Friday, August 10, 2012

Human Evolution: Not a Linear Path

Scientists in Kenya recently discovered the skull of a person of the species Homo rudolfensis who lived approximately 1.85 million years ago. This person lived at the same time as Homo erectus and Homo habilus, according to fossil records. While this might not mean much to you and me, to scientists it means a change in thinking about human evolution. Essentially, it takes human evolution from a nice clean linear line to a pattern of developing prototypes that changed and died out according to how well they adapted to environmental conditions.

This is not particularly surprising, though. Fossils of dinosaurs, birds, reptiles, and non-human mammals all exhibit this pattern of trial-and-error evolution. It is hubris to think that only humans were exempt for some reason from what we already knew about evolution in general. In light of this new fossil evidence, it’s time to “man up” and admit that we are just one little part of an evolutionary system that began well before Homo sapiens developed on this planet.

Discoveries like these lead me to wonder where human evolution is currently heading. Physically, we now have longer life-spans, decreased infant mortality rates, and are taller than our predecessors on average. Intellectually, we have learned to cure illnesses, to ponder philosophical abstracts, and to use machines to decrease the amount of time we have to spend working simply to survive. Yes, life is good for Homo sapiens in the 21st century.

But where are we going? It is extremely difficult to determine an evolutionary future for humans when we’re sitting right in the middle of it. In terms of millions of years of evolution, “right now” is a tiny blip on the radar screen. I believe that all we can say for sure is that the evolution of the Homo sapiens species is far from complete. Human beings are capable of great deeds and vile atrocities. Will we adapt to get along with each other or will we destroy the species and allow evolution to start anew? What do you think?


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