Post 7

We cannot step away from evolution. Our genomes are always collecting mutations, and we are always making mate selections. More likely than a future race of hyper-smart people who outcompete the rest of us is a strain of Homo sapiens that can beat a disease. Probably the most important evolutionary sieve that any future person is going to have to get through is going to have to do with germs and parasites. Recall that in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918–1919, some 50 million people were killed by something far too small to even see, let alone hunt and destroy. The Black Death of the fourteenth century may have killed up to 200 million. We are descendants of people who just happen to have the genes to fight off deadly viruses and bacteria. Those who survive into the future will probably have resistance to certain diseases that none of us have today. There are a lot of other ways that evolutionary change will march on, no matter what. Those that survive may have a higher tolerance for drinking milk. Babies in industrialized societies have access to milk like no one before us. Maybe a genetic tolerance for milk will slowly help more of those babies survive until they have kids of their own. There is evidence that people with both especially high and especially low blood sugar levels have fewer offspring. So subtle changes at least will make their way into the human population’s gene pool. It’s going on right now. One of the most common themes is what people call “The Singularity.” This is a supposed imminent time (2029, in some versions of the story) when computers will become as sophisticated as human brains. From there, it is proposed, machines will be able to outcompete humans at just about everything. There will be superior car-parking algorithms, disaster-relief coordination, legal briefs, rocket science, great thinking in general. While we may like to believe our big brains make us smarter than the rest of the animal world, our brains have actually been shrinking over the last 30,000 years. The average volume of the human brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 cubic centimeters, which is equivalent to a chunk the size of a tennis ball. There are several different conclusions as to why this is: One group of researchers suspects our shrinking brains mean we are in fact getting dumber. Historically, brain size decreased as societies became larger and more complex, suggesting that the safety net of modern society negated the correlation between intelligence and survival. But another, more encouraging theory says our brains are shrinking not because we’re getting dumber, but because smaller brains are more efficient. This theory suggests that, as they shrink, our brains are being rewired to work faster but take up less room. There’s also a theory that smaller brains are an evolutionary advantage because they make us less aggressive beings, allowing us to work together to solve problems, rather than tear each other to shreds. These things among many others are proof of our continuous evolving.

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