What Is The Next Stage In Evolution For Humans?

What Is The Next Stage In Evolution For Humans?

Evolution never stops, so there will be a post-human species at some point in the future, and this may arrive sooner, rather than later. Not every species lasts for millions of years like dinosaurs did. When the environment changes fast, genes change fast as well, and this appears to be so for humans due to the rapid changes in how we live.

Cultural changes can cause physiological ones. One example is human jaws, which changed significantly as a result of cooking and agriculture. Another is lactose tolerance, which has developed in Northern Europe as a result of people keeping dairy animals.

We have also developed the ability to alter our genes directly with a technique called CRISPR. It has the potential to treat inherited diseases like sickle cell anemia in individuals. If changes were made to a sperm or ovum, the genetic changes would become a permanent inheritance.

In all species, behavior is passed down between generations via DNA, but social learning adds to what is passed on. Humans have increased this contribution enormously by developing language and writing. The amount of information contained in genes is now dwarfed by the accumulated knowledge held in libraries. The human genome is 6.4 billion base pairs (6 × 109) and the world’s knowledge is around 300 exabytes (3 × 1020) and growing. This suggests that human evolution is now carried much more by culture than DNA, so our evolutionary successor will be characterized by cultural changes more than DNA changes.

So what will a future species be like?

Through thinking, humans have developed a new way of understanding the world that sometimes conflicts with our sensory and emotional responses. Nature has always been able to integrate different perceptions like touch and sight into a consistent understanding, and we can expect that a future species will blend thinking and feeling in a similar way. Let us call the future species Humans Mark 2, or H2 for short. This can also stand for Head and Heart.

Thinking has been such a powerful tool for humans that we can expect its influence in decision-making to increase. At the DNA level, this will include changes in the neurons connecting the amygdala and neocortex. Such physiological changes take a long time, of the order of tens of thousands of years.

The amount that thoughts influence feelings is very much affected by culture. Culture is such a large part of human evolution that we can expect the balance between thoughts and feelings to be as much or more cultural than physiological, and because culture can change so much faster than DNA, we can expect these changes to be relatively rapid. In the short term, we must look for cultural evolution.

The increasing influence of thinking means a corresponding decrease in the influence of emotions, particularly of fear, which inhibits thinking. This will result in a decrease in tribalism, the process of identifying with a group and distrusting people outside it. The circle of trust and acceptance will expand to include everyone — a one-world view.

Future species are inevitable, so is it possible that H2 is already emerging?

There are already measurable physiological differences in the brain between different political views. The sizes of the right amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus vary. While these differences may be generated by the cultural environment, there are also studies (some with identical and fraternal twins) suggesting that about half of political leanings are inherited.

What changes in culture might we expect to see while waiting for the physiology to catch up? A culture acts according to its beliefs, and those beliefs have taken many forms:

  • Nature is controlled by many gods, or a vengeful god, or a loving god.
  • The world can be described by the laws of science.
  • Humans are animals in competition with each other, and life is the survival of the fittest.
  • We are motivated by more than our conscious thoughts, as Sigmund Freud, Daniel Kahneman and many others have shown.

Clashes between cultures are often disagreements about belief systems. People’s identity is tied up in their beliefs, and a different belief system is threatening. Religious wars are good examples of such conflicts. Cultural beliefs can take hundreds of years to fade away.

Cultural evolution will involve adopting beliefs that help with integrating thinking and feeling.

The primary belief is viewing other people as an asset, not a threat. They are an asset because of the benefits we get by cooperating with each other. The reasons that we see strangers as a threat is that they are different and unknown, and our emotional conservatism would rather a stick be mistaken for a snake than ignore a snake because it looked like a stick. This attitude toward strangers is changed into seeing them as an asset by two things.

Firstly by breaking the emotion-reaction response and inserting a decision-making contribution. This requires having awareness of the emotions and pausing before the response. Our awareness is in the thinking space most of the time, and H2, more or less by definition, will pay more attention to the body. Mindfulness is a form of this practice.

Secondly is our circle of identification. This is where the boundary between trust and distrust lies. The internet is the fourth major communications invention of humans, following language, writing and printing. For all its flaws, it is a method for all humans to connect with each other that has not existed before. Such connections create empathy, and this is the antidote to distrust.

It is, of course, not realistic to trust everyone. The people you cannot trust are the people who do not trust you, for they might respond with hostility and even violence. But consider that your distrust is a response to their distrust; to avoid being an instigator, you must trust other people by default.

A note on trust. While it is important to start with an assumption of trust, it is confirmed by openness and by actions over time. Being open invites trust, and trust is measured by people’s actions.

That boundary between trust and distrust is, of course, fuzzy. Imagine that you are at the center of a number of concentric circles starting with friends, family, colleagues, countrymen and outwards with less and less trust. Now tilt it sideways, and you stand on a hill of trust where there is no clear boundary between trust and distrust. The goal is to be aware of our fear of others, quieten it, and extend that trust further and further.

This new awareness of seeing other people as an asset rather than a threat is in the process of coalescing, being recognized, and acquiring a name. Shared beliefs change slowly over hundreds of years, but this view of one world is growing. It has the property of global peace. There are multiple ways to solve problems and their underlying needs, and negotiating with trust is more efficient than war.

There are still many people who do not believe one world can come to pass because too many other people are untrustworthy and to be feared. The new attitude of trust is a work in progress.

This essay is, of course, in words, but words have emotional content, too, and so this essay is also speaking to you at an emotional level. Set the words aside and find out how it makes you feel. Drilling down to the root of this disagreement and examining it at the emotional level is how positions can be changed.

If you support the idea of one world, even though you cannot possibly imagine how it can come to pass, welcome! To quote Alex Steffen, “Optimism is a political act.”

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