Here’s an article to make you wonder: Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality, how will humans change in the next 10,000 years?. In my case, what I wondered is who would write a long essay on the topic, because if I were to do it, it would be one line, either “I don’t know” or “Incrementally, probably imperceptibly.” But no, in this case it’s written by a “Senior Lecturer in Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology” — whoa, he’s qualified — but the answer is drivel.
Ten thousand years is nothing. Ten thousand years ago we looked roughly like we do now, and we have to go back a hundred thousand or more years before we might see some differences visible to the naked eye, and even those we wouldn’t be able to distinguish from environmental differences. Why would you expect major changes in the next ten thousand? Are you going to predict colossal environmental changes, which would make this a rather dire story? Again, no. It doesn’t talk about serious changes in climate, or catastrophic collapses of social structures…it’s all about mysterious trends that evolution predicts (it doesn’t).
So we get platitudes.
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 things about our future.
If we’re basing everything on “trends”, how could that suggest anything surprising? Isn’t it going to be just more of everything going in the same direction?
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 understand why I think that’s likely, we need to look at biology.
I’m at a loss. We’re going to be like golden retrievers? Why would you think we’re becoming less aggressive and more agreeable? I think he’s been reading Pinker.
I agree, though, let’s look at biology. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.
Some scientists have argued that civilisation’s rise ended natural selection. It’s true that selective pressures that dominated in the past – predators, famine, plague, warfare – have mostly disappeared.
Starvation and famine were largely ended by high-yield crops, fertilisers and family planning. Violence and war are less common than ever, despite modern militaries with nuclear weapons, or maybe because of them. The lions, wolves and sabertoothed cats that hunted us in the dark are endangered or extinct. Plagues that killed millions – smallpox, Black Death, cholera – were tamed by vaccines, antibiotics, clean water.
Would you believe that he wrote this in March of 2022? Pollyanna lives!
He goes on and on. We’re going to live longer. We’ll get taller. We’ll become more beautiful, thanks to sexual selection. The “trend” says that our brains will get smaller. We’ll become more conformist. But maybe we’ll speciate!
In the past, religion and lifestyle have sometimes produced genetically distinct groups, as seen in for example Jewish and Gypsy populations. Today, politics also divides us – could it divide us genetically? Liberals now move to be near other liberals, and conservatives to be near conservatives; many on the left won’t date Trump supporters and vice versa.
Could this create two species, with instinctively different views? Probably not. Still, to the extent culture divides us, it could drive evolution in different ways, in different people. If cultures become more diverse, this could maintain and increase human genetic diversity.
Aaargh. Is the current American political divide going to be lasting and worldwide? Does he think Trump is a trigger for a speciation event? I give up. This article is just too stupid.
If someone were to ask me to write such an article, my first response would be “go away.” If pressed, I would say that what matters are entirely contingent evolutionary responses to material conditions which we cannot predict and therefore can’t use to estimate changes to our genes. And if an editor suggested just extrapolating from past changes in the last ten thousand years, I would point out that they are assuming that the patterns are a product of inherent biological processes and assuming that environmental forces don’t exist, and neither assumption is likely to be true.
Like I say, my version of this article would be very, very short. I don’t understand the reasoning behind any scientist’s decision to accept such a commission.