Giants, goblins, unihumans and all that
Today, my good friend Bronwen introduced me to a very interesting article that appeared, just a few days ago, on the BBC news website. Titled ‘Human species may split in two’, it discusses Oliver Curry’s research on the possible future evolution of Homo sapiens (you can access the article here). It’s not a new area of speculation: see, for example, Stebbins (1970) and
Apparently, human evolution is due to ‘peak’ in the year 3000 (quite what that means I’m not entirely sure), then there will be some sort of decline due a ‘dependence on technology’, and then, in the distant future, H. sapiens will diverge into two separate taxa: one consisting of tall, slim, highly intelligent super-hominids, and the other consisting of dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like hominids (see accompanying picture, taken from the BBC website). In other words, we’re talking about something a bit like the eloi and morlocks of Well’s The Time Machine.
There’s more in the article: it also discusses what will happen within human evolution over the next 1000 or so years. Symmetry in facial features is apparently set to improve, and squarer jaws, deeper voices and larger penises in men will evolve, as will smoother skin, more pert breasts and glossier hair in women. Racial differences will disappear as we all merge into one homogenous global gene pool.
Curry is of the London School of Economics, and is fairly well known for writing on evolutionary theory and how it relates to moral philosophy and so on. Anyway, many – but not all – media reports announcing new science discoveries appear because a new technical paper has appeared, so I immediately wondered whether Curry’s research might have appeared in a technical journal… Journal of Human Evolution perhaps, or Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or Nature. Errr, no, Dr Curry ‘carried out the report for men’s satellite TV channel Bravo’. Ah. Oh dammit, I knew it was too good to be true :)
You don’t need me to tell you that there is little here that warrants a serious look. It’s science fiction. There is – to my knowledge – no indication that humanity might somehow diverge into beautiful smart giants vs stupid ugly goblins, nor, in the short term, are there good reasons for thinking that men might be evolving bigger penises, squarer jaws or deeper voices, or that women’s hair is becoming glossier, their breasts more pert and so on (please correct me if you know otherwise). Supposedly, there are a number of derived morphological characters within H. sapiens that make some populations, and some individuals, appear more recently evolved than others (they include absence of ear lobes, blue eyes and an asymmetrical crown), but is there any indication that these characters are becoming more prevalent? No. I might seem a bit naïve here, but isn’t there a general agreement that the absence of selection within our species means that we are no longer evolving? Sure, the potential for future evolution is always there, but we don’t yet have information on that.
Will racial differences disappear due to interbreeding? Evidence apparently shows that cultural diversity is decreasing, and leading experts on biodiversity, such as
While this might seem logical, I think people fail to realise just how much integration there would have to be in order for H. sapiens to become morphologically uniform. Sure, people of different racial origins are more inclined to interbreed than ever before, but this still leaves populations of literally millions of people that will, actually, never mingle with other populations of literally millions of people. We (as in, we members of H. sapiens) are not all jetting around the world, crossing oceans, and breeding with people from other continents. The vast majority of us don’t really move much, nor will we. There is a possible analogue in studies on language: some research indicates that dialects are becoming more distinct, not less so, and in an age where the world is becoming proverbially smaller, I wonder if increasing numbers of populations may become more provincial, not less so.
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a big fan of Dougal Dixon and his three books on hypothetical future evolution (for the latest evidence go see Naish does
Anyway, time to move on. For the latest news on Tetrapod Zoology do go here.
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Stebbins, G. L. 1970. The natural history and evolutionary future of mankind. The American Naturalist 104, 111-126.