babies through an incision in the mother’s abdomen. Mothers who experience obstructed labor, a breech birth, a twin pregnancy or high blood pressure usually need a c-section. In such situations, delivering the baby vaginally could end up putting the mother or baby in harms way. While a life-saving procedure in modern days, in the past, c-sections used to be last resort surgeries performed on deceased mothers. After the mother had died of labor complications, saving the baby became the priority.
The reason why human labor and birth often leads to complications – most lethal – goes back to our evolutionary process. In particular, our means of locomotion, bipedalism. Walking on two legs allowed us to free our hands and put them into good use, improving our dexterity. But it also led to our pelvis becoming narrower, making labor more painful, difficult and dangerous.
In the future, c-sections could become increasingly more common. As our intellectual abilities expand, our brains could get bigger and bigger. Which means that babies might be born with bigger craniums. Combined with our relatively narrow pelvis, this could lead to a generalization of c-sections, compared to vaginal births.
Issues with medical dependency
Many see the generalization of c-sections as a bad thing, for both legitimate and questionable reasons. First, some believe women should prioritise natural births, arguing that they are better for the child’s health. But, most importantly, even though c-sections remain extremely necessary, they are still heavy surgical procedures. Women have a harder and longer time recovering from a c-section than a vaginal birth. And like all surgeries, they are not without risks.
But one other problem surfaces regarding this particular evolutionary trait. Could it be that the medical knowledge and technology we rely on more and more may disappear in the future? This might sound ridiculous, but some people do think this scenario could occur, and we will get deeper into this topic later on. Basically, with an imminent climate catastrophe looming over our heads, a possible financial collapse waiting to happen, and growing political and military tensions between countries… Some believe that human evolution will soon hit a standstill, as our civilization is heading towards its collapse (yes, we are talking apocalypse – or almost).
If the generalization of c-sections were to coincide with a collapse of society (which includes the crash of medical institutions), that would mean that more women in the world would have a hard time giving birth, which would in turn lead to a significant number of deaths.
Thankfully (or not), if a collapse of civilization were to happen, it would definitely come faster than the possible evolution of human craniums.
The hypothetically evolutionary traits previously discussed fit in one of the many scenarios that could unfold in our future: one scenario based on advancement of society and technological progress. But what if we are heading towards a bleaker future?
You might have been taken aback by reading about the possibility of civilizational collapse ending the path of human evolution. But although it might seem ludicrous, many people have started envisioning the worse for our future. Climate anxiety has been on the rise for a moment now, and for a reason. Most nations have not met their target in terms of CO2 emission reduction. Global warming is becoming so increasingly obvious, it is starting to be hard to ignore it.
So let’s review some of the evolutionary traits that could occur in a worst-case scenario.
Less muscle mass
A successful colonization of space will come with a few modifications of human physiology. Due to the lack of gravity in space, astronauts must exercise regularly to prevent muscle atrophy. However, for this issue to occur, we would first have to reach new heights in space exploration as a species: this is far from a guarantee.
Our muscle mass could also very much decrease simply because of our sedentary lifestyle. Poor eating habits combined with a lack of exercise could make us less muscular, reducing our physical and athletic abilities.
If, instead of progressing, our society is heading towards its collapse, this next step in evolution could very much lead us to our demise. Indeed, developing a lower muscle mass will make us weaker and reduce our ability to adapt to harsh environments. It will put us in a dire predicament and might prevent our survival.
A collapse of the institutions of society could lead to a global famine. Indeed, as temperature changes disrupt agriculture, our mass production of food will dwindle, causing major shortages. Most people born in industrial nations have no idea how to procure food for themselves without going to the supermarket. So, when the shelves become progressively empty, what will be our option? And when soaring temperatures sear the soil and growing food becomes more difficult, how will humans fare?
It is very likely that climate change will multiply the occurrence of famines across the world. And this might lead to the next possible evolutionary trait: smaller frames. Indeed, shorter people are more likely to survive famines as they require less food than tall people to give their bodies fuel.
In general, the category least likely to survive a famine are tall men. Why? First, because of their height, they need more food. But also, because men tend to store less fat in their bodies compared to women. On the contrary, women have a biological predisposition to have a higher fat percentage. So, in a famine, they can last longer without food, as their bodies burn the stored fat when food becomes scarce.
Considering how hard it will likely be to reverse the impact of climate change, we may have to deal with famines for a long time, which in the long-term will lead to shorter people becoming predominant in society, as they have a higher survival rate.
How do you envision the future of humans? Do you believe we will make the most of technology and become an interstellar super-intelligent species? Or that we will burn out our resources to the point of no return?
Evidently, evolutionary traits do not appear uniformily and might not even extend to the entirety of the human population. Which explains why the human race is so diverse. So, we will not evolve to be exact carbon copies of each other.
The next steps of human evolution might be pretty cool, or pretty sad. But regardless, they will serve one purpose: allowing human beings to thrive no matter what environment they must adapt to. Whether we start living in other corners of the universe, or have to face the brutal changes of our mother habitat, our evolution has no choice but to go forward.