1 DO WE TRY TO SUPPRESS OUR OWN EVOLUTION? ALAN H. GRANT (Cosmos Journal Reprint â€“ 2004) Tis a debatable view That I can eschew, Evolving a better arch To forward march If I can build a better shoe!
Is evolution amending its modus operandi with regard to Homo sapiens beyond the imperative that we are genetically obligated to reproduce our own kind? If our procreative years are generally over by the mid-forties, and yet we are living well into the 80s and 90s, what is evolution's brief for us during that extra half century? If we accept the premise that reproduction is the paramount purpose of all species, then after having brought forth our progeny, weaned and made them independent of our nest, our purpose is fulfilled relatively early in our life span. Then, the rest of our living days are but incidental to that genetic mandate. Modern technological and medical advances allow us to manipulate further our external environment. The goal is prolongation, with better and better artifices like drugs, vitamins, appliances, prosthetics, and replacement organs. These advances are a tribute to remarkable human intellectuality, but are they altering our own evolution? I THINK, THEREFORE I AM RENE DESCARTES, 1642 This is the ability that differentiates us from other animals, which we assume have only present-tense cognition. We can review the past, extrapolate from that experience, and learn how to manipulate our future. According to The Ape That Spoke (1990), by John McCrone, the seminal event that enabled us to transcend the present was development of the skill of language. As we become more and more adept at managing our future, hopefully this process will take a genuine self-improvement form, rather than a selfdestructive path. Does that also mean that further evolution of Homo sapiens is waning and may no longer be essential? Does the Darwinian winnowing out of less-desirable characteristics lessen? If so, then with increasing longevity, can we continue to compensate for the mental, physical, and physiological age-related decrements that will become worse? Suppose, for a moment, that we have the ability to suppress evolutionary change indefinitely. How are the stresses of, and increasing imbalance between, functionality and deterioration to be redressed? Is there a future crossover point wherein, either gradually or all at once, we lose our ability to compete? Or, by virtue of some external catastrophe that decimates our kind, would a surviving remnant die out completely? Or, does
2 evolution, as a savior, reassert itself to morph the stragglers into a more fit and superior Homo-Whatever? Maybe, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick was foretelling a new us! It is an unsettling possibility that we are on the brink of achieving genetic self-cloning, premiering the advent of Mirror-Man. We readily accept that animals are being genetically engineered for their medicinal value, and to be harvested as better sources for food, shelter, clothing, and warmth for humans. But is this a harbinger of what can be done to ourselves? Trial and error experiments will, along the way, produce some seriously flawed end-products that will bear a costly price in the search for a nominally successful humanoid Mirror-Man. But, having once accomplished this, it is doubtful that we will have hastened our evolutionary progression. There is greater probability that we have subtracted from an upward genetic path. A successful Mirror-Man, multi-cloned and with a larger bio-engineered cortex, prefigures an ominously greater division between the new elite and the old-fashioned common man. Most likely, this new and improved version would accidentally or even intentionally go far beyond what the Industrial Age has accomplished in deindividualizing us. Will the reign of Homo sapiens be propelled toward a subordinate dead end? The artists among us usually are more intuitive about what the future will bring, as explored in Charlie Chaplin's 1936 movie, Modern Times. Egocentric human behavior seemingly has blessed us with progressive technological improvements, and we forge blithely ahead in these endeavors. We continually strive for remediative regimens to compensate for arthritic joints, memory degradations, cataract formations, and macular dysfunctions. We want to make our later-in-life facility and comfort as effective as it was in the early reproductive years. There also are prophylactic strategies that are pursued. But both prevention and remediation are dedicated principally toward greater comfort, within longevity. Sooner or later, a sobering accompaniment emerges: The Law of Unintended Consequences. The irony is that in a very long time frame we were too clever in altering our surroundings to harmonize better with our then-contemporary needs. Each new improvement put in play for our betterment is an attempt to exempt ourselves from the process of natural selection! This is contrary to the view of British zoologist Richard Dawkins expressed in The Blind Watchmaker (1986), wherein all is chance and there is no rhyme or reason to the natural selection process. Yet the scientific pragmatist that was Albert Einstein was moved to say repeatedly, God does not play dice with the universe. So much for chance versus causality. So, if we already have honored the genetic imperative to reproduce, and the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply, why would evolution, which we widely accept as efficient, economical, and purposive, choose to confer any further benefits on us? It can be argued that, past the age of procreation, parents have indirect genetic worth in mentoring and role-modeling for offspring, particularly when it comes to better value selection in choice of mates.
3 If our suppressive premise is at all plausible, are not those resultant progeny better equipped to manipulate their own future, and thereby be more resistant to evolutionary changes? But, in the main, when procreation is over, evolution may have no further use for us. It is possible that we have been pushed out of the evolutionary nest, perhaps doomed, as suggested by Louis Leakey in 1965, to become evolutionary orphans. It is highly unlikely that thinking, self-conscious, self-aware creatures like ourselves would pursue another path that would not seek to suppress our own evolution. If past recorded human history, with all its civilizational advancements, is a guide, we will continue to place our bets on the genetic status quo. Will we try to remain 93King-of-theHill? Yes! The Homo sapiens dilemma is that while our efforts are dedicated to warding off obsolescence, this conflicts with the creation of a potentially superior replacement species. Is Mirror-Man to become the instrument of our devolution? Will we remain successful competitors if we have, by comparison, been dumbed down? Are we, naively, abetting selftriage? In fact, maybe the Ineffable has been humoring us, saying, All right, you have had your fun in developing the self-knowledge that you have, upwardly mobile, ascended via eons of time, through the stages of amoebas, worms, reptiles, monkeys, and now believe you are penultimate in my image. Do you think that you got here all on your own just because of mutational changes? Fine, but what a presumption! The accomplishments that have brought you to this pass, in a more profound way, have validated My Intelligent Design. Whether we speculate about the Big Bang or our existence as Homo sapiens, the dispassionate mind tries to accept only the rational and provable. While the evolutionary process is accepted science, there still is an inner yearning, not fully respecting that our existence is only the result of totally purposeless chance. And, in wonderment, we tend to speculate that somehow or somewhere there may be a guiding premeditation. If that be so, what a grand reciprocality: We were impelled to invent a Maker, who, a priori, invented us and, via evolution, tries to reinvent us. Must genetics always be permutable for humankind, without exception? Who knows? Maybe the best chance of increasing our understanding is to pose insightful questions. While Earth may be peripherally Out in the Wings in our solar system, Adam and his descendants, hubris and all, always perceived His Kind to reside at the center of the universe. The wager is that we can continue to game the system, and outsmart evolution.
-Alan H. Grant is an optometrist, inventor, and industrial designer, as well as essayist, playwright, and poet. He holds some 30 patents related to optics, human vision, and ergonomics.