Thursday, May 21, 2009

Evolution's Fast Lane

A direct link to the above video is at

Here's a link to an article published on the National Geographic website a couple of days ago about the "Missing Link" fossil discovery - Darwinius masillae, a 47 million year old lemur-like skeleton with primate-like characteristics. The term "missing link" is often mistakenly used to describe some kind of half-man/half-monkey, as if humans had evolved from apes. This fossil shows a much clearer indication of what a "missing link" really is: apes evolved from a creature like this one, and humans evolved from this same creature: this would be the common ancestor that we both share.

(picture from National Geographic: a shared ancestor of both monkeys and humans)

With my last blog entry, "The Stream", and with the previous entry to that, we talked about the rising paradigm of web 3.0, where not only will data be coming at us faster and faster, but the web itself will start to wake up, connecting and filtering that deluge of information in ways that allow us to use it all more effectively. No question, these are exciting times, and I've talked about the feeling of rapidly accelerating change that appears to be moving us all to a new mode of existence from a number of perspectives: some of those past blogs include Google and the Group Mind, The Past is an Illusion, and Randomness and the Missing 96%.

Here's a link to an article from Science Daily that was published well over a year ago (isn't that just a bit strange? In this "hurry up" world of instantly updated communication, I now feel tempted to apologize to you because this link is not to something that is fresh and new!). This article talks about the work of a team of anthropologists studying the human genome who say they have evidence that during the past 5,000 years human beings have been evolving 100 times faster than at any other time in the history of the human race! This flies in direct contrast to the common wisdom, that we as a species have not changed much at all in the last hundred thousand years.

What has caused us to change so much? There are many factors listed in the article, but all of them can be connected to how the way we live now is substantially different from our ancestors one hundred or two hundred generations ago. The tiny incremental changes over tens of millions of years that moved us from Darwinius masillae to homo sapiens are now, according to this study, moving at a much faster pace since the first versions of modern civilization began to rise.

Disease factors, diet, competition, all of those natural selection processes operate differently when humans are grouped together in larger and larger numbers. But I think we should also not overlook the mental factors that have changed as the rise of civilization has gradually modified the way we interact with each other, and the ways we think about ourselves. I would say this is easily connected to the science of epigenetics, which shows that not just changes in diet or lifestyle, but changes in mental attitude can actually change the way genes are expressed: I've talked about this in entries like Changing Your Genes, Changing Your Genes Part 2, You Have a Shape and a Trajectory, and The Musician.

The fact that humans are changing so much ties very nicely to the general theme of accelerated change that we see in our increasingly expanding universe, in our genome, and in our technology. Are we on the verge of some kind of tipping point? More and more people seem to think that is exactly where we're headed.

To finish, here's the video for Google and the Group Mind:

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

P.S. Speaking of rapidly accelerating technology, here's an announcement about a new DVD technology that uses five-dimensional encoding to store the equivalent of 2000 movies on a single disk! Thanks to my buddy John for forwarding me this link.

Next: Does the Multiverse Really Exist?

1 comment:

Mariana Soffer said...

Reminded me of Borges's Forking path's
According to wikipedia:
"Basing his work on the strange legend that Ts'ui Pen had intended to construct an infinite labyrinth, as well as a cryptic letter from Ts'ui Pen himself stating "I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths", Albert realized that the "garden of forking paths" was the novel, and the forking took place in time, not in space. As compared to most fictions, where the character chooses one alternative at each decision point and thereby eliminates all the others, Ts'ui Pen's novel attempted to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, each one itself leading to further proliferations of possibilities. (This idea is remarkably similar to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was not proposed until over a decade after the writing of this story.) Albert further explains that these constantly diverging paths do sometimes converge again, though as the result of a different chain of causes; for example, he says, in one possible timeline Dr. Tsun has come to his house as an enemy, in another as a friend."

You see they already thought of quantum mechanics here.

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist