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jkmccrann
2005-Oct-25, 04:49 PM
Evolution is an amazing phenomenon, and to suggest the end of evolution is for me at least, making a big call. Isn't our own tampering with ourselves and others itself contributing to a form of evolution?

Edit: to correct grammar.

jkmccrann
2005-Nov-17, 04:39 PM
Actually, given further thought to this issue, I would argue that although evolution is a continuing phenomenon, the current situation we find ourselves in is most likely an evolutionary pause.

It hasn't halted, and nor, I believe, will it, but for the past few centuries, and indeed for the forseeable future, evolution, at least as a function of natural selection, will be in a state approximating stasis.

I mentioned this on an unrelated thread, but given the level of global inter-connectedness we currently experience, the world of today can be compared to the island of 10,000 years ago in terms of its evolutionary relativity. As long as things stay as they are in terms of our own connectedness, evolution will inevitably be slowed down to a level comparative to what it would have been thousands of years ago in an isolated enclave, or island.

Only with true inter-stellar adventurism is it likely to start ramping up again, at least in relation to humanity. But, and of course this is a huge but, the effects of our technological advances on our evolutionary direction are obviously going to be huge and, one would think, ongoing. I am separating that and those effects from the natural selection part of evolution, which has, I believe, inevitably tapered off over the past few centuries as civilisation has advanced and our inter-connectedness increased.

Does anyone else out there share this sort of viewpoint? Particularly in relation to achieving inter-stellar capabilities and the possible effect that will induce upon our evolution.

Philip A
2005-Nov-18, 07:56 AM
I'm not sure that we can rule out evolutionary pressures on Earth yet. With our climate going through a period of change we can't say what Earth will be like in a few hundred years. Or some unforeseen catastrophic event.

captain swoop
2005-Nov-18, 09:57 AM
As long as there is imperfect replication there will be evolution.

TravisM
2005-Nov-18, 04:15 PM
And time scales way above 100 years are required to make any kind of informed judgment...

Kesh
2005-Nov-18, 06:45 PM
Evolution continues unabridged. It's simply that we are capable of changing our environment and, thus, changing the pressures on our species. Evolution does not end, it simply makes a slight turn as we apply pressure to ourselves.

aurora
2005-Nov-18, 07:46 PM
Humans have been a large influence on other creatures for many centuries, or millenia. We have done this by changing the environment (many ecosystems in ancient times were altered by human caused fires), by selecting for certain traits in animals and plants, and more recently, by genetic alterations.

There's way too many examples to name.

Let's just consider one, the corn plant. Humans derived corn from a kind of grass, and continue to "improve" it.

Swift
2005-Nov-18, 08:18 PM
jkmccrann, are you talking about the end of human evolution or the end of all evolution?

If you are talking about the end of all evolution, I would strongly disagree. Even if it is humans that are changing the environment (as opposed to natural changes) organisms are still evolving to fit the new environment.

If you are talking about human evolution, I think I disagree, but I am a little unsure. I don't understand why you think evolution has "paused" and what evidence you see for this. Is it that our environment is changing so little (because humans shape their own environment) that there is no driver for change? Is it that because humans do things that counter some genetic traits (like wearing eyeglasses so you can see, even though you inherited bad eyes)? I would still say there are evolutionary pressures.

I think it is an interesting discussion; maybe you could clarify your position.

Jerry
2005-Nov-18, 10:03 PM
One could make an argument that our DNA is so full of rubbish, we would be better of completely re-engineering the human zigot. No! I don't beleive that! But it is a thought that merits discussion - on another site or subtitle - this is an astonomy board!

Ilya
2005-Nov-19, 12:10 AM
I would say that humans had not so much ended their own evolution, as rendered it unimportant. Two facts: a) successful people today tend to have FEWER children than unsuccessful ones; b) those successful people have a disproportionate effect on the minds and viewpoints of the many children of unsuccessful people.

IOW, success in the modern society results less in propagating one's genes than in propagating one's memes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme) -- and the latter is more important. Here is example: imagine that all humans in the world suddenly became sterile, but at the same time we found a way to "uplift" (David Brin's term) chimpanzees and gorillas to full sentience. In such a scenario species Homo sapiens would become extinct, but humanity, with its art, science, religion, philosophy, and yes, crime and wars (chimpanzees are far from pacifist pastorals) would continue. Clothing fashions would change a lot, though :)

Granted that's an extreme example, but the reality is not too different. Among wild animals every new generation is sired by a small number of the previous generation's most successful members. Among humans every new generation is shaped by a small number of the previous generation's most successful members. And whether these influential humans have any children themselves is unimportant -- indeed, they have proportionally few.

Ilya
2006-Sep-21, 02:06 AM
Just felt like resurrecting an old thread - for a very selfish reason that no one responded to my previous post ;)

Nereid
2006-Sep-21, 02:18 AM
How long do you think it takes for evolution to have an effect, in Homo sapiens? What clearly documented evolutionary changes are there, in the human genome, since either anatomically or behaviourally modern humans first appeared on the scene?

Of all the people who are alive today, how many are living, now, with 10 km (say, or 100km if you prefer) of where they were born? Of where their (biological) parents were born? Why does this question matter (in terms of the evolution of Homo sapiens?

SirThoreth
2006-Sep-21, 03:07 AM
I would say that humans had not so much ended their own evolution, as rendered it unimportant. Two facts: a) successful people today tend to have FEWER children than unsuccessful ones; b) those successful people have a disproportionate effect on the minds and viewpoints of the many children of unsuccessful people.

You could argue that a separate way, though - that what society is holding up as a measurement of "success" is, in fact, the exact opposite of success from a biological standpoint. After all, the fewer kids you have, the less success you've had at reproducing your genes.



IOW, success in the modern society results less in propagating one's genes than in propagating one's memes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme) -- and the latter is more important. Here is example: imagine that all humans in the world suddenly became sterile, but at the same time we found a way to "uplift" (David Brin's term) chimpanzees and gorillas to full sentience. In such a scenario species Homo sapiens would become extinct, but humanity, with its art, science, religion, philosophy, and yes, crime and wars (chimpanzees are far from pacifist pastorals) would continue. Clothing fashions would change a lot, though :)


And from a philosophical example, you may be right. OTOH, the question you've now put on the table is "What does it mean to be human?" And still, from a biological aspect you'd consider homo sapiens to be a dead-end species.

Now, what I want to know is whether I'm the only anime nut around, or if someone else read the title as "End of Evangelion" at first glance. ;)

Doodler
2006-Sep-21, 03:52 PM
I think human evolution is at a pause for now. We've gotten beyond the point where we are defined by our environment, and we've gotten it into our heads we can make the environment adapt to us.

How long THAT lasts is anyone's guess.

Gillianren
2006-Sep-21, 06:51 PM
Remember that evolution isn't just about who lives or dies. It's about who reproduces, and reproduction selection's always in effect, even if we don't see the changes. Why would we expect to over such a short time frame?

Squashed
2006-Sep-21, 07:10 PM
I would say that humans had not so much ended their own evolution, as rendered it unimportant. Two facts: a) successful people today tend to have FEWER children than unsuccessful ones; b) those successful people have a disproportionate effect on the minds and viewpoints of the many children of unsuccessful people.

I wonder if since the less successful have more children and since deficiencies are coddled then are we not devolving rather than evolving or even just being evolutionary stagnant?

Memes, so you point out, can be passed on to later generations but how long have we known that war is bad but yet we continue to wage it?

So I see genetic degradation occurring which may not be offset by intellect and knowledge.

Doodler
2006-Sep-21, 07:14 PM
Remember that evolution isn't just about who lives or dies. It's about who reproduces, and reproduction selection's always in effect, even if we don't see the changes. Why would we expect to over such a short time frame?

Because we're less selective about reproduction than in the past. Kids born with disabilities are surviving long enough to reproduce, along the emergence of people willing to reproduce with them despite their phyisical and mental handicaps, are allowing those disabilities to be reintroduced to the gene pool. The proliferation of the luxury of compassion has altered the nature of the way we filter our potential partners. Civilization's lowering of the bar of survival viability has broadened the range of potentially viable reproductive candidates, removing a lot of the chokepoints that used to alter us over time.

Yeesh, ok, it makes sense, but that's a mush, lemme say it this way. The removal of civilized humans from the basic survival struggle has created an environment where there really could be someone for everyone, so no one is particularly excluded from the gene pool, or is forcibly removed from it through deliberate natural selection or some kind of rejection process. Luck (or lack thereof) is about all that's left to really work as a selection device.

Without the chokepoints of viability creating a filtering screen for the passing of genes from one generation to the next, the kind of evolution we're now subject to is purely random mutation, rather than any kind of directed adaptation.

Swift
2006-Sep-21, 07:43 PM
<snip>
I wonder if since the less successful have more children and since deficiencies are coddled then are we not devolving rather than evolving or even just being evolutionary stagnant?

There is no such thing as devolution, that implies that evolution has a direction (to "higher" organisms) and devolving is the opposite direction.

Ronald Brak
2006-Sep-21, 07:44 PM
Without the chokepoints of viability creating a filtering screen for the passing of genes from one generation to the next, the kind of evolution we're now subject to is purely random mutation, rather than any kind of directed adaptation.

But that's not what's going on. Evolution is change in allele frequency over time. Alleles (gene varities) are changing still. Right now there is strong selection in the developed world towards women who reach menopause later.

Many of what we think of as lousy genes such as genes that result in adult onset diabeties, short sightedness, crooked teeth were carried by hunter/gatherers but only express themselves amoung people with modern diets and lifestyles. Evolution has not gone wrong, we have just changed our environment.

People who have a sickly child requires a lot of care are less likely to have another child in these days of birth control. Those who have a happy and healthy first child are more likely to have another.

Some children are more difficult to care for than others. Parents of difficult children may opt not to have another. This may result in humanity becoming easier to get along with over time.

Cougar
2006-Sep-21, 08:56 PM
Isn't our own tampering with ourselves and others itself contributing to a form of evolution?
Absolutely. For the first time in the history of life on Earth, a species has the capability to reach directly into and modify the genetic makeup of itself and any other living thing on the planet. Does the pace of "natural" evolution move too slow for you? Hold onto your hat! Of course, the human response to this capability has so far been pretty timid... or cautious, and there are certainly lots of questions to be addressed, but eventually - within the next 100 years I expect - this capability will be producing some pretty big changes.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-21, 09:14 PM
Because we're less selective about reproduction than in the past. Kids born with disabilities are surviving long enough to reproduce, along the emergence of people willing to reproduce with them despite their phyisical and mental handicaps, are allowing those disabilities to be reintroduced to the gene pool. The proliferation of the luxury of compassion has altered the nature of the way we filter our potential partners. Civilization's lowering of the bar of survival viability has broadened the range of potentially viable reproductive candidates, removing a lot of the chokepoints that used to alter us over time.

Yeesh, ok, it makes sense, but that's a mush, lemme say it this way. The removal of civilized humans from the basic survival struggle has created an environment where there really could be someone for everyone, so no one is particularly excluded from the gene pool, or is forcibly removed from it through deliberate natural selection or some kind of rejection process. Luck (or lack thereof) is about all that's left to really work as a selection device.

Without the chokepoints of viability creating a filtering screen for the passing of genes from one generation to the next, the kind of evolution we're now subject to is purely random mutation, rather than any kind of directed adaptation.

I'm always surprised to see this argument. Sure, if the medical practices used in a fraction of the world's population for the last several decades were to be applied to the majority of the population, unchanged, for several tens of thousands of years, there would be an increase in traits that required medical intervention.

Excuse me if I think current medical practices will be considered archaic in less than a century, let alone many thousands of years. One of the more obvious uses of genetic engineering would be to correct issues that might otherwise require medical intervention. The problem is that genetic engineering can also be used in negative ways and fixing one problem may cause another. As usual, the situation will be complex, but regardless, we can't extrapolate based on current medical practices.

Doodler
2006-Sep-21, 09:18 PM
I'm always surprised to see this argument. Sure, if the medical practices used in a fraction of the world's population for the last several decades were to be applied to the majority of the population, unchanged, for several tens of thousands of years, there would be an increase in traits that required medical intervention.

Excuse me if I think current medical practices will be considered archaic in less than a century, let alone many thousands of years. One of the more obvious uses of genetic engineering would be to correct issues that might otherwise require medical intervention. The problem is that genetic engineering can also be used in negative ways. As usual, the situation will be complex, but regardless, we can't extrapolate based on current medical practices.

I'm hesitant to make the leap in assuming that the changes to an individual with a genetically correctable disability will be made in such a way that those changes can be passed on to their progeny.

Could be, could not be, that's an open question still. Not that we can't dream, but I'm not counting on anything that isn't yet in play.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-21, 09:28 PM
I'm hesitant to make the leap in assuming that the changes to an individual with a genetically correctable disability will be made in such a way that those changes can be passed on to their progeny.

Could be, could not be, that's an open question still. Not that we can't dream, but I'm not counting on anything that isn't yet in play.

What dream? We're already making genetic changes in the germline in animals, and that is easier than broad somatic cell changes in an individual. Also, people have started applying genetic counselling. If anything can be considered to be a given, use of genetic engineering in humans is a given. Of course, it will take time to develop and be accepted, but on the time scales we're talking about that's irrelevent.

It is certainly more probable than assuming current medical practices will continue unchanged for tens of thousands of years.

Doodler
2006-Sep-21, 09:43 PM
It is certainly more probable than assuming current medical practices will continue unchanged for tens of thousands of years.

Meet you halfway. What we will do to animals and what we will do to ourselves are two very different realms of thought.

Its also not correct to assume evolutionary changes require tens of thousands of years, there's at least one species of bird that has been documented undergoning a series of beak size changes in less than a century to adapt to altered habitat. If the impetus is there, evolutionary change can occur within a very few generations, so for humans, that could be less than a millenium, given the longer generational gap. How sacred will we hold the human genome? How far will we let ourselves be tweaked and experimented upon? Human medical technology hinges on a very overbearing ethical pendulum that tends to err on the side of caution. Some of the major leaps in the last century in terms of medical technology grew out of experimental data taken from two extremely unethical nations. We learned as much about virology and immunology from the Japanese war criminals working in Manchuria as we did about physiology from the Nazi butchers. Lacking those two nauseating sources of information, we could very easily have been 20-30 years behind where we are now, had we derived that knowledge ourselves through ethical means.

Look at the roadblocks being put up in front of stem cell research. Do you think those roadblocks would exist were it that some enemy state unleashed some kind of nightmare weapon that caused extensive genetic damage? Think of a limited nuclear exchange spiking cancer rates and genetic damage as a result of radiation exposure, heck, even a dirty bomb could result in extensive problems. Those ethical considerations would probably fold like rice paper against the desire to survive.

Human medical research moves forward at a slow crawl. In some cases, we'd sooner turn to the angels of our better nature to look beyond genetic flaws, than to pathologically seek to correct them.

Cougar
2006-Sep-21, 10:07 PM
We would think that genetically doing away with, say, schizophrenia would be a good thing. Or would it? (http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=415063&agid=2)

Ronald Brak
2006-Sep-21, 10:20 PM
Some of the major leaps in the last century in terms of medical technology grew out of experimental data taken from two extremely unethical nations. We learned as much about virology and immunology from the Japanese war criminals working in Manchuria as we did about physiology from the Nazi butchers. Lacking those two nauseating sources of information, we could very easily have been 20-30 years behind where we are now, had we derived that knowledge ourselves through ethical means.

Actually this isn't true. I can only think of one set of data produced from Nazi human experiments that was considered "useful" and that was on the survival times of humans in cold water. The allies thought it would be helpful in knowing how long downed pilots could survive. Of course they already had data on this so the more accurate data was not a great help. For the most part the results of Nazi experiments were not helpful as they were not science but lunacy. For example Dr Mengler thought cutting into a prisoner to see if his twin could feel the pain was a good way to advance human knowledge.

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 01:37 AM
Memes, so you point out, can be passed on to later generations but how long have we known that war is bad but yet we continue to wage it?
Not long at all. As recently as 1914, most people in Europe believed that war improves "the nation's spirit" (or some such), and that occasional war is a good thing. With a good reason, it terms of evolutionary theory, as applied to memes. Throughout almost all of human history war was very beneficial to the winners -- and the losers (also winning side's casualties) were in no condition to propagate their memes. Hence, more war.

And by "winners" I do not mean just kings and generals. Contrary to the "old men send young men to fight" canard, young men through history -- again, up until WWI, -- knew that being a soldier on victorious side was a good way to improve one's station in life and to marry a more attractive woman. And to tell heroic stories to one's grandsons, so they end up propagating the same meme.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 07:43 AM
Its also not correct to assume evolutionary changes require tens of thousands of years, there's at least one species of bird that has been documented undergoning a series of beak size changes in less than a century to adapt to altered habitat. If the impetus is there, evolutionary change can occur within a very few generations, so for humans, that could be less than a millenium, given the longer generational gap.


If there is an extreme and fairly specific environmental change, sure. We could lose a large fraction of the human population with the remainder more able to survive whatever that change is. Ever changing medical procedures that slightly increase various genes in the pool of a very large population would take far longer.



How sacred will we hold the human genome? How far will we let ourselves be tweaked and experimented upon? Human medical technology hinges on a very overbearing ethical pendulum that tends to err on the side of caution.


But people are already using genetic counselling! And, if somebody accepts your argument, we're affecting the genome anyway. Anyway, I can't seriously believe that genetic engineering (even for correcting obvious defects) will be actively avoided in the millenia to come. Actually, I think the bigger issue is what will be possible with it and even more advanced methods of changing humanity.



Human medical research moves forward at a slow crawl. In some cases, we'd sooner turn to the angels of our better nature to look beyond genetic flaws, than to pathologically seek to correct them.

We must have a different definition of a "slow crawl." There are some things I would like to move faster, but there has been astonishing advancement in the last few decades. Certainly on the timescales for these arguments, it is far from a slow crawl.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 07:48 AM
We would think that genetically doing away with, say, schizophrenia would be a good thing. Or would it? (http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=415063&agid=2)

Yup, which is why this isn't simple. But there are many genetic diseases that could be corrected.

clop
2006-Sep-22, 07:53 AM
Interestingly, I recently heard that the populations of many first-world countries are rapidly becoming more strongly selective for the genes that cause autism and autistic spectrum disorders, through the use of the internet as a dating medium.

clop

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 08:18 AM
Interestingly, I recently heard that the populations of many first-world countries are rapidly becoming more strongly selective for the genes that cause autism and autistic spectrum disorders, through the use of the internet as a dating medium.

clop

An interesting idea with some flaws (1) it assumes that internet use strongly selects for autism, (2) that internet dating is important for mate selection in a large fraction of the population and (3) the trend will continue long enough to be meaningful. After all, internet dating hasn't meaningfully existed for a generation. Who knows what will happen in the next?

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 12:25 PM
Frequency of autism was on the rise for decades well before Internet. My amateurish opinion is:

1. In pre-industrial, pre-OSHA society full-blown autism was a lethal trait. An autistic child would almost certainly not survive -- he'd get trampled by the first bull that came along. And if he did manage to grow to adulthood, he'd be seen as a seer or a "holy man".

2. Less extreme examples of autism spectrum (Asperger's, etc.) were not recognized as anything special. In 19th Century a man with Asperger's Syndrome would be seen simply as "acting like a man" -- aloof and emotionless, -- with some quirks. It was not until women began to demand and expect emotional involvement from their mates, that AS became a "problem."

3. When most marriages were arranged, there was no particular reason for two individuals on a spectrum to meet and marry. If by chance they did, their fully autistic children died early, thus limiting the gene frequency. Today people seek out mates similar to themselves, and AS men and women gravitate toward each other, whether consciously or not. All their children survive, increasing in the next generation the number of both autistics and AS.

Ronald Brak
2006-Sep-22, 12:42 PM
I've been told I have Asperger syndrome or am a high functioning autisic. It tends to make one avoid social interaction which frees up a lot of time to devote to developing skills in areas of interest. In the past this would have helped the Autistic avoid a lot of stupid fights that might have gotten him or her killed while his or her skills and intelligence would still have been valued by other members of the community. So an autistic person may not have been good at competeing for mates, but may have been good at attracting them.

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 01:50 PM
So an autistic person may not have been good at competeing for mates, but may have been good at attracting them.
High-functioning (Asperger Syndrom) autistic. As I wrote above, a fully autistic simply could not survive in pre-modern world. But otherwise, I agree completely. I think AS was actually an ADVANTAGE before 20th Century. A startified society where everyone's position is determined from birth is much easier for an Aspie to navigate than "follow your dreams" modern world. "Reading" people's motivations matters less when their actions are detemined by their station in life. And other aspects of AS -- deep narrow interests, relative lack of teenage rebelliousness, rigid adherence to procedures once learned, ability to concentrate on a task for very long periods of time, -- seem tailor-made for a midaeval craftsman. I suspect that autism/AS gene had popped up as random mutation for as long as humans existed and AS (or "high-functioning") manifestation survived nicely, but full autism manifestation did not begin to survive until 20th century. Like the gene for sickle-cell anemia, which is advantageous when only one copy is inherited, autism gene existed in balance with competing evolutionary pressures. Today the pressures which limited its spread disappeared.

clop
2006-Sep-22, 01:56 PM
I think the idea is that people with autistic tendencies tend to like using computers and the internet more than neurotypicals who prefer to socialise face to face, and therefore the advent of the internet as a way of meeting a prospective mate has accelerated the rate at which autistic genes are being amplified in the population.

clop

Ronald Brak
2006-Sep-22, 02:26 PM
I think the idea is that people with autistic tendencies tend to like using computers and the internet more than neurotypicals who prefer to socialise face to face, and therefore the advent of the internet as a way of meeting a prospective mate has accelerated the rate at which autistic genes are being amplified in the population.

Perhaps, but a couple of generations ago when computers were people who added up numbers and marriges were often aranged through church groups and families, there still would have been jobs and mates available for people with autistic tendencies. The only difference I guess is now some of them are making big bucks, but I don't think that necessarily translates into more children.

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 02:28 PM
I think the idea is that people with autistic tendencies tend to like using computers and the internet more than neurotypicals who prefer to socialise face to face, and therefore the advent of the internet as a way of meeting a prospective mate has accelerated the rate at which autistic genes are being amplified in the population.

While that may be true, widespread Internet has not been around long enough for that effect to manifest itself. It was not practical for meeting "prospective mates" until about 1995, so children born from such unions are at most 10 today.

Okay, if you count children, then yes, Internet may have already had a noticeable effect on the number of autistic spectrum people. It certainly had an effect on the number of autistic spectrum couples.

Nereid
2006-Sep-22, 05:23 PM
How long do you think it takes for evolution to have an effect, in Homo sapiens? What clearly documented evolutionary changes are there, in the human genome, since either anatomically or behaviourally modern humans first appeared on the scene?

Of all the people who are alive today, how many are living, now, with 10 km (say, or 100km if you prefer) of where they were born? Of where their (biological) parents were born? Why does this question matter (in terms of the evolution of Homo sapiens?Taking a leaf out of Ilya's book (http://www.bautforum.com/showpost.php?p=829746&postcount=11), I'd like to see an Ilya response to these questions (several others have already made comments that are directly relevant - Ronald Brak: "Evolution is change in allele frequency over time. Alleles (gene varities) are changing still", for example).

IMHO, most of the comments since Ilya's bump have failed to consider the actual mechanisms of evolution wrt the time scales over which it operates, let alone the realities of the species today (Van Rijn's (http://www.bautforum.com/showpost.php?p=830349&postcount=21) is a very notable exception).

For example: forget about selection of anything wrt internet dating; what percentage of the human population, capable of reproducing, has access to the internet?

Another example: what basis is there for optimism that there will never be another Dark Age (for 'western civilization'), or a collapse (Easter Island, Viking Greenland, or the Anasazi writ large, for example), or a Black Plague, or another PT or KT mass extinction, or ...?

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 06:19 PM
How long do you think it takes for evolution to have an effect, in Homo sapiens? What clearly documented evolutionary changes are there, in the human genome, since either anatomically or behaviourally modern humans first appeared on the scene?

Of all the people who are alive today, how many are living, now, with 10 km (say, or 100km if you prefer) of where they were born? Of where their (biological) parents were born? Why does this question matter (in terms of the evolution of Homo sapiens?
Nereid --

I am not sure why you want ME to answer these particular questions -- I am the one who claims that genomic evolution (in traditional sense, rather than genetic engineering) of the human species is basically irrelevant.

As for what percentage of human race has access to Internet -- according to this site (http://www.glreach.com/globstats/index.php3), about 12%. It does not break down Internet usage by age, but it is a safe bet that people of reproductive (and pre-reproductive) age are over-represented.

As for "optimism that there will never be another Dark Age," I do not recall anyone making such claims.

Doodler
2006-Sep-22, 06:35 PM
As for "optimism that there will never be another Dark Age," I do not recall anyone making such claims.

Van Rijn's assertions that medical technology will continue to advance unabated could be taken as such.

Nereid
2006-Sep-22, 07:05 PM
Nereid --

I am not sure why you want ME to answer these particular questions -- I am the one who claims that genomic evolution (in traditional sense, rather than genetic engineering) of the human species is basically irrelevant.Precisely.

I'm challenging just this assertion ... by asking for some basic inputs on human evolution (i.e. my questions).

For example, if the vast majority of people alive today are living within 100km of where their parents were born, what does that say about genomic evolution?

From studying clear examples of changes in allele frequencies, among various human populations, what does that say about how much evolution is happening today?
As for what percentage of human race has access to Internet -- according to this site (http://www.glreach.com/globstats/index.php3), about 12%. It does not break down Internet usage by age, but it is a safe bet that people of reproductive (and pre-reproductive) age are over-represented.And from data on changes in allele frequency in human populations, what does a change in internet access, from 0% to 12% in one generation, imply for the future of human evolution? How certain can one be of any conclusions drawn from this?
As for "optimism that there will never be another Dark Age," I do not recall anyone making such claims.These were meant to be examples of the sorts of things that might make any predictions of the cessation of human evolution (in the genomic sense) look downright silly. If you prefer, what scientific basis is there for any claim re the future (widespread use of genetic engineering; freedom from disease, illness, and poverty for all; no mass extinctions; no collapse of civilization; ....)?

And if the basis for such claims amounts to little more than 'blind extrapolation from the history of the first world, over the last generation or two', then could such claims be challenged by asking why they are scientific?

Squashed
2006-Sep-22, 07:25 PM
If we do tinker with our own genetics to force evolution and if we did succeed at creating a genetically superior human would that mean that this superior human will supplant the current human population?

Will the current human become the servant of the superior human?

Why should the current human be anything more than a novelty zoo item in the eyes of the superior human?

The TV show the "Planet of the Apes" was korny, in my opinion, but it is telling in the foresight that it presents.

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 07:45 PM
Precisely.

I'm challenging just this assertion ... by asking for some basic inputs on human evolution (i.e. my questions).

For example, if the vast majority of people alive today are living within 100km of where their parents were born, what does that say about genomic evolution?

From studying clear examples of changes in allele frequencies, among various human populations, what does that say about how much evolution is happening today?
OK, I will try to defend my assertion -- although I am not sure you understand what that assertion actually is.

1. Human beings had not significantly changed genetically over last 35,000 years, while living in isolated groups in drastically different environments. That alone is evidence that human evolution proceeds on the scale of at least tens of thousands of years, and more likely more slowly. Given that fact, quibbling over how many people today are living within 100km of where their parents were born is pointless. 5,000 years ago it was pretty much 100%. Same 1,000 years ago. Yet we are still the same species.

2. If civilization does not collapse, then genentic engineering will soon make natural selection utterly irrelevant with respect to humans. Even if civilization DOES collapse, the evidence of last 35,000 years is that humans in a primitive environment remain pretty much as they are much longer than needed for civilization (and prevalence of mems over genes) to arise again.

3. As SirThoreth said, it is a philosophical position (opinion on definitions), but I do not regard biology as defining "human". To me, "human" means one's consciousness, the memes, the "software" if you like. Everything else is, ultimately, replaceable parts. As far as I am concerned, radical modification of human genome will not make us cease to be human, not even uploading one's consciousness into a computer or some other non-biological substrate. That's why I find the fact that successful peolpe have fewer children irrelevant. Genetically they may be failures, but memetically they are successes -- and it is memes that count. You may disagree with that statement -- it is after all an OPINION, not an empirical fact, -- but consider this. When Sun blows up into red giant, if it turns out that the only way our remote descendants can save themselves is by uploading their "software" into something non-biological, won't they be a greater "success" than all purely biological organisms that will have perished? You may claim that humans species will be extinct either way. I do not.

Ilya
2006-Sep-22, 07:54 PM
If we do tinker with our own genetics to force evolution and if we did succeed at creating a genetically superior human would that mean that this superior human will supplant the current human population?
Define "superior".

Superior strength and agility will not automatically make a race of masters -- technology is a great equalizer in a fight. Neither will ability to survive naked in the snow or breath water. Superior intelligence? Well, define "intelligence"! Being able to hold entire stock market in one's head will go a long way to success in life, yet not enough to make a master race. Not even being a military genius -- which, BTW, is not all that different from being a chess genius.

What I think is much more likely is that human population will split into many specialized sub-species -- not "masters" and "slaves", but simply different.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 08:15 PM
Van Rijn's assertions that medical technology will continue to advance unabated could be taken as such.

I don't recall making any such assertion. I would assert, however, that it is folly to assume that the medical techniques used in a fraction of the population currently will be used, unchanged, in the majority of the population for the tens of thousands of years that would be required for this to have significant effects on the human genome.

I would also assert that, barring the collapse of civilization, substantial improvements in medical techniques are virtually assured, and at this point genetic engineering is far enough along that it takes little speculation to see that this will become very important.

However, I do not assert that there will be no dark ages, a collapse of civilization, or any other such.

Doodler
2006-Sep-22, 08:26 PM
Only said it could be taken as such. I didn't see anyone make the direct assertion, either.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 08:32 PM
2. If civilization does not collapse, then genentic engineering will soon make natural selection utterly irrelevant with respect to humans.


I disagree with this. Natural selection is always there, even with genetic engineering. The difference is we could make conscious (and hopefully well informed and intended) changes that would affect natural selection. One of the dangers of the technology is that it could be used to change humanity in ways that make it less capable of survival.

Swift
2006-Sep-22, 08:46 PM
<snip>
3. As SirThoreth said, it is a philosophical position (opinion on definitions), but I do not regard biology as defining "human". To me, "human" means one's consciousness, the memes, the "software" if you like. Everything else is, ultimately, replaceable parts. As far as I am concerned, radical modification of human genome will not make us cease to be human, not even uploading one's consciousness into a computer or some other non-biological substrate. That's why I find the fact that successful peolpe have fewer children irrelevant. Genetically they may be failures, but memetically they are successes -- and it is memes that count. You may disagree with that statement -- it is after all an OPINION, not an empirical fact, -- but consider this. When Sun blows up into red giant, if it turns out that the only way our remote descendants can save themselves is by uploading their "software" into something non-biological, won't they be a greater "success" than all purely biological organisms that will have perished? You may claim that humans species will be extinct either way. I do not.
A very interesting idea - I'll have to think on it more, but at this point I would tend to agree. I suspect that the whole issue of what is a human is already a key issue in society (dealing with such issues as abortion, right-to-die, etc. - which I won't go into for political reasons) and the importance and complexity of the issue will increase.

John Varley, and other science fiction writers, have explored this idea. In Varley's future universe, there are a variety of humans, some totally biological (both unmodified and genetically engineered), some partially biological - part mechanical, some mechanical but human-like (think Data), and some mechanical and physically not human-like (intelligent interstellar probes, for example). But their consciousness is all human.

The idea that success may not just be measured by number of direct decendents is within the realm of biology. Look at other social animals, such as wolves and naked mole rats, where "uncles/aunts" and other relatives do not produce offspring, but help raise the offspring of a few pack leaders, who share some genetic material with the uncles.

I understand that you are taking this further, into memes and social aspects. As you say, the question is the relative importance of memes and genes in the future of the human race.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-22, 09:02 PM
These were meant to be examples of the sorts of things that might make any predictions of the cessation of human evolution (in the genomic sense) look downright silly. If you prefer, what scientific basis is there for any claim re the future (widespread use of genetic engineering; freedom from disease, illness, and poverty for all; no mass extinctions; no collapse of civilization; ....)?


I suppose it depends on what you mean by evolution. If genetic engineering is used extensively for a large portion of the population, it changes the driver for evolution. Instead of (usually small) chance mutations you have deliberate designed alterations that could be small or large. Certainly, natural evolution is still possible and natural selection always applies. However, the scope of genetic change could be much larger over short time periods than would happen through evolution.

And, designing changes is very different from basic evolution. We might see wholesale redesign of the body. This could improve humans in ways that would never happen by evolution, or could lead to destruction if bad choices are made.

Gillianren
2006-Sep-22, 11:03 PM
We would think that genetically doing away with, say, schizophrenia would be a good thing. Or would it? (http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=415063&agid=2)

It's my understanding that most of his best work was done when the illness was at least somewhat in abatement. Also . . . his work is probably better for society in general, but I, personally, have a hard time looking at it that impersonally.

Nereid
2006-Sep-22, 11:38 PM
OK, I will try to defend my assertion -- although I am not sure you understand what that assertion actually is.

1. Human beings had not significantly changed genetically over last 35,000 years, while living in isolated groups in drastically different environments. That alone is evidence that human evolution proceeds on the scale of at least tens of thousands of years, and more likely more slowly. Given that fact, quibbling over how many people today are living within 100km of where their parents were born is pointless. 5,000 years ago it was pretty much 100%. Same 1,000 years ago. Yet we are still the same species.This illustrates the importance of agreeing on the meaning of the key terms in our discussion.

The timescale for evolution, as measured by speciation, is very different from the timescale as measured by changes in allele frequencies.

As you correctly point out, for large mammals, the former is measured in millions of years; but I think you seriously misunderstand the latter.

For example, the Finns are blue-eyed and blond-haired, and, as a population, have a number of unusual health problems. A study of their genes (allele frequencies) suggests that this is due to a population bottleneck, as well as genetic drift and adaptation, all of which took place in less than 10,000 years. (there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of such examples).

A more modern example is lactose intolerance - the tolerance apparently arose in populations in which animal husbandry combined with the consumption of cow/goat/sheep milk by adults was the cultural norm. For those populations which did not have such an aspect of their culture, no lactose tolerant gene (or allele), hence 'Chinese adults can't/won't drink milk/eat yoghurt' (etc).

Another example are the several different genetic 'defences' to malaria - apparently they arose independently, and at quite different times.

And today? It's too soon to say, but there are pointers - some people don't develop AIDS, even though they clearly are HIV infected. In places where HIV infection is widespread, is there a strong selection pressure in favour of those who are 'immune'?

So, a question: can you please state, as clearly as you can, what you mean by 'evolution', wrt Homo sapiens?
2. If civilization does not collapse, then genentic engineering will soon make natural selection utterly irrelevant with respect to humans.And you are prepared to defend this assertion?
Even if civilization DOES collapse, the evidence of last 35,000 years is that humans in a primitive environment remain pretty much as they are much longer than needed for civilization (and prevalence of mems over genes) to arise again.And you are prepared to defend this assertion?
3. As SirThoreth said, it is a philosophical position (opinion on definitions), but I do not regard biology as defining "human". To me, "human" means one's consciousness, the memes, the "software" if you like. Everything else is, ultimately, replaceable parts. As far as I am concerned, radical modification of human genome will not make us cease to be human, not even uploading one's consciousness into a computer or some other non-biological substrate. That's why I find the fact that successful peolpe have fewer children irrelevant. Genetically they may be failures, but memetically they are successes -- and it is memes that count. You may disagree with that statement -- it is after all an OPINION, not an empirical fact, -- but consider this. When Sun blows up into red giant, if it turns out that the only way our remote descendants can save themselves is by uploading their "software" into something non-biological, won't they be a greater "success" than all purely biological organisms that will have perished? You may claim that humans species will be extinct either way. I do not.Well, this assertion rather heavily depends on the validity of this 'meme' idea, does it not?

But we don't have to go anywhere so far into the future as the Sun going red giant, the geological/biological trajectory of life on Earth points to a return to the Age of Bacteria, well within 500 million years (and possibly within 200 million years) - conditions on this planet will wipe out most/all eukaryotes well before the Sun goes red giant (and multicellular lifeforms sooner).

But I should ask - are you prepared to defend your utopian (?) assertions?

Nereid
2006-Sep-22, 11:54 PM
I suppose it depends on what you mean by evolution. If genetic engineering is used extensively for a large portion of the population, it changes the driver for evolution. Instead of (usually small) chance mutations you have deliberate designed alterations that could be small or large. Certainly, natural evolution is still possible and natural selection always applies. However, the scope of genetic change could be much larger over short time periods than would happen through evolution.

And, designing changes is very different from basic evolution. We might see wholesale redesign of the body. This could improve humans in ways that would never happen by evolution, or could lead to destruction if bad choices are made.As of today, I think the 'if' is unrealistic ... in the US, there are what, ~50 million people without health insurance; there are, what, <1 billion people living in 'first world' (aka 'advanced') economies; there are billions without access to safe drinking water, to basic sanitation, let alone to primary school education or basic health care. The global response to AIDS/HIV is, I think, a much clearer indication of how scarce resources will be allocated to such things as genetic engineering than the number of MRI machines deployed in local hospitals.

Or, look at eradication campaigns: smallpox is gone (cross fingers), but polio, malaria, chollera, yellow fever, schistosomiasis, TB, .... are not (indeed, some, like TB, are making a comeback, due to {insert your favourite reason here}). Yet all the basics are understood - the transmission, the prophylaxis, the psychology, the cost/benefits, the ...

More fundamentally, there is ignorance. For example, until quite recently, most of the genome was thought to be 'junk DNA' - it didn't (apparently) code for genes. But lately, it has become clear that at least some part of this supposed 'junk' isn't (it regulates gene expression, for example). So, to return to an earlier question, upon what scientific basis does the utopian optimism rest?

SirThoreth
2006-Sep-23, 12:21 AM
Well, this assertion rather heavily depends on the validity of this 'meme' idea, does it not?


Oh, no doubt. Whether talking about memetics, or asking for the definition of "human", we're talking about areas tht aren't clearly defined, and that are often major points of contention, both between different societies, and even within a society.

Cougar
2006-Sep-23, 02:48 AM
It's my understanding that most of [Nash's] best work was done when the illness was at least somewhat in abatement.
Well, yes, you're likely right. Nevertheless, as pointed out in that article, when Nash was asked....

How could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical proof...how could you believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages? How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world? How could you...?"

Nash looked up at last and fixed Mackey with an unblinking stare as cool and dispassionate as that of any bird or snake. "Because," Nash said slowly in his soft, reasonable southern drawl, as if talking to himself, "the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously."


Also . . . his work is probably better for society in general, but I, personally, have a hard time looking at it that impersonally.
My point was, I believe schizophrenia is a genetic "disorder", by most accounts, and as I recall it was an article in Nature that investigated the question why it had apparently not been selected against. And the finding was that some percentage of those with this "affliction" had these extraordinary mental abilities. Well, that's undoubtedly oversimplistic, but I hope I've gotten the general idea across.

Gillianren
2006-Sep-23, 05:54 AM
My point was, I believe schizophrenia is a genetic "disorder", by most accounts, and as I recall it was an article in Nature that investigated the question why it had apparently not been selected against. And the finding was that some percentage of those with this "affliction" had these extraordinary mental abilities. Well, that's undoubtedly oversimplistic, but I hope I've gotten the general idea across.

I understand, but I've known a few schizophrenics. Life isn't easy for them.

Van Rijn
2006-Sep-23, 07:33 AM
As of today, I think the 'if' is unrealistic ... in the US, there are what, ~50 million people without health insurance; there are, what, <1 billion people living in 'first world' (aka 'advanced') economies; there are billions without access to safe drinking water, to basic sanitation, let alone to primary school education or basic health care.

The global response to AIDS/HIV is, I think, a much clearer indication of how scarce resources will be allocated to such things as genetic engineering than the number of MRI machines deployed in local hospitals.


As of today, I would agree, but I am not concerned with this day. The technology is in the early stages, I would expect to see germline corrections of some serious single gene issues come into general use within the next several decades. More significant changes would come later.

Also, there is a trend of increasing wealth. Assuming no great collapse due to war or other nasty event, I would expect advanced medical technologies would be available to an increasing fraction of the population.

More interesting is how far new genetic additions or modifications might spread within several generations of the initial introduction to a fraction of the population.



More fundamentally, there is ignorance. For example, until quite recently, most of the genome was thought to be 'junk DNA' - it didn't (apparently) code for genes. But lately, it has become clear that at least some part of this supposed 'junk' isn't (it regulates gene expression, for example).


Yes, certainly, a great deal of research will be required for extensive genetic alteration. Then again, the increase of knowledge in the last couple decades has been remarkable and the rate of change in this area seems to be increasing.



So, to return to an earlier question, upon what scientific basis does the utopian optimism rest?

I'm not sure what you are referring to as "utopian optimism." I am certainly confident that the technology will be used, that prediction requires minimal extrapolation from current use in animals. I am by no means confident that the technology will be used well. Most likely, there will be positive and negative uses.

Nereid
2006-Sep-23, 07:02 PM
[Moderator Note]
[snip] But it is a thought that merits discussion - on another site or subtitle - this is an astonomy board!It seems this thread is out of place, here in the ATM section.

It is not about an ATM idea in astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, or space science; the ideas are speculative, and not addressable by application of scientific principles.

Unless a BAUT member can make a case that it remain here, in the ATM section, I will move it, to OTBB.

Please note that a case to remain in the ATM section should include an ATM idea which some BAUT member is willing to defend, and which can reasonably be expected to be challenged, scientifically.
[/Moderator Note]

Ilya
2006-Sep-23, 09:35 PM
.So, a question: can you please state, as clearly as you can, what you mean by 'evolution', wrt Homo sapiens?
I meant speciation.

And you are prepared to defend this assertion?
No, not particularly. Everything I wrote on this thread on the topic of genetics is of no great significance to me -- at least not to the point of spending time and effort on defending my position. Especially considering that it is not even my field. And I agree with you that this entire thread has little bearing to ATM.

Before I quit this thread, here is one more thought experiment to consider. Imagine that a race of aliens is discovered, and some Catholic priest decides to convert them -- and succeeds. You have aliens serving Mass, doing confessions, praying to Virgin Mary, etc. Then something bad happens to human race. Humans become extinct. Yet Christianity (specifically, Catholicism) meme continues. Wouldn't you say that a part of collective human software got uploaded into new hardware (okay, wetware), and continues to propagate and to influence the universe at large? To me that would mean that part of humanity survived. Not a part I particularly care about :), but a part nonethless.

Nereid
2006-Sep-24, 01:36 AM
Moved, from the ATM section.

Disinfo Agent
2006-Sep-24, 06:15 PM
Also, there is a trend of increasing wealth. Assuming no great collapse due to war or other nasty event, I would expect advanced medical technologies would be available to an increasing fraction of the population.There is also a trend of bankruptcy of social security systems, which may yet offset the former...

Kebsis
2006-Sep-24, 06:47 PM
I would say its unlikely that humans will be doing any evolving anytime soon. Humans seem to have become the dues ex machina of the evolutionary process; evolution happens in response to altering enviorments, humans have evolved the ability to alter the enviornment themselves.

Nereid
2006-Sep-24, 10:37 PM
Now that we're in OTBB, and not the ATM section, I'd like to point out that there is a great deal of muddled thinking in many posts in this thread.

For starters, defining evolution solely in terms of speciation is ridiculous - the timescales for speciation of large mammals is millions of years (+ or -), so our ability to detect any speciation events in Homo sapiens in a lifetime is laughable.

Moving to a more realistic definition of evolution (changing allele frequencies), the evidence is clear - evolution is alive and well in Homo sapiens, as far as the best tests we can do are concerned (they have a time-resolution of ~thousand years).

Then onto extrapolation of the experience of a minority of Homo sapiens individuals, over a generation or two: it may be nice to dream about the availablity of middle class, first world medicine for the bulk of the reproducing individuals of the large mammal Homo sapiens, but can you present even an OOM case that this is realistic, even in your children's lifetime?

A good place to start to develop such a case would be consider what percentage of the reproducing individuals of the large mammal Homo sapiens are among the residents of the US, and who are also without any health insurance (if you don't have health insurance in the US, what are your chances, even two generations from now, that you will have access to genetic engineering?). And what percentage of reproducing humans are residents of the US?

worzel
2006-Sep-25, 11:46 AM
For starters, defining evolution solely in terms of speciation is ridiculous - the timescales for speciation of large mammals is millions of years (+ or -), so our ability to detect any speciation events in Homo sapiens in a lifetime is laughable.
And further, by the usual definition a speciation event is only determinable in retrospect after two populations have diverged far enough that they can no longer interbreed. If they should come together again before that time or should one go extinct then there was no speciation event back when the population split. This also makes speciation events a rather arbitrary measure of evolution.