This is just something I have been pondering for a while now but I would like to know if there has ever been any actual scientific study and conjecture into how the human race may evolve due to technological influences. Obviously pollution and radiation causes mutations, disorders, conditions etc. but I am more interested in the evolution of traits we take for granted like:
Technology gives off different light and sound to what we are used to. Could this leads to us evolving greater ranges for sound and within the EM spectrum? Could we gain greater sensoy awareness? I always wondered whether that high-frequency sound that comes from electronic devices was a recently developing evolutionary trait but now I obviously know better.
Are there conditions that have significant positive and negative sides (a bad example being like the movie Phenomenon) whereby the negative aspects can be cured and the positive sides remain?
Check out The Axemaker’s Gift by James Burke (the Connections guy). Burke suggests that technology can indeed put a novel selective pressure on people, in some cases narrowing the range of “desirable” characteristics.
Take the example of being able to work with tools well enough to make an axe. This requires a new sort of dexterity, and new ways of thinking - for example, a sequential, cause-and-effect way of looking at actions. These characteristics are not universal. But with the advent of toolmaking and tool use, these characteristics do suddenly have a survival advantage.
So - maybe the ability to use a technology, paired with advances in the technology, do indeed result in a selective pressure. In the example above, of watching TV, I’d be hard pressed to see how being a good consumer of television is a survival advantage.
But to suggest a different mechanism, television might have a moderating impact on evolution… start by considering that it might be harder for ugly people to get a date, now that there are so many beautiful people on the tube.
I’m not talking about evolving to better suit technology, I mean evolving because of adverse conditions brought on because of technology. During the Industrial Revolution, moths evolved to become a grey-sootish colour to match the smog that enveloped developing cities. This made them hard to distinguish by predators. It didn’t make them better against the pollution of smog but it caused them to change and by definition improve. I want to know if this will be the case with humans over, say the radio and microwaves that are now constantly flying about everywhere. Are there any scientific idea that have been put forward suggesting possible evolutionary trends of the human race that are generally deemed possible or likely with the scientific community?
ONLY environmental factors that affect our REPRODUCTIVE abilities have any “evolutionary” effect whatsoever. Period.
With that in mind, the fact that money makes people more attractive, and computer nerds make more money now than they used to, has led to (some theorize) a higher incidence of nerdiness in today’s crop of children. I’d be interested in seeing hard numbers on this, but on the face of it it seems logical. Doesn’t the Bible promise that the geeks shall inherit the earth?
I’ve yet to see any shortage of ugly people on the dating scene. And if more and more “beautiful” people have attained their alleged beauty via the technology of plastic surgery, their offspring won’t be affected.
Once technology gets to a certain point, evolution in the strictest ‘survival of the genetically fittest’ sense won’t happen much anymore. The genome will become alterable at will, and pure flesh and blood humans will become as obsolete as a flint axe is today.
This process has already started, with advances in modern medicine seperating the cause and effect of bad genes on the likely-hood of suvival and procreation. Diseases and mutations that would have been a guaranteed genetic dead-end only a century ago are no longer fully relevant. And when the genome of the child no longer has much relation to the genome of the parent, the seperation will be complete.
Some see this as a bad thing, but I see the ending of the genetic lottery that has caused so much suffering for so many millions of years as a very good thing. No one should die or be born crippled because of a gene out of place.
Would the development of insulin be considered a technology that could affect evolution?
Pre-insulin, type-1 diabetes (juvenile onset) typically started about ages 10-14, and was usually fatal before adulthood. Thus the majority of such patients did not reproduce. With insulin, the great majority of patients live nearly full lifespans, and often reproduce. And since diabetes is a genetically-transferred disease, their children would be more likely to also develop diabetes.
So it would seem like the development of insulin would lead humans to evolve toward more humans with diabetes, since it allows the ‘carriers’ to live long enough to reproduce. (Only about 0.5% - 1.5% of the population has type-1 diabetes; I don’t know if this is a large enough percentage of the species to affect evolution. Also, it’s only been 70 years since insulin was discovered (Jun 3, 1934); that may not be enough time for any evolutionary effects to show up.)
And this probably doesn’t apply at all to type-2 diabetes. Because that typically shows up in ages 35-55, well past the prime reproduction age, it has little evolutionary effect.
Thaumaturge has hit the nail on the head, as far as I am concerned. Evoluiton is too slow to compare with technical progress, so that as soon as information starts being stored from one generation to the next (through language) evolution is essentially moot. Before evolution cause significant change in the intelligent being it will reach a state of self knowledge sufficently advanced to control its own genetic code. Humanity is close (doubt it’ll take more than another 1000 years) to complete control of its genetic makeup. Evolution is what will happen to creatures we leave alone genetically.
What people also fail to take into account is the small effect that selection has on rare deleterious recessive genes. Suppose there is a recessive gene that invariably causes death at age 10, and the gene is present in 1% of the population. Given random mating, that means that the gene will be expressed in 1/10000 individuals, who all die before mating. But the mutation that causes the defect occurs spontaneously in 1/10000 births, keeping the frequency of the gene at equilibrium.
Now, suppose we come up with a cure for this disease, now people who express the gene will live to adulthood and reproduce normally. Well, the incidence of the disease is going to increase by only a very small amount, namely 0.01%. So the next generation, the disease will be present in 1.01% of the population, instead of 1% of the population. And so on and so on. So the incidence of the disease will increase at an essentially infintesimal rate, noticeable only after several hundred generations.
Let’s not get too carried away about the problems when “unfit” people survive to reproduce. The people who express these defective genes are only a small percentage of the people who carry the genes. Getting rid of the people who express the trait has very little effect on the frequency of the gene. Just about everyone is heterozygous for several lethal genetic diseases, it’s just that the odds of reproducing with someone who is also a carrieer is very small, and even if you do mate with another carrier the odds are only 1 in 4 that your child will express the disease.