The End of Evolution

There are many metaphors used to describe various aspects of human evolution and the homo-sapiens era. One of my favorites involves a roll of toilet paper. A typical roll of toilet paper will have 400 squares, and if you assume that the entire roll represents the history of the earth, then the human portion of that history is equal to two millimeters of the very final square.

So, in other words, we just showed up and are essentially running the joint at this point. Humans, once we assumed our current form, began to burn up the evolutionary ladder with each succeeding generation and started getting better and better at mastering the environment. Humanity had to follow the same rules as the rest of the mammalian crowd for a long time which is how we variegated into lighter and darker, taller and shorter, and so forth. Those were evolutionary adaptations to the various climates we encountered.

But now, we’ve seized that process and are at its end. For example, we don’t need more body hair; we can just put on a coat. Big and tall has far fewer advantages over small and smart.

So, what does it mean for us and the earth now that humans have lifted off and left the natural order behind?

First, it obviously has meant a lot more of us. Our long war with the microbe has been won, by humans, and so the diseases and bacteria that laid us low has been mostly vanquished. The microbial check on our proliferation is gone. Our war with the elements has been won as well, along with the threat of any other predators. With very few exceptions, we’ve conquered the microbes, the elements, and the other animals, leaving only each other as a primary threat.

Greater numbers of people meant, for centuries, more war between people, but that problem appears to be in the process of getting solved as well. Unless nuclear weapons spread and wildly proliferate, the world is likely to become more peaceful as economic incentives to keep the peace take the place of incentives to launch a war. Future wars are likely to be for control rather than dominance and so fought with covert means and precision.

Now that we have conquered earth’s natural processes and survived the early phases of the implications of being in charge, I think humans are about to enter a new phase of development that will eventually result in a sort of interplanetary immortality. We are building more and smarter machines and they will take over most of the work for us in time. That will leave, as the only worthy goal, the extension of life, and that will require that we work out exactly what our mind is, separate from our brain if there is such a thing, and we’ll preserve our minds in perpetuity. If our mind is our brain, we’ll extend our brains. If our minds can’t function outside a body, which might be the case given how tightly woven the two are, then we’ll preserve the body with the brain and the mind, and all will exist to expand deep into the Universe as we know it.

The earth and its wisdom will always be with us, in the way that the writing or the ancients are with us now, but the end of the 14 billion year process of the earth that led to us is ending, and the era of perpetual human sentience is just getting started.

Unless the earth itself is destroyed before we can leave it, we’re going to join the other citizens of the Universe and make our presence known across the stars.