...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 20, 2006

Day 2115: Coming Soon…


A scientist called Mr Dr Oliver Curry has announced the results of his study of the FUTURE.

According to Dr Curry, human beings are going to evolve into GIANTS and DWARFS. It is possible that he has been smoking too much of the pipeweed from the University Tolkien Society!

Or maybe he is just working for a TELEVISION STATION with a series to flog!

On the other fluffy foot, Dr Curry does sort of have a point.

A lot of people think that EVOLUTION does not apply to human beings, because of the way that you can now adapt your environment to suit your needs, rather than having to wait until your bodies adapt to suit the environment.

It is important to remember, though, that the process of evolution does not just stop because you have discovered CENTRAL HEATING. In fact it is carrying on all the time and you are adapting more and more to changing conditions.

Here is a good example: human beings start off by drinking MILK, usually from mummies, but you are also able to drink COW-JUICE. But once you are WEANED milk becomes POISONOUS to you.

That might strike you as very, very odd because you probably think, no Millennium, I can drink cow-juice, I have some in my TEA!

You are right! That is because human beings today have in fact CHANGED, you have evolved from humans of thousands of years ago so that you can STILL drink cow-juice after you have grown up.

Why would you do this? Well, it MIGHT have something to do with cows getting all DOMESTICATED a few thousand years ago once you had invented AGRICULTURE. In difficult times, cow-juice becomes a needed source of nutrition; then people able to drink cow-juice have an advantage because they have better food; people who can't drink cow-juice all die out; new humans evolved.

The thing about evolution to remember is that it is not a CLEVER process: there is nothing DESIGNED about it. Whichever adaptation gives you the ADVANTAGE is the one that will flourish – sometimes they are things that make sense, like lungs for going on land or eyes for seeing food or a big fluffy nose for TYPING with, but sometimes they are silly, like the way some birds go really over the top with their plumage.

Sometimes there is a great CALAMITY that wipes out lots of creatures with sensible seeming adaptations, and what happens is something else manages to survive and then develops into lots of new ways. Evolution can achieve change very fast when there are lots of opportunities for new variations of animal, or when differences in environment are very extreme.

Daddy has a COOL DVD of some other people's guesstimates of what might happen in the future, and there are LOTS of very, VERY weird suggestions.

So this makes it difficult to predict what the future path of evolution will be – and so Dr Curry's guess is ONLY a guess. There could be lots of different ways that people will evolve, because there could be lots of different changes to their environment.

(Assuming you leave an environment AT ALL!)

Not that Dr Curry's guess might not be a GOOD ONE based on studying the way people have evolved already. For example, people in Great Britain have certainly become taller over the last hundred years, thanks to better diet and living conditions. But if Dr Curry is RIGHT, then it is also an advantage in finding a HOT DATE in the evolution game: if being tall is an advantage in the selection stakes then more and more people will have the genes for tallness.

(And indeed there will be increases in, er, OTHER things that are seen as good ways to choose a partner. No matter how daft they might seem to a soft toy!)

But IS being taller necessarily such an advantage? If you are a GIRAFFE then the answer is YES because your food is all HIGH UP. If you are a TREE then the answer is ALSO YES, because there might be GIRAFFES about! But is it such an advantage for PEOPLE? Not really – if your food is high up, you can borrow a LADDER. Being short does not stop you finding LURVE and so is not so likely to be bred out as a trait.

The idea of humans splitting into two species is rather more far-fetched.

Scientists do not completely under this process – called SPECIATION – yet, but it is thought that, usually, you need part of one species to move to a new environment, either GEOGRAPHICAL or a new NICHE within the ones available where they are (like say a plant eater starting to eat insects). Then the group adapts to that new place while the rest of the species adapts differently to the old place. Humans wouldn't really split into different species unless they were separated into different places.

Of course, that COULD happen.

If some people go into SPACE then that will be a very big change. Just to go and live on a planet like MARS (the most likely possible place for a human being colony in the next one hundred years) will mean moving to a planet with lower gravity, and less sunlight. That might make people taller and more pale skinned.

And if you do not stop GLOBAL WARMING you are going to have to get used to things being a whole lot hotter around here – some of the adaptations of DARK SKINNED people might become much more advantageous and so skin tones back home will become more black.

Or some people could become more and more interconnected with their technology: bodies might get smaller as you use them less, but fingers could become more dextrous and eyes bigger and better for reading monitor screens.

And those are just the OBVIOUS ones! Nature is quite capable of coming up with some REALLY strange changes just to adapt to new circumstances. Never mind considering the way you might start tampering with yourselves by GENETIC ENGINEERING!

Having said all of that, human beings are in fact one of the MOST closely related species in the world, in spite of all the funny ideas that you have about skin or hair colour. It has been said that two humans from ANYWHERE ON EARTH are more closely related genetically than chimpanzees from two tribes separated by a river.

(It is thought that this might be because you all very nearly died out during one of the recent ICE AGES, but one family or group of families – from whom you are all descended – managed to survive, somewhere in Africa.)

And, short of Lord Blairimort causing World War Three, the world is becoming a much MORE connected place, not a less connected one. This is likely to keep human beings much more closely related to one another.

What a good job you are so good at getting along with your family!


1 comment:

AverageEarthman said...

Dr Curry does have a PhD, but I wouldn't call him a scientist as that PhD is from the Government Department of the London School of Economics.