The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, September 04, 2009

Evolution is so last Ice Age ...

Human evolution in the advanced world has slowed down or stopped, Professor Steve Jones will argue in a public lecture to be held in the McEwan Hall on Tuesday 22 September at 6pm. Prof Jones is a most engaging speaker [as I've said before], and places for this free but ticketed event are likely to go fast, so get yours now.

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In principle we can show definitively whether buiological evolution is or is not occurring. Traditional genetic observations (the sort of stuff Steve Jones knows about) like the ratio of heterozygotes to homozygotes and , linkage disequalibria (I love that jargon name! :)), and so on can gove big clues as to the presence of selection.

And we are now a couple of generations in to large-scale genetic testing. We are accumulating data at rapidly increasing rates. We might be able to compare gene frequencies in populations over time and actually observe whether they are changing or not.

A number of scientists feel otherwise:

"We used a new genomic technology to show that humans are evolving rapidly, and that the pace of change has accelerated a lot in the last 40,000 years, especially since the end of the Ice Age roughly 10,000 years ago," says research team leader Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah."

Uh huh, bio-evolution mebbe, but what about the evolution of human thought? It could be argued that the structure of human thought and consciousness has evolved considerably over the last century, but we are now faced with a highly contrived/regimented psycho-consumerism which is forcing our collective culture/overmind to devolve. Like Popper said, what one generation can gain the next can lose - there's no guarantee of permanence. Without conscious humans to protect and advance it, and it seems that psycho-consumerism relies on lots of people being partly asleep.

We have reduced the geographical segmentation, moved people around more, we should be tending away from speciation at least. And getting hybrid vigour as well.

"In his lecture Prof Jones will argue that the signs show - at least in the developed world for now - that human evolution has slowed down or stopped."
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I have to say that my heart sank when I read that the Daily Telegraph is one of Jones' paymasters. It made me think twice my assumption that there's nothing untoward in inferences opened by the above account of his topic; eg. that 'human evolution' is retarded because Jones will construe social development in social darwinistic terms so that he can draw a direct line to the biological sciences from the evident general conditions of social crisis; this would be philosophically tiresome, if not outright racist- which I don't expect from Jones, his unfortunate choice of journalistic paymaster notwithstanding. So I expect a muddle.

I've got my tickets, so I'll know soon enough. ;)

Aren't changes in population due to social factors fundamentally different from natural selection, such that they can't really be best described as evolution?

The global population is currently undergoing strong genetic selection for resistance to HIV
and the first world is also selecting for
- resistance to stress
- resistance to the deleterious effects of a diet high in fat, meat, sugar, and salt, and low in raw plant material.
- ability to produce healthy offspring later in life
- ability to cope with cultural complexity and an ever-accelerating rate of change.

How anyone can claim that human evolution has stopped -- that all current genotypes have and will continue to have essentially equal reproductive success -- baffles me. I think maybe they're confused, and really mean to claim that humans will never again split into two or more clades, speciate.

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