Friday, March 04, 2011

Survival Of The Fittest

Dr Alice RobertsSo are we still evolving?

This was the question posed by the BBC’s Horizon on Tuesday night (apologies to my non-UK readers). I don’t often watch Horizon but I did this week because, as you will have surmised by the many posts on this subject that I have published on this ‘ere blog, our evolution as a species is a subject that regularly keeps me awake at night and had nothing at all whatsoever to do with the fact that this week’s show was presented by flame-haired, curvy, science ingénue, Alice Roberts who, according to my wife, I have a “thing” for.

Ha! As if. Ahem.

So are we still evolving?

Well, then we look at the behaviour exhibited by Wayne Rooney, Colonel Gaddafi and Bible bashers in the mid-west of the USA, it would be fair to assume that no, we are not. If anything we have entered an evolutionary cul-de-sac or, quite possibly, are returning to single celled amoebas one brain cell at a time.

But this, of course, is just the cynical blog writer in me talking and isn’t factually true. The gorgeously honey-voiced, Dr Alice said so. More or less.

We are still evolving as a species. In fact we are changing completely as a species. Us folk today are technically a different form of human being than our ancestors were a thousand years ago.

With the amazing advances in technology that have revolutionized our existence and affected the existence of practically every other living thing on the planet some have posited the theory that natural selection as a process is dead. It has stopped. We have somehow removed ourselves from its melting pot.

This is not true. Natural selection is still occurring – just perhaps not at the life or death, cutting edge of evolution that it once inhabited. Our species is no longer being shaped by the “survival of the fittest”. The weak not only survive in our society now but also survive long enough and ably enough to pass on their genes to the next generation. We also, through our grasp of genetics and embryo manipulation, can select the traits of our future generations ourselves and not leave it up to the good old fashioned Darwinian process we’ve all come to know and love.

But this does not mean that evolution has stopped or that we have freed ourselves from its reins. Evolution is driven by the dialogue all species unconsciously have with their environment and each other. Sure we have changed our own environment, made it more comfortable and almost dove-tailed it to our needs – mauled it almost into an image of our own likeness – but that does not mean that the environment is still not working on us in ways that we cannot yet perceive.

And also, perhaps more pertinently, we have the evolution of other life forms on this planet to consider. They impinge on us very directly sometimes and the effects of this may well drive our own evolution in ways that could be sudden, drastic and unimaginable in their end results. Viruses evolve a lot quicker than we do. No sooner do we come up with a vaccine against them than they evolve in response and we find ourselves dealing with a virus that has suddenly become highly resistant to human control.

It is not beyond the bounds of reason that a particularly nasty pandemic could one day make a good stab at wiping us all out. But as the programme posits, should such an event occur, there may well be some survivors. Some survivors whose genetic make-up contains a previously useless and overlooked genetic anomaly which suddenly renders them immune from the new virus. It is these survivors whose genetic code would be carried forth into the future generations of our species and change its course forever. The evolutionary process – the survival of the fittest – would once again claim ascendency over our arrogant attempts to control our own destiny.

So. In short: we are all of us still evolving. Even Wayne Rooney.

And that single fact just blows my mind.

Just like Dr Alice.



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28 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Yes, humans have changed a lot since they unwisely migrated from the Mother Continent. Their arses are a lot wobblier than those taut-bodied hominids who used to wander across the grassy plains. And Alice Roberts has dyed her hair red, no doubt to please some fellow with a hairier chest than you.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: I may not have a silverback, Mr Bananas, but I can assure you that my chest is a veritable rug of virility.

Nota Bene said...

I'm not sure you have evolved. Clearly you are driven by primeval urges. Poor Mrs Bloggetropolis, what does she have to put up with?

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I have to put with Professor Brian bloody Cox. Believe you me, the evolutionary playing field is even.

Marginalia said...

Not, most definitely not, Wayne Rooney or the Rangers and Celtic football teams. They're stuck in the same evolutionary dust bin as the dodo and Katie Price.

Clearly your evolutionary urges are still in play, but Alice Roberts? Pairing her off with Prof Cox (how apt) would be a blessing.

Steve said...

Marginalia: pair her off with Brian Cox? Outrageous! It would practically be incest! They are televisual brother and sister for God's sake!

Rol said...

Hmm... so why are we still dragging out knuckles on the ground in appreciation of fair female form, Steve? When do we grow out of that?

Nana Go-Go said...

I think Professor Cox has changed considerably since he got himself a Twitter account and a huge budget from the BBC. He was much more interesting in the beginning. I like Alice, she`s a redhead like me, only younger and more intelligent but unlike Neil Lennon who has quite clearly never left the cave. That is not to say that the whole of the Celtic Football team should be judged accordingly, thank you very much.We`ve evolved quite a lot north of the border from the days of porridge,porridge,porridge and tossing cabers!

The Dotterel said...

What a pair of cerebral celebbers you both are... a PhD for you, a Chair for her. I'm impressed!

Steve said...

Rol: I don't know where you knuckles are but mine are a little higher up than ground level...

Nana Go-Go: I plainly need to Google the Celtic football team as something has obviously occurred that my tiny brain has missed. Not yet another football based misdemeanour by any chance? Ho hum...

The Dotterel: A chair? I think I am suffering from Friday fatigue as I don't quite understand your reference, old chap!

lgsquirrel said...

Well, in a recent interview (http://discovermagazine.com/2010/sep/25-modern-humans-smart-why-brain-shrinking) it was revealed that the human brain has been shrinking over the last 30,000 years. Maybe Rooney is ahead of the curve!

Steve said...

lgsquirrel: if Wayne Rooney is the future of our species I'd like to bail out of the gene pool right now.

Owen said...

I think I now have a "thing" also for Alice, though I'd never seen a picture of her before...

Unless she is a fake redhead, in which case my ardor would be immediately extinguished... being a true redhead, can't stomach falsehoods among the follicles.

Are we still evolving ? One glance at all the violence in the world should tell us that we are still mired down in the mud of the dark ages. The existence of spam mail, professional wrestling, Sarah Palin, Somalian Pirates, fluorescent colored energy drinks, etc, all indicate that the human race has stalled in a morass of idiocy...

Errr, ok, I admit, there are a few signs of hope out there... this blog, for example. Oh, and Alice...

Steve said...

Owen: I suspect, given the colour of Alice's beautiful eyebrows (and I study these very carefully very regularly), that her red hair may be "assisted" in it's delightfully rosy qualities - but I hope you won't hold that against her. That you say my blog is evidence of evolutionary hope is perhaps the kindest thing anyone has ever said. And, alas, the most untrue. ;-)

Phil said...

Speaking as a previously useless and completely overlooked genetic anomaly myself -
I have to say I’ve been wearing genetic make up and cut off genes for years. Specially on weekends when I go out clubbing.

I’ve just returned from a spot of clubbing. Pulled an old goat tonight. It got stuck in a ditch. So I ‘clubbed it’, and dragged it home for supper. Nothing like a bit of goat on toast.

When they cart me away for my weekly check ups, those scientists are always telling me that I’m a rare genetic species. ‘The Special One’ they call me. A phenomenon they reckon, who’s destined to go on and survive the next pandemic geneocide of mankind and propagate the species for the next civilisation.

Yeaahh. There’s only three of us too. Me, Wayne and Gorilla Bananas. We’re it. The genetic screw ups that’ll save the next world from complete dehumanisation.

And don’t worry Steve, me and Bananas have already made a pact together. When the day of reckoning comes and we’re left all on our little lonesome’s, we’ve sworn we’ll only use Wayne baby…for personal recreation.

That’s our promise to mankind. I swear to god.

Kelloggsville said...

Did Alice say whether she was Alpha? Are her genes staying? If I die my hair red does it improve my genes? It I have a boob job does it make me like Katie Price? If I do both will it just balance it all out and I'll still just be me? Ouch, thought too hard, need to go lie down...see that's why I watch Dave.

Steve said...

Phil: that Wayne could have any kind of recreational use is proof of evolution at work in some obscure way. The thought of you and Mr Bananas doing stuff to Wayne for fun though... is surely a sign of one two many regressive genes at work...

Kelloggsville: sorry, what did you say? My mind stopped at the word "boob".

Fran said...

It's those evolving doors I can't cope with.

Steve said...

Fran: are they the ones where you go in a boy and come out a man?

Wylye Girl said...

Steve, clearly the flame haired Ms Roberts has bewitched you if you seriously think Wayne Rooney is evolving. Have you seen him in HD? And she may not have Dr Brian, he's mine.... all MINE, d'you hear?

Steve said...

Wylye Girl: you're most welcome to the earnest Mr Cox. Maybe we could double date and discuss evolution is more depth? As for Wayne Rooney... I'm beginning to think he cannot evolve because he is in fact a cartoon rather than a real human being...

Mark said...

And doesn't evolution thrive on mutative genes? So maybe we're underestimating Wayne?

Steve said...

Mark: in the mutation stakes he's pretty much a demi-god I'd say... don't know that I'd want him as a template for our species though.

Löst Jimmy said...

I may be subject to devolution, regression to a primitive state...at least that what it feels like whenever I wake up on a workday...

As for the Professor Roberts...I likey I likey a lot, I feel primitive right about now in fact.


...I'll get my coat

Owen said...

I wouldn't dream of holding anything against Alice... except myself...

Reminds me of that old line, which I may have to try if I ever do meet her : "If I told you you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me ?"

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: coat? Mate, that's not primitive enough. Me, I'm wearing a bearskin that I killed and fashioned myself.

Owen: any woman that could resist pure cheese like that ain't a proper woman in my book. I reckon you'd pull.

Livi said...

Very interesting post, but I do think that due to the lack of natural selection our evolution is not for the better

Steve said...

Livi: ultimately I don't think natural selection is too bothered about the survival of any one species. Shit happens and a few lucky individuals happen to survive and procreate - whether that's for the good of that particular species is just a by-product of the process.