“For the thumb to evolve as a result of cell phone use, people whose genetic codes give them unusually nimble thumbs would need to pass along more of their genes than folks with clumsy, plodding, brutish thumbs. For example, great thumbwork might be considered alluring to potential mates, though the opposite seems more likely.”
Evolution’s a slow process. We know that human beings have remained more or less constant for the last several thousand years. It’s a little difficult to project into the future about what people will grow into over time – in general for any species large enough to be seen by the naked eye, a single evolutionary step can take several hundred thousand years. This is what presents a difficulty to people who don’t really get evolution – those people who say “how could the eye just appear?” – these things happen in incremental steps. Eyes don’t just appear.
And neither do new human traits. We generally have a short-term view of things, so each new thing that comes along prompts a flurry of speculation. Most of these theories are mythical for largely obvious reasons. Let’s have a look at a few.
Our Bodies Will Adapt To Technology
When i was in my early teens I heard a lot about human thumbs. Texting had just risen in prominence as a new technology. The world had gone texting mad. Texting, or sending SMS messages, actually has an interesting history. SMS was designed in 1985 as a 128-bit packet-sending protocol designed to lower costs for sending automated billing information. Texting was never seen as a money-making venture for mobile phone providers – they assumed, following the telephone paradigm, that people would rather talk than type. They were wrong. In 2010, 6.1 trillion SMS messages were sent. It’s become massive beyond the wildest speculation.
And for a while people played with the idea that thumbs would become the dominant human feature. After decades of being relegated to thunking on the space bar, thumbs have become essential. Thumbs of the future will be bigger and more muscled and start to resemble the Arnold Swarzenegger of hands.
Of course that’s all bunk, as the article says:
There’s no selection pressure inherent in the idea that technical skill isn’t genetically tradeable. Technology is not an evolutionary force majeure. Jocks get more girls than nerds and dumb people have more kids than smart people. There are two more reasons: one, technology moves too quickly for evolution. If we only had SMS for several hundred thousand years before the smartphone era, then maybe you’d see muscley thumbs (I love that phrase. If I ever start a band I’m going to call it Muscley Thumbs). But that can’t, and won’t happen. Already people type SMS messages on a projected keyboard with their fingers. Technological innovation always outstrips natural selection. An example: the idea exists that fighter pilots would be more comfortable lying down, and allow for more streamlined aeroplanes. However, the prone position has never taken off; once again, people evolve slower than technology.
Humans Will Diversify
In H.G. Wells’ epic, The Time Machine, humans have evolved into two races: the effete, delicate, intelligent Eloi, and the ape-like Morlocks. Wells was writing at a time when Eugenics, the idea of selectively breeding the human race, was a popular science propounded by many famous and inspirational people, including Francis Galton, Havelock Ellis, John Maynard Keynes and Winston Churchill. It was only after the second world war that people discovered that the Holocaust had been the greatest essay on why Eugenics is a dumb-ass idea. Did you know, if Nazi Germany hadn’t been anti-semitic, they would have had the nuclear bomb in 1940? The reason for this is that most of the top-tier geniuses happened to be Jews. By driving them out of their fields of expertise under an absurd Aryan ideal, Germany lost the war. Is there a moral in there somewhere, beyond that genocide is dumb? I don’t know.
Further scientific analysis has only compounded the case against Eugenics, or for that matter direction-specific evolution. I might have said just now that dumb people have more kids than smart people (in particular, dumb religious people who think condoms are somehow a violation of the natural order of things), but that doesn’t matter, and I’ll tell you why: stupidity is not hereditary. Neither is intelligence. IQ, the most reasonable indicator of intellectual aptitude we have, is demonstrably not hereditary. The child of two nuclear physicists is as likely to be an idiot as anybody else, no matter how much Mozart they play at him.
Frankly, I find that a pretty happy thought.
Human Sexuality Will Adapt
I wrote recently on how androgyny is becoming a social phenomenon and something I’m all for ( I gotta love androgynous girls, and who knows why) but the long and short of it is that men are men and women are women, and are at least cursorily identifiable as such. Men still smell like men, after all, and pheromones are a big part of the whole closing-the-deal part of sex. We can’t deny that there are elements of attraction that go beyond style and fashion. As much as I like the idea, human beings are not going to end up eyelinered and shaved.
Although short-term effects on human sexuality are demonstrable. Here’s a great example: women used to be attracted to people like Burt Reynolds, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck – big men with more than enough chest hair. Slowly, however, the trend reversed. According to the most recent analyses, women are more attracted to baby-faced men like Leonard DiCaprio and Andrew Garfield supposedly because the implementation of the pill has changed their body chemistry . The law of unintended consequences, huh?
The reason why asexuality or androgyny will not become dominant features of human psychosexuality is that the paradigm of man + woman has existed since the first cell reproduced, not by binary fission, but by recombinant gene splicing. We are geared towards each other. The other reasons are more abstruse. Men are geared by millions of years to be hunters, which translates well to the business world, while women are geared to be mothers. Although we can (and should) allow for personal preference as much as possible, it’s hard to get past the fact that we have very specific functions written into our genes.
Race Will Be Phased Out
The most insidious of the pseudo-eugenic future predictions is that race will stop being a thing after a certain period of time. Cultural homogenity will, people argue, be followed by racial homogenity. The different races will blend into one, so everybody will look part-chinese, part-black, and part-indian, exactly like in that South Park episode where people from the future travel back in time and take everybody’s jobs.
The whole “race and science” thing is a sticky wicket, so to speak, because “race” is not a scientific term. Through the eyes of the ideal scientist, there’s one race (the human race, in case you were guessing) and lots of different types of pigmentation. The short term example often used to point out the fallacy in this argument is Brazil : Brazil and in particular its two largest cities, Brasilia and Rio, have large populations of Mesoamericans, Spaniards, Africans and Native South Americans, all with varying “shades” of skin. Several hundred years of interbreeding has resulted in….vast racial diversity. Race can’t be homoegenised, any more than it can be Eugenically bred out.
This is good news for those of us who like redheads, because it was thought for a while that red hair and freckles, being genetically recessive traits, would be bred out. Happily it seems that this was over-speculation, unless everyone carrying the redhead gene dies suddenly. But the odds on that are very slim.