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« Knowers/Thinkers | Main | Do You Want to Avoid the Bottleneck? »

October 28, 2013

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Joe Clarkson

That future human "super-species" will have to be super indeed to exceed the accomplishments of bees, ants and termites. Once they succeed at that, they can set their sights on exceeding the adaptive accomplishments other mammals, perhaps starting with whales and dolphins.

But why stop there? There are hundreds, if not thousands of species that have evolved with complex social structures and yet posed no real threat of "disrupting the environment". Perhaps there is no such thing as a super-species. The evolutionary grading system is pretty simple; species are either living or extinct.

George Mobus

@Joe,

I'm not clear on what point you are trying to make. In what sense are you using the word "super"? My use of it did not mean our species is superior to other species. I was using it in the sense of the emergence (transition to) a new supra-biological phenomenon, something that might resemble what happened when multiple bacteria became symbiotic in a way that gave rise to eukaryotes. The latter were super in the sense of being a new, more complex and coordinated kind of life.

It is OUR species that is doing the damage. My notion of a super-species would be based on an ability to strategically think, as if by a whole organism, and cease being damaging.

George

Joe Clarkson

My point was this- If we humans evolve out of our current mal-adaptive state and come into and maintain an equilibrium with the rest of life on earth, it will only make us one of millions of otherwise ordinary species, not anything special.

It may be that there is an evolutionary "dead zone" of complexity and ability to manipulate the environment that produces mal-adapted species (like us) destined for extinction. Perhaps there is a "supra-biological" state on the other side of that zone that will allow us to successfully adapt, but we are just about out of time.

We do know that so far no other species has crossed that zone before us. I doubt that we will be the first.

George Mobus

@Joe,

Have you read any of the books in the bibliography? My assertions are not based on my opinions formed from either outdated interpretations of evolution (e.g. Stephen Gould's "everything is contingency") or emotional reactions to what looks like mal-adaption of our species. Perhaps you would provide some references of your own that support your "point".

step back

@George,
I can't concur with 'everything' you propose here, but the notion of combining 'depth of predictive time line' with 'depth of subject matter knowledge/ experience' is a good one.

The purpose of having a brain in the first place is for engaging in short term and longer term predictive analysis.

Trees do not have brains because they are rooted in place and have no voluntary moving parts. So there is no evolutionary point in that case to having an energy-consuming brain.

Ambulatory creatures on the other hand, must have a brain because every next wrong step in ambulation might be a fatal one. In other words, we all try to look (and correctly analyze) before we leap.

What ought to be added to the discussion is the overriding of longer term predictive analysis based on urgency of shorter term concerns.

To be more concrete, let's say you are musing about 'Climate Change' when you realize your shoe is on fire and your foot is in severe pain.

In that case your brain shuts down all the long term analyses and focuses its energies only on the urgent short term predictions. Which of the following 3 options, for example, will get my foot most quickly out of hot water? 1) Try to remove the shoe? 2) Smother the flames with whatever is available? 3) Scream for help? 4) All of the above?

In other words, sense of urgency can shut down long term thinking. And depth of subject matter knowledge may control what is considered more urgent and what is less so. The two mechanisms are interlinked. Nice.

James

There is an argument to be made that we are no longer a “species", that we have given up our ecosystem citizenship where species interact on a level footing, and have taken on a new role where organic evolution is mostly halted for the briefest moment by technological intervention. It challenging to imagine that a species that has evolved tool and information use will return to go face-to-face, cell-to-cell with the other organisms. We will always seek an advantage, grow beyond sustenance and fall back, until the cumulative damage we have done prevents our reestablishment in numbers. Any organism evolving tool-use should be told to use it sparingly, tip-toe amongst the dissipative structures, enjoy your advantages but try to be invisible, lest you collapse the entire delicate structure. To unleash the quest for eternal growth and immortality is to unleash a cancer upon the earth. I wish the best to anyone that makes it back to the ecosystem, their DNA uncorrupted and providing adequate fitness, may you use your tools sparingly.

step back

@James,

"We" have never been a single species but instead have evolved culturally (and very quickly) into a predator class and a prey class.

Go back through history and you see this exploiter versus exploited story playing out again and again.

The problem is that technology has made the predator class too powerful --to the point they wipe out the prey class (a/k/a middle class). It's the same as when the wolves become too efficient at hunting and wipe out all the deer. Then both species go extinct.

Winning is fun in the short term. But too much winning may be hazardous for the long term. However, as George points out, very few think in terms of the longer time line.

K-Dog

"Tribes competed against one another when times were bad and resources scarce. That archeological record is becoming clear. But just as clear is the record of inter-tribe trading and cooperation during good times. It probably all comes down to macro-economic factors, like the availability of free energy."

I basically agree except for "probably all comes down to macro-economic factors, like the availability of free energy."

That is too simplistic, the psychology of social interaction may be too complex to be understood by a straightforward application of systems theory. Humans are not logical and a straightforward application of systems theory assumes they are. Nonlinear knots may have to be introduced into your theory to account for the hard-wired madness of man. You may even need random number generators here and there. Man is not a machine and I don’t see how systems theory can account for the actions of a man who is able to self direct.

"Eat my fried eat..."
"Chop me a piece of that beef brawn"
"Truth is in food..."
"What is truth?"
"Truth is that which suits the tooth..."

Webookee

Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!
[Moderator edit: removed commercial URL]

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