Humans have entered a new stage of evolution

Would have beena great fiction story...if it was fiction
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Phenopath
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Humans have entered a new stage of evolution

Post by Phenopath » Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:18 pm

In case you didn't get the memo, Stephen Hawking says mankind is entering a new phase of evolution which will lead us to the stars.

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sat Jul 04, 2009 2:19 am

That's dumb. He's making a gross equivocation to compare cultural advancement to biological advancement. That's like saying a Honda Civic is the next stage in leg evolution. Non-sequitur.

Fail. Sorry Doctor Hawking. :cry:
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Post by cammoblammo » Sat Jul 04, 2009 10:15 am

Mr. Tweedy wrote:That's dumb. He's making a gross equivocation to compare cultural advancement to biological advancement. That's like saying a Honda Civic is the next stage in leg evolution. Non-sequitur.

Fail. Sorry Doctor Hawking. :cry:
Oh pshaw.

Or, more accurately, I'm almost inclined to agree with you. If we see evolution as a strictly genetic thing, then yes. If we see evolution as the general change of our species over time, there is something to be said for what he said.

(I'll admit now: I haven't actually read the article, although I did read the summary on Slashdot earlier today.)

He's certainly not the first to say it, though. It's been something of an issue of twentieth century theology. Teilhard de Chardin had some intriguing ideas about this, as did Karl Rahner and Jurgen Moltmann. They all tend to look at the evolution of the entire universe and the part humanity has to play in it.

For a more recent take, have a look at Kevin Kelly's The Technium.
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Post by Phenopath » Sat Jul 04, 2009 1:00 pm

Oh, Mr Tweedy you old cynic.

Of course culture and biology are not the same (God help us if Twitter were a biological phenomenon), but they are fundamentally related.

In the natural world behaviour [culture?] and biology are influence each other through natural selection; see the relationship between the organisation of the social insects and their genetic mechanisms, or filial relationships within the structure of lion prides. Arbitrary 'cultural' norms could be argued to drive evolution through sexual selection (e.g. peacock feathers).

Hawking argues that culture (and human knowledge) now drives human evolution. His simplest example is that our understanding of genetics will artificially influence he genetic composition of human population through eugenics. If you take this concept annd run with it you reach a Brave New World.

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sat Jul 04, 2009 1:58 pm

Phenopath wrote:Oh, Mr Tweedy you old cynic.
It's true. I turned 26 this summer, and I feel old. I wasn't happy about it anyway, but then I found out that the Army doesn't want to recruit you anymore once you turn 26, and it was like wham. And here am I with the world no more conquered than when I turned 16.

Of course, I have children now, so it could be argued that I am conquering the world by covering it with my progeny, but that's awfully slow going. I want it now.

I want the world!
I want the whole world!

Phenopath wrote:Of course culture and biology are not the same (God help us if Twitter were a biological phenomenon), but they are fundamentally related.

In the natural world behaviour [culture?] and biology are influence each other through natural selection; see the relationship between the organisation of the social insects and their genetic mechanisms, or filial relationships within the structure of lion prides. Arbitrary 'cultural' norms could be argued to drive evolution through sexual selection (e.g. peacock feathers).

Hawking argues that culture (and human knowledge) now drives human evolution. His simplest example is that our understanding of genetics will artificially influence he genetic composition of human population through eugenics. If you take this concept annd run with it you reach a Brave New World.
But the behaviors you talk about (peacock mating and such) are instinctive. It's in the genes of chick peacocks to pick dudes with big bling. Culture, by definition, is not instinctive; it's not in our genes. And even if we augment ourselves genetically, that's not natural selection.

Essentially, Hawking is equivocating between evolution (random mutation filtered through natural selection) and intelligent design (intelligent being says "Let's do this!"). What he is actually saying is the humans have stopped evolving and are now being designed. We're done with Darwin and have moved on to more direct and effective methods of self-improvement.

It might be considered poetic to call that the "next stage in evolution", but it is not at all accurate.

On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know what :mrgreen: is supposed to mean?
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Post by cammoblammo » Sat Jul 04, 2009 2:13 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote: In the natural world behaviour [culture?] and biology are influence each other through natural selection; see the relationship between the organisation of the social insects and their genetic mechanisms, or filial relationships within the structure of lion prides. Arbitrary 'cultural' norms could be argued to drive evolution through sexual selection (e.g. peacock feathers).

And even if we augment ourselves genetically, that's not natural selection.
But it's still selection. I think that's the whole point---once upon a time natural selection was the only way selection could occur, $DEITY notwithstanding. Now there are other factors. Science and technology, which are products of our culture, have enabled some humans to breed where they couldn't before, breed with people they otherwise wouldn't be able to and stop people breeding if they so choose.

The exact effect it has remains to be seen, but it's going to have a big one.

Moreover, as Kevin Kelly would point out, the line between human and technological artefact is becoming ever blurrier. It's no coincidence that the population boom over the last 10,000 years has been accompanied by an ever quickening rise in our technological capability. Being 'human' would be a very different thing if we were to lose it.
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Post by strawman » Sat Jul 04, 2009 4:27 pm

So the next step in natural selection is unnatural selection?
Seems to me that before Hawking, Mary Shelley postulated something of the sort in Frankenstein. (It's a shame that the book was so perverted by subsequent movie versions).

It's also a shame that eugenics is apparently alive and well, in spite of the black eye Nazi Germany gave to it. Wikipedia artical on eugenics shows it was as strong in the US and Australia as in Germany in terms of forced sterilization. The subsequent nazi developments of 'lebenunwertesleben' enlisted doctors, nurses, and social workers in the euthanization of increasing classes of undesirables, starting with the mentally retarded.

Today, thanks to genetic screening, the same people have been enlisted, with the result that 90% of Down's babies are identified and killed.

So I think Hawking's point is worthy of consideration, especially in conjunction with where eugenics took society the last time it was popular. One of the great puzzles I have been fascinated by is how the Germans were so unique in the extent of the horrors they permitted. Surely, that could never happen to US, could it? How did it happen to them? How were the Germans different from us, that we might say "that could not happen to us?"

So the next step in natural selection is unnatural selection. The distinction between genetic and cultural might not be as cut and dried as it seems.
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sat Jul 04, 2009 4:41 pm

Ga! You're doing it too!

Selection != natural selection. Natural selection (evolution) and intelligent beings choosing to make changes are in no way related concepts. Cyborgs would not be a product of evolution. Cyborgs would be a product of intelligent design, just like all other technology.

To say that technology (or culture in general) is evolution at work implies that technological changes just happen, randomly, with no conscious invention, and then the best technology is automatically kept, without anyone consciously choosing to use it. This is obviously not the case. Intelligent minds invent, and intelligent minds choose to adopt the inventions. There's no natural selection going on here, no evolution in sense purported to occur in organisms.

What Hawking means is the human evolution has stopped and that intelligent design is the name of the game from here on. What he's saying might be true, but the terminology is inaccurate, as is the headline.

Sorry to be a hard-nosed Harry, but I really dislike equivocations like this coming from academia. It leads to confusion in the populace.

So, nature is behind us. From now on, we're in control (supposedly!). If we're designing ourselves from now on, what things should we add and what things should we get rid of? I'd get rid of sleep. I hate sleeping: What a waste of time!

But should we remake ourselves? Are we wise enough to even consider the idea? I'd love to get rid of sleep, but might I find, after my wish was granted, that sleep served some subtle function that I had not perceived?
strawman wrote:One of the great puzzles I have been fascinated by is how the Germans were so unique in the extent of the horrors they permitted. Surely, that could never happen to US, could it? How did it happen to them? How were the Germans different from us, that we might say "that could not happen to us?"
Sure it could. (One might argue it already does. See your own example of Down's syndrome babies.) It's just a matter of redefining the terms. You just redefine "human" to exclude certain people, then continue on your merry way. Redefining a few words it all he cultural shift necessary, as the Nazis so courteously demonstrated.

And the Nazis were not unique in their cruelty. They were only unique as a modern Western nation. If you look elsewhere in geography and history, you'll find plenty of stuff just as bad. The reason the Nazis shock us is because they were modern, educated, and white (they were people like us). The Nazis inhabited our world, not some far off corner of the globe or some obscure historical period. That's why they resonate.
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Post by strawman » Sat Jul 04, 2009 5:31 pm

In vitro fertilization is a pretty good example of the bridge between natural and unnatural selection. I think the disagreement here is one of definitions, as if we are speaking bilingually. But practically speaking, Shelley's is a fundamental question : mankind's hubris results in irrevocable unintended consequences.
Judeo-Christians might find this question interesting in light of the genesis account of the Fall, which says that our original fault was to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and so to be godlike.
At least Shelley and I find it interesting.
Frankenstein (1818) may be one of the first Drabble-type literature, preceding both Darwin (b. 1816, Origin/1859) and Jekyl & Hyde (1886) by a few decades.
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Post by Phenopath » Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:02 pm

Evolution does not only occur through natural selection, for example the evolution of domestic livestock through husbandry.

It is suspected that natural selection operates very slowly on the human population now (Darwin awards aside) due to agriculture, health care, IVF, etc.

Other possible factors influencing the future evolution of the human race? One could imagine man attempting to shape his own evolution, or equally we could be forced to adapt to an extreme technological evironment of our own creation.

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Post by Phenopath » Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:12 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote: On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know what :mrgreen: is supposed to mean?
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Post by deflective » Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:02 pm

as others pointed out, this isn't a new concept. i'm not sure why it's suddenly thrust into the spotlight because an aging theoretical physicist mentioned it.

and as also mentioned here, the majority of the disagreement is the result of a difference in definition. a strict biological definition of evolution 'is the change in the genetic material of a population of organisms from one generation to the next' but in colloquial use it has become synonymous with the most common agent of change, natural selection.

going back to Mr. Tweedy's original example, this concept isn't saying that a honda civic is the next stage in leg development but rather the next stage in getting from one place to another (legs are natural selection, the car is genetic modification, and movement is evolution).

also, this concept isn't saying that natural selection will stop. we didn't stop walking once we had the car, just that we had a faster way to cover the long distances.

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:04 pm

Phenopath wrote:Evolution does not only occur through natural selection, for example the evolution of domestic livestock through husbandry.
That isn't evolution either. It is not the fittest cow surviving and passing on its superior genes. It's humans intelligently choosing what cow genes will get passed on. Livestock breeding is not evolution because the entire process is under intelligent control.

And I don't care. :mrgreen: I'm comfortable with who I am.
deflective wrote: also, this concept isn't saying that natural selection will stop. we didn't stop walking once we had the car, just that we had a faster way to cover the long distances.
Ah, but the Honda Civic does stop natural selection. It no longer makes any difference which human has the fastest or strongest legs, because machines equalize everyone. A person with no legs can get around just as well as a marathon runner, hence there is no selection pressure in favor of strong legs. If the "less fit" member of a population are able to survive just as well as the "fit" members, then natural selection is eliminated: There's nothing to select.

Interestingly, Hawking himself is a prime example of this. Natural section would have killed him off long ago, but because of intelligent selection, he is successful and famous.
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Post by deflective » Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:51 pm

you're mixing your metaphor but you're also making a very basic mistake about how natural selection works so i'll concentrate on the more fundamental mistake.

natural selection favours traits that will result in the most offspring for a particular environment. if the environment changes so that physical fitness no longer results in more offspring it doesn't mean that natural selection has stopped, it just favours different traits. it may even favour traits that we generally find undesirable, but it doesn't stop.

our current environment (sometimes) rewards mental achievement over physical so naturally Hawking is adapted to his environment. the only way this isn't natural selection is if you subscribe to the belief that humanity is unnatural (or at least apart from nature).

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Post by Phenopath » Sat Jul 04, 2009 9:43 pm

Can this forum at least reach agreement on the following principles?

a) We say 'no thank you' to a future in which our decendents are identikit clones who are slaves to a cruel genetically engineered master race

b) We say 'yes please' to a future in which technological innovation allows mankind to trancend their current corporal limitations, have their identities electronically subsumed into an AI, become freed from petty human emotions and live amoung the stars.

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Post by strawman » Sat Jul 04, 2009 10:01 pm

Rodney King couldn't have said it better.
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Post by cammoblammo » Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:39 pm

Mr Tweedy, I'm finding your logic a little circular. You're defining 'evolution' as something to do with natural selection, then every time somebody comes up with an example that shows unnatural selection contributing to evolution you say that it's not actually evolution, because it's not natural.

I think that's Hawking's point. Evolution can have unnatural causes as well.

I'll leave the supernatural causes to another time.
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