Tuesday, May 21, 2019

#141 / Evolutionary Dogwalking

Aeon has recently published an article called "Evolution unleashed," by Kevin Laland. Laland is a professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and his latest book is titled, Darwin's Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind

The message of Laland's book, and the Aeon article, is the following: 

The truly unique characteristics of our species—such as our intelligence, language, teaching, and cooperation—are not adaptive responses to predators, disease, or other external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making.

Laland's theory is that our evolutionary development reflects what he calls "EES," Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. His contention is that "what happens to organisms during their lifetime ... can play important and previously unanticipated roles in evolution. The orthodox view has been that developmental processes are largely irrelevant to evolution, but the EES views them as pivotal."

Let's consider that "dog walking" image a little more closely, including, this time, the legend that Laland has placed underneath the picture: 

What Laland is saying is that evolution is like someone "walking a bunch of dogs." Genes change the future organism slowly. Parental effects and cultural inheritance change the future organism more rapidly. In fact, experiences within one individual's lifetime, says Laland, are capable of changing the characteristics of the very next generation.  

If correct, EES is a good argument for a large investment in early childhood education. It also suggests that we could "change the world" (and our human nature) in a timeframe that might allow the human race to succeed in taking the actions needed to prevent human-caused global warming from destroying everything that lives on Earth. 

That's pretty optimistic, I know, but maybe using EES as a definition of what is possible is a better approach than moving the entirety of our human civilization into "hospice care." 

There is actually a word for the kind of transformation that would be needed. Click the link if you don't already know the definition: 

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