Are we still evolving … biologically?

Had a rather impassioned debate with Amanda this evening on the subject of whether we, humans as a species, are still evolving biologically. Or even whether or not we need to. I was arguing that the human race might very well be stagnating or reaching ( or have even reached ) an evolutionary impasse due to the fact that we aren’t being forced to adapt to our environment anymore. Humans are unique as a species in that we are able to change the environment around us (even destroy it) … critically though we are no longer forced, at a biological level, to adapt to it. I was also suggesting that we are evolving culturally and technologically and that we can see that certain pockets of humanity suffer more than others because of the rate at which they can absorb or adapt to cultural and especially technological advances. 

Amanda was making the point that the advent of agriculture, arguably our first and most important technological advancement, might very well have been the point at which we no longer needed to adapt to survive in our environment. I’m no anthropologist but it certainly sounds reasonable. I said I was going to read a bit around the topic and try and rationalise my thoughts into a blog posting … as part of that I came cross this short piece by Marc West. I’m probably biased because, as Amanda will no doubt suggest, Marc makes almost exactly the same points I was except he does it much better than I did – even the notion that our biological evolution may very well be defined by some convergence between our biological bodies and technological enhancements – or as I put it to Amanda … the cyberisation of the human species

It’s well worth reading Marc’s posting and the podcast and panel discussion he links to … it’s amusing because some of the ideas do seem far fetched but it’s still interesting and insightful.

3 thoughts on “Are we still evolving … biologically?

  1. “Amanda was making the point that the advent of agriculture, arguably our first and most important technological advancement, might very well have been the point at which we no longer needed to adapt to survive in our environment.”

    No that’s not what I was arguing. As we were talking about war, I was putting forward the argument that the advent of agriculture led to a struggle for resources. Agriculture tends to create a surplus of resources, i.e., you produce more than you need and that also includes more people. A high birth rate is characteristic of agricultural societies in that children are weaned earlier, therefore, women can bear more because they need more people to work the land. However, land is not held in common but is usually inherited by the eldest son, therefore what happens to younger sons or people of the lower classes with with no land to inherit? They have to leave home and make their own fortunes, find their own land and resources and this leads to conflict and struggle with other peoples that they come into contact with. The Vikings are an example of an agricultural people who spread all over the place often creating conflict because of this search for land and resources.
    See Hugh Brody’s “The other side of Eden” for a wonderful explanation of this dynamic

    As for the biological argument, I don’t know whether we are still “evolving biologically”. I’m just
    uneasy when concepts regarding biological Darwinian evolution are transferred to the social context, i.e., “social Darwinism”. It seems to me that you need to define your terms very carefully as proponents of social Darwinism, seem to equate evolution with “progress” defined with an anthropocentric bias, i.e., our society is “better” more “advanced” than yours. Whereas, as I understand it, to evolve in Darwinian terms has nothing to do with progress defined in human terms; it is simply adapting to your environment. So if our environment changed to such an extent that humans adapted to it by losing their cognitive intelligence and became more reflex driven and instinctive then humans would have “evolved” to adapt to their environment. Though this notion of “evolve” would not fit with the social Darwinist idea of “evolve”. But, I’m not very sure of my ground here as I’ve not looked into these arguments so much.

  2. Oh sorry read my comment again and hope I didn’t sound grumpy – didn’t mean to I’d just got up. Liked Marc West’s podcast by the way.

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