Future Human Evolution

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of, for many reasons.

While there does seem to be some evidence of the division into “gracile” and “robust” forms in primates, Oliver Curry mistakenly says that chimpanzees split into robust chimps and gracile bonobos. This is not true. The common ancestor of humans, chimps and bonobos split into the descendants of chimps and a second group that itself split into the descendants of the bonobos and the descendants of the humans. We can see this in the fact that we are more closely related to bonobos and that we share some anatomical and behavioral features with bonobos, though many of our behaviors more closely resemble chimps, while bonobos physically resemble chimps more. So the evolutionary picture is more complex than Curry suggests.

The next bizarre statement, from an evolutionary point of view, is that “human evolution will reach its peak in about the year 3000.” I don’t know what this could possibly mean. Evolution does not have “peaks” in the sense that a species is as good as it gets. Species are always adapting to their environments. Humans are a strong generalist, and we are thus highly adaptive to practically every terrestrial environment. This leads into the nonsense about genetic regression. There is no such thing as genetic regression — there is only more or less adaptive species to their environment.

This then leads me to the issue of evolution itself. When a species is as mobile as our own — especially in the modern world — natural selection as adaptation to the physical environment no longer occurs. What we have now in control is population dynamics, where a genetic change spreads rapidly and evenly throughout a population after a few generations. Now, Curry mentions sexual selection. But I see little evidence for major differences in sexual selection. All the studies that have been done my evolutionary psychologists show that people universally find the same general proportions physically attractive. Globalization is, again, even eliminating many of the cultural differences that may (as unlikely as that is, since those differences were never actually substantial) have contributed to sexual selection. The elements contributing to intelligence, as I noted in a previous post, are so numerous as to make it difficult to determine what combinations are best.

This is not to say that over the time span he mentions — 100,000 years — that human evolution won’t occur. Sure by then we will have colonized the moon and Mars, perhaps even the stars. And one would expect those isolated populations to evolve. But to keep things more down-to-earth, Curry fails to mention another type of evolution. It is a more important kind, and it is the kind that gave rise to human intelligence itself. And that is the evolution of more complexity. It is possible that certain people might evolve to have more complex minds — perhaps as much more complex than humans as humans are over chimps and bonobos. It is unlikely they would appear to be physically any different, as the difference would be in the minds of the people who emerged into the more complex forms of thinking. This kind of evolution seems more likely, and it seems more immediately likely. And if Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan are right, it may have already happened in a small group of people. That is a much more interesting kind of evolution in my book.

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Intelligence

In his book “On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins says that intelligence is the ability to detect and predict patterns. I would go a step further and say that the signature of human intelligence is the ability to then create new patterns. If we look to what it is that IQ tests test for, it is pattern recognition. The more complex the patterns are that one can recognize, the more intelligent a person is said to be. Of course, there are many kinds of patterns, and some people are better at picking up some kinds patterns than they are at others. Thus there could be social intelligence, emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence, artistic intelligence, literary intelligence, memory-intelligence, mathematical intelligence, etc. Some patterns, like those in math, are extremely simple patterns — so simple that math is difficult for many people.

So we see a variety of kinds of intelligence. We should also then expect that, with the way we measure IQ, we should see differences in IQ based on the complexity of a society one finds oneself in. People in more complex societies, cultures, and sub-cultures would then test as having higher IQs than do those in less complex societies, precisely because those in more complex societies would be more likely to encounter and have to recognize more complex patterns. Complexity in a society (or in a person’s mind) is something that emerges over time. Some places, due to any number of factors, have more complex societies than others. When an environment changes, a society can and oftentimes will react to become more complex. This helps to make sense of the fact that IQ has steadily gone up in Western countries throughout the 20th century (it doesn’t appear to be the case only because by definition 100 is average, meaning they have had to modify the tests). Obviously, evolution could not be working quite that fast, to make people at the end of the 20th century smarter than those at the beginning. However, I think we can all recognize that Western culture and society have gotten more complex over that same period. People living in the more complex societies, being exposed to more complex patterns, would naturally be able to detect the more complex patterns associated with high IQ. This also makes sense of the fact that IQ can and does oftentimes go up as a person gets older. Some children can see complex patterns right away and easily. Others learn to do so.

Is there a genetic component to IQ? Unquestionably. But with 1/3 of our genes being expressed exclusively in the brain, good luck figuring out what combinations make for high intelligence. Also, the massive shifts and migrations of people throughout history and pre-history, along with the bottlenecking that occurred several tens of thousands of years ago to make us almost genetically identical, makes any racial component to IQ so unlikely as to be almost laughable. Intelligence comes about through the interaction of genes and environment, and the more complex the environment is, the higher the IQ of the people in that environment. As noted, social-cultural-environmental differences are accidents of geography as much as anything, as Jared Diamond observed in “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” As the world becomes more complex, other cultures around the world will respond to that complexity — sometimes by lashing out, sometimes by becoming more complex themselves. But we have to recognize that this is where the differences lie: in our psychosocial complexity. It is that component to IQ that is variable among groups, not genes. The world we live in, and how complex we think the world is that we live in, makes a difference. Individual differences, rather than group differences, may be another matter, as different individuals may be better or worse at detecting patterns, or certain kinds of patterns. And there is certainly a difference in ability to create new patterns. Artists, poets, and musicians aren’t all that common, after all. But my guess is that they are also less common than they could be.

Cultural Universals

Anyone who tells you there is no such thing as human nature doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he or she is talking about. Or they have an ideological agenda for which the existence of human universals is inconvenient. This is why the left–postmodern, socialist, or communist–oppose the idea of human universals. If there is a human nature, you cannot force people into whatever mold you want. Your utopian schemes are always everywhere undermined by reality.

Frederick Turner points out that the forty-seven cultural universals (to which he adds combat, gifts, mime, friendship, lying, love, storytelling, murder taboos, and poetic meter) make it “tempting to propose that a work of literary art can be fairly accurately gauged for greatness of quality by the number of these items it contains, embodies, and thematizes” (The Culture of Hope, 26), since “it is the function of [literature] to preserve, integrate and continually renew this deep syntax and lexicon [of cultural universals], while using it to construct coherent world-hypotheses” (26).

We have, according to Wilson (actually, George P. Murdock, who Wilson is quoting), sixty-seven cultural universals (On Human Nature, 160):

age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, and weaving

Whereas I could identify in that list only twenty which chimpanzees share with humans: bodily adornment, cleanliness training (in some), community organization, cooperative labor (i.e., when they hunt), education (active teaching), family feasting (a true ritual in chimpanzees), games, gestures, gift-giving, greetings, hygiene (in cleaning each other of parasites), incest taboos (admittedly a questionable one, since it is clear the Westermarck effect is in effect, but not yet clear that it is also socially transmitted), kin groups, medicine (Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master, 254-255), postnatal care, property rights (chimpanzees are very territorial), ritual (see family feasting, above), status differentiation, tool-making, and visiting. And this does not include the cultural differences found among chimpanzee troupes. I say there are only twenty, but look at those twenty. Are we really so much better because we have developed calendars when chimpanzees have managed to develop medicine (albeit far more primitive than human medicine, to say the least, but quite impressive all the same). Many of those uniquely human cultural traits can be traced logically from this pool of twenty we share with our closest relatives. I have already mentioned religion rising from power (status differentiation, above), which would then naturally lead to things like divination and religious ritual (combining power with feeding rituals could do this). Government too would naturally arise in a species that has status differentiation and the need for rules. I could go on and on, but I think we can see how much of what we consider uniquely human is either shared by chimpanzees and bonobos or could arise quite naturally from a specialist species like chimpanzees to become a variety of things in a generalist species like humans.

Creationists of all sort love to deny our continuity with our ape ancestry. The religious creationists deny the biology outright, but the economic/social creationists on the left deny the continuity between ape nature and human nature, insisting humans magically became a “blank slate” species–which is a species of nonsense accepted only by the economic creationist left. If the left wish to remain relevant in any way, they need to reject their anti-scientific, anti-intellectual attitudes and embrace the findings of evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, economics, and the complexity sciences. Otherwise, they will be left a marginal world view with little actual impact on the world–much like their cosmological creationist cousins.