Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality, how will humans change in the next 10,000 years? - Deepstash

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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?

BIGTHINK

Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality, how will humans change in the next 10,000 years?

Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality, how will humans change in the next 10,000 years?

bigthink.com

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Background

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 ...

How To Make Predictions?

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...

Introduction

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...

Introduction cont.

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...

I. The end of natural selection?

Some scientists have argued that civilisation’s rise ended natural selection.

It’s true that selective pressures that dominated in the past (

Did Evolution Stop?

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 ...

The Process Has Already Started

As our diets changed to include grains and dairy, we evolved genes to help us digest starch  and milk.

When dense cities created conditions for diseas...

New Selective Pressures

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...

Computers as a Selection Pressure

Computers also provide an entirely new selective pressure.

As more and more matches are made on smartphones,...

II. Lifespan

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 ...

Application of Lifespan To The Human Context

Even before civilisation, people were unique among apes in having low mortality and long lives.

Hunter-gatherers armed with spears and bows could defend against predators; 

Better Medicine and Nutrition

In the past 200 years, better nutrition, medicine and hygiene reduced youth mortality to under 1%  in most developed nations and soared life expectancy to at least 

III. Size, and strength

Animals often evolve larger size over time; it’s a trend seen in tyrannosaurs, whales, 

More Gracile Structure

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...

Change in Physical Labour

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...

Jaws and Teeth

Our jaws and teeth also got smaller.

Early, plant-eating hominins had huge molars and mandibles for grinding fibrous vegetables.

As we shifted to meat, then started cooking food, jaws and teeth shrank.

Modern processed fo...

IV. Beauty

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...

A World of Hybrids

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...

More Attractive, Uniform Humans

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...

V. Intelligence

Last, our brains and minds, our most distinctively human feature, will evolve, perhaps dramatically.

Over the past 6 million years, hominin brain size roughly tripled, suggesting selection for big brains driven by tool u...

Why Brain Size Has Decreased?

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...

Specialists Demand Less Skills and Brainpower

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.

Mod...

Is Brain Size Everything?

No: elephants and orcas have bigger brains than us, and Einstein’s brain was 

Linking Brain Size to Domesticated Animals...

Curiously, domestic animals also evolved smaller brains . Sheep lost 24% of their brain mass after domestication; for cows, it’s 26%; dogs, 30%.

This raises an unsettling possibility. Maybe being more willing to passively go with the flow,...

VI. Personality

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...

Social Patterns and Mental Health

Perhaps because of this, increasing numbers of people suffer from psychological issues such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. Many turn to alcohol and other substances to cope.

Selection against...

VII. New species?

There were once nine human species, now it’s just us. But could new human species evolve?

For that to happen, we’d need isolated populations subject to distinct selective pressu...

It has partially happened already...

In the past, religion and lifestyle have sometimes produced genetically distinct groups, as seen in for example in the Jewish and Gypsy populations.

Today, pol...

VIII. Strange new possibilities

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

Altering Our Children's Genome

Going forward, we’ll do this with far more knowledge of what we’re doing and more control over the genes of our descendants.

We can already screen ourselves and 

Conclusion

Discussions of human evolution are usually backward looking, as if the greatest triumphs and challenges were in the distant past.

But as technology and culture enter a period of 

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