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Thread: Has human evolution run out of steam

  1. #1 Has human evolution run out of steam 
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    Prof. Steve Jones ( UK) and David Attenborough ( BBC ) have both postulated that Human evolution has run it's course, mainly because the gene bank is now so widespread. Can anyone point to obvious flaws in this argument and give possible examples of where evolutionary pressure are still at work. For instance the caste system in India 'seem's to have selected for groups that 'appear' to have higher IQs than others. Is this selection or education?


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    There seems to be a correlation between catastrophic climate change and "evolutionary jumps".

    (wild guess du jour)
    The potential remains, awaiting only the triggering mechanism.


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    Evolution does not "run its course."
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    Quote Originally Posted by wonderingstar View Post
    Can anyone point to obvious flaws in this argument and give possible examples of where evolutionary pressure are still at work.
    -Because of cesareans there is no longer balancing selection to keep baby head size small enough to pass through a women's pelvis

    -alcohol and lactose tolerance continue to spread because they are both widely available

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    Similar to Neverfly's point--the only time evolution "runs its course" is when a species goes extinct without evolving into another.
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    "...run it's course" oops. Poor choice of words "stopped " would have been nearer their argument.
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    -Because of cesareans there is no longer balancing selection to keep baby head size small enough to pass through a women's pelvis
    I'm inclined to think that, in evolutionary terms, that's not terribly significant. We've not had any apparent reduction in head size in the several hundred thousand years of evolution of ourselves and our direct precursors. The death rate in affected women and babies may not be high enough to trigger a change to favour smaller head sizes. We've always had a very high death and injury rate in childbirth for both mothers and babies when you compare us to other mammals and to our closest relatives.

    Caesareans being so common are one sign that modern people value individual women and individual children highly enough that, in rich societies, we spend real money to save as many of them as possible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    -Because of cesareans there is no longer balancing selection to keep baby head size small enough to pass through a women's pelvis
    I'm inclined to think that, in evolutionary terms, that's not terribly significant. We've not had any apparent reduction in head size in the several hundred thousand years of evolution of ourselves and our direct precursors. The death rate in affected women and babies may not be high enough to trigger a change to favour smaller head sizes. We've always had a very high death and injury rate in childbirth for both mothers and babies when you compare us to other mammals and to our closest relatives.

    Caesareans being so common are one sign that modern people value individual women and individual children highly enough that, in rich societies, we spend real money to save as many of them as possible.
    Large Caucasian males mating with small Asian women do not seem to 'present' any more of a problem. Caesareans in the developed world are a lifestyle choice rather than a medical necessity. I don't see any evolutionary selection going on here.
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    What time scale are they using? The next ten million years? the next 10,000 years?

    mainly because the gene bank is now so widespread.
    What does that mean?

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    NB: This is all from the PoV of someone living in a 'developed' country...

    It seems to me (and this is just my own random thoughts) that technology removes most selection pressures on our physical make-up.
    If you are very small or very weak or very large or whatever, we use technology to overcome any problems.

    I wonder whether there is/will be pressure to be more intelligent* - so that we can use more complicated technology.
    Or maybe we will find that we are all intelligent enough - we will just need better education.

    *Not the best word - but couldn't think of anything better.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    NB: This is all from the PoV of someone living in a 'developed' country...

    It seems to me (and this is just my own random thoughts) that technology removes most selection pressures on our physical make-up.
    If you are very small or very weak or very large or whatever, we use technology to overcome any problems.

    I too have had such thoughts about human evolution.
    It seems to me that we are either changing our environment to fit our needs or changing ourselves to accomplish sexual reproduction.

    Yet, this is mere speculation and should be treated as such.
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    I think that we are at the starting point of the next 'Darwinian' evolution
    that we've made to emerge ourselves, for instance in the field of 'bionics'.


    Such as google soon to be another piece of 'Intelligent/RAM memory' to be added to our brains.

    Also all sorts of techno-extensions or replacements (improvements) of the human body.

    After all, if we have evolved Darwinian, and our brains have evolved Darwinian,
    couldn't we call everything that man conceives also Darwinian ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I wonder whether there is/will be pressure to be more intelligent* - so that we can use more complicated technology.
    This would only be the case if those individuals who were able to use the technology also benefitted more from a higher rate of reproduction and/or survival. This is not necessarily true at the current time. However, we are only looking at a snapshot in time, on the evolutionary scale. We are inclined to assume that trends from the past century or two will continue, but that may not be true.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wonderingstar View Post
    Prof. Steve Jones ( UK) and David Attenborough ( BBC ) have both postulated that Human evolution has run it's course, mainly because the gene bank is now so widespread. Can anyone point to obvious flaws in this argument and give possible examples of where evolutionary pressure are still at work. For instance the caste system in India 'seem's to have selected for groups that 'appear' to have higher IQs than others. Is this selection or education?
    i once saw Steve Jones during a talk in Hay-on-Wye when he tried to support this thesis, and i kept thinking that he was knowingly trying to defend the indefensible
    surely it must be clear to anyone who gives it a moment's thought that in the days of plenty natural selection may take a breather, but when times are hard it comes back with a vengeance

    besides, evolution is already at work on the human genome in africa to make it more resistant against HIV - clearly an example where natural selection isn't resting on its laurels
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    Quote Originally Posted by wonderingstar View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    -Because of cesareans there is no longer balancing selection to keep baby head size small enough to pass through a women's pelvis
    I'm inclined to think that, in evolutionary terms, that's not terribly significant. We've not had any apparent reduction in head size in the several hundred thousand years of evolution of ourselves and our direct precursors. The death rate in affected women and babies may not be high enough to trigger a change to favour smaller head sizes. We've always had a very high death and injury rate in childbirth for both mothers and babies when you compare us to other mammals and to our closest relatives.

    Caesareans being so common are one sign that modern people value individual women and individual children highly enough that, in rich societies, we spend real money to save as many of them as possible.
    Large Caucasian males mating with small Asian women do not seem to 'present' any more of a problem. Cesareans in the developed world are a lifestyle choice rather than a medical necessity. I don't see any evolutionary selection going on here.
    Actually the stabilizing (used balancing incorrectly in first post) effects of large birth weights which can improve a baby's survival but beyond a certain size increase perinatal mortality if too large are pretty well established. Artificial induction of labor and cesareans have removed the negative selection from largest birth weights. It is not unreasonable that given time human birth weight, and/or head size will be considerably larger than today.

    Induction before the baby gets too large is more than a life style choice, it's a means to actually lower mortality for the baby and mother. Here's one chart that compared the results:

    Every time you hear a story about a 13 pound birth, consider what would have happened to the baby and mother during the 19th century....the result would likely been death of one or both of them.
    Last edited by Lynx_Fox; September 30th, 2013 at 04:30 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I wonder whether there is/will be pressure to be more intelligent* - so that we can use more complicated technology.
    This would only be the case if those individuals who were able to use the technology also benefitted more from a higher rate of reproduction and/or survival. This is not necessarily true at the current time. However, we are only looking at a snapshot in time, on the evolutionary scale.
    I think that, even today, being able to use technology gives people an advantage.
    The sort of thing I was thinking of - to use a current example - is computer literacy.
    It is getting to the stage (in the developed world) where not being computer literate is a major disadvantage.
    Most jobs now require basic computer skills (e.g. car mechanics often need to be able to use a computer to book in appointments, order car parts, send emails, etc.)

    And socially, not being able to use the internet puts you at a disadvantage to those who can use the internet.
    I, personally, am a member of several social groups that are solely organised on-line. (The traditional methods of meeting people weren't working for me.)

    But education is 'improving' to give everyone those skills.
    I overheard my neighbour telling his 6 year old child that if she behaves herself, then he will get her the laptop she wants for Christmas.
    So I am optimistic that a lot of children will be computer literate before they start secondary school.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    We are inclined to assume that trends from the past century or two will continue, but that may not be true.
    Yup. I can offer little more than 'maybe' and 'perhaps'.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I think that, even today, being able to use technology gives people an advantage.
    The question of course: does it give them a reproductive advantage?

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    Our technology and invented social structures have changed the natural selection part of evolution and this has allowed variations to arise and persist without being selected out. Less to do with the fitness of the individual and more about the fitness of those "inventions"? This has been going on to some extent since tool use began; individuals that otherwise would not do well were able to survive, compensating for their limitations with tools and structures that open the possibility of easy overcompensation. That can turn disadvantage into advantage. People were still subject to natural selection but were as much being selected according to how well they work within those social structures as selected according to physical attributes.

    Ultimately natural selection has not been eliminated. Given the general human inability to acknowledge and face up to some looming problems affecting sustainability I expect we will see a population crash. I suspect those who maintain those artificial structures and most appropriate technologies successfully in the face of all that comes will do best. And remain largely unchanged genetically except by choice. But for those on the outside, living or dying according to their individual attributes, there will be, as there always has been, natural selection and evolution in action.

    Gene banks or sperm and ova banks and the means to reintroduce them back into the population are absolutely dependent on complex inventions like social structures that can support technology continuing unbroken.
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    Red Panda - Off topic but I am curious why you use a picture of a Thylacine - Tasmanian Tiger - instead of, say, a Red Panda?
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    Technology coupled with culture has also changed the strength of selection. For example, couples choose not to have kids if one of them is identified as a carrier of a genetic problem. And even if they chose to have children they might choose to abort the fetus if the problem expresses itself. (one of the reasons for lower European infant morality). Many of these would have already reduced reproductive fitness, but choices not to have children or abort the fetus strengthens selection against those genes.
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    Humanity has reached a point in its technological development where we can change our environment to suit ourselves, instead of the usual evolutionary pressure of us changing to suit our environment. So in that sense, evolution is no longer the driving force in our species' physiology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I think that, even today, being able to use technology gives people an advantage.
    The question of course: does it give them a reproductive advantage?
    Well, it helps keep you employed - not sure if that counts.

    It definitely expands the possibilities of meeting someone you could reproduce with.
    For example, cars have a long history of being used to attract members of the fairer sex.
    And on-line dating sites can increase your chance of meeting a compatible life-partner.

    But those advantages could be negated by education.
    If everyone knows how to use the internet, then we are all equal.
    This leads back to my previous thought: being 'clever enough' to use technology could be an advantage.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Fabos View Post
    Red Panda - Off topic but I am curious why you use a picture of a Thylacine - Tasmanian Tiger - instead of, say, a Red Panda?
    I like to encourage an air of mystery.

    tbh, I got bored of having a red panda avatar.
    And I've been fascinated by Thylacines since I was a kid.
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    Red Panda - the mystery part worked enough to make me ask.

    There must still have been selection but I think it's been more about how integrated into the social constructs and the competition between social groupings; being in the metaphorical middle of the group aids survival. Being on the fringe exposes individuals to greater personal risk for them and their offspring. Being in the middle of the winning group aids reproductive success. Being in the middle of the losing group hinders reproductive success.

    Parental selection, which was first proposed as an explanation for human "hairlessness" was (IMO) very unlikely to actually have had that consequence - it being used more often as paternal selfishness or to reduce variation by elimination of those that don't conform than a way to favor differences - but it is a means of selection that is coming to have consequences in the modern age.

    Daecon, I think the ability to change the environment is a problem as much as an advantage, because we are not very good at incorporating an understanding of longer term consequences into short term decisions. Clear advantage from overconsuming resources can be followed by collapse of the foundations upon which survival depends. Slash and burn farming for example works sustainably as long as the overall forest is not slashed and burned quicker than it can regrow and recover. When the farm is abandoned and a new one sought out, there needs to be enough suitable forest to migrate into. Changing too much of the forest into 'improved' farms will lead to collapse. The modern example surely has to be depending on fossil fuels, that, in the short term make exceptional productivity of farmland, but that will ultimately reduce the total usable areas for cultivation and negatively impact their productivity.
    Last edited by Ken Fabos; September 30th, 2013 at 07:23 PM. Reason: Clarity
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I wonder whether there is/will be pressure to be more intelligent* - so that we can use more complicated technology.
    This would only be the case if those individuals who were able to use the technology also benefitted more from a higher rate of reproduction and/or survival. This is not necessarily true at the current time. However, we are only looking at a snapshot in time, on the evolutionary scale.
    I think that, even today, being able to use technology gives people an advantage.
    The sort of thing I was thinking of - to use a current example - is computer literacy.
    It is getting to the stage (in the developed world) where not being computer literate is a major disadvantage.
    Most jobs now require basic computer skills (e.g. car mechanics often need to be able to use a computer to book in appointments, order car parts, send emails, etc.)
    Yes, but the only advantage that means anything from an evolutionary perspective is number of offspring who survive. Is there a correlation between computer literacy and number of offspring?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Yes, but the only advantage that means anything from an evolutionary perspective is number of offspring who survive. Is there a correlation between computer literacy and number of offspring?
    There is a link between computer literacy and income (and more so in the future of my imagining).
    And there is a link between income and health.
    And there is a link between health and the number of children you have.

    There is also a link between computer literacy and being able to find a life-partner in the first place.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Fabos View Post
    Parental selection, which was first proposed as an explanation for human "hairlessness" was (IMO) very unlikely to actually have had that consequence - it being used more often as paternal selfishness or to reduce variation by elimination of those that don't conform than a way to favor differences - but it is a means of selection that is coming to have consequences in the modern age.
    I've not read about parental selection before.........interesting.

    On a side note: I wonder what type of selection the "one-child policy" in China would be.
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    The correlation is inverse.
    The demographic-economic paradox is the inverse correlation found between wealth and fertility within and between nations. The higher the degree of education and GDP per capita of a human population, subpopulation or social stratum, the fewer children are born in any industrialized country.
    Demographic-economic paradox - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    The correlation is inverse.
    The demographic-economic paradox is the inverse correlation found between wealth and fertility within and between nations. The higher the degree of education and GDP per capita of a human population, subpopulation or social stratum, the fewer children are born in any industrialized country.
    Demographic-economic paradox - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    You asked about computer literacy specifically, not education as a whole.
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    Harold, It's only a paradox because we live at a particular time near the end of an unprecedented boom that is based in large part on unsustainable practices. I think it's an unfounded belief that our social constructs and technologies will forever stay a step ahead of the accumulating consequences - but it's a belief that is firmly embedded in popular thinking. When the consequences exceed our ability to stay ahead and the crunch comes I think it will be a test of those social constructs more than the individuals and I expect the "natural selection" consequences will indeed fall hardest on the more populous poor, harder on those who are nearer the fringe than the centre of the societal grouping they are part of and harder on those who's group is less successful. And the paradox will turn out not to be a paradox.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Humanity has reached a point in its technological development where we can change our environment to suit ourselves, instead of the usual evolutionary pressure of us changing to suit our environment. So in that sense, evolution is no longer the driving force in our species' physiology.
    Does it matter where the selective pressure comes from? Never heard this qualifier applied to evolution before.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Fabos View Post
    Harold, It's only a paradox because we live at a particular time near the end of an unprecedented boom that is based in large part on unsustainable practices.
    That may well be true, which is why I said this is only a snapshot in time.
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    This point may have been made already, if so I missed it. The application of improved health care has, indeed, allowed the survival and subsequent reproduction of individuals who would not previously have 'made it'. Far from 'ending' evolution this is promoting it, since it maintains a far wider range of genes within the population. The life blood of evolution is genetic diversity.
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    Perhaps if we looked closely across all races to see what diseases were causing deaths before reproductive age, would give some indication where selection is occurring.
    For instance, female infanticide in India and China will have an effect ( talking in 10s of thousands of years ). Alpha males in those cultures will get greater access to the fewer females. ( Selection ).
    Equally, the drive within religions to out-produce births in others will have a selective pressure ( more so if there is a God gene).
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    This point may have been made already, if so I missed it. The application of improved health care has, indeed, allowed the survival and subsequent reproduction of individuals who would not previously have 'made it'. Far from 'ending' evolution this is promoting it, since it maintains a far wider range of genes within the population. The life blood of evolution is genetic diversity.
    But remember selection has also acted upon genes which have been re-engineered by radiation. I'm certain that this has occurred in my case and my grandchildren are clearly brighter than anyone elses.
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wonderingstar View Post
    Prof. Steve Jones ( UK) and David Attenborough ( BBC ) have both postulated that Human evolution has run it's course, mainly because the gene bank is now so widespread. Can anyone point to obvious flaws in this argument and give possible examples of where evolutionary pressure are still at work. For instance the caste system in India 'seem's to have selected for groups that 'appear' to have higher IQs than others. Is this selection or education?
    i once saw Steve Jones during a talk in Hay-on-Wye when he tried to support this thesis, and i kept thinking that he was knowingly trying to defend the indefensible
    surely it must be clear to anyone who gives it a moment's thought that in the days of plenty natural selection may take a breather, but when times are hard it comes back with a vengeance

    besides, evolution is already at work on the human genome in africa to make it more resistant against HIV - clearly an example where natural selection isn't resting on its laurels
    Yup I heard the same speech in Birmingham UV in about 1998. He has recanted somewhat as the years have gone by.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wonderingstar View Post
    But remember selection has also acted upon genes which have been re-engineered by radiation. I'm certain that this has occurred in my case and my grandchildren are clearly brighter than anyone elses.
    Bah.

    I subscribe to a Lamarckian ideal of evolution. Every day I go home and jump off my house flapping my arms. MY grandchildren will be able to fly.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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  38. #37  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    I subscribe to a Lamarckian ideal of evolution. Every day I go home and jump off my house flapping my arms. MY grandchildren will be able to fly.
    Or be born with their bones already broken ...
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Forum Sophomore Estheria Quintessimo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Humanity has reached a point in its technological development where we can change our environment to suit ourselves, instead of the usual evolutionary pressure of us changing to suit our environment. So in that sense, evolution is no longer the driving force in our species' physiology.
    I disagree.

    Technology is just as much a driving force itself for our evolution.

    How babies are born in various ways is a simple example, and what effects that can have for the genetic pool.
    But how about the use a glasses, spectacles? Were in the post a human with bad eyesight may have died very early in life by a large carnivore,... these days with large carnivores gone in most parts of the world, and with the use of spectacles, a human with bad-eyes DNA is now able to spread his or her bad DNA.

    And that is just one example... I am sure we can come up with many more suchs things, if given more thought.

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