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Argos
2010-Aug-03, 09:28 PM
So, the Earth has only a couple of billion years til the Sun goes Red Giant. It means that the evolution of life on this planet has run almost 70% of its course. The most advanced thing it has produced is the Human species, and we´re still rather primitive. With so little time left it seems that nothing interesting can appear anymore. Isn´t it disturbing? Wouldn´t a main-sequence K class star be a better stage for evolution to unfold?

korjik
2010-Aug-03, 09:34 PM
Considering that we went from the pointy stick and fire to landing on the moon in about .0001% of the time it took to evolve to pointy sticks, I am not too worried that we have about 100,000 times the length of human history before the Sun's evolution becomes our biggest problem.

Ara Pacis
2010-Aug-03, 09:52 PM
Yeah, we may be primitive, but we are are the best hope the planet's got... unless the planet evolves life that can survive within a red giant without a planet.

Argos
2010-Aug-03, 09:54 PM
Yeah. You see, I´m not worried about human fate. My point is that, after all, evolution seems to be a rather inefficient process, considering the outcomes. The entire lifespan of a G star does not seem to be enough.

PetersCreek
2010-Aug-03, 10:10 PM
The entire lifespan of a G star does not seem to be enough.

It was enough to get us past the point of pointy sticks. It was enough to get us to the point of having this discussion without resorting to the use of pointy sticks. It may yet be enough for us to go back to pointy sticks. But then we (depending on how you define "we") have only been at it for 4-to-10 million years. We could continue our development in very interesting directions or hand the baton to another species. Considering how many times the evolutionary game has been rebooted, a couple of billion years seems like enough time for some very interesting things to happen...

...or...

...the clock could continue to be reset before anything has a chance to get much farther past the point at which we find ourselves.

kleindoofy
2010-Aug-03, 10:23 PM
... I am not too worried that we have about 100,000 times the length of human history before the Sun's evolution becomes our biggest problem.
Hmm, it's the "we" part I doubt.

The vastly overwhelming portion of Earth's evolution took part before any human was around.

Yes, it would be interesting to see what might evolve on Earth after humanity is gone, but we'll never know.

We're so new here, can we really possess the audacity to believe we'll survive for the rest of Earth's run? 100,000 times the length of our present existence here as such?

$100 says we won't. Not even close.

Any takers?

Ken G
2010-Aug-04, 12:25 AM
So, the Earth has only a couple of billion years til the Sun goes Red Giant. It means that the evolution of life on this planet has run almost 70% of its course. More typical numbers are that the Sun has more like 5 billion years left, and we are about 50% of the way through the process. Not that the difference matters much to the issue.

The most advanced thing it has produced is the Human species, and we´re still rather primitive.I think what this argues is, if we can imagine that we are generic among technologically intelligent species, then such species most often appear naturally on a planet either once or never. If it was more common to happen multiple times, we shouldn't be this far along in the main-sequence lifetime. Assuming we would know if we've been preceded!


With so little time left it seems that nothing interesting can appear anymore. Only if we assume natural evolution-- it doesn't take account of how intelligence can alter evolution. We got all those dog breeds in just a handful of centuries, and that was without any direct participation at the genetic level.

Wouldn´t a main-sequence K class star be a better stage for evolution to unfold?If we can assume we are generic among technological intelligences, then the fact that there are many more K stars suggests that K stars are not better incubators of intelligence. However, if it is common for intelligence to appear and go extinct, without creating their own non-natural form of evolution, then perhaps very advanced intelligences (more intelligent than us) requires multiple tries, which might be more likely to happen on K stars-- the anthropic reasoning avenue fails when one is interested in more advanced intelligence than our own. But at some point, intelligence may no longer be genetic in nature-- once intelligence figures out how to artificially increase or leverage itself, genetics won't be so important any more.

EDG
2010-Aug-04, 12:48 AM
The thing I've always found odd is that it took about 600 million years of multicellular life (and a couple of billion years of microbial life before that) before a technologically capable species evolved. Why has it taken so long? Why couldn't there have been intelligent dinosaurs? Could there have been any but we don't know about them (if say, a dinosaur species only had primitive technology, would we really see any evidence for it after 65 million years)? Was there previously just too much threat from predators to allow any species to evolve intelligence?

EDG
2010-Aug-04, 12:55 AM
More typical numbers are that the Sun has more like 5 billion years left, and we are about 50% of the way through the process. Not that the difference matters much to the issue.

More to the point, the limiting factor isn't "how long til the sun turns into a red giant", it's "how long before the sun's main sequence luminosity increases to the point that the earth becomes too hot to support life", and apparently that's more on the scale of a billion years from now.

(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_the_Earth#Solar_evolution , esp. the "Climate Impact" section)

Drunk Vegan
2010-Aug-04, 01:51 AM
Could there have been any but we don't know about them (if say, a dinosaur species only had primitive technology, would we really see any evidence for it after 65 million years)? Was there previously just too much threat from predators to allow any species to evolve intelligence?

Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

baric
2010-Aug-04, 02:36 AM
Hmm, it's the "we" part I doubt.

The vastly overwhelming portion of Earth's evolution took part before any human was around.

Yes, it would be interesting to see what might evolve on Earth after humanity is gone, but we'll never know.

We're so new here, can we really possess the audacity to believe we'll survive for the rest of Earth's run? 100,000 times the length of our present existence here as such?

$100 says we won't. Not even close.

Any takers?

I'll take that bet!

Just give me some specifics on how either of us intend to collect it.

caveman1917
2010-Aug-04, 02:53 AM
Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

But aren't humans in the first instance predators? We have been undisputed apex predators from the moment we started using decent tools - evolved intelligence.
So it may as well be the inverse problem that tends to give rise to intelligence, finding good ways to put others on the menu.

Gillianren
2010-Aug-04, 03:07 AM
But aren't humans in the first instance predators? We have been undisputed apex predators from the moment we started using decent tools - evolved intelligence.

Evidence suggests instead that we were initially predators, and tools made it easier to split bones for the marrow. If we were truly predators, it seems unlikely we would be as omnivorous as we are.

kleindoofy
2010-Aug-04, 03:20 AM
Evidence suggests instead that we were initially predators, and tools made it easier to split bones for the marrow. ...
We also like warm food. Warm, as in the warm flesh of freshly killed prey. On the other hand we also eat cold grain and other plants.

We have escape instincts common to prey as well as aggressive traits common to predators.

Gillian's description sounds good.

If the fangs of predators could cause intelligence, there should be lots of pretty smart mice running around.

caveman1917
2010-Aug-04, 04:04 AM
And we have forward facing eye placement, suggesting predation.

Either way, to me it seems more likely intelligence would develop out of the need of the predator, not so much the prey.
It is the predator that would need to plan and execute (and coordinate in some species) a succesfull attack.

EDIT to clarify:

Having a large brain is largely energy inefficient. Herbivores would only need that in case of when they're being attacked, not in their general way of feeding themselves. Does the total construct (herbivore+large brain) then come out efficient, when they only use it some of the time? Whereas predators would use that brain constantly, in their general way of feeding themselves.

EDG
2010-Aug-04, 04:21 AM
Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

By that logic, antelope and wildebeest should be building rockets to the stars by now ;)

SolusLupus
2010-Aug-04, 04:31 AM
Yeah. You see, I´m not worried about human fate. My point is that, after all, evolution seems to be a rather inefficient process, considering the outcomes. The entire lifespan of a G star does not seem to be enough.

Inefficient for what? Efficiency or lack thereof rather suggests an end goal, does it not? Evolution's end goal isn't survivability of the planet, nor does it have any end goal to be had; it just is. Even the survivability of life doesn't really extend much past local environs, much less past the boundaries of the atmosphere...

caveman1917
2010-Aug-04, 04:49 AM
It seems to me the OP is taking an ultimately incorrect view of evolution as something that progresses linearly.

The big progressive step seems to from single cells to multicellular life. Apart from that, evolution to me seems to be much more random.

It responds to changes in the environment only in such ways as to adapt to them, not in such ways as to fulfill a pre-given evolution from basic to complex.
We might for example just as well imagine a world where mammals had their chance first, and then an extinction event gave reptilians the upper hand, instead of the other way around as happened here. Or a world where complex life developed, and then circumstances changed in such a way as to make 'simple' life more favorable again.

At any point in a chain of events looking back, it is easy to see a 'plan' leading from the start to where you are, no matter wether that 'plan' is really there or not.
To me it seems evolution is a much more random process, acting only against local changes in environment.

Intelligence might as well have developed 200MYA, and it might as well have never developed here.

A star with a longer lifetime for its planets to be hospitable to (any) life would have a higher chance to develop something intelligent, that is true.
But only because the right circumstances for intelligence to develop are more likely to appear at any time in its history, there are more 'timeslots' available. Not because evolution has any inherent tendency to always have the same rate going in the same direction, and thus needing 'more time'.

[ETA: SolusLupus beat me to the point i see :)]

WaxRubiks
2010-Aug-04, 05:05 AM
Just commenting on having forward facing eyes:

I don't think that that is due to being predators; a lot of monkeys have forward facing eyes, and they mainly eat fruit, and leaves, don't they?
I would think that animals would evolve forward facing eyes to judge distances to help with climbing trees...although squirrels don't really have forward facing eyes..so I'm not sure...but maybe monkeys jump further..

caveman1917
2010-Aug-04, 05:11 AM
Just commenting on having forward facing eyes:

I don't think that that is due to being predators; a lot of monkeys have forward facing eyes, and they mainly eat fruit, and leaves, don't they?
I would think that animals would evolve forward facing eyes to judge distances to help with climbing trees...although squirrels don't really have forward facing eyes..so I'm not sure...but maybe monkeys jump further..

Here (http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/natresources/az1145.pdf) is an article discussing this. It seems that eye placement plays an important factor for deciding wether skulls belong to predator or prey species.


Most all predators have
the eyes located in a forward position on the skull.
Forward eye placement provides the animal with a
greater degree of binocular vision. Binocular vision means
that both eyes focus on an object providing the animal
with a greater ability to judge distance (depth perception).
Binocular vision is an advantage when attacking prey and
an important element of the predator’s survival.
Herbivores are strictly prey and most have orbits located
on the side of the skull. This placement limits binocular
vision, but enhances the animal’s field of view or peripheral
vision. These herbivores have monocular vision which
means that they can see an object with only one eye. With
monocular vision, each eye has a field of view of almost 180
deggrees. Therefore, by using both eyes, these animals
almost have a 360 degree field of view. This field of vision
provides the animal with a greater ability to locate
predators and is an important element of their survival.


ETA: although this argument may indeed be false concerning humans, it seems primates have developed forward facing eyes because of brachiating (swinging from tree branch to branch) which was common in the ancestors of all primates, not because of predation.

WaxRubiks
2010-Aug-04, 05:24 AM
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/d/da/Patas_monkey_baby_looks.jpg/448px-Patas_monkey_baby_looks.jpg

A lot of monkeys have forward facing eyes, but then I suppose a lot of them eat insects, like this Patas monkey; so I suppose they predate insects.


The Patas Monkey feeds on insects, gum, seeds, and tubers, a diet more characteristic of much smaller primates.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patas_Monkey

caveman1917
2010-Aug-04, 05:33 AM
I was just editing my post when you seemed to have posted :)
Eye placement in primates seems to be due to the need to focus on tree branches, swinging from branch to branch, not the need to focus on prey due to predation.
So your explanation was correct concerning primates.


Primates have forward-facing eyes on the front of the skull; binocular vision allows accurate distance perception, useful for the brachiating ancestors of all great apes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primate

This seems to be an exception to the general development from predation though.

Ken G
2010-Aug-04, 06:22 AM
More to the point, the limiting factor isn't "how long til the sun turns into a red giant", it's "how long before the sun's main sequence luminosity increases to the point that the earth becomes too hot to support life", and apparently that's more on the scale of a billion years from now. I can't say I know the details of that Wiki argument, but I find its level of certainty quite unconvincing. Remember, the Sun has been changing for the last billion years as well, yet life has done fine. Indeed, life has existed on Earth for some 3 billion years, and the Sun's luminosity should have been increasing all that time, which AFAIK is still an unsolved problem to understand. When they figure that one out, I'll believe they can predict the next billion years of Earth's ecosystem. All the same, it does seem likely that the Earth will not be spawning new potentially intelligent life for the full 5 billion years we are looking at pre-red-giant. And whether it's 1 billion or 3 billion years that life has left on Earth, the OP point still holds: if humanity is all we've gotten so far, it seems unlikely we'll get much more intelligence-- unless we purposefully enter into the evolutionary process, which is the core point I'm making.

SkepticJ
2010-Aug-04, 06:25 AM
Assuming humans can stop being such short-sighted idiots, I think we, or whatever humans become, will survive after the Earth is long gone.

The Earth's got another billion years for another sentient, tool-using species to evolve. Considering that multi-cellular life has only been around for about six hundred million years, it's possible even if it takes as long again as it did for us.

The ideal world would be one orbiting fairly close to a red dwarf. When your star lasts for 100+ billion years, what's the rush?

Ken G
2010-Aug-04, 06:34 AM
The ideal world would be one orbiting fairly close to a red dwarf. When your star lasts for 100+ billion years, what's the rush?But if the first industrial-age species uses up the easily accessible coal, oil, and natural gas, it doesn't matter how many others you could have had-- you still have all your eggs in one basket. If that's the case, 2 billion years is plenty to play out the streak.

agingjb
2010-Aug-04, 08:02 AM
Since we are already not too far short of designing both genotype and phenotype material ourselves, I suspect that the potential timescale of biological change may become somewhat compressed in the future, or not.

bunker9603
2010-Aug-04, 11:24 AM
Humans are at the top off the ladder now, but who is to say that we won't be replaced? It may be possible that in the future the Capuchin will evolve to the point that they surpass us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MgHBvp1uwk

AriAstronomer
2010-Aug-04, 11:41 AM
Quoted from Drunk Vegan,
Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

I think sometimes we forget that intelligence or any other mutation isn't something waiting in a bag of tricks to be used by mother nature, should the opportunity arise. The following reasoning: many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence is incorrect. I think it's more like, environmental pressures gave rise to a spectrum of random mutations, and intelligence simply happened to be the won that produced the most offspring. Before humans, intelligence may never have even been a concept in the universe, and there may well be equally strange, yet interesting mutations as complex and beautiful as intelligence out there in the universe that we cannot comprehend. It's like trying to explain the 'colour of ultraviolet' to humans, or like trying to explain what it's like to be intelligent to something non-intelligent (a snake, or a rock, perhaps). Trying to explain it to someone who is not 'in your relative reality' is impossible. Similarly, there may very well be other 'next steps' comparable in complexity with intelligence (and may somehow also be able to produce rocket ships), yet in a different direction based on some random mutation that mother nature (assuming Mother nature operates on other alien life forms) produced in that given environment. I don't think there are a pre-programmed set of mutations, and mother nature is really rolling the dice when a mutation opportunity arises.

sadishappy
2010-Aug-04, 04:24 PM
[QUOTE=Argos;1771884]The most advanced thing it has produced is the Human species, and we´re still rather primitive. QUOTE]

Although at first glance, I agree with this statment, I think if we were to ask a mullosk or musk ox, they would marvel at how advanced we are... if they could respond.

Unfortunately, it's not evolution going fast enough that I'm concerned about, it's that we have reached the ability to destroy ourselves and could upend evolution all by ourselves.
Maybe we are evolving too fast for our own good?

Just a thought...

mike alexander
2010-Aug-04, 04:44 PM
A billion years left? There's plenty of time. In just 500 million years we went from Opabinia to American Idol.

Gillianren
2010-Aug-04, 06:01 PM
Although at first glance, I agree with this statment, I think if we were to ask a mullosk or musk ox, they would marvel at how advanced we are... if they could respond.

My cat takes it for granted. And those mollusks have managed to successfully thwart humans by taking over our lake so that it can no longer be used for anything for fear of spreading the mollusk population. We have no ecologically sound way of getting the things out of our ecosystem, either, and heaven only knows what's going to happen when the salmon come through. Thanks, New Zealand.

kleindoofy
2010-Aug-04, 08:24 PM
... the Sun has been changing for the last billion years as well, yet life has done fine. ...
Life in general, but not in specific.

Humans are a specific life form. Just like the dinosaurs, we can disappear without life on Earth in general even blinking.

We're important to ourselves. Nature couldn't care less about us.


A billion years left? There's plenty of time. In just 500 million years we went from Opabinia to American Idol.
Take one step forward and two back.

Start out with Opabinia, continually take one step forward and two backwards for 500 million years and you end up with American Idol.

Argos
2010-Aug-04, 08:33 PM
It seems to me the OP is taking an ultimately incorrect view of evolution as something that progresses linearly.

No, That´s not the case. Just speculating on the potential of evolution over time. Great comments so far. :)

trinitree88
2010-Aug-04, 08:51 PM
How about we do something about this. It's the presence of carbon -14 in the food chain that ends up causing most of the DNA mutations. We double the C-14 concentration to double the mutation rate. We're running out of species. Pete

kleindoofy
2010-Aug-04, 09:05 PM
... We're running out of species.
Nature will eventually rid itself of one certain species, regardless of how smart that species thinks it is. Then things will quiet down and more species will have a chance to evolve.

I'm not worried about nature in general.

It's us I worry about.

captain swoop
2010-Aug-04, 09:27 PM
Yeah. You see, I´m not worried about human fate. My point is that, after all, evolution seems to be a rather inefficient process, considering the outcomes. The entire lifespan of a G star does not seem to be enough.

Enough for what? Evolution is a process, it doesn't have a direction, an aim or target.

Drunk Vegan
2010-Aug-04, 09:49 PM
Quoted from Drunk Vegan,
Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

I think sometimes we forget that intelligence or any other mutation isn't something waiting in a bag of tricks to be used by mother nature, should the opportunity arise. The following reasoning: many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence is incorrect. I think it's more like, environmental pressures gave rise to a spectrum of random mutations, and intelligence simply happened to be the won that produced the most offspring. Before humans, intelligence may never have even been a concept in the universe, and there may well be equally strange, yet interesting mutations as complex and beautiful as intelligence out there in the universe that we cannot comprehend. It's like trying to explain the 'colour of ultraviolet' to humans, or like trying to explain what it's like to be intelligent to something non-intelligent (a snake, or a rock, perhaps). Trying to explain it to someone who is not 'in your relative reality' is impossible. Similarly, there may very well be other 'next steps' comparable in complexity with intelligence (and may somehow also be able to produce rocket ships), yet in a different direction based on some random mutation that mother nature (assuming Mother nature operates on other alien life forms) produced in that given environment. I don't think there are a pre-programmed set of mutations, and mother nature is really rolling the dice when a mutation opportunity arises.

Actually I didn't suggest anything like what you're arguing against. I'm firmly against any position that reeks of the Anthropic principle. In fact, I did point out there are many other evolutionary responses to solving the problem of being prey. It just so happens that intelligence is the best suited adaptation - if you develop spines to fend off attackers, your attackers may develop sharper teeth. If you start emitting a nasty odor, your attackers may develop a duller sense of smell, etc. With intelligence there is the possibility of continuously adapting to your environment and taking yourself off the food chain entirely - something no other adaptation is likely to do since they require many generations of random mutations, versus a single lifetime using problem-solving intelligence.

Ara Pacis
2010-Aug-04, 09:53 PM
How do we know that there weren't dinosaurs that had intelligence, but didn't have the appropriate limbs to manipulate anything with.
I have no opposable thumbs and I must write...

mugaliens
2010-Aug-05, 04:10 AM
It was enough to get us to the point of having this discussion without resorting to the use of pointy sticks.

Speak for yourself! I'm still using a PS-2 (pointy stick 2) mouse. :) At least at home. Saves on batteries.


How do we know that there weren't dinosaurs that had intelligence, but didn't have the appropriate limbs to manipulate anything with.[/i]

We don't how intelligent dinosaurs were. Like most grass-eaters, I think the herbivores were probably no more intelligence than a wildebeast, but if velocirapter were pack hunters like wolves, they probably had some serious intelligence. Given they had many millions of years longer to evolve than did crows, and crows are tool-users, dinosaurs may very well have used tools. Homo sapiens has been around beteen 250 and 450 thousand years, but homo erectus and others had been using tools long before that.

transreality
2010-Aug-05, 04:22 AM
Intelligence is far from the easiest way to avoid predation, the easiest is probably to get bigger. Next is, probably, better senses and faster running speed. Next maybe is nocturnal lifestyle.. even flight is probably more reliable than high intelligence. Plus we are not really carnivores or at the top of the food chain. We are somewhere between the pre-softened grass seed and the Leopard. Just about any carnivore can eat the raw meat of its prey... most won't turn up road kill. As for the most advanced, I'd suggest birds, just going from the diversity of the species and ubiquity of niches which suggest on-going repopulation of niches at a faster rate that say mammals. I doubt we would recognise what will dominate this planet in 500myr.

Luckmeister
2010-Aug-05, 04:24 AM
How do we know that there weren't dinosaurs that had intelligence, but didn't have the appropriate limbs to manipulate anything with.

Consider the possibility that we have developed our intelligence largely because of having the appropriate limbs to manipulate things with.

Mike

Jens
2010-Aug-05, 04:50 AM
Enough for what? Evolution is a process, it doesn't have a direction, an aim or target.

That's an important point. At least in the animal world, I think the most successful group is the ant, which is far from what we might consider an "intelligent species." Actually, ants are enormously intelligent, but that's a bit besides the point. They manage to walk using six legs over uneven terrain, can recognize objects with their eyes based on patterns, manage to carry loads over natural terrain, and can even communicate with one another. None of those are trivial things.

SkepticJ
2010-Aug-05, 05:09 AM
But if the first industrial-age species uses up the easily accessible coal, oil, and natural gas, it doesn't matter how many others you could have had-- you still have all your eggs in one basket. If that's the case, 2 billion years is plenty to play out the streak.

Why must they use fossil fuels? We do because we have them, but if we didn't we'd use quickly renewable sources like alcohol, turpentine and methane for our chemical feedstocks, and solar, wind, hydro etc. for our power needs.

On a world tidally locked with a red dwarf, there's an endless day. Perfect for solar energy.

SkepticJ
2010-Aug-05, 05:27 AM
Consider the possibility that we have developed our intelligence largely because of having the appropriate limbs to manipulate things with.

Mike

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Seriously though, dolphins are very smart. I wouldn't be surprised if they're close to, or as intelligent as we are.

Considering dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors, make their own bubble-rings to play with, and supposedly have helped to rescue people in the water of their own volition, there are doubtless thoughts going on in their heads.

Ken G
2010-Aug-05, 05:36 AM
Why must they use fossil fuels? We do because we have them, but if we didn't we'd use quickly renewable sources like alcohol, turpentine and methane for our chemical feedstocks, and solar, wind, hydro etc. for our power needs. Perhaps, I don't know-- do you need easy energy to get to the more difficult stuff? The industrial revolution gave us a society capable of taking advantage of those other kinds of energy on the scale needed to support a technological society, and cheap and easy fossil fuels powered the industrial revolution. Would an intelligent species be able to get past 18th century technology? Maybe they could, it's hard to know with only one case to go on.


On a world tidally locked with a red dwarf, there's an endless day. Perfect for solar energy.It would certainly be interesting if our situation was not at all the "generic" one for technologically advanced species. It may be many thousands of years before we know that!

John Jaksich
2010-Aug-05, 05:38 AM
Dear Argos,

I have seen some of your previous posts (they do speak volumes of thought) and I wonder if it is a matter of neurology rather than pure evolution---It seems (--or I believe?) that the next step may not be a rough-shod approach?

More to point----waiting millennia for the Sun to go through its so-called cycles---is (to me, risky) billions of individuals will die in the interim periods.


As was stated---eloquently by others in this thread---and possibly taking the net as an example of world cooperation and computing power. Info-technology poses (currently) the best way of circumventing (or even)---and preventing our demise from the "natural" cycles of disease, "war-fare", evolutionary process of extinction, and plain "human" stupidity.

Rising to that next level of evolution may be easier ---let our combined resources ---- from human through the smallest microbe be our tools to the next level---

Glom
2010-Aug-05, 12:57 PM
But if the first industrial-age species uses up the easily accessible coal, oil, and natural gas, it doesn't matter how many others you could have had-- you still have all your eggs in one basket. If that's the case, 2 billion years is plenty to play out the streak.

Coal, oil and natural gas are renewable resources. They're just not renewable enough for rate we consume them. But if we knock off, and another intelligent species evolve after a hundred millions years, the bounty of fossil fuels will have been restored.

Ken G
2010-Aug-05, 01:17 PM
Coal, oil and natural gas are renewable resources. They're just not renewable enough for rate we consume them. But if we knock off, and another intelligent species evolve after a hundred millions years, the bounty of fossil fuels will have been restored.That's a good point, I hadn't considered that.

NEOWatcher
2010-Aug-05, 01:24 PM
I see a lot of talk in this thread about technological advances that humans have made. Is that due to evolution? I really doubt it.
Are our ancestors from thousands of years ago really that much less intelligent than we are now?

We are a species that records, predicts, and pass along information and has the urge to learn. It's the availability of previous information that continuously builds and is made available that helps us advance.

What would happen today if you took a child and raised them in a primitive environment? And; what if you raised a prehistoric Homo-Sapien in today's society with today's schools?

Even today, most of our species selects mates based on looks and physical abilities. How many people look to find that perfect "nerd" to mate with? I'm sure it's far less than those looking for that dumb blond, or dumb jock. (Ok, maybe not dumb in particular, but it's a trait that's often overlooked).
There's other types of examples of selections biased toward the less intelligence that I can make, but since it's all speculation on my part, I don't want to start too many side discussions.

WaxRubiks
2010-Aug-05, 01:25 PM
I remember on the original King Kong film, in black and white, they went to an island to look for oil, IIRC, but the scientists said it wasn't read yet, and needed more time to turn into oil.
I don't know if this is based on fact....are there pre-oil/coal fields that need time to mature?

If so, then future potential intelligent species might have something to drill for.

Glom
2010-Aug-05, 02:14 PM
I remember on the original King Kong film, in black and white, they went to an island to look for oil, IIRC, but the scientists said it wasn't read yet, and needed more time to turn into oil.
I don't know if this is based on fact....are there pre-oil/coal fields that need time to mature?

If so, then future potential intelligent species might have something to drill for.

I can't speak to what was depicted in that movie, but we can most certainly observe today what will become oil reservoirs in a few million years. The process is continual. Marine life getting buried on the sea bed, covered with ever more layers of deposition, crushed and compressed to form keragen entrained in sedimentary rock, baked, migrating into reservoirs. It's all happening. Some existing reservoirs have even been observed to actively recharge.

Disinfo Agent
2010-Aug-05, 02:29 PM
Humans were and still are omnivorous, which could mean that we were originally hunter-gatherers (a mix of predator and herbivore), or that we ate plants and leftovers of animals killed by other species. And all you need to be a predator is live on a diet of seashells.

Argos
2010-Aug-05, 03:24 PM
Enough for what?

The development of highly sophisticated sentient beings [with collateral implications for SETI].

caveman1917
2010-Aug-05, 04:49 PM
The development of highly sophisticated sentient beings [with collateral implications for SETI].

Given the right circumstances, that could perhaps be done in <1 billion years.
It's really not about how much time to get somewhere, it's about getting lucky with environmental changes coupled to getting lucky about mutations.

The only way i can see time being the relevant factor, is taking the view of evolution as something that always happens at about the same rate in the same direction. But that view is only an artefact from us now looking back, doing that at any point in a series of events it's easy to project that into it. Thinking, since evolution seems to have worked up to us, that is an inherent 'flow' of evolution. But it is not, it is the poverty of having only one datapoint.

Ilya
2010-Aug-05, 05:17 PM
We're so new here, can we really possess the audacity to believe we'll survive for the rest of Earth's run? 100,000 times the length of our present existence here as such?

$100 says we won't. Not even close.

Any takers?
If by "we" you mean "unmodified Homo sapiens" then I agree.

If your definition of "we" includes "our remote descendants, possibly completely unrecognizable, and perhaps even non-biological", then yes I am willing to take the bet.

But as someone already asked, how would either of us collect? :)

lomiller1
2010-Aug-05, 06:18 PM
Why are we simply assuming Evolution makes things more advanced? Plunk a human colony down on the earth 500 millions years ago and evolution is going to snuff it out real fast.

The underlying mechanism by which evolution occurs seems to favor increased complexly, but Evolution itself is producing organisms more suitable for current conditions, so it’s not advancing anything.

nokton
2010-Aug-05, 06:48 PM
So, the Earth has only a couple of billion years til the Sun goes Red Giant. It means that the evolution of life on this planet has run almost 70% of its course. The most advanced thing it has produced is the Human species, and we´re still rather primitive. With so little time left it seems that nothing interesting can appear anymore. Isn´t it disturbing? Wouldn´t a main-sequence K class star be a better stage for evolution to unfold?

I make it 3 billion years my friend, and the rate at which we have advanced over just two thousand years, cannot see your point.
Nokton

Gillianren
2010-Aug-05, 06:58 PM
I remember on the original King Kong film, in black and white, they went to an island to look for oil, IIRC, but the scientists said it wasn't read yet, and needed more time to turn into oil.

Definitely not King Kong. That was all about spectacle. The man was a showman, not an oil driller.

eburacum45
2010-Aug-05, 07:12 PM
Time may be running out for natural evolution in any case; in a relatively short period of time artificial evolution will replace it as the main driver of change. It might take a lot longer than some people expect, but control of the genome of species on our world will give our descendants the opportunity to direct the development of future life-forms. It should be the biggest phylogenetic radiation since the Cambrian.

I expect that natural evolution, as in survival of the fittest, will play an important part in deciding which new species are successful or otherwise; but so will informed, deliberate choice.

WaxRubiks
2010-Aug-05, 07:42 PM
Definitely not King Kong. That was all about spectacle. The man was a showman, not an oil driller.
yes, I just had a quick scan of the script, and there's no mention of oil.

must have been some other film; maybe one of those old films where they capture a dinosaur, or something....

DonM435
2010-Aug-05, 07:50 PM
yes, I just had a quick scan of the script, and there's no mention of oil.

must have been some other film; maybe one of those old films where they capture a dinosaur, or something....

That was the 1976 re-make of King Kong. I can't blame anyone for forgetting it.

Noclevername
2010-Aug-05, 09:00 PM
With so little time left it seems that nothing interesting can appear anymore.

Define "interesting".

Argos
2010-Aug-05, 09:33 PM
Define "interesting".

I´m unable. :) Something more sophisticated than Man, for starters. Talk about probing the potential of evolution.

Ken G
2010-Aug-05, 11:20 PM
I see a lot of talk in this thread about technological advances that humans have made. Is that due to evolution? I really doubt it.
Are our ancestors from thousands of years ago really that much less intelligent than we are now?The evolution that made technology possible did not happen a few thousand years ago, it was more like a few hundred thousand. But both are flashes in the pan, astronomically speaking. Still, you are asking an interesting question that I don't know if anyone knows the answer to: did communication and recording knowledge appear as a result of advancing genetically induced intelligence, or is it a new form of intelligence that can only be passed sociologically, and comes at a relatively random point in an environment of stable genetic intelligence?

I think there may be something to that-- call it the "genius" principle, that is something a bit separate from the genetic advancement of the intelligence of a population: one particularly advanced individual shares a breakthrough with the population without there being any change in the genetic character of the population. In other words, there may be three stages of evolution of intelligence:
1) natural selection induced genetic change
2) genius induced sociological change (our current phase)
3) concurrent technology induced genetic change, and genius induced sociological change.


We are a species that records, predicts, and pass along information and has the urge to learn. It's the availability of previous information that continuously builds and is made available that helps us advance.That is what evolution made possible-- that's really what "higher intelligence" means, the ability to communicate and record advances. But you need biological evolution to make a brain that can do that, and for Earth, that took 4.5 billion years to get done (unless it happened before, but didn't "take").

neilzero
2010-Aug-06, 01:58 AM
As most of the others posted, 2 billion years is a long time, and we might have ten billion years. If technical advances continue as fast as the 20 th century, 2100 will be much different than 2010. I'd guess the first decade = 2000 to 2010 has seen less progress than typical. Genetic engineering of humans, may change us radically in just a few decades. Neil

Noclevername
2010-Aug-06, 03:11 AM
I´m unable. :) Something more sophisticated than Man, for starters. Talk about probing the potential of evolution.

It's most likely that the next thing more sophisticated than man will be made by man. We already have the capability to make alterations in ourselves, and we have already modified other lifeforms.

If we go extinct, we aren't likely to be repeated, but any species that achieves anything like our degree of sapience, curiousity and technical prowess will no doubt self-modify as soon as it becomes technically feasible.

But evolution does not necessarily "advance"-- it takes any path that leads to survival. Look at viruses and prions-- they are more primitive in structure than the earliest bacteria. If atavism (reversion to primitive characteristics) is what is needed for a species to continue, then that's what happens. Or they die off. As conditions on Earth become harsher, hardy simple microbes might be the long-term survivors. Germs may inherit the Earth.

uwbrother
2010-Aug-06, 03:16 AM
Talk about probing the potential of evolution.

"Evolution" is a horrible, horrible term. It's a simple concept that that those more successful in reproducing ("survival of the fittest") have a higher impact on gene pool. That's it. There is no "potential". There is no "advancement". There is just a constant change and balance.

Ken G
2010-Aug-06, 03:40 AM
Your point is well taken that shifting genes to match changes in the ecological niche doesn't really represent "advancement", but the term "evolution" doesn't imply advancement either. In astronomy, we talk about "stellar evolution" all the time, with no connotation that stars "improve" with time. Indeed, stellar evolution is often a kind of running down or running out process, even though in some cases it can lead to some impressive fireworks.

I think the only sense to which biological evolution can be equated with "advancement" is that evolution allows for a great many experiments. Most fail, but some allow a species to spread and populate much of the world, as happened with humanity. Some species did that by being able to swim or fly, or being able to reproduce in droves. It's really only considered "advancement" when it just happens that the survival advantage is intelligence. And perhaps when intelligence passes a certain level, which is probably more or less completely random (seemingly not survival driven, humans were far more intelligent than most apes for a long time before we outnumbered them), a whole new kind of evolution takes over-- sociological evolution. It is the latter which makes us "advanced", perhaps as much as our genes do. Our brains are pretty big, it's true, but if you weren't raised by people who spoke, would you have invented language? If you weren't taught how to write words, would you have created your own symbols that convey meaning? It's hard to know how much of our present intelligence is owed to our education, and how much comes from our genes. (We haven't taught dogs to speak, so a lot of it is certainly genetic, but maybe it's both, and the "advancement" comes more from the sociological evolution than the genetic evolution.)

In that light, perhaps the natural genetic evolution of species on Earth will not provide any significant improvements, and even if the artificially induced genetic evolution doesn't either, there still may be a huge potential for advancement of the societal evolution of humans. Perhaps the future of humanity will be a race between our societal evolution, and our artificially induced genetic evolution, or other forms of technological evolution.

caveman1917
2010-Aug-06, 04:29 AM
Our brains are pretty big, it's true, but if you weren't raised by people who spoke, would you have invented language? If you weren't taught how to write words, would you have created your own symbols that convey meaning?

I was given to understand the ability for language is innate. If you were raised by deaf and mute people, even at the age of say 40 you'd pick up a language just as easy. Or perhaps you might indeed start inventing your own language, yes. Writing is a whole other thing of course.

Those could be good examples of the 'genetic evolution' vs 'sociological evolution' distinction, you have the ability for language in your genes, but if you try to achieve more than oral traditions can provide, you venture off into the sociological landscape.


Your point is well taken that shifting genes to match changes in the ecological niche doesn't really represent "advancement", but the term "evolution" doesn't imply advancement either.

That's true, but the OP question seemed to be framed in such way. If one thinks about evolution in terms of how much more time is needed before something more advanced must come out, one is taking it down a very wrong road.

Ken G
2010-Aug-06, 05:21 AM
I was given to understand the ability for language is innate. If you were raised by deaf and mute people, even at the age of say 40 you'd pick up a language just as easy. Or perhaps you might indeed start inventing your own language, yes.But that's the question-- there's a big difference between picking it up at 40, and inventing it yourself. Being able to pick it up just means your intelligence is enough to have language-- inventing one yourself means your intelligence is the reason you, personally, have language.


That's true, but the OP question seemed to be framed in such way. If one thinks about evolution in terms of how much more time is needed before something more advanced must come out, one is taking it down a very wrong road.I think the key is recognizing that there are at least three ways to get something "more advanced", and two are genetic in character, one is purely sociological. For example, most "Star Trek Universe" kinds of scenarios depict humanity as having vastly advanced technologically and sociologically, but not genetically.

EDG
2010-Aug-06, 05:54 AM
Remember, the Sun has been changing for the last billion years as well, yet life has done fine. Indeed, life has existed on Earth for some 3 billion years, and the Sun's luminosity should have been increasing all that time, which AFAIK is still an unsolved problem to understand.

Not really. As I understand it, the Earth's environment has so far been able to keep up with the changes in solar luminosity because its various environmental cycles can react to the increased luminosity in a way that generally offsets or keeps up with the change it causes (e.g. more heating causes more evaporation which causes more clouds to reflect sunlight and cool the planet down again).

This has worked fine until now (our own man-made greenhouse effect notwithstanding) but the problem in the future (about a billion years from now) the change in luminosity will outpace the planet's natural regulatory systems. In other words, Earth just won't be able to handle the change anymore, and things will start to runaway, or at least tip into a "moist greenhouse" equilibrium that isn't compatible with current life.

Ken G
2010-Aug-06, 06:33 AM
This has worked fine until now (our own man-made greenhouse effect notwithstanding) but the problem in the future (about a billion years from now) the change in luminosity will outpace the planet's natural regulatory systems. In other words, Earth just won't be able to handle the change anymore, and things will start to runaway, or at least tip into a "moist greenhouse" equilibrium that isn't compatible with current life.That's how the theory goes, anyway. Now, do you think the theory would have predicted that life could have survived on Earth for 3 billion past years, or has it been forced to predict that because we already observe it? I know where my money is, having some experience with how complicated theories work. Don't forget, Eddington's theory said the Earth should be a few million years old.

agingjb
2010-Aug-06, 07:33 AM
Indeed, we are living on a planet (possibly the planet) where there hasn't been some runaway change to which the biosphere did not adapt (and, in a sense, apparently correct). We have no guarantees about the future, but it may need our help (although I have some doubts about whether it will get it).

caveman1917
2010-Aug-06, 08:06 AM
But that's the question-- there's a big difference between picking it up at 40, and inventing it yourself. Being able to pick it up just means your intelligence is enough to have language-- inventing one yourself means your intelligence is the reason you, personally, have language.

Could you define what you mean by 'intelligence' in the above context? My understanding of the point you're making depends a lot on what you exactly mean by that.

What i was saying is that spoken language comes naturally, even when it has been completely ignored for 40 years. One can surely also pick up writing or mathematics at such age, but those are not innate abilities - it will take you quite some work if you've never read a single character for 40 years.

I was only pointing out that the two examples you gave are excellent for making the distinction between genetic evolution (spoken language) and sociological evolution (written language).


I think the key is recognizing that there are at least three ways to get something "more advanced", and two are genetic in character, one is purely sociological. For example, most "Star Trek Universe" kinds of scenarios depict humanity as having vastly advanced technologically and sociologically, but not genetically.

But that is the point. It is a way to get something 'more advanced', but it's equally well a way to get something 'less advanced'.
The OP seemed to be considering only the former (give it more time and it should get more advanced), while ignoring the latter. It's like saying that since i can get an even number with a dice, i will get an even number.

For example genetically, it may be that circumstances change in such way as to make the transition from complex to simple lifeforms more favourable.
Sociologically, a global nuclear war would provide an excellent example.

I'm struggling to see a second genetic way of getting more advanced though, apart from biological evolution - which i suppose is the first one you refer to.

Jens
2010-Aug-06, 08:53 AM
I was given to understand the ability for language is innate. If you were raised by deaf and mute people, even at the age of say 40 you'd pick up a language just as easy.

I think this is a bit off the topic, but I wonder where you got that idea (I mean the second sentence). My understanding is just the opposite, that in the case of "feral children," the children were severely handicapped in terms of language even later in life. Of course, your first sentence is absolutely correct as far as I know. The ability to learn language is indeed innate, but if it is not done at the proper time it cannot be learned later in life, or at least not adequately. I think a similar thing may be true for walking. All children walk spontaneously, but it may well be that if a person is paralyzed for some reason in childhood, and then is cured of the paralysis at the age of 20, that they will never learn to walk as well as other people.

caveman1917
2010-Aug-06, 09:57 AM
I think this is a bit off the topic, but I wonder where you got that idea (I mean the second sentence). My understanding is just the opposite, that in the case of "feral children," the children were severely handicapped in terms of language even later in life. Of course, your first sentence is absolutely correct as far as I know. The ability to learn language is indeed innate, but if it is not done at the proper time it cannot be learned later in life, or at least not adequately. I think a similar thing may be true for walking. All children walk spontaneously, but it may well be that if a person is paralyzed for some reason in childhood, and then is cured of the paralysis at the age of 20, that they will never learn to walk as well as other people.

You're probably right. Critical Period Hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Period_Hypothesis) (wiki).
Apparently it is the same with walking, feral children having trouble learning to walk upright.

Now I wonder too where i got that idea :)

Disinfo Agent
2010-Aug-06, 10:30 AM
A couple of points regarding the language ability:

1) Feral children are not equivalent to deaf children. The former grow up without a society around them. The latter grow up in a society they can learn from.

2) It's possible that the ability to learn a language is innate, but that there is a window of opportunity for this ability to be developed. If a child does not learn to speak soon enough, it will become unable to learn it (or to become sufficiently proficient) later in life. As far as I know, this is the prevailing view among people who study language acquisition.

3) Studying the acquisition of language is difficult, and I don't think we really have many certainties about it. There are a lot of confounding variables, like socialisation and mental disability. Some authors have argued that many feral children were already mentally disabled before they became isolated.

4) While I tend to agree that being able to speak is nearly equivalent to intelligence, I think the topic under discussion in this thread is a little narrower. We're really talking about technological progress. Human beings have been speaking for millions of years, but the pace of progress was very slow for a large portion of that time (revolutionary discoveries like agriculture and the domestication of animals notwithstanding). You can be individually intelligent but live in a primitive society. If our concern is with progress (which is collective), and not just intelligence (which may perhaps be individual), then I second other posters in insisting that the ability to keep records and to learn from them is crucial for progress. Intelligence is evolution's gift (or God's gift, if you prefer) to mankind, and it can be fostered, but in a sense it can neither be created nor destroyed. We are probably no more intelligent today than the first Homo sapiens sapiens. However, records - our collective social memory - can be created and destroyed, and they have often been. Each time a civilisation fell in the past, the surviving societies had to move back to square one in the game of progress.

5) I made the previous point about technological progress, but it applies equally well, and probably moreso, to moral (including political) progress.

caveman1917
2010-Aug-06, 11:12 AM
Studying the acquisition of language is difficult, and I don't think we really have many certainties about it. There are a lot of confounding variables, like socialisation and mental disability. Some authors have argued that many feral children were already mentally disabled before they became isolated.

That's what i also thought at first, but the wiki article i linked to points towards data with deaf children, seeing a similar decline in the ability to learn sign language as age grows. This data wouldn't have the confounding variables found with feral children, but it does give weigth to the critical period hypothesis.

heldervelez
2010-Aug-06, 12:15 PM
There have been regular crisis with the Earth and the 'environment'.
The last Event occured 12 or 13 ky ago and left scars all over the globe ( the Clovis people disapeared from North America ).
And the periodicity is X? ky.
Human beings are a Life creation. We are bound to save the Life.
It's our destiny to look for another home in distant stars, sooner than we imagine.
Time is running out, indeed.

Ilya
2010-Aug-06, 12:35 PM
That's how the theory goes, anyway. Now, do you think the theory would have predicted that life could have survived on Earth for 3 billion past years, or has it been forced to predict that because we already observe it? I know where my money is, having some experience with how complicated theories work. Don't forget, Eddington's theory said the Earth should be a few million years old.
"Forced to predict that because we already observe it" does not make any sense. A post-fact explanation is not a prediction, but that does not make it invalid. Geological evidence of several "snowball Earth" periods is pretty convincing -- nobody came up with any way to explain how Earth would freeze and then thaw, several times, without "Gaia thermostat".

Now, the fact that "snowball Earth" happened (and more than once) shows that Gaia thermostat is at best not very good, and suggests that Gaia is an accident -- IOW, the fact that removal of CO2 from the atmosphere had kept pace with increase in solar luminosity is a local quirk, and would have failed with a smaller (thus slower-evolving) star, or with more volcanic (thus putting out more CO2) planet.

BTW, both Lovelock's original Gaia hypothesis (life regulates planet's temperature) and "Gaia is an accident" hypothesis make testable predictions, although not testable any time soon. If Lovelock was right, we will find many life-bearing planets around mature stars similar to Sun. If Gaia is an accident, we will find many planets with prokaryotes or equivalent around young main sequence stars, and many lifeless planets (Venus-like hells around G-types, deep-freezes around slow-developing K-types) with traces of past life.

NEOWatcher
2010-Aug-06, 12:39 PM
The evolution that made technology possible did not happen a few thousand years ago, it was more like a few hundred thousand.
I didn't say "few". I left it at thousands, because it leaves open both the time we evolved the brain up to the time that we used it for recording our thoughts (at least the way we recognize it to be).


Still, you are asking an interesting question that I don't know if anyone knows the answer to:...
Yes; a good rewording of what I'm thinking.

Trakar
2010-Aug-06, 01:17 PM
Personally I would argue that many large toothy creatures surrounding you on a daily basis is an excellent reason to evolve intelligence - it's pretty much the most basic problem any problem-solving creature can have - finding a way to take itself off the menu. Many species exhibit evolved traits that do exactly that, intelligence is just the most efficient solution.

I don't know that intelligence is any more efficient than size, speed, agility, or improved senses, and intelligence is difficult and cumbersome to develop, as minor incremental increases provide only marginal benefits and cost a lot in terms of support and resources to maintain. Intelligence seems to be more of a luxury expense that only already successful species under mild environmental pressure can afford to invest in. It seems to be tied more to social pressure from within a species than to environmental pressure from without.

Trakar
2010-Aug-06, 01:21 PM
A billion years left? There's plenty of time. In just 500 million years we went from Opabinia to American Idol.

Seems like a long time for such a small step.

Trakar
2010-Aug-06, 01:29 PM
I see a lot of talk in this thread about technological advances that humans have made. Is that due to evolution? I really doubt it.
Are our ancestors from thousands of years ago really that much less intelligent than we are now?

We are a species that records, predicts, and pass along information and has the urge to learn. It's the availability of previous information that continuously builds and is made available that helps us advance.

What would happen today if you took a child and raised them in a primitive environment? And; what if you raised a prehistoric Homo-Sapien in today's society with today's schools?

Even today, most of our species selects mates based on looks and physical abilities. How many people look to find that perfect "nerd" to mate with? I'm sure it's far less than those looking for that dumb blond, or dumb jock. (Ok, maybe not dumb in particular, but it's a trait that's often overlooked).
There's other types of examples of selections biased toward the less intelligence that I can make, but since it's all speculation on my part, I don't want to start too many side discussions.

It is difficult to imagine thinking without intricate language skills.

Argos
2010-Aug-06, 01:37 PM
Your point is well taken that shifting genes to match changes in the ecological niche doesn't really represent "advancement", but the term "evolution" doesn't imply advancement either. In astronomy, we talk about "stellar evolution" all the time, with no connotation that stars "improve" with time. Indeed, stellar evolution is often a kind of running down or running out process, even though in some cases it can lead to some impressive fireworks.

Thumbs up.

kevin1981
2010-Aug-06, 02:01 PM
Interesting thread, i have often wondered what things would be like in the future and how we will evolve. The interesting thing now of course, is the fact that for the first time in earths history, a species will be able to record it's own evolution. To me, this seems a little weird. Most evolution occurs slowly over long periods of time, and evolution is always happening.

So in ten thousand years time i would expect their to be changes in the human race, what i do not know. But i would imagine that it would have been recorded, literally, on video, step by step. So we will be watching our own species slowly change which is unprecedented.

Gillianren
2010-Aug-06, 04:17 PM
That's what i also thought at first, but the wiki article i linked to points towards data with deaf children, seeing a similar decline in the ability to learn sign language as age grows. This data wouldn't have the confounding variables found with feral children, but it does give weigth to the critical period hypothesis.

It's harder to learn any language as you get older. It's possible that, if you don't have a grounding in it, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn a first one, because your brain hasn't developed those pathways. Though Helen Keller makes an interesting data point--does anyone know if she talked before she got, what was it, scarlet fever?

Ken G
2010-Aug-06, 05:02 PM
"Forced to predict that because we already observe it" does not make any sense.Sure it does, that's most of theoretical science. Not all, just most.


A post-fact explanation is not a prediction, but that does not make it invalid.It involves many predictions. Most of science does that-- it creates a post-fact explanation, which then makes a bunch of additional predictions. My point is that the predictions cannot be taken too far outside the post-fact explanation, it's those darn "unknown unknowns."



Now, the fact that "snowball Earth" happened (and more than once) shows that Gaia thermostat is at best not very good, and suggests that Gaia is an accident -- IOW, the fact that removal of CO2 from the atmosphere had kept pace with increase in solar luminosity is a local quirk, and would have failed with a smaller (thus slower-evolving) star, or with more volcanic (thus putting out more CO2) planet. That may be true, but the question is, what similar surprises will appear going forward?


BTW, both Lovelock's original Gaia hypothesis (life regulates planet's temperature) and "Gaia is an accident" hypothesis make testable predictions, although not testable any time soon. If Lovelock was right, we will find many life-bearing planets around mature stars similar to Sun. If Gaia is an accident, we will find many planets with prokaryotes or equivalent around young main sequence stars, and many lifeless planets (Venus-like hells around G-types, deep-freezes around slow-developing K-types) with traces of past life.
By the time we can test that, hopefully we'll know a lot more about our own climate system!

SkepticJ
2010-Aug-07, 08:38 AM
Perhaps, I don't know-- do you need easy energy to get to the more difficult stuff? The industrial revolution gave us a society capable of taking advantage of those other kinds of energy on the scale needed to support a technological society, and cheap and easy fossil fuels powered the industrial revolution.

We had the coal, so we used it. I doubt a lack of coal would've prevented the Industrial Revolution, just made it a bit harder. Charcoal has the same energy density as coal, and all you need to make charcoal is biomass and a way to pyrolyse it. We're not talking high-tech here.

Vast farms of bamboo could provide the biomass. On an alien world, substitute the alien equivalent of bamboo--something that grows like mad and makes a lot of biomass.

The pluses for making your own fuel from plants, the byproducts of yeast etc. are:

a. Your civilization isn't based on fuels that will run out, necessitating a frantic retooling when that starts to happen. Wars fought over dwindling fuel supplies won't happen.

b. Your civilization won't accidentally change their world's climates.

William
2010-Aug-07, 03:41 PM
So, the Earth has only a couple of billion years til the Sun goes Red Giant. It means that the evolution of life on this planet has run almost 70% of its course. The most advanced thing it has produced is the Human species, and we´re still rather primitive. With so little time left it seems that nothing interesting can appear anymore. Isn´t it disturbing? Wouldn´t a main-sequence K class star be a better stage for evolution to unfold?

All life on this planet will die as the sun starts to expand, unless humans intervene.

The question is not only how much time a planet has for life to evolve. A more important question may be what happens when intelligent life does evolve.

How will mankind evolve over the next 100 million years? What will be technically possible a million years from now? i.e. Is interstellar space travel possible? Can the human life span be extended indefinitely? Is it possible to create a human machine hybrid? Is it possible to create a self aware machine that will solve complex fundamental research problems and that is capable of creating more advance self aware machines?

We do not know what is the limit of technology. Our speculations concerning that subject are based on current physics which lacks a fundamental model. (There is currently sets of incomparable black box physics models that disagree with each other and that only useful for a subset of the observations. "String theorists" are searching for the fundamental model.)

Hlafordlaes
2010-Aug-07, 06:14 PM
@OP,

If I might restate the question a bit, I often wonder if Earth will successfully produce a space-faring species that outlasts the sun-induced death of the planet. It very well could be we homo sapiens or our descendants/creations.

But since the numbers for solar evolution quoted in the thread vary widely, it is hard to say if there is time for the emergence of another space-capable species, say, if some future catastrophic extinction event led to the elimination of all but single-celled life. My guess is that it would be a close call at best, and our eventual sapient replacements would not likely look kindly on the much smaller margin for error we bequeath them. They are sure to dis us at the Milky Way Invitational Galactic Dance at any rate, prolly while trading stories about short-sighted losers addicted to ignoring facts to feel good.

Trakar
2010-Aug-07, 07:20 PM
@OP,

If I might restate the question a bit, I often wonder if Earth will successfully produce a space-faring species that outlasts the sun-induced death of the planet. It very well could be we homo sapiens or our descendants/creations.

But since the numbers for solar evolution quoted in the thread vary widely, it is hard to say if there is time for the emergence of another space-capable species, say, if some future catastrophic extinction event led to the elimination of all but single-celled life. My guess is that it would be a close call at best, and our eventual sapient replacements would not likely look kindly on the much smaller margin for error we bequeath them. They are sure to dis us at the Milky Way Invitational Galactic Dance at any rate, prolly while trading stories about short-sighted losers addicted to ignoring facts to feel good.

Of course, any catastrophe capable of reducing the Earth's biosphere to a state where the only survivors are single-celled organisms, probably isn't going to leave much evidence of our civilization or existence for future evolved sentients to find, especially given the 100s of millions of years of intervening geologic processes (and as has been mentioned this would probably also be more than enough time for the same processes to replace any resources we've depleted).

Hlafordlaes
2010-Aug-07, 07:25 PM
Of course, any catastrophe capable of reducing the Earth's biosphere to a state where the only survivors are single-celled organisms, probably isn't going to leave much evidence of our civilization or existence for future evolved sentients to find, especially given the 100s of millions of years of intervening geologic processes (and as has been mentioned this would probably also be more than enough time for the same processes to replace any resources we've depleted).

True, although that does little to reduce my do-do complex if we homo sapiens do blow it. Nice to think we'll not be the butt of any jokes, tho.

neilzero
2010-Aug-07, 08:01 PM
With enough funding and working smart instead of the usual corrupt, a few humans can move into space with sperm banks and embryo banks to minimise inbreeding. Initially these tiny habitats will be unhealthy and unsafe and dependent on Earth for resupply. If we persist for a century or so, comfort should improve and the habitats can be almost self sufficient for the barest necessities. A century of most supplies can be stored in the habitat. If Earth humans all die, there will be no more supplies arriving. Perhaps, worse, no more advice from Earth, but multiple habitats in space can continue to communicate. It will be urgent to find a way to return to Earth, while supplies and intellect remain. Returning to an Earth of only dead humans will be traumatic, but some of the stuff will be reusable, so the people repopulating can likely survive, but it may take thousands of years to re-establish modern civilization. Perhaps they can do better than we have as a new civilization emerges. Neil

EDG
2010-Aug-07, 08:16 PM
That's how the theory goes, anyway. Now, do you think the theory would have predicted that life could have survived on Earth for 3 billion past years, or has it been forced to predict that because we already observe it?

I don't know, and don't really care, because it's not a question that anyone can really answer.

The science that the current theory is based on is sound as far as we understand. Maybe it'll get tweaked as our long-term modelling improves, and turn out to be a false alarm because of something we haven't considered - or maybe it won't. Unfortunately we're not going to be around in a billion years to find out, so we'll never know.

EDG
2010-Aug-07, 08:19 PM
Incidentally, people might want to check out "The Future Is Wild" for some interesting speculation on where life on Earth might go in the next 200 million years:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future_Is_Wild

Hlafordlaes
2010-Aug-07, 10:46 PM
Incidentally, people might want to check out "The Future Is Wild" for some interesting speculation on where life on Earth might go in the next 200 million years:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future_Is_Wild:p:clap:

mugaliens
2010-Aug-07, 11:46 PM
We had the coal, so we used it. I doubt a lack of coal would've prevented the Industrial Revolution, just made it a bit harder. Charcoal has the same energy density as coal, and all you need to make charcoal is biomass and a way to pyrolyse it. We're not talking high-tech here.

Vast farms of bamboo could provide the biomass. On an alien world, substitute the alien equivalent of bamboo--something that grows like mad and makes a lot of biomass.

The pluses for making your own fuel from plants, the byproducts of yeast etc. are:

a. Your civilization isn't based on fuels that will run out, necessitating a frantic retooling when that starts to happen. Wars fought over dwindling fuel supplies won't happen.

b. Your civilization won't accidentally change their world's climates.

Interestingly, it's quite easy to synthesize methanol from CO2 and H2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Methanol_Synthesis). This makes storage of hydrogen produced by other means (electrolysis) quite practical. The CO2 is simply collected from the waste products of various other processes.

While this makes it a wonderful transition fuel, it's still much too expensive a process to realistically implement at this time.

heldervelez
2010-Aug-08, 09:55 AM
Why Mars deserved such a present compared to its past ambient conditions?
How far we are confidents that Earth will not deserve such a future, compared to its present ambient conditions?

EDG
2010-Aug-08, 09:37 PM
Why Mars deserved such a present compared to its past ambient conditions?
How far we are confidents that Earth will not deserve such a future, compared to its present ambient conditions?

We're likely to end up more like Venus than Mars. Mars' problem was its small size - it cooled down faster than a larger planet like Earth, which (among other things) means that its core dynamo stopped working which means that it had no magnetic field to prevent the solar wind from eroding away its atmosphere. And also meant that volcanism wouldn't continue to recycle and add more atmospheric gas. So over time, it lost most of its atmosphere.

In Earth's case, the problem is more that it will eventually just heat up too much for its regulatory systems to adapt, and we'll end up as a greenhouse world like Venus. We're in no danger of losing our atmosphere until billions of years from now, when the Sun is in its red giant stage.

KABOOM
2010-Aug-09, 08:00 PM
Regarding the amount of liveable runway left on Earth, I recall from reading Phill Plait's "Death from the Skies" that Sol will experience a change in its nuclear furnace that will kick off the expansion phase (pre-Red Giant) that is likely to render the Earth a barren rock without an atmosphere in ~ 1 billion years and that Earth may be incapable of housing complex life as short as 500 million years from now.

I am sure that there many assumptions that go into these models that are far from 100% certainties such that there is a margin of error around these forecasts.

KABOOM
2010-Aug-09, 08:18 PM
Absent a massive near-extinction event that would put HS back into the "stone age", I would think that SIGNIFICANT Homo Sapien evolution (at least the natural kind not spawned in the labratory) would largely be over. I say this because of the fact HS now occupies and travels to and inter-breeds across the entire species. Thus, the required "seperation" (that islands, rivers, mountain ranges use to provide) is no longer a buffer behind which mutations can materialize and be "interbred" amongst themselves. Mutations still occur but get co-mingled back into the pre-mutated gene pool because there is no longer any segregation function.

Trakar
2010-Aug-10, 12:59 AM
Absent a massive near-extinction event that would put HS back into the "stone age", I would think that SIGNIFICANT Homo Sapien evolution (at least the natural kind not spawned in the labratory) would largely be over. I say this because of the fact HS now occupies and travels to and inter-breeds across the entire species. Thus, the required "seperation" (that islands, rivers, mountain ranges use to provide) is no longer a buffer behind which mutations can materialize and be "interbred" amongst themselves. Mutations still occur but get co-mingled back into the pre-mutated gene pool because there is no longer any segregation function.

Orbital colonies provide an opportunity for such isolation. Not sure that this change without speciation shouldn't be considered evolution. They may be interbreedable with all other existing humans, but wouldn't be capcable of breeding with much earlier "pre(multiple)mutation" homo sapiens.

Trakar
2010-Aug-10, 01:08 AM
Regarding the amount of liveable runway left on Earth, I recall from reading Phill Plait's "Death from the Skies" that Sol will experience a change in its nuclear furnace that will kick off the expansion phase (pre-Red Giant) that is likely to render the Earth a barren rock without an atmosphere in ~ 1 billion years and that Earth may be incapable of housing complex life as short as 500 million years from now.

I am sure that there many assumptions that go into these models that are far from 100% certainties such that there is a margin of error around these forecasts.

Just from normal progression along the main sequence, we'll probably have our oceans evaporate off long ~ 1 billion years, we shouldn't have any big sequence change events in the Sun for almost 5 Billion years. Yeah we'll probably find things uncomfortable significantly before then. MAin problem in about half that time is the loss of CO2, which will seriously hamper life as we currently know it.

http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=908