Man, I hate TED talks. I know there are some good ones, but like anything, 99% of them are crap, and the garbage gets gobbled up with the same fervor as the jewels.
So I get this blurb from a book publisher, promoting a new book coming out about evolution, by some guy whose main claim to fame seems to be that he’s a “TED all-star” (I looked a little deeper: he’s also a businessman who runs a biotech investment company). The email was titled “George Clooney’s wedding isn’t just unfair, it’s unnatural selection”, which set off alarms all over the place — klaxons and those whoop-whoop howling noises I’d hear from the fireboats on Puget Sound. (Actually, every morning my inbox produces a cacophony of bullshit, so this is nothing suprising.)
I was curious, though, so I read it instead of hitting delete.
When Amal Alamuddin, Lebanese-British lawyer and activist, married Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor George Clooney, it did more than signify the official merger of one of the world’s most powerful couples. The latest Clooney marriage is an example of unnatural selection and the changing course of human evolution at play.
Wait. What? What’s unnatural about that wedding? People often choose who they want to marry, and this man, who happens to be rich and popular, and this woman, who happens to be intelligent and well-educated, chose to get married to each other. What’s unnatural about it? What’s novel about this one mate choice that indicates that the course of human evolution is changing?
Nothing at all, of course. Except, maybe, that some guy has decided to jump on the same tabloid bandwagon that all the cheesy magazines are on, only with the twist that somehow this says something about “evolution”.
And it just gets more and more mundane.
In a new book EVOLVING OURSELVES (on-sale March 10) TED all-star Juan Enriquez and former Harvard professor Steve Gullans, show how our choice to pick smarter, more attractive mates and other decisions like having fewer kids or eating wider diets, have shifted the drivers of human evolution. Like George and Amal, we are no longer driven by the need to reproduce and survive. It may sound silly, but it is our choices and technologies that are rapidly changing the fate of not just our kids and grandkids, but our entire species. We are already seeing symptoms of rapid evolution in the exponentially increased outbreaks of autism, allergies, and obesity in children.
OK, so 10,000 years ago, our ancestors had no interest in picking smart or attractive mates? There’s this whole gigantic literature on mate selection in chimpanzees and beetles and birds, but apparently Enriquez has just discovered this remarkable property of modern human beings, that unlike their distant ancestors, they actually take an interest in who they copulate with.
I really don’t understand the nonsense about
we are no longer driven by the need to reproduce and survive. You don’t need to do either; you can lie down and die, or never have children, and you won’t leave descendants to contribute to the species in the future. That was true in the past, it’s true now.
He also seems to be using “evolution” as an empty buzzword. Why are
exponentially increased outbreaks of autism, allergies, and obesity in children symptoms of
rapid evolution? For one thing, I don’t think “exponential” means what he thinks it means, and for another, I don’t know that there is any evidence that these represent any changes in the frequency of alleles in our population.
This was all noise. So I thought I’d tune in to the all-star TED talk by Juan Enriquez to see if he said anything worthwhile there.
No, he doesn’t.
He rambles. He talks about the economy. He briefly touches on a series of new biological techniques, robotics, and engineering. None of it is coherent, or addresses the title of his talk,
The next species of human. But then, like all TED talks, it has to wrap up with some grand, sweeping techno-triumphalism so the wealthy audience can applaud themselves.
I think what we’re going to see is we’re going to see a different species of hominid. I think we’re going to move from a Homo sapiens into a Homo evolutis. And I think this isn’t 1,000 years out. I think most of us are going to glance at it, and our grandchildren are going to begin to live it. And a Homo evolutis brings together these three trends into a hominid that takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of his species, her species and other species. And that, of course, would be the ultimate reboot.
We’ve always been an evolving species, as has every species on earth. Every generation changes slightly from the previous one. Every generation of humans has complained about how the damned kids aren’t following in the footsteps of their forefathers. When people invented horse collars or horseless carriages, or switched from bronze spears to iron, there were gushing gung-ho advocates who shouted that this will change everything and humanity will never be the same.
Nope, it won’t. It takes a TED talk to elevate to the status of visionary someone who looks at one stretch of a river and declares, “Look! It’s flowing!”
This bullshit has 2.5 million views.
My email asked if I wanted to interview Enriquez. No, I don’t. Thanks.