Human Evolution of the Past and Future

en in humanity • 11 min read

Evolution matters more than you may think. It can explain many questions, for example, why we are suffering from all kinds of diseases. Understanding how our environment evolved and how humans evolved can tell us what is healthy, what is truly important, and what we might expect in the future.

History is probably more important to understand the challenges humanity faces, but I don’t want to write much about it here. I already wrote the complete history from my point of view, and also some extra posts about specific topics, such as food or exercise. In this post, I want to look closer to evolution itself with thoughts on the future.

Humans and all animals in general (we are an animal!), and also plants, are unstable life forms. Probably a lot of people will not agree with me on this one but think about it. Yes, humans can adapt to many conditions. We can survive a lot, but not everything. No animal or plant was around when life appeared in the universe. The fungi are much more durable.

Fungi can survive anywhere, including deep outer space. Fungi is the one who helped algae to get out of the water on land and fund first plants. Our food chain starts with producers, such as grass or trees, which the first consumer eats, the second consumer may eat the first consumer, and so on. But our producer heavily depends on fungi. Without fungi, there would be no life.

Of course, fungi are not the only crucial part of everything. There are also bacteria, viruses, or archaea. We call this group microbiota. These days a lot of researches investigate this new old world. We ignored it for too long, and we still know just a little, yet every one of us has our microbiome of about 10^14 of all kinds of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, or viruses.

We could say we are not individuals but collections of microorganisms. These organisms are very adaptive and can survive in a wide range of conditions. We live thanks to them. That’s why I think humans are an unstable life form. Life was here billions of years before us and will be here billions of years after us. Let’s be honest about why we want to preserve the current climate; it’s not for the life or planet or other animals, but for us.

In fact, climate change is happening since always. Climate changes shaped all that we see around us. It’s pretty common sense that when you change something slightly, the rest cannot stay the same. Just consider how your life changes between winter and summer and what consequences your changes in behavior cause to everything else.

That is where natural selection comes into the game. I think many people understand that natural selection is the survival of the strongest one, but actually, it’s the survival of the most adaptive one. You may be the best and strongest hunter, but it’s useless if nothing is to be hunted. Not every creature can adapt to a new environment, and that is completely fine. I don’t see it as a negative thing. Life is still there, just in a different form.

What might be worrying is that natural selection stopped working for humans, kind of. It depends on the point of view. I see it in a way that humans evolved to have cultural life, which speeded up changes of our environment we live in, and allowed us to survive those changes simultaneously. The result is a more stressful and unhealthy life.

Mismatched environment

Let’s take the example of farmers. We don’t know why humans switched from gathering to farming for sure, but the reasons could be beer and bread, or better materials for warmer clothes. Anyway, settling down brought much more food allowing the human population to grow. The issue is the diet was worse. Hunter-gatherers had to deal with food shortage, but the human body is ready for it: hunter-gatherers overeat in a time of surplus with quality and diverse food and burn fat in the time of shortage. Farmers could eat all year long but simple sugars, not complex carbs, leading to many mismatched diseases.

One of such diseases is scurvy. That is when you lack vitamin C. People figured this one out pretty soon. Without it, Europeans wouldn’t probably find America. Citrus fruits were an essential part of the seamen’s diet. Today, we add vitamins to our meals, or we take dietary supplements. The Industrial Revolution fixed a lot of issues that originated from the Agriculture Revolution. Unfortunately, it also brought many other problems, such as heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, or even malocclusions, myopia, or flat feet, to name a few.

We know how to solve some symptoms, but not the root causes. The problem is that we visit a doctor who doesn’t understand how our body evolved. Doctors are taught how the body operates, not what is natural for the body and mostly why. Please don’t take me wrong; I think that healthcare is excellent and often very crucial to deal with symptoms rather than root causes. This attitude literally saves lives. If I had an accident, I wouldn’t question anything and go to the hospital right away. But.

Health is more complex than that, and it’s not just about life and death. Not just doctors, we all forget that we need to focus on the root cause of our issues. Wrong diet or not enough of exercise or how we spend our time is what is mostly behind all the diseases mentioned above.

Why am I talking about diseases and their causes in this post? Well, because it is a very crucial part of us and our future. We were born to this time with mentioned challenges; now, what will we do about it?

One option would be to argue that we will adapt. It will take some time before our bodies adapt, but our bodies will adjust eventually. That may be true, but it’s not happening during our lifetime. Do we really want to suffer? I don’t.

Farmers thousands of years ago or factory workers more recently without the knowledge we have today had to suffer. The good news is, we have internet, we have necessary knowledge available, and we can pause and think for a moment. The prove is me writing this post and you reading it.

So we can learn about what mismatched environment we created around ourselves and find ways to overcome it. Every one of us has an option to eat better food, not smoke, drink less, exercise, meditate, and so on. I know it’s hard, everyone knows that, but I think this is the only possible answer to improving our lives. If our cultural life is changing our environment faster than our genus can adapt, then only cultural life can do changes fast enough to improve the environment before it’s too late.

Robots

There are two big modern questions, though. Is it really necessary with artificial intelligence or DNA modification? For example, we might upload our consciousness to a robotic body or tamper our genes to deal better with unhealthy food. Then our problem could be gone.

Well, I don’t think so. First of all, we need to think a bit about what we are. From my perspective, we are already machines. The difference between the machine we created so far and ourselves or any other living machine is that the living one is organic. Such a machine is much more adaptive than any computer-based machine we can build.

The critical detail is that our brain is not like a CPU. Our brain and thoughts created there are tightly connected to the whole body. You cannot simply detach the head from the body (let’s put aside that it’s not possible without dying) and assume it will not alter the personality. All feelings, positive or negative, are not abstract things in our heads. The whole body is defining the character and thoughts.

Therefore, I don’t think you can simulate a brain, upload consciousness and live forever. You will not live, just some bad partial copy. On top of it, I believe the copy would rapidly diverse from the original due to such significant changes. Maybe we might be able to upload ourselves to virtual reality, where the whole body and environment can be simulated as we could see in the Matrix trilogy. But I don’t believe we can transfer ourselves to better robotic bodies.

Anyway, who would like to have a robotic body? As I mentioned above, organic machines are much more equipped for survival. Life is an absolute wonder. When we want to build a building or bridge or anything, we need to think about the worst load of the system. If we don’t do that, the building can be torn apart by a strong wind.

In contrast, our bodies can adapt to what we do. If you strain your body, your bones strengthen, or if you use muscles, they grow, and vice versa. At least to some extent. To make such a robot is impossible. The only way would be to create an organic robot.

The question is if we should still call the output of such achievement a robot. Either way, that is a reason why I’m not scared of artificial intelligence or non-organic robots. Such a machine will never work like us. Of course, that depends on the point of view, and we get our opinion based on what we watch. That’s why art, such as sci-fi books and movies, is more influential than a scientific paper. Matrix, Terminator, Westworld, Black Mirror, and others shape our views and fears, not scientific analysis and definitely not philosophical texts like this one. I think it’s essential for us to be aware of what we consume.

The issue with many artistic models is the mix of intelligence and consciousness. It seems as it’s freely interchangeable, but it’s not. We can make AI sell us cars or ideology more efficiently, but it will not create a revolution on its own. I cannot eliminate the possibility that AI can think one day, but it will be an entirely different process from ours. Machines have the potential to overcome us, but I don’t believe in that. Either it will follow instructions, and then it’s the same as any other tool or weapon; or it will learn based on our inputs and outputs, and then it will mirror our shortcomings.

Gene tampering

What about DNA modification? Instead of creating imperfect robots, we could use organic functional bodies and tweak them to overcome our limits. I’m afraid that we are still far from knowing how our (or any) body operates. Messing with one thing can have a devastating impact on some other part. As I already mentioned, life is full of trade-offs. Evolution fine-tuned every possible detail.

For example, our body is not ready to sit all day long. We had to run around for too long, and therefore, our body is healthy when we do some exercise. We tried to find some drugs and other ways to stay fit without moving, but the truth is, we just don’t fully understand what we are doing. The best chance for you is just to do what your body was meant to do. There are too many unknown answers, and what’s more, there are still too many unknown questions. Do you want to risk modifying your DNA?

But I’m not against gene tampering. In the end, it’s just much faster natural selection which might happen sooner or later anyway. Or not, that’s not much the point. The point is, we do that anyway. We already breed both plants and animals. For example, corn was not as big and tasty as we know it today. Think of almost any food, and you can find out we already modified it. It took many years to do, which we can speed up with DNA modification.

We don’t need to modify ourselves, which is way too complicated, but we can modify our environment a bit. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, can actually save us from climate change. One of the most significant issues causing the problem is our food. Sure, all of us can change our diet; actually, we all should because what we eat is not healthy. But the trick is that a healthy diet is, in fact, worse for climate stability. At least if we need to feed so many people. Instead, we could modify our food so the plants can provide more nutrients, be more durable (to survive the dry season, for example), and be less demanding (of solar energy, for example), without the need to use pesticides. That would be amazing!

Skeptics are against GMOs, of course. I understand them. I’m also more scared of gene manipulation than of artificial intelligence. It’s unlikely anyone can develop AI by accident, whereas it’s more likely to create some horrible organic creation by random DNA modification. We could open pandora’s box. But still, when any restriction helped? Just think of prohibition or pandemic precautions; in both cases, people continued their business—just behind closed doors. I would rather leave it open than ban it like it’s done in the case of GMOs in the European Union.

I think the biggest argument against GMOs is that it can do great changes fairly quickly. But we already alter our environment rapidly. We do that for a very long time. It started with stone tools, fire, clothes, and dwellings, continued with farms, houses, and cities, and today we enjoy central heating, electricity, cars, airplanes, internet, healthcare, vaccination, etc.

Summary

Everything alive is meant to reproduce to carry on life. Both plant or animal is the same thing. It is a tremendous collection of DNA with instructions to survive. Every organism can survive in other conditions with the help of others. That’s why diversity is so important. Natural selection is about who can adapt to new generations and conditions.

Humans evolved to have cultural life, which evolves much faster than the genus. It was slow at the beginning, but it is quickly accelerating. Our culture is disbalancing our environment. That is the reason why we live in a mismatched environment with many diseases.

If we want to live a happy life, we need to direct the evolution of our culture in a better direction. Artificial intelligence or DNA modification can help. We should not be afraid of it. But at the same time, it should not be our all-in bet. In the end, our bodies are already impressive. Improving our diet and behavior is worth the effort.

Every one of you can live a better life. What you need to do to achieve that is to see through stories we all are locked-in. The trick is to think critically and have a creative mind, which is essential no matter what, as machines are already better at many tasks. We cannot outperform it.

We don’t know what is ahead of us. But we can think about what we have now to find out the best way how to move forward.








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