How Does the World Work?


  • See the About page for a description of the subjects of interest covered in this blog.

Series Indexes

Global Issues Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad

Comment Policy

  • Comments
    Comments are open and welcome as long as they are not offensive or hateful. Also this site is commercial free so any comments that are offensive or promotional will be removed. Good questions are always welcome!

« Energy and Value | Main | Toward a Better Understanding of a Feasible Living Situation »

May 14, 2010

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e54f9ea2e58834013480d55c1e970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Homo sapiens, I'm glad I knew ye:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Shoudaknown

George,

Where we go from this miserable crossroads is clearly not up... but I think we're likely to go in directions we can't really picture yet.

I think the underlying problem with intelligence is the way knowledge represents itself as the world we live in, and so can't conceive of anything trying to change our world to fit our own images.

Our failure to consider the physical world as our subject, but only our theories and beliefs, results in our perceiving the limits of the earth, by definition, as nothing but the limits of our ideas. That is completely nuts, of course.

I think we're approaching true madness, as our beliefs and realities progressively diverge, and that's dangerous. We have this unshaken belief in our own perpetual physical multiplication even as we visibly see the physical systems on which our lives depend collapsing out from underneath our weight. For decades I've watched in astonishment as our culture has treated that as a news item like any other, to chat about or not, rather than as something to try to understand.

I think the "crisis of a new kind", unlike any we've seen, is right around the corner. In the next 10 years by all counts 1)the unusual lag in global warming of the last decade will become an unusual spurt, following the natural cycle of lurches and lags we seem to be in, 2)real supplies of oil will begin to sharply decline causing a see-saw of price rises and falls as large sectors of the world economic system try to hang on to survival but fail, and 3) the money funds continue to be managed to only multiply their control of everyone else's future earnings, or fail.

As in the past when a society's "crap hit the fan" by using its own energy to drive its own dismemberment, we might not even learn from it. It'll come as a nearly complete surprise to virtually everyone on earth, with everyone all but completely unprepared for it. Worse political chaos than we've ever know might be expected.

How we'll respond is not so certain, as people under unusual stress do also have the capacity to rise to the occasion and get real somehow. Still, my hunch is that more than half the earth will be under marshal law without a real government before 2020.

It's crystal clear that all the world's governments are planning on being as great a failure at their intended task as physically possible right now. The universal plan is to maintain our multiplying impacts on everything we depend on as long as physically possible. That's not a good plan.

No one at all seems interested in developing a new language for understanding what's happening, either. Is there anything that could go right?

Shoudaknown

oops... 2nd pp correction:
"...and so can't conceive of anything BUT trying to change our world to fit our own images."

422Surviver

George,
The picture your drew is pretty grim and the simple fact of oil being irreversibly depleted and no other comparable energy resource being available convinces me that the world will one day change.. perhaps drastically.. to the worst. In the event of this happening in my generation time it makes me (admittedly selfishly)think of good/occupation for myself that will be least affected by oil crisis. Could I allow myself to think that computer specialist career -- developer/IT/engineer -- will be a relatively safe occupation (as opposed to truck driver, to make example obvious.) I will appreciate your take on this

Matthew Watkinson

A very interesting post. I agree wholeheartedly with everything except the following sentiment:

"Overpopulation is probably our biggest 'sin'."

Overpopulation is in fact the destination towards which all organic beings rush. It is a biological imperative to be fruitful and multiplied, or to "make hay while the sun shines", and condemnation of our obvious unsustainable population explosion really makes me whince. It may be a 'sin' in a moral, pseudo-sapient sense, but in a biological sense it is, basically, the whole point. Indeed, the myth of harmony about nature peddled by most conservationists is almost entirely based on the fact that everybody fails to see how much death is involved normally.

“We behold the face of nature bright with gladness..." Charles Darwin

Indeed, the 'balance' that everybody aspires to is actually a function of the ruthless battle for life, not the 'harmonious' picnic of togetherness. In the words of Charles Darwin again:

“…we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers; and as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other species must decrease.” Charles Darwin

It's all there in that one sentence. Without constant destruction (including a lot of intra-species competition - something Homo sapiens are trying to erdicate for sound moral reasons), populations explode at the expense of others. Sustainability therefore involves the reintroduction of the battle for life and great destruction, which, as you point out, is exactly what will happen. My point is that it is a fundamental biological goal and not one that I can ever see changing (imagine how far life would get if it was "fruitless and unmultiplied"). The only thing that will make us sustainable is the struggle for life that has been very temporarily relieved by the use of fossil fuels (with obvious consequences for the population).

I would also like to point out that a bottleneck scenario will select for the most ruthless members of society, not the most benevolent. It will select for short-term strategists who are prepared to do whatever it takes to survive and they are unlikely to be the kind of people who want to cuddle trees.

Last point, for 422Survivor. A collapse will force everybody to look after themselves again. There will be no place for highly specialised niches. You will ave to look after yourself again. It will be a local subsistence lifestyle that will favour contracting moral communities and increasing tribalism. We can only be nice to everybody and highly specialised (but also highly interlinked and dependent) when there's plenty to go round, and the time of plenty is coming to an end.

Kind regards,

Matthew

Jason

Again there's a parallel with Greer, who has also talked about Kubler-Ross. You talked about denial and grief but you missed out anger! That's going to be a big one.

I'm with Greer -- we won't become extinct, I don't see us going as far down the trail as that. We will have a dark age, that's all, and end up feudal, that's the logical outcome. Well after my death of course.

I agree that we should definitely be thinking about what we can pass on. Again there is a parallel with Greer who is putting together an initiative for 'cultural conservation'; I'm also thinking in those terms.

Philosophical and spiritual preparation is as important as physical. All such training enables you to face and understand death, which is also paradoxically the existential key to a meaningful life. Numerous philosophical and spiritual techniques involve actually facing death or dying before your death. As for philosophy, forget the recent lot and think of Socrates or Epicurus at their last. Desperate attempts to avoid death characterize much of modern human neurosis.

@Matthew: "I would also like to point out that a bottleneck scenario will select for the most ruthless members of society, not the most benevolent. It will select for short-term strategists who are prepared to do whatever it takes to survive and they are unlikely to be the kind of people who want to cuddle trees."

People will certainly have to learn how to handle themselves, and I recommend starting on that right away; they will have to lose their illusions about what nature is.

But that isn't all that will be required. It's incorrect to say 'the most ruthless' will be 'selected' -- the most wisely realistic, prepared, and lucky, would be better phraseology, and they will have to be prepared to *be* ruthless if necessary.

Let's not forget that Christianity survived handily through the dark ages on a philosophy of a charity, learning and service. As a result they were much-valued by communities who required their services, and they also were prepared to live an even poorer life than the average. That's rather different from the survivalist 'ruthlessness', and contains much in the way of benevolence, but is no less realistic and bull-free for that.

Other philosophies can be used too of course, or indeed spiritualities if desired. But the currently common weak characterization of 'benevolence', tying it to unrealistic dreams of harmony, is a caricature.

George Mobus

Shouldaknown,

What I am suggesting is that because the general "we", the aggregate of the average Homo sapiens, indeed cannot conceive of a future that does not include them (as a species) because of the mess they have, themselves, created, evolution must take its natural course.

That being said, I also see the potential for the more sapient representatives of 'we' to act in such a way as to help nudge evolution in a direction we might deem favorable in the long run. Of course no guarantees. Evolution will follow whatever course it does and we simply cannot predict what that might be (see my response to Matthew below). We can only do what we can. I have no doubts that the vast majority of humanity today will fail to participate in writing a will to pass on our best knowledge to a future race.


422Survivor,

As for what you do to earn a living, as long as the idea of jobs for hire still persists, I would advise becoming a systems scientist (CS is a good, but inadequate base for this). A systems scientist is a generalist who can still apply his/her arsenal of knowledge to a wide variety of careers. With a base in CS, systems engineering would be a good place to start. Good luck.


Matthew,

The reason I put the word sin in quotes was to indicate that it is only a relative perspective on that word. I agree with you that we have only followed our biological mandate, and I have written as much in other postings (c.f. http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2008/06/is-humanity-the-planetary-equivalent-of-cancer.html ).

By sin, I mean that humans have the brain power to have seen and understood the consequences of unfettered reproduction given that they have also managed to transcend the normal biological controls on population in other species, yet they failed to find ways to self regulate their biological proclivities in humane ways.

Darwin's words were reflecting on the condition of nature with respect to all other species that did not possess the equivalent of a human brain. I maintain that humans are not merely animals, but a new phenomenon in the natural world. Humans were not obligated to dumbly play by the old rules of competition and culling. Indeed humans evolved much greater capacities for cooperation, empathy, and altruistic moral sense than any other species. Language is an excellent example of how humans managed to break through the mere biological and emerge with culture.

My main thesis is that while this is true, humans as currently constituted only represent the beginning of this new emergent reality. Our species represents a work in progress in the genus Homo. That is where I come to the evolution of sapience.

I would also like to point out that a bottleneck scenario will select for the most ruthless members of society, not the most benevolent. It will select for short-term strategists who are prepared to do whatever it takes to survive and they are unlikely to be the kind of people who want to cuddle trees.

Quite conceivable, though I would be cautious in making a hard and fast prediction. None of us can guess what sort of environment or selection pressures will ensue. But my point is that left completely alone, what comes about is a crap shoot. It is feasible and certainly conceivable that we current beings might take steps to help ensure survival of our better selves.


Jason,

JMG and I do seem to have arrived at similar points in some areas but differ in others. His notion of catabolic collapse, for example, seems to be based on historical precedence and an understanding that the down side of the Hubbert curve will look like the upside but in reverse.

I reserve final judgment on the characteristics of the collapse (slow or fast) simply because 1) all historical precedents were based on local societies surrounded by a larger world that provided sort of relief valves, at least places where survivors (if you will) could emigrate to allow a restoring of equilibrium - this collapse will be global with no external recourse; 2) the down side of Hubbert's curve is a gross assumption, that it will essentially be a logistic decline - there is little evidence that it will be shaped like that and some growing evidence it will be much steeper.

I think JMG took a stance in the Long Decent that allowed him to differentiate his views from the two extreme sentiments of progress and Armageddon-like collapse. He repeatedly claimed that the truth must lie in between. But what he didn't point out is that there have been real cases of both progress (e.g. the industrial age!) and catastrophic collapses (biological as well as social) throughout history. So those extremes aren't exactly excluded. But having taken a position I think he seems now to have to continue to justify it. In truth, we will just have to watch the tale unfold. In my book anything is possible, but I think the evidence argues for a more catastrophic collapse than JMG sees. Time will tell.

Well put re:

...the most wisely realistic, prepared, and lucky, would be better phraseology, and they will have to be prepared to *be* ruthless if necessary.


George

Manolo El Lobo

"Our species represents a work in progress in the genus Homo." > can't agree more, and yes:
"we will have to be prepared to *be* ruthless if necessary."
Exceptional post !

Jason

George, what cases of catastrophic collapse are you thinking about on the social level?

Mind you, I think JMG's point has always been that most people in the west simply can't *imagine anything other* than either ever-increasing progress or else crash. So he was trying to open minds.

But yeah, I'd love to know what you're looking at as far as quick societal crash.

George Mobus

Manolo,

Thanks for the comment.


Jason,

I'm not making predictions here, but it seems to me that the mood of the American people (example the Tea Party) is turning quite ugly. If I were to guess, I would say that something like riots followed by a breakdown in civil law. Martial law might be imposed but as the government's capacity for effective action is in serious question these days (Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina) I suspect they would make a hash of it.

The biggest single problem is going to be food and water. Since so much of our food is shipped in from other places, the breakdown of transportation is likely to bring city living to a halt.

What really matters is the rate of breakdown in a key element, like transportation, and how people react to it. Personally I think the majority of people are very brittle in their beliefs about what is their rights, their entitlements. So when they start losing it all, they will not be very adaptive.

It seemed to me that JMG was counting on pockets of less tightly coupled communities having the resilience to go on even as things generally crumbled. I suppose the Amish are an example. But I suspect even these pockets are more dependent on the whole network of commercial relations that prop up our system than may be generally realized.

One of my projects is to consider what it would take for a community to actually be self-sufficient in light of general breakdown. So far it looks like a lot of preparation and learning are going to be needed!

George

Georgi Marinov

I have very hard time seeing how a "sapient" species will emerge from the bottleneck. Where exactly is the selective pressure towards "sapience" going to come from? What genes are responsible for "sapient" behavior? As far as we know, little of the complexity of human behavior is genetically encoded. Which is one of the reasons why we are where we are. Our hard-wired urges are the same as those of all other species - food and reproduction above everything else.

There is no reason to think that a "sapient" gene will magically appear and get itself fixed during the bottleneck. And there is no reason to think that culture will change towards understanding of the relationship between humans and the physical world. This understanding is currently confined to a small circle of academics, which aren't likely to make it past the bottleneck to teach it. In case of a slow crash (on the scale of a few decades universities and education will most likely not be a priority and will fall apart in the chaos, with them the knowledge and expertise. In case of a fast crash academics are unlikely to survive either, as they are concentrated in major population centers, which will presumably be primary targets in a nuclear exchange.

On top of that, the single most significant barrier to humans becoming "sapient" today is religion (although one can well argue that its existence is really a consequence of us not being sapient, and I will not disagree, but this is not really the point, once people get trapped into believing they are a special creation of the bearded man in the sky who will take care of them, the damage is done). There are all the reasons to think that the people who will survive will be much less educated and much more superstitious and religious than what is required for them to build a sapient society.

So we will end up simply restart the boom and bust cycle but on a planet much less capable of supporting an advanced civilization

Jason

George, thanks for the reply. I didn't phrase my question too well -- I was looking for more detail on what you said earlier: "what [Greer] didn't point out is that there have been real cases of [...]catastrophic collapses (biological as well as social) throughout history." What I was asking for was an example or two, esp from the second, social category.

You mention that 'The mood of the American People is turning quite ugly'. True. But that is happening absolutely on cue, George. That is not unexpected. Should the US break up into a series of smaller countries, succumb to totalitarianism, etc. etc., that is not in any sense unexpected either. It is perfectly and absolutely historically normal at this stage of a civilizational cycle, from what we know of history. In other words, in mentioning these examples you are mentioning nothing that indicates a sudden collapse.

Yes, people will not be very adaptive, and since we are clearly looking at a period of massive die-off for our race, that is again just what you would expect. Such things have happened before -- they don't lead to quick societal collapse, let alone to the end of the human race. The same is true about food supplies, etc. (And you are on the same page as JMG and Transition Towns, etc., who are doing a lot of work in the are of local resilience prep. as am I.)

But what I was hoping to hear from you was some indication of how collapse can possibly mean the end of the human race, as opposed to simply a long and bitter decline, which is what it has historically led to. That’s why, since you mentioned there are examples of quick societal collapse historically, I'm naturally wondering what you mean. From where I sit, for a major civilization to tank has never *ever* taken less than a century or two. And nothing on this scale has tanked before, so it is probably going to be on the high end of the range, esp. because China is behind the curve. What is left at the end isn't nothing, it's just a radical reduction.

Did you read JMG’s latest post on precisely this point? :-

"Ancient Rome had a sophisticated economic system in which credit and government stimulus programs played an important role [...]More fatal still was the shift that replaced a sustainable village agriculture across most of the Roman world with huge slave-worked latifundiae, the industrial farms of their day, which were treated as cash cows by absentee owners and, in due time, were milked dry. The primary economy cracked as topsoil loss caused Roman agriculture to fail..."

... etc. A big long-range system that failed, and had no local backups. The network-level breakdowns were massive when they came -- but it still took a long time for the complete fall to occur, and even then, you were left with something, namely, a long and miserable dark age. As he goes on to point out, what surfaced after that was feudalism (without much of a tertiary economy), and this is such a regular event in human societies that totally unconnected feudalisms like that of Japan have social terminology that can be translated across to our feudalisms on a one-to-one basis.

Now you’re saying this isn’t going to happen, based on your view of the system as it stands, but also on historical precedent. My question was simply, what precedent?

Matthew Watkinson

George, I see why you used the 'sin' word. Thanks for clearing that up. I guess the area we still disagree on (in a nice way) is the superiority of man to the rest of nature because of his potential for sappience, especially since man is rather conclusively proving that he doesn't actually have it. We are animals like all the rest and I kind of like that. We are not differently different (all organic beings are different), we are similarly the same instead. We are soldiers of life making hay while the sun shines because the future is an unknown quantity and I think it's high time that we realised how unbelievably lucky we have been for the last two hundred years (in the developed world at least), accepted that the good times are coming to an end, ditched the narcisstic self-reverence just because we went to the Moon (which is incredible, but only in the same way that there are bacteria living in glaciers etc), and, most fabulous of all, embraced our place in the struggle for life, hard as it is going to be:

“[Man] has no right to expect an immunity from the evils consequent on the struggle for existence.” - Charles Darwin

Jason, You are right of course: pragmatic expedience will be the order of the day, rather than overt psychopathy; although I suspect it will be hard to tell the two apart sometimes.

Kind regards,

Matthew

Robin Datta

There was mention on the PBS series online on the origins of humans that our species may have passed through a bottleneck as narrow as 600 breeding pairs. If true, we almost missed extinction once.

What (if anything) will come out on the other side of the forthcoming bottleneck is a matter of speculation. If wetware is the basis of wisdom there is a chance that it could thus contribute to a transition to a better society. But first, ofcourse the bottleneck. It is interesting to speculate on what it will select for....

It is my presumption (hope?) that it will select for community/societal values.

George Mobus

Georgi,

First I have to ask who the 'we' are in your comment?

Second I would recommend that, if you have the time, you might want to read through my working papers on sapience (which you can access through my series index at: http://faculty.washington.edu/gmobus/Background/seriesIndex.html ). I discuss the background, behavioral, brain architecture, and genetic/evolution, of sapience as the necessary component for developing wisdom in one's life. In short, however, there probably is no single 'gene' (referring to a protein encoding segment of DNA) that is responsible for sapience development. Rather, I suspect (call it speculate if you like) that the key to the past rapid evolution of Homo sapiens' brain lies in the developmental control network of DNA (the stuff we used to call junk DNA) that regulates the timing and therefore relative proportional size of brain areas during fetal development. We probably already possessed the genes needed to differentiate Brodmann area 10 (BA10, see my post: 'Is Brodmann Area 10 the Key to Human Evolution?', http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2010/04/is-brodmann-area-10-the-key-to-human-evolution.html ) and the spindle cells (Von Economo neurons, VEN) that appear to be a major contribution to judgment and the integration of strategic and systems thinking which is the precursor condition of sapience. What more likely happened is that the control segments of DNA that are activated during the development of BA10 experienced a mutation that extended the period during which BA10 expanded relative to other prefrontal cortical areas. This extended development (and subsequent larger relative size) stimulated VEN development as well leading to the current human brain architecture where these two factors (possibly along with an increased number/concentration of mirror neurons) appear to be the main differentiating aspects between our brains and the other hominins.

Thus your second paragraph (your premise) is rendered moot. There is no expectation of any such magic in any of this. You make a number of assumptions and assertions that are based on a conventional understanding of genetics and social evolution. If we have learned anything as we have delved deeper into evolution it is that conventional understandings tend not to hold up very long. What was believed about evolution even ten years ago is now subject to questioning based on new findings (the junk DNA idea being among many).

As for how a future evolution of Homo eusapiens might proceed, it has nothing at all to do with what academics do or do not understand (nor on whether they are able to survive the bottleneck). My last working paper goes into this. Again, in short, there would appear to be a highly skewed distribution of sapience in the current population. The vast majority of people retain a level that was useful in the Holocene but not sufficient for the Anthropocene. However, there are also a few individuals who demonstrate high levels of wisdom suggesting that they possess higher than average sapience. In turn this suggests that there are at least gradations in the genetic (including control networks) endowments or possibly a bimodal distribution already reflecting a separation that could lead to a sympatric speciation of eusapients. Thus, it may be the case that the necessary conditions for the evolution of higher sapience is already present in the extant population and all that is needed is either sufficient time for sympatric selection forces (sexual selection, perhaps) to work, or a bottleneck event in which an effort to ensure the survival of many higher sapient individuals would lead to classical allopatric speciation.

So we will end up simply restart the boom and bust cycle but on a planet much less capable of supporting an advanced civilization.

Since your premise is (possibly) flawed, your conclusion is not necessarily warranted. My model at least suggests hope for humanity's long-term potential. Yours suggests we should despair.

George

George Mobus

Hi Jason

When I was referring to catastrophic collapses I wasn't necessarily referring to civilizations (although I think Joe Tainter described the situation for the Inca and the Chaco collapses as pretty catastrophic -- all things being relative!). I was more referring to the bottleneck event(s) described for humans some 70,000 ybp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck#Humans linked above).

I don't think a collapse has to be quick, in the sense of, say, a single generation. It merely has to be unidirectional. What I find different about the descent (either fast or slow) that we are about to enter, from historical versions of other civilizations, is that there is no where for the survivors to escape to (the Roman situation had all of Europe and the Middle East to absorb emigres until a new equilibrium ensued, and there was still relatively modest sources of the same energy flows that had existed before hand to help establish that new equilibrium). The loss of high grade energy flows will decimate the population (we seem to agree on that). The changes in climate wrought by our own hands will further stress whatever survivors make it as far as adapting to wood burning and hunting/gathering/'permaculture' ways of living. Thus what I suspect will come to pass, even if it takes a hundred years or more, will be a really significantly smaller global population with only a few pockets of small communities lucky enough to have chosen their environs for the capacity to sustain a small population.

I guess it really depends on what you think a rapid vs. long decline means. Time scales of 100 to 1,000 years are blinks of an eye in geological time and evolutionary time. The real question is what does the end point look like? The rate of decline, I still think, largely depends on how the masses react to losing their expected standard of living.

I think I understand JMG's rationale and his interpretation of historical examples. We differ in interpretations of what it might mean under the current set of circumstances. I just feel he is not sufficiently considering the twin effects of a GLOBAL decline in net energy and the disruptive effects of climate change. In the former he relies too much on Hubbert's curve, which may have very different characteristics on a global scale (as opposed to regional).

In the end, a lot may depend on what you believe the fate of our species OUGHT to be. If one believes that it will just continue on as far into the future as we can imagine, then one is inclined to favor theories that may involve catastrophe followed by recuperation and going on with the human agenda. OTOH, if you believe that evolution hasn't stopped (as I do) then the idea of a bottleneck is not at all out of the question. Nor is absolute extinction of the genus!

George

George Mobus

Hi Matthew,

I guess the area we still disagree on (in a nice way) is the superiority of man to the rest of nature because of his potential for sappience [sic], especially since man is rather conclusively proving that he doesn't actually have it.
I'm not sure we actually disagree on this. Sapience would appear to be a matter of degrees (see my comment to Georgi above). Current average human sapience is minimal, but there are a few in the population who would seem to have much higher levels of capacity for sapience and hence wisdom.

My differentiation of humans from animals is based on the degree to which the prefrontal cortex, specifically BA10, is able to down modulate the limbic system, particularly the amygdala and the various basal ganglii. The concentration and extensive connectivity of Von Economo neurons gives the PFC much greater ability for rational (and sometimes wise) overriding of those base emotions and drives. But it is certainly not perfect, nor sufficiently strongly developed, especially in light of the kinds of mental stresses the average human is exposed to in modern life. Hence, I think your observation is correct in noting the effect -- modern humans seem to be no better off than other mammals when it comes to decision making!

Humans, however, do show a large departure in both behavior and brain architecture from all other animals that I would be very cautious about discounting. My main point, however, is that it only represents the initial emergence of new capabilities in living systems. Like all newly emergent properties it is still weak. It will take selection and time if it is to become strengthened to a point where eusapience can be said to be the norm. At that time I would imagine human social interactions to be much more based on cooperation than competition. Whole new possibilities open up as a result. The old models of governance and sociality will have to be replaced with new ways of thinking about how human organizations will develop. And what they mean.

Just because something has been true throughout the history of Earth doesn't imply it will be true forever. Once there was no life on this planet, then life emerged. Once there was no animal intelligence, and then brain evolution brought it into existence. The question is: What might be next?

George

George Mobus

Hi Robin,

Good observations and hopes. I tend to go a bit farther and rather than leave it to hope, suggest there is something we could proactively do that would increase the odds that after the bottleneck the surviving population will have a more than average level of sapience. After that, it is entirely up to natural selection, of course.

George

Florifulgurator

Methinks the occupation 422Surviver looks for would be: farmer or gardener. It would also be a safe retirement provision. Study carbon-negative permaculture using char coal. Classic carbon "neutral" permaculture was yesterday - it's not actually contributing to being "perma".

Methinks the future evolution depends much on how bad climate change works out. Will it be worse than the Toba bottleneck event (I would bet). Or will there be some halfway stable climatic state (so perhaps some feudalistic warlord civilization could stabilize)? If the ruthless prevail over those cuddling the trees, then one day the last tree will be axed (and carbon "neutrally" burnt completely), and then homo's hole is dug deep enough to ensure extinction. Eusapiens or no sapiens!

My suggestion is to expand Buddhism (which claims to be ecologic by the doctrine of pratityasamutpada) with some fun (forget chastity, but never forget to not procreate) and some agricultural practice (forget drawing mandalas, make char coal compost) and tree cuddling meditation (the Buddha loved flowers) ... :-) ... Perhaps a carbon negative sangha survives (having fun) and lays the basis for a livable future.

Georgi Marinov

This is by no means meant to be an insult, it is not you area of expertise, and even Nature and Science often mislead their readers when writing on the subject, so it is understandable and even excusable, but your post about "junk DNA" and transcriptional regulation tells me only that you have a very poor and inaccurate understanding of the subject (molecular biology and evolution). "Junk DNA" is indeed junk DNA and we know very well why it is junk (mostly transposable elements) and why it is in the genome (because the effective population size of large organisms tends to be small so removal of TEs by selection can not keep up with their accumulation even though they are deleterious). It doesn't mean that junk DNA hasn't been co-opted in certain cases by evolution (RNAs coming from Alu, B1 and B2 repeats for example seem to globally regulate gene expression under stress conditions, and Alu elements are a significant source of new exons, and so on), but the vast majority of it is precisely this - junk. If you claim otherwise, you are saying that the amoeba is the most complex organism in the world because it has 300 times more DNA than us, which is definitely not the case (of course, it's genome is almost entirely repeats and it never reproduces sexually so the effective population size is 1, which explains it all).

I have spent quite a lot of them reading your blog and I agree with most of what you say as it states very clearly and openly things that very few (compared to the total number of supposedly environmentally concerned bloggers and journalists who do not at all understand what they are talking about) other places on the web dare to say, but here you have it wrong and my objection in the previous post stays very relevant.

I do not suggest that we should despair, I suggest that we should be seeking other means of solving the problem, i.e. you can not rely on evolution to do the job, because evolution most likely can't do it on the time scale you imagine.

George Mobus

Flor,

I don't know if you caught it but my conception of a feasible living situation for future humans might be to your liking.

http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2010/02/what-is-a-feasible-living-situation-for-future-humans.html

George

The comments to this entry are closed.