Ideas from books, articles & podcasts.
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This has been one of my most favourite long-reads yet! As an A-Level biology student, I really resonated with the explanations and was able to understand how different aspects, some surprising, can possibly tie in to our development as a whole. It is a big question that surprisingly isn't asked enough- instead of our lifestyles, how will we change in the future?
Reader Question: "If humans don’t die out in a climate apocalypse or asteroid impact in the next 10,000 years, are we likely to evolve further into a more advanced species than what we are at the moment?" Harry Bonas, 57, Nigeria
Humanity is the unlikely result of 4 billion ...
It’s hard to predict the future. The world will probably change in ways we can’t imagine. But we can make educated guesses. Paradoxically, the best way to predict the future is probably looking back at the past, and assuming past trends will continue going forward. This suggests some surprising t...
Organisms reproduced imperfectly.
Mistakes made when copying genes sometimes made them better fit to their environments, so those genes tended to get passed on.
More reproduction followed, and more mistakes, the process repeating over billions of generations.
Finally, Homo s...
We will likely live longer and become taller, as well as more lightly built. We’ll probably be less aggressive and more agreeable, but have smaller brains. A bit like a golden retriever, we’ll be friendly and jolly, but maybe not that interesting. At least, that’s one possible future. But to unde...
No; other things just drive it now.
Evolution isn’t so much about survival of the fittest as reproduction of the fittest. Even if nature is less likely to murder us, we still need to find partners and raise children, so sexual selection now plays a ...
We’re also facing new selective pressures, such as reduced mortality. Studying the past doesn’t help here, but we can see how other species responded to similar pressures.
Evolution in domestic animals may be especially relevant – arguably we’re becoming a kind of domesticated ape, but curi...
Humans will almost certainly evolve to live much longer.
Life cycles evolve in response to mortality rates; when they are high, animals must reproduce young, or might not reproduce at all.
There’s no advantage to evolving mutations that prevent ageing or cancer – you ...
As we’ve grown taller, we’ve become more gracile.
Over the past 2 million years, our skeletons became more lightly built as we relied less on brute force, and more on tools and weapons.
As farming forced us to settle down, our lives became more sedentary, so our bone density decreased...
Our ancestors had to slaughter antelopes and dig roots; later they tilled and reaped in the fields.
For manual laborers e.g. farmers, fisherman, lumberjacks – machinery such as tractors, hydraulics and chainsaws now shoulder a lot of the work.
As physical strength becomes less necess...
After people left Africa 100,000 years ago, humanity’s far-flung tribes became isolated by deserts, oceans, mountains, glaciers and sheer distance.
In various parts of the world, different selective pressures – different climates, lifestyles and beauty standards – caused our appearance to e...
With civilisation’s rise and new technologies, these populations were linked again.
Wars of conquest, empire building, colonisation and trade – including trade of other humans – all shifted populations, which interbred. Today, road, rail and aircraft link us too.
Bushmen would walk 40...
Sexual selection will further accelerate the evolution of our appearance.
With most forms of natural selection no longer operating, mate choice will play a larger role.
Humans might become more attractive, but more uniform in appearance. Globalised media may also create more uniform s...
It could be that fat and protein were scarce once we moved to farming, making it more costly to grow and maintain large brains. Brains are also energetically expensive by burning ~20% of our daily calories.
In agricultural tribes with frequent famine, a big brain may be a liability. Maybe h...
Or maybe living in a large society of specialists demands less brainpower than living in a tribe of generalists.
Stone-age people mastered many skills – hunting, tracking, foraging for plants, making herbal medicines and poisons, crafting tools, waging war, making music and magic.
Changing social patterns will change personalities.
Humans live in much larger groups than other apes, but in today’s world people living in vast cities of millions.
In the past, our relationships were necessarily few, and often lifelong, but now we inhabit seas of people, moving ofte...
So far, I’ve mostly taken a historical perspective, looking back. But in some ways, the future might be radically unlike the past. Evolution itself has evolved
One of the more extreme possibilities is directed evolution, where we actively control our species’ evolution
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The human brain shrank in size about 3,000 years ago. Scientists may have found an explanation by studying ants.
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