Social Question

gamefu91's avatar

Why haven't humans evolved to a better species?

Asked by gamefu91 (588 points ) January 6th, 2011

This question just pops into my mind several times.Tell me what do you think about this,and if I m wrong?
Its been thousands of years since we humans, due to evolution, got differentiated from apes/chimpanzees whatever. Why haven’t we humans evolute to become some more better species than ‘HomoSapiens’? Thousands of years were not less for this,no?
We are just becoming better and better humans, maybe because we get our genes from both of our parents.Could this be because we are no more in ‘direct contact’ with nature? Because we have built houses,we have clothes,air conditioners,heaters etc. and in a sense have isolated ourselves from nature? And so we couldn’t adapt ourselves and evolve?
And I don’t see we humans transforming into some better species in future.Because we are not using our bodies to deal with nature,for example in summers we use air conditioners and in winters we use heaters and so on; so why should our bodies change? We may not evolve because we have stopped changing ourselves but the environment around us? Because we have reduced our interaction with the nature around us?

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54 Answers

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Oh, shit… :(

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@DrasticDreamer English isn’t his first language. ;)

@gamefu91 the word you want is “evolved.”

gamefu91's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie @DrasticDreamer hehe thanks for pointing out my mistake and English is my third language ^^
But I am not bad at English,its just that thoughts were rushing and my brain was much faster than I could type and see language mistakes.

lapilofu's avatar

Evolution is not progressive. Species don’t move from inferior to superior—that just isn’t how it works for any species. See the third point in this article (which is very popular today because of xkcd!)

However it should be noted that we have progessed as a species, whether due to “natural” causes or not. For instance, as as species we are more than a few inches taller than we were a thousand years ago.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@gamefu91 No, you’re really not bad at English. My fault… And I apologize.

But he’s right ^^ – in evolution, there isn’t “inferior” or “superior”. It just is.

gamefu91's avatar

@lapilofu Yeah I know.I meant if some better species will evolve from us and differentiate itself from us.We humans will always remain humans or atmost become better humans,like we evolved from apes but apes and humans form different species.

lapilofu's avatar

@gamefu91 That’s another misconception about evolution, actually. We did not evolve from modern day apes. Apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor which was neither ape nor human. Check out the second point in that same article I linked to earlier.

gamefu91's avatar

@DrasticDreamer No need to apologize for small little things,and their was a fault in my question as @TheOnlyNeffie pointed out :) .Moreover critics are our friends ;)

gamefu91's avatar

@lapilofu Okay so humans may or may not remain if evolution occurs somehow, but they may become ancestors to some other species like ‘better-than humans’ and ‘super-humans’.And devolution may also take place like decreasing the complexity of our brains,because our complex brains make us kill our fellow humans,we humans might be the only species who commit suicide which conflicts with Darwin’s survival theories,maybe?

Arbornaut's avatar

Good question, and ill start by saying yeah.. i reckon your onto something. There are no simple answers though, evolution simply ‘is’ and continues with us and our manipulations of our environments and ourselves as an integral part of it. We have made so many changes to the way we live in recent history that i find it sometimes hard to fathom. From our remarkable advances in technology and agricultural systems, right through to the dwellings we live in and the foods we eat. All of this has had profound effects on our lifestyles, providing us with ‘spare time’ we never had and the coolest luxuries and gizmos. But with all this comes a price, huge changes in diet, pollution, and increases in sedentary lifestyles seem to be leading us down the path to ill health. 50 years ago diabetes was unheard of and the increased rates of cancer in western society are nothing short of phenomenal, there is to me, a clear connection here. So maybe the question we should ask is not ‘why have we not evolved to something better’ but, who are we now and where are current trends leading us to for our future.

gamefu91's avatar

@Arbornaut Not every human is dealing with diabetes and other diseases.Only a part is suffering from ill health, and that maybe the major part.Their are still healthy people and they may over generations evolve to better and better.Like I read somewhere that some place in America holds the Guinness record for most heart diseases but some place in Africa had almost no heart diseases.

Arbornaut's avatar

? and…?

gamefu91's avatar

@Arbornaut what?
The question ‘why have we not evolved to something better’ still remains.Because not everyone is using gizmos,not everyone is having diabetes,not everyone has sedentary lifestyle.There are still people who are far away from such things like the tribal people,or villagers maybe.Their is a lot of diversity in humans itself.

Arbornaut's avatar

Of course, and that question will remain. Because we are only at a point in evolution and we are also only a part of a greater evolution of all things. We should be thankful for our unique position of consciousness and intelligence and try to use it to better our future development.

kess's avatar

Because the evolution you are expecting in impossible….

The Transformation that man will undergo is one in which each must take personal responsibility through knowledge.

There can be no transformation where ignorance reigns as it does with the present understanding of the evolutionary process.

talljasperman's avatar

Are we talking about having some X-men: like mutant powers…? Well some claim now to have them now

CaptainHarley's avatar

The human race is right on the cusp of taking charge of its own evolution… for better or worse. Genetic manipulation will be the order of the day, and there are going to be some rather unpleasant surprises before we gain control of it.

starsofeight's avatar

Makes you wonder about that whole evolution concept -

gm_pansa's avatar

I’m still agreeing with my mother, who once said: “We’re eventually going to turn into fat blobs with no spines.”

marinelife's avatar

Mostly, you are off on scale of time. Evolution occurs over a much longer time span that you have expressed.

Also, evolution comes about to save the species (to preserve our survival). Becoming better people may or may not do that.

I think we have changed quite significantly and improved from times past: in our attitude toward animals, toward women, and toward each other.

Why not even more? Probably because of the baseness of the material we started with. Our “dinosaur brains” still control much of our interactions with others.

Fyrius's avatar

Hey, we’re working on it.

First of all, thousands of years is less than the blink of an eye on the time scale of biological evolution, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we still look roughly the same way we did four thousand years ago. And maybe you’re right, and our detachment from our natural environment dampens the evolutionary process.
Well, I can’t say that’s not a good trade-off. Evolution stops its clumsy patching of our genome, and in return we get to not be horribly killed by wild animals, plagues or the onset of old age at thirty. We already have everything all the other animals evolve for anyway – the top of the food chain, personal safety and exponential population growth.
Screw evolution, we’ve got science.

And on that subject: we do have memetic evolution, which builds up knowledge instead, and technology, and things like that. Science and technology and society evolve a lot faster. We’re good at memetic evolution. It’s arguably the one thing we can do well that no other animal is any good at.

I think Humanity is constantly evolving into a better species. Even if our bodies aren’t, everything that defines us is constantly growing and improving.

iamthemob's avatar

@gamefu91 -

I think this is a great question the phrasing of which is throwing some people off. I’ll note again, just for clarity, that using the word “better” doesn’t work here, simply because of the implications of a general progressiveness. The problem with the concept of progressiveness is that the mechanisms of evolution are random. The effect of evolution seems progressive because of the adaptive aspects of it, and because we see where the randomness resulted in successful changes, or at least harmless ones, and not so much the ones that resulted in failure in our day to day lives.

One of the important things to remember is that the vast majority of species that have been alive on earth have gone extinct. Purpose-driven evolution would result in species just getting more and more adaptive. Random evolution tosses the dice, and about 1 out of a hundred times or so it’s producing something that will actually work.

@marinelife covered my other issue – the time frame.

But, I think the question is important because I believe there are three main mechanisms of evolution that no longer act on our species as they do on others, which may act to slow our evolution generally in comparison.

(1) Because medical science generally has increased our life spans significantly, and society has extended the adolescent period (in many cultures), our generational period (which is the important factor – not years but generations) has extended on average.

(2) Because we are less and less reproductively isolated (you are right to point out indigenous tribes as an exception), the likelihood of humanity branching into differentiated species is reduced. And, and this is just a guess really, I would wager that considering the reduced genetic variation in humans as compared to other species makes it more likely that those groups that are reproductively isolated won’t produce a branched variant that can survive, as negative inbreeding results are more likely.

(3) Natural selection depends on the species adapting to the environment, on some level. Because we’ve reached the point where we adapt the environment to suit us more and more (clothing, fire, irrigation and the modern extensions), we don’t feel the environmental pressures as much.

The above affect only potentially generation length, reproductive isolation, and environmental pressure. The sua sponte aspects of evolution are still clearly in play – genetic mutation, for example (I’d love to see me some X-Men). And who’s to say that the environment won’t open a can of whoop-ass on us that we’ll have to adapt to – this may result in different types of adaptation creating significant enough difference to count as two new races with us as a common ancestor. And as mentioned above, we can’t rule out the possibility of artificial selection of any sort.

Thanks for this one!

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

We are evolving. It’s just such a slow process. Hard to see from our perspective. With the new innovations over the last century, we may have skewed how nature intended us to evolve. We are still evolving though.

AstroChuck's avatar

I am a better species.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@AstroChuck

You’re a different species? Great! Now you can’t contaminate the genepool! Heh!

Fyrius's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet
“With the new innovations over the last century, we may have skewed how nature intended us to evolve.”
Nature does not intend things.
Evolution doesn’t look ahead. It works with one generation at a time. An adaptation stays in the gene pool only if it’s useful right now. If an individual has genes that are going to be useful a few thousand generations later, but that don’t do anything now, there’s nothing that makes that individual more likely to reproduce than the rest of the species.

So, no worries.

iamthemob's avatar

@Fyrius

“An adaptation stays in the gene pool only if it’s useful right now. If an individual has genes that are going to be useful a few thousand generations later, but that don’t do anything now, there’s nothing that makes it more likely to reproduce than the rest of the species.”

That’s not entirely accurate. Adaptations are just as likely to remain in the gene pool unless they inhibit an organisms ability to reproduce with other members of the species. Plus, there are plenty of negative features to many species that will remain and perhaps become dominant if it isn’t expressed or clear until a time after the individual would be of a reproductive age. There’s nothing adaptive about certain forms of cancer that are common later in life, but the genetic disposition towards developing such cancers persist because they develop after most have reproduced and passed them on.

Fyrius's avatar

@iamthemob
Well noted.
I was wondering whether I shouldn’t say an adaptation spreads across the gene pool only if it’s useful right now. Or more generally, an adaptation is successful if it’s directly useful. In the sense that it’s less likely to die out than average.
Well, you know what I mean. At any rate, there’s no selectional pressure to encourage a trait unless it’s immediately useful. There’s no long-term selection.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m sure we are evolving. We evolve in response to our environment, whether we make that environment or not.

Genes provide us with a variety of options so that we can respond to the environment. For example, our arms have the capacity to have big, strong muscles. If we exercise a lot, the genes follow the programming that helps us build big muscles. If we don’t exercise, the genes follow another program.

If we don’t need muscles that much—and in Western societies, that is the case, we might see our genes gradually losing that programming. We wouldn’t notice because we don’t need muscles. We have machines to do all that. The only people who would exercise that genetic capability are those who exercise, for whatever reason.

On a side note—it is important for humans to retain all kinds of capabilities, even those that are rarely used. We never know when we might need those capabilities. Like in a disaster that destroyed a lot of infrastructure, and we couldn’t get machines there, a person with muscles would be very important.

Now apparently there is some interaction between mitochodrial DNA or RNA (don’t know which) and the kinds of genetic programming that are brought out by the environment. I believe this interaction can result in evolution on a much shorter time scale. Some geneticist here could set me straight. I hope I haven’t made a total hash of it.

So given a lack of need for muscles in our environment; or, to use your example regarding air conditioning, our ability to be strong or to tolerate heat or cold might rapidly dissipate, perhaps to the point where it would be difficult to get it back when needed,

It’s an interesting thing how we adapt to our environment. Every year when it starts to get cold, I shiver at the thought of going out in the winter. Then, a month in, it doesn’t bother me at all, and I’m riding my bike in temperatures below freezing without feeling cold at all.

We are, no doubt, evolving on the long term as well. The most likely evolution is to our brains. Our brains give us extraordinary ability to survive, so we, as a people, will continue to get smarter and smarter and smarter, on average. That’s a form of evolution you can’t see from the outside.

Or maybe you could. Our skulls might get bigger, but I think they are at their limit in terms of us being able to be born. Still, there are c-sections, so maybe in the future, no one will be “of woman born.” Or maybe the response will be for skulls to start growing more rapidly after birth. Perhaps evolution will just find a way to make our brains more efficient within the confines of our skulls. Who knows what solution evolution will find?

So we are evolving all the time, I believe. Mostly in ways that are difficult to detect because the changes happen on such a long time scale (hundreds of thousands of years, not thousands). I don’t know if we are getting “better.” That’s a human judgment, and nothing that can be determined in an objective way.

However, I’m pretty sure we are enhancing our survivability and adapting more and better tools to deal with the environment we find ourselves in. Increasingly, that environment is one that we have modified. So in a sense, indirectly, we are messing with our own evolution. Soon we will be messing with our own evolution on a genetic level. We do it for other plants and animals already.

The your question will become much more important and viable. Humans will have to come to some kind of consensus about what a “better” human is. Of course, such a consensus will be impossible, so people will just start making changes on their own. We’ll have thousands of different genetic experiments going on. But hey! That’s ok. That’s what evolution is: lots of different experiments, each trying to find a better way to enhance survivability. Some of the experiments won’t work, and those people will die quickly. Others will prove to be more robust, and will be sold to humans more widely.

I’m half a century old. A little more. I believe we will see a market in genetic enhancements before I die. I hope so. I hope they find one that deals with cholesterol and weight and hypertension. That would be a gold mine! At least, in the West.

crisw's avatar

First of all, evolution doesn’t have goals. It isn’t about “getting better.” It doesn’t move towards “perfection.”

Secondly, humans are evolving, For example, those populations who had dairy animals in the past have a much higher rate of the genetic ability to digest lactose.

Thirdly, it’s all about reproduction. In the evolutionary sense, that’s all that matters. Evolution is all about perpetuating your genes. And this groaning world will attest to the fact that humans are spectacularly successful at that.

Rarebear's avatar

Man, @crisw beat me to it again.

She is absolutely right. Evolution is mindless. It doesn’t move to better species. Evolution is a change of a population of living organisms over time in response to envirnomental pressures. Period.

pizzaman's avatar

We are a great species already.

RocketGuy's avatar

Evolution could also be interpreted as becoming better at surviving. So there would be no “perfection”, just a better fit into a niche. The niche is always changing, so species have to change with it.

flutherother's avatar

Take a look around, we are evolving into fatter and fatter human beings.

RocketGuy's avatar

See? Better fit into a La-Z-boy.

Actually, humans’ evolutionary strategy is the use of knowledge to survive. Those who have a lot of knowledge do pretty well, and we pump our kids with knowledge in the hopes of ensuring their future survival. Our brains should be getting bigger, but seems we are using hard drives and the Internet to store all this info. Our next evolutionary step will be to connect our brains directly to this info.

YARNLADY's avatar

Homo Sapien is the latest in a long line of human type beings in the past eons. Early versions are known as Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis and several more. The evolution of humans doesn’t grow from one to the other, but rather each new version diverges from the old. source

It is similar to a computer language, version 1.0 doesn’t grow into version 2.0, but is supplanted by it. Another example would be one page with writing on it is set aside, and a second page is started. The first still exists for awhile, but the second is now in use.

The evolution process takes place over 100’s of thousands of years, not just 1 or 2 thousand.

crisw's avatar

@YARNLADY

I have to disagree with you.

“Homo Sapien is the latest in a long line of human type beings in the past eons. Early versions are known as Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis and several more.”

Not all of these are in the direct line of descent of Homo sapiens, some, like H, neandarthalensis are offshoots of the H. sapiens line, not direct ancestors. Remember, evolution is a bush, not an arrow. :>)

“It is similar to a computer language, version 1.0 doesn’t grow into version 2.0, but is supplanted by it.”

Actually, the changes between one species and the next are usually slow and subtle, and they will intergrade. It’s more like the evolution of a language- today’s English may not sound like Olde English, but if you took a speaker from then, then one ten years later, then ten years later, and so on to today, the change would be so subtle that there would be no place you could point to as a definite split between Olde English and today’s English. Nor must the source language go extinct. Afrikaans “evolved” from Dutch, for example, but Dutch still exists.

A real evolutionary example of this is in bears. Polar bears are direct descendants of brown bears, but brown bears still exist, and the two can still interbreed and produce fertile offspring,

“The evolution process takes place over 100’s of thousands of years, not just 1 or 2 thousand.”

Not always. Given sufficient pressure, evolution can be extremely rapid, especially in short-lived organisms- witness antibiotic resistance in bacteria, for example.

YARNLADY's avatar

@crisw Not always. Given sufficient pressure, evolution can be extremely rapid, especially in short-lived organisms- witness antibiotic resistance in bacteria, for example. I was referring to the question, human evolution.

crisw's avatar

@YARNLADY

“I was referring to the question, human evolution.”

Well, that can be very fast, as well. The spread of the genes that allow lactose digestion, for example, was extremely rapid. It arose only 7500 years ago and was firmly established in just a few centuries. In the last 3000 years, a similar genetic event happened in some African societies that now are composed of almost all lactose-tolerant individuals.

YARNLADY's avatar

@crisw interesting.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Define better? And it’ll be your personal call which has nothing to do with evolution’s intent. If you want to evolve to be better, do so.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@Fyrius Well, up until modern man we were hunter gatherers. With the onset of technology, we have changed the parameters by which we evolved over millions of years. So in my opinion, we have changed something that will most definitely influence evolution.

iamthemob's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet – It’s just the phrasing that’s the objection. And too much of a focus at this time.

Can we all, for this thread, just agree that, unless clearly indicated otherwise, things like “the way nature intended” are colloquial shorthands for something like “the way that it would have occurred in nature if there had been no intervention by x factor”? I think we’ve established that evolution and nature are not like people or (dare I say it) “god”. ;-)

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@iamthemob So you are saying technology hasn’t or won’t influence evolution?

iamthemob's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet – Nope. I am saying that there was no initial path. What happens happens. What technology has done is shelter us from a lot of the standard evolutionary pressures that affect development in other people. Whether this affects (rather than influence, to avoid any of the inevitable personification critiques) is impossible to tell, because were we not sheltered from the influences, environmental changes might have, or might have in the future (1) not affected our ability to survive, (2) resulted in our extinction, (3) resulted in general development so that adaptive characteristics were spread to the general population, (4) resulted in reproductive isolation of one or several groups such that two or more distinct species developed…and so on.

So…we can say that there are particular mechanisms that contribute to the general process of evolution that are affected by technology, etc….but that does not result in any perceivable or measurably different process of evolution for us.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@iamthemob What about gene manipulation? DNA splicing? That is technology that can most definitely change evolution.

iamthemob's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet – That’s not evolution. We don’t claim poodles evolved because their existence is a result of artificial selection. They’re a product, in essence. GMO crops aren’t a product of evolution either.

I understand what you’re saying, and there’s a semantic break but it’s an important one. artificial selection, breeding, gene modification isn’t evolution – evolution isn’t purposeful. We can create new genetic lines, but evolution would still be at work in most cases on unmodified strains (we hope). So we have dual lines at work.

Now, the one thing that we do that actually has an effect on evolution is our manipulation of the environment. When we change the environment in an area significantly, it may cause extinctions (well, does cause them) or adaptations that would not occur otherwise. Those changes ripple through isolated environments, and on through overlapping ones. That’s an effect that we have on evolution. Because it’s undirected and systemic, there are unintended consequences on our part, but from an evolutionary perspective it’s life either adapting or not.

crisw's avatar

@iamthemob

“We don’t claim poodles evolved because their existence is a result of artificial selection.”

I do. Artificial selection is evolution, by definition.

Evolution is the change in gene frequency in a population over time. How that change occurs is irrelevant. If it occurs, evolution has happened.

Listen to this song by Baba Brinkman for some clarification :>)

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

Selection isn’t evolution, though – natural or artificial. Natural selection is a mechanism that results in change over time.

But the mechanism isn’t the definition of the result. If we say that it’s all evolution…then it’s pointless to argue that there are no goals to evolution. If artificial selection is evolution, then there is a goal – artificial selection is an attempt to promote certain traits.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@iamthemob Ok. We genetically engineer a specific fish to grow faster for fish farms. Salmon lets say. Some of those salmon accidentally get released into the wild. They mix with the native salmon. The offspring then go on to evolve from that point by natural selection. Natural selection has been has been tainted though by the genes from the manipulated salmon. Natural selection is the mechanism of evolution.

crisw's avatar

@iamthemob

“Natural selection is a mechanism that results in change over time.”

So is artificial selection. Both drive evolution.

“If we say that it’s all evolution…then it’s pointless to argue that there are no goals to evolution.”

Evolution itself has no goals. Humans do.

As I stated, “Evolution is the change in gene frequency in a population over time. How that change occurs is irrelevant. If it occurs, evolution has happened.”

Brian1946's avatar

@crisw

“The spread of the genes that allow lactose digestion, for example, was extremely rapid. It arose only 7500 years ago and was firmly established in just a few centuries.”

Did human mothers breast-feed their children before then? Does human milk contain lactose?

crisw's avatar

@Brian1946

Did human mothers breast-feed their children before then?

Of course.

“Does human milk contain lactose?”

Yes. However, the specific genes that are being discussed (and I am sorry that I was not specific earlier) allow digestion of lactose after infancy. In most humans, the ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose, decreases or disappears after infancy (perhaps as a stimulus for weaning.) Possession of the ability to produce this enzyme after infancy is the beneficial mutation.

smilingheart1's avatar

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear! Could the obvious be all around us?

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