Absence of Evidence is not evidence of Absence....

Computers and evolution…I doubt that computers are our ‘partners’ in evolution. But by looking at our current trends in daycare, education, science. The human organism is coming to rely more and more on the silicon chip.

A fundemental premise about the brain is that its workings what we would call the ‘Mind’ is simply a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more. Recently, science has been able to isolate higher brain functions and come up with some inferences about human cognition and thought process’, yet even through studying the evolution of human thought, the split between mind and body is still very evident, yet it is evident with little actual evidence.

Why are we the most complex mammal? Why do our offspring take so long to rear? And why are kids learnig at a faster rate, and at a younger age than 20 years ago? Are we experiencing an evolutionary respons?
please extrapolate if you can…

I dunno what you mean by “most complex mammal”. Why do our offspring take so long to rear? Most species take one or the other of two basic offspring strategies…either they have a large number of offspring, and give them very little parenal care, or they have a few and give them intensive parental care. As a species, we’re number 2. Why? It has its advantages. More young will survive to adulthood, and longer amounts of parental care mean that the adults can teach the young…the young don’t have to rely as much on instinct. Do you have a cite that proves that kids learn at a faster rate now than 20 years ago?

No other animal has such a complex and detailed culture in which the offspring must find their place.

Nope I don’t have a cite, but think about it, there’s more that they need to learn now than there was 20, 50, 100, 500 years ago, just to be functional in society, so they have little choice.

Mangetout…Phlosphr…sockpuppet? :slight_smile:

Anyway, just because there is “more to know” does not mean that people are learning faster. There still needs to be some evidence to support such a claim/hypothesis.

Plus, I’m not so sure that kids are learning more (quantitatively)…it may just be the same amount of info, but shifted to new types of technologies & societal interactions. For example, have I learned more/faster than my great-great grandparents who were farmers? I may have learned a lot of things that they did not due to technological innovations, but I have no idea how to operate a farm successfully.

The collection of human knowledge is certainly bigger than it used to be (thanks to our ability to store information outside of our mind…i.e., books, etc.) but I don’t know of any evidence that our minds have actually evolved to learn more/faster than our ancestors from 100s or 1,000s of years ago.

I think it might be possible for children to be learning more, but I would credit that more to good nutrition and required schooling rather than us evolving more intelligence in a scant handful of years (in evolutionary terms). Several hundred years ago a 13 year old would probably be able to run an entire household, and I can’t think of many modern 13 year olds who could do the same. Due to the influx of new knowledge needed, it generally takes longer for children to reach the education level of a self-sufficient adult now than it did back then. So children may learn more, but it generally takes more time to do so.


Good point and I’m not going to go looking for evidence; sorry, too busy, however, yes, running a farm successfullyis a complex and skilled task, but is it as complex as object-oriented programming and relational database theory for example? are they even comparable quantitatively?, what about the things we can now learn that have no practical use? (it takes 40 minutes to boil an ostrich egg), in any case, It would be my WAG that there’s more essential information to be absorbed by the average Joe, just to take a place in our fast-moving society.

Now as to whether humans today have a greater capacity for learning, I couldn’t possibly say.

I wouldn’t say we learn faster, but rather the methods of teaching, as well as distribution, have improved so now we may utilize what we already had in us innately.

If we’re learning faster, how come Cecil’s latest Straight Dope column shows that the S.A.T.s were dumbed down in 1995?

I cannot find a meaningful question here. Whay are whales bigger than butterflies?

The advantages of emphasizing prolonged and expensive brain deveoplment have overbalanced the greater physical vulnerability to child and parents. See also: neoteny.

I have seen no evidence that they are. The particulars being learned in technologically advanced cultures have, of course, changed.

Yes, and we will continue to do so for as long as we produce new generations. One can argue, though, that our present technological capabilities have greatly reduced the importance of many “classic” evolutionary environmental elements. The ability to succeed within a society is far more relevant to reproductive success and survivability than the ability to physically secure food, protection, shelter, etc. through individual physical means.

I would also like to add that it is very likely that society’s selection process (social darwinism, if you will) is probably not directly linked to anything genetic per se.

But I have always wondered… are we, through our technology, devolving? That is, using our knowledge we may compensate for what would otherwise be a fatal flaw. I don’t mean something quite so drastic as people being born with no limbs (who are unlikely to affect the gene pool, to put it nicely) but perhaps chronic ilnesses easily covered by technology but which are, none the less, genetic in nature. It would just seem to me that we will be drawing in all the bad stuff that should kill us but, actually, doesn’t, until at some point we’re all drastically weaker.

This would be the case especially if there continues to be such a fear about toying with genetic code to eliminate such things. However, given sufficient genetic technology, it seems to me that we could also (given a sufficient lack of morals) evolve, litererally, much faster as well, to the point where it might be noticible within a few centuries instead of thousands upon thousands of years. Like some spinoff of Brave New World, we could create ourselves in our own image.


Evolution is not a directed process. We are evolving to meet the needs of our environment, just like every other reproductive organism. “Devolving” is a bad science fiction device.

The ability to process (cook) food has allowed humans to thrive despite atrophied teeth and jaw muscles (relative to ancestral hominids). I don’t seee this as a problem.

No. It isn’t “bad stuff that should kill us”. We are not savannah scavenger/predator/gatherers anymore. Neither are we agrarian pre-industrialists. I’m afraid I cannot find it in myself to become alarmed that a child with MS can now survive long enough to reproduce (and perhaps evince one of the most brilliant minds of our time). Technological advances do not guarantee the spread of “weak genes” throughout the breeding population. Technological advances aloow different criteria for success to become predominate. Why persist in measuring “fitness” against some arbitrary past standard?

Yes, modern/near future technology has the potential to radically empower eugenics programs. I think most of the problems associated with such an approach fall into the “Frankenstein syndrome”. The particulars are often harder to argue, which is why many people argue for a clear and emphatic ethical line against any deliberate modification of a human genome. This might be one case where the slippery slope argument raises a valid concern.

Then again, if a test showed any child of yours would likely be born with spinal bifida, ands a geneticist told you he could correct the problem, would you say yes?

Spiritus, I would not hesitate to allow some genetic manipulation on a fetus that I was responsible for, given an appropriate success rate. I personally see no problem with it at all. I don’t even see a problem with “manufactured” kids, getting the right hair color, skin color, eye color, whatever sort of vain requirements the parent have for their children. I think we are crazy to not go full speed ahead with such an obviously useful program.

That is, of course, unless color and appearance really matter, in which case I suppose I can see why changing it from one to another would cause a problem. But we’re all equal anyway, right? So why not look how we want to instead of drawing a lottery? Genetic manipulation of appearance, in theory, is the equivalent of plastic surgery only on a perfected scale. Even the “child’s right”, if such a thing exists, couldn’t possibly be a factor. The child can’t choose how it looks anyway, so again…is directed action worse than a lottery?

However, I think you might side with me on genetics. Just tossing this out.

Yes, well, I don’t know about bad science fiction, ascention or decension is a matter of perspective here. The fact is that we are, more and more, creating our environment to suit us as opposed to us changing to suit the environment. This is changing “survival of the fittest” evolution completely by not selecting out problems. I have no doubt that it is still at work, or that it could ever stop working.

You want science fiction, then we can talk about the evolution of computers and at what point they will start rivaling other forms of life on this planet. I give it less than one hundred years, personally (but as to when it would rival human life, well, I prefer not to make any guesses).

I have been looking at this debate and wondering, is there a hint that technoilogy will one day surpass our humanity? Personally I don’t beleive this would ever happen. Currently we can do things with our technology that 50 years ago was considered Science Fiction.

Imagine the year was 1950 and you were at a dinner party, the conversation was “well my uncle said he had go to Korea and ect…ect…” or “The Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Bertrand Russell, WHO the hell is he?”

Then you say I wonder if one day there will be information gathering devices that orbit our planet, or imagine mailing someone instantaneously with no paper, or records with no ridges that look like mirrors and produce sound…

The people at that table would look at you like you had a third eye. Science fiction??? nope, 2001…reality. \

But this does not mean at that our technology has surpassed our Humanity. Non of those things would have existed if it were not for complex human thought, and people as normal as the next person, taking a risk and stepping out on a limb. Creating A computer that thinks for itself, is that fiction. NO . Will they someday pass US, doubtful. Are computers a natural progression of human beings? I would say they are a catalyst to ‘something’ but not to terminator II nightmares. More a stepping stone to understand the universe or to communicate with ET’s who knows. But nothing is science fiction for long. I think I have hijacked my own post enough.

I particularly like Ray Kurzweil’s idea that, instead of computers surpassing us, we will simply merge with computers ourselves, in which case both of us will evolve together.