10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity

In the July 2012 article, “10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity”, George Dvorsky has a little pseudo-scientific fun with projecting out scenarios of future human evolution.  In the article he takes a squint-eyed view of 10 possible futurist outcomes of human evolution.

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

First, he thinks that voluntary devolution would be a nice idea. That it would be our great service to the rest of the animal kingdom to use our technological advances to take us backwards instead of forwards. The intent would be to return to pre-civilization and ultimately back to the jungle. That way, he contends, we will not be harmful to ourselves, our planet or other animals and would also make good prey for lions and their like.

Dvorsky doesn’t stop there; he goes on to provide another alternative- voluntary extinction! This also borrows from the idea that humans are the worst thing to happen to mother earth, and would be a nice idea- as says the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM), if we just stop breeding and eventually die out. The result would be that every other creature would then be able to live and die on their own terms without being ‘encouraged’ by us!

eco-human-of-the-futureThen there’s the eco-human possibility. Here, most philosophers have their doubts about our ability to deal with climate change and more ecological disasters. What they are confident we can do however is to pharmacologically make ourselves dislike meat somehow (to increase the mortality rates of chicken, cows, pork and the rest), reduce our ecological footprints by reducing our physical selves, use cat-eyes technology to lessen our need for lighting and more. By this method, we would be preserving our resources like light and space.

He also thinks we could become transgenic humans, using transgenic technology to inter-mingle with the rest of the animals. Using this, we could borrow a dog’s high end sense of smell and hearing, cat eyes, eagles’ vision, and other useful traits to put all of them into ourselves. As transhumans, we could be quite something. Imagine having hawk vision, cat eyes, lizard scales and shark teeth while retaining your awesome thinking- quite the sight!

big-head-human-in-the-futureThe fifth scenario borrows from a fundamental belief about evolution- that unused parts of anything eventually wither away. Considering that humans lately use mostly their brains and hands to eat, Dvorsky sees a time when all humans will be just some huge brains walking around on hands and strictly following this principle, the guy has a point; we no longer walk- we just drive, so our legs will eventually disappear. There are suggestions we will soon stop eating, so our stomachs will wither away. We might also stop breathing if upcoming lung technologies work out, so basically we will just need our brains. It is hard to suppress a good laugh on this imagination.

Dvorsky also looks at the likely scenario where there will be a collective superorganism (like the bees and ants have), where the state controls the action- and more frighteningly- the thoughts of the populace. It will use cyber-brain hacking and nanobots to do this. Some find this ‘global brain’ idea fascinating but Dvorsky naturally asks how much of an individual would remain in such a sea of multiple conscious thoughts competing against one another! Might we be digging ourselves into some big hole? I don’t know.

post-gendered-humans-in-the-futureAdvanced cybernetic and reproductive technologies will make humans postgendered.  As males and females, we are basically biologically bound binary species but should we somehow manage to become cyborgs- as is expected, we would then have the privilege of having exosomatic wombs and choose sexual characteristics that please us instead or even discard the whole gender thing and just be asexual or just invent some fancy new genders that are easier to alter at a whim. At this point, we wouldn’t be your ordinary biological organisms.

Hot on the heels of this gender selection thing, we would then give rise to ‘designer babies’! You got that right. The trick here would be to select the finest traits we would like our kids to have and if they later don’t like those traits, even more advanced technology would allow them to remove or enhance those traits. The problem- or funny part (depending on which side of the fence you are on)- of this is- as Dvorsky observes- that people will reach weird levels in trying to outdo each other. Athletes for example have naturally developing characteristics. The future lads however will be made of sterner stuff. A basket baller for example thrives a lot on height, so he will likely enhance his height. His opponent will also then want to make himself much taller. The guy who started this will then seek to be still taller and so on. At the end of the day, how much height would they handle?

Consider swimmers- they thrive largely on limbs- won’t they then ultimately end up with limbs longer than swimming pools? Future Olympics will be quite interesting.

humans-all-limbs-in-the-futureHis ninth scenario takes us to space. Obviously, in our current form, we will suffocate out there so the good hearted scientists are tripping over themselves to get this fixed. Dvorsky cites Robert Freitas’ plan to eliminate the need for breathing and breathable air by somehow rendering human lungs unnecessary while Ray Kurzweil has advised that in future, nanobots will power our cells even better than food would. Craig Venter on his part has highlighted the need for an inner ear that will keep us safe from motion sickness. He has also called for development of DNA repair where radiation is likely and genes for bone regeneration. Other scientists have opted to suggest that we would be better off as some huge octopus wannabes able to slither effortlessly in this environment of zero gravity. Hairlessness, slower turn-over of skin, smaller stature and higher energy utilization will also be necessary. As soon as we can develop all these, then we can pack our bags and head out into space.

George Dvorsky’s tenth weird scenario for evolution isn’t necessarily the lousiest. Actually, it is one of the very highlights of future humans. The idea of uploading human consciousness right into a supercomputer.

This might seem fancy, but scientists are actually giving timelines about when it will be achieved- supposedly sooner than we might think. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that using this uploading technology, uploaded minds will likely want to outdo one another in a competitive economy by making unlimited copies of themselves.

Another weird part would be that the upload could adjust its clock speed to even such low levels that the upload can literally watch mountains rise and fall.

The uploads could also switch their robot bodies effortlessly and alter the existing parameters of their environments generated by computers. The result; the very nature of subjective and physiological awareness could change.

Visit George’s original article here.

Cretenists vs Evilutionists

“If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future”
~ Winston Churchill

Micro-Evolution vs. Macro-Evolution
And the Cretinism or Evilution Debate

No that’s no typo. Cretenists vs. Evilutionists is an amusing yet poignant headlining error turned into an industry by Talk Origins that accurately captures the polarized nature of the debate between these two entrenched camps.

We believe that in the interest of open dialog, free exchange, and tolerance, it is necessary to address a couple of basic concepts dealt with on the site. Namely, creationist vs. evolutionist ideals. Germane to this debate are the concepts of Micro vs. Macro Evolution.

Micro-evolution can be demonstrated in the Laboratory, such as the evolutionary changes in bacteria to resist antibiotics. Micro-evolution demonstrates the ability of organisms to adapt to their environment. Are we correct to extrapolate from micro to macro-evolution? In other words are there limits to how far an organism can change?

We must distinguish between micro-evolution (which is repeatable) and the macro-evolution process that has potentially only occurred once in the known universe (and may not be repeatable). We are dealing with history in the case of both macro-evolution and Creation, and each must explain the origin of the living cells and all subsequent species. While micro-evolution occurs relatively quickly and is observable, macro-evolution occurs over many millions of years, according to its proponents, and is not directly observable but must be inferred from the remaining evidence. Creation occurred in a much shorter time frame according to its proponents, but still must be inferred from the remaining evidence to be scientifically valid. Just as forensic science has to establish a firm link between the crime and the criminal, we should expect that our study of origins should be able to prove that macro-evolution and/or Creation is true. We cannot confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of a creator.

Conclusion

We can conclude therefore, that while micro evolution has been proven to exist, there is no way currently to prove either undirected Macro-Evolution or Creation. And here is the key point: We are not interested in doing so. We present educational material on both of these topics, but make no stand as a publication either way. Individually, our beliefs vary, as does nearly every one of our visitor’s beliefs. Our site exists to educate and research the possibilities for the future, which are arguably not tied to our past due to the imminent application of technologies that will create a living laboratory of human micro-evolution going forward. A living laboratory that may have far reaching and tremendous effects. So while we cannot say for certain that micro-evolution in the past developed through blind stages into macro-evolution and is therefore responsible for the origins of the human species, we can anticipate with some certainty that technological forces will soon have the ability to profoundly and positively impact us in the future.

Can Future Micro and/or Macro-Evolution Be Stopped? Should it?

Activists groups are continually trying to halt the progress of technology and its application in the human arena. This is arguably the worst of all possible actions society or factions thereof can take. Why? As stated elsewhere on this site, the net effect of restrictive legislation in one location (or even a broad coalition of countries) will only drive the scientists, medical professionals, wealthy financiers and others desiring to employ the technologies for personal betterment ‘underground’. In this probable scenario the technology will continue to be developed but as a result of the (ineffective) ban, it will only be made available to the very wealthy and privileged who will be essentially free from any societal oversight or legal safeguards.

In the scenario in which human enhancement technologies are banned in one or even a coalition of countries, the activists responsible for swinging public opinion toward this future may sleep better at night having served their short term consciences, but at the cost of creating an increasingly elitist minority further widening the gulf between the haves and have nots at the genetic level. Sadly for society, these activists will accelerate the very future they are trying to avoid.

The answer, in part, is the active education and participation of everyone in evaluating and applying the technologies toward the shaping of a deliberate, positive future for all. The question is not how do we stop technological progress (an impossibility), rather, how do we make its benefits equally and safely available to all.

 

The Socratic Method and Futures Studies

All of the methodologies presented in the Future Studies section of this website are of paramount importance to futurists, particularly the Socratic method.  As futurists, we have a particular talent, a gift to be able to see what the world will be like under a variety of assumptions, variables, and probabilistic outcomes. It is natural for us to see the fluidity of reality and the inevitability of change. The future is something to be guided and shaped by our actions today, toward a more positive and deliberate future tomorrow.

The gift of forward thinking ability is not bestowed widely nor equally. In fact, common sense would indicate that most people are evolutionarily disposed to fear change. The tribesman who ate the odd-looking berry or departed down the road-less-traveled occasionally did meet his demise. However, it must be noted that without said tribesman and his kind, humans would never have left the cave. Below is a breakdown of how the population is split between those who prefer the comfort of the past vs. those who prefer the possibilities of the future.  Those of us in the minority must be prepared to engage, rationally, in a progressive discourse with those that fear change.

Myers-Briggs-Futurists-in-the-Population-Distribution

Myers-Briggs-Futurists-in-the-Population-Distribution

What is a Socratic seminar or discussion?

A Socratic Seminar is a method to try to understand information by creating a dialectic in regards to a specific information source. In a Socratic Seminar, participants seek deeper understanding of complex ideas in the material through rigorously thoughtful dialogue, rather than by memorizing bits of information.

An Appropriate Discussion Source

Socratic Seminar sources are chosen for their richness in ideas, issues, and values and their ability to stimulate extended, thoughtful dialogue. A seminar can be drawn from readings in literature, history, science, math, health, and philosophy or from electronic media, works of art, or musical compositions. A good source raises important questions in the participants’ minds, questions for which there are no right or wrong answers. At the end of a successful Socratic Seminar participants often leave with more questions than they brought with them.

The Question

A Socratic Seminar opens with a question either posed by the leader or solicited from participants as they acquire more Experience in seminars. An opening question has no right answer, instead it reflects a genuine curiosity on the part of the questioner. A good opening question leads participants back to the text as they speculate, evaluate, define, and clarify the issues involved. Responses to the opening question generate new questions from the leader and participants, leading to new responses. In this way, the line of inquiry in a Socratic Seminar evolves on the spot rather than being pre-determined by the leader.

The Leader

In a Socratic Seminar, the leader plays a dual role as leader and participant. The seminar leader consciously demonstrates habits of mind that lead to a thoughtful exploration of the ideas in the text by keeping the discussion focused on the text, asking follow-up questions, helping participants clarify their positions when arguments become confused, and involving reluctant participants while restraining their more vocal peers.

What does Socratic mean?

Socratic comes from the name Socrates. Socrates (ca. 470-399 B.C.) was a Classical Greek philosopher who developed a Theory of Knowledge.

What was Socrates’ Theory of Knowledge?

Socrates was convinced that the surest way to attain reliable knowledge was through the practice of disciplined conversation. He called this method dialectic.

What does dialectic mean?

di-a-lec-tic (noun) means the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas logically, often by the method of question and answer, so as to determine their validity.

What is the difference between dialogue and debate?

  • Dialogue is collaborative: multiple sides work toward shared understanding. Debate is oppositional: two opposing sides try to prove each other wrong.
  • In dialogue, one listens to understand, to make meaning, and to find common ground. In debate, one listens to find flaws, to spot differences, and to counter arguments.
  • Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant’s point of view. Debate defends assumptions as truth.
  • Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change. Debate creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
  • In dialogue, one submits one’s best thinking, expecting that other people’s reflections will help improve it rather than threaten it. In debate, one submits one’s best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
  • Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one’s beliefs. Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one’s beliefs.
  • In dialogue, one searches for strengths in all positions. In debate, one searches for weaknesses in the other position.
  • Dialogue respects all the other participants and seeks not to alienate or offend. Debate rebuts contrary positions and may belittle or deprecate other participants.
  • Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of answers and that cooperation can lead to a greater understanding. Debate assumes a single right answer that somebody already has.
  • Dialogue remains open-ended. Debate demands a conclusion.

Dialogue is characterized by:

  1. suspending judgment
  2. examining our own work without defensiveness
  3. exposing our reasoning and looking for limits to it
  4. communicating our underlying assumptions
  5. exploring viewpoints more broadly and deeply
  6. being open to disconfirming data
  7. approaching someone who sees a problem differently not as an adversary, but as a colleague in common pursuit of better solution.

Sample questions that demonstrate constructive participation in Socratic Seminars.

  • Here is my view and how I arrived at it. How does it sound to you?
  • Do you see gaps in my reasoning?
  • Do you have different data?
  • Do you have different conclusions?
  • How did you arrive at your view?
  • Are you taking into account something different from what I have considered?

Information for this article came from the following sources:

> Murphy,J.(2000) Professional Development: Socratic Seminars. Regions 8 and 11 Professional Development Consortia, Los Angeles County Office of Education 6

> Stumpf, S. E. (1999) Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy, 6th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Future Studies and Critical Thinking

The-modern-mind-and-the-future-of-human-evolutionThe intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.

Socrates established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.

Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which–however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be-lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Plato-Socrates-Aristotle-and-future-human-evolution

Critical Thinking for the Future of Human Evolution

Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates’ thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life). From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the middle ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Sumna Theologica) who to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought-always systematically stated, considered, and answered all criticisms of his ideas as a necessary stage in developing them. Aquinas heightened our awareness not only of the potential power of reasoning but also of the need for reasoning to be systematically cultivated and “cross-examined.” Of course, Aquinas’ thinking also illustrates that those who think critically do not always reject established beliefs, only those beliefs that lack reasonable foundations.

In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a flood of scholars in Europe began to think critically about religion, art, society, human nature, law, and freedom. They proceeded with the assumption that most of the domains of human life were in need of searching analysis and critique. Among these scholars were Colet, Erasmus, and More in England. They followed up on the insight of the ancients.

Francis Bacon, in England, was explicitly concerned with the way we misuse our minds in seeking knowledge. He recognized explicitly that the mind cannot safely be left to its natural tendencies. In his book The Advancement of Learning, he argued for the importance of studying the world empirically. He laid the foundation for modern science with his emphasis on the information-gathering processes. He also called attention to the fact that most people, if left to their own devices, develop bad habits of thought (which he called “idols”) that lead them to believe what is false or misleading. He called attention to “Idols of the tribe” (the ways our mind naturally tends to trick itself), “Idols of the market-place” (the ways we misuse words), “Idols of the theater” (our tendency to become trapped in conventional systems of thought), and “Idols of the schools” (the problems in thinking when based on blind rules and poor instruction). His book could be considered one of the earliest texts in critical thinking, for his agenda was very much the traditional agenda of critical thinking.

Some fifty years later in France , Descartes wrote what might be called the second text in critical thinking, Rules For the Direction of the Mind. In it, Descartes argued for the need for a special systematic disciplining of the mind to guide it in thinking. He articulated and defended the need in thinking for clarity and precision. He developed a method of critical thought based on the principle of systematic doubt. He emphasized the need to base thinking on well-thought through foundational assumptions. Every part of thinking, he argued, should be questioned, doubted, and tested.

In the same time period, Sir Thomas More developed a model of a new social order, Utopia, in which every domain of the present world was subject to critique. His implicit thesis was that established social systems are in need of radical analysis and critique. The critical thinking of these Renaissance and post-Renaissance scholars opened the way for the emergence of science and for the development of democracy, human rights, and freedom for thought.

In the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli’s The Prince critically assessed the politics of the day, and laid the foundation for modern critical political thought. He refused to assume that government functioned as those in power said it did. Rather, he critically analyzed how it did function and laid the foundation for political thinking that exposes both, on the one hand, the real agendas of politicians and, on the other hand, the many contradictions and inconsistencies of the hard, cruel, world of the politics of his day

Thomas Hobbes, Jonh Locke, Critical Thinking, and the foundations of Futrue Human EvolutionHobbes and Locke (in 16th and 17th Century England) displayed the same confidence in the critical mind of the thinker that we find in Machiavelli. Neither accepted the traditional picture of things dominant in the thinking of their day. Neither accepted as necessarily rational that which was considered “normal” in their culture. Both looked to the critical mind to open up new vistas of learning. Hobbes adopted a naturalistic view of the world in which everything was to be explained by evidence and reasoning. Locke defended a common sense analysis of everyday life and thought. He laid the theoretical foundation for critical thinking about basic human rights and the responsibilities of all governments to submit to the reasoned criticism of thoughtful citizens.

It was in this spirit of intellectual freedom and critical thought that people such as Robert Boyle (in the 17th Century) and Sir Isaac Newton (in the 17th and 18th Century) did their work. In his Sceptical Chymist, Boyle severely criticized the chemical theory that had preceded him. Newton, in turn, developed a far-reaching framework of thought which roundly criticized the traditionally accepted world view. He extended the critical thought of such minds as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. After Boyle and Newton, it was recognized by those who reflected seriously on the natural world that egocentric views of world must be abandoned in favor of views based entirely on carefully gathered evidence and sound reasoning .

Another significant contribution to critical thinking was made by the thinkers of the French enlightenment: Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot. They all began with the premise that the human mind, when disciplined by reason, is better able to figure out the nature of the social and political world. What is more, for these thinkers, reason must turn inward upon itself, in order to determine weaknesses and strengths of thought. They valued disciplined intellectual exchange, in which all views had to be submitted to serious analysis and critique. They believed that all authority must submit in one way or another to the scrutiny of reasonable critical questioning.

Eighteenth Century thinkers extended our conception of critical thought even further, developing our sense of the power of critical thought and of its tools. Applied to the problem of economics, it produced Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. In the same year, applied to the traditional concept of loyalty to the king, it produced the Declaration of Independence. Applied to reason itself, it produced Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

In the 19th Century, critical thought was extended even further into the domain of human social life by Comte and Spencer. Applied to the problems of capitalism, it produced the searching social and economic critique of Karl Marx. Applied to the history of human culture and the basis of biological life, it led to Darwin’s Descent of Man. Applied to the unconscious mind, it is reflected in the works of Sigmund Freud. Applied to cultures, it led to the establishment of the field of Anthropological studies. Applied to language, it led to the field of Linguistics and to many deep probings of the functions of symbols and language in human life.

Pink Floyd's, "The Wall" illustrates the dangers of social indoctrination

Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall” illustrates the dangers of social indoctrination

In the 20th Century, our understanding of the power and nature of critical thinking has emerged in increasingly more explicit formulations. In 1906, William Graham Sumner published a land-breaking study of the foundations of sociology and anthropology, Folkways, in which he documented the tendency of the human mind to think sociocentrically and the parallel tendency for schools to serve the (uncritical) function of social indoctrination :

“Schools make persons all on one pattern, orthodoxy. School education, unless it is regulated by the best knowledge and good sense, will produce men and women who are all of one pattern, as if turned in a lathe…An orthodoxy is produced in regard to all the great doctrines of life. It consists of the most worn and commonplace opinions which are common in the masses. The popular opinions always contain broad fallacies, half-truths, and glib generalizations (p. 630).”

At the same time, Sumner recognized the deep need for critical thinking in life and in education:

“Criticism is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. …A teacher of any subject who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded…They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence…They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices…Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens (pp. 632, 633).”

John Dewey agreed. From his work, we have increased our sense of the pragmatic basis of human thought (its instrumental nature) , and especially its grounding in actual human purposes, goals, and objectives. From the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein we have increased our awareness not only of the importance of concepts in human thought, but also of the need to analyze concepts and assess their power and limitations. From the work of Piaget, we have increased our awareness of the egocentric and sociocentric tendencies of human thought and of the special need to develop critical thought which is able to reason within multiple standpoints, and to be raised to the level of “conscious realization.” From the massive contribution of all the “hard” sciences, we have learned the power of information and the importance of gathering information with great care and precision, and with sensitivity to its potential inaccuracy, distortion, or misuse. From the contribution of depth-psychology, we have learned how easily the human mind is self-deceived, how easily it unconsciously constructs illusions and delusions, how easily it rationalizes and stereotypes, projects and scapegoats.

To sum up, the tools and resources of the critical thinker have been vastly increased in virtue of the history of critical thought. Hundreds of thinkers have contributed to its development. Each major discipline has made some contribution to critical thought. Yet for most educational purposes, it is the summing up of base-line common denominators for critical thinking that is most important. Let us consider now that summation.

The Common Denominators of Critical Thinking Are the Most Important By-products of the History of Critical Thinking

We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the systematic monitoring of thought, that thinking, to be critical, must not be accepted at face value but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the recognition that all reasoning occurs within points of view and frames of reference, that all reasoning proceeds from some goals and objectives, has an informational base, that all data when used in reasoning must be interpreted, that interpretation involves concepts, that concepts entail assumptions, and that all basic inferences in thought have implications. We now recognize that each of these dimensions of thinking need to be monitored and that problems of thinking can occur in any of them.

The result of the collective contribution of the history of critical thought is that the basic questions of Socrates can now be much more powerfully and focally framed and used. In every domain of human thought, and within every use of reasoning within any domain, it is now possible to question:

  • ends and objectives,
  • the status and wording of questions,
  • the sources of information and fact,
  • the method and quality of information collection,
  • the mode of judgment and reasoning used,
  • the concepts that make that reasoning possible,
  • the assumptions that underlie concepts in use,
  • the implications that follow from their use, and
  • the point of view or frame of reference within which reasoning takes place.

In other words, questioning that focuses on these fundamentals of thought and reasoning are now baseline in critical thinking. It is beyond question that intellectual errors or mistakes can occur in any of these dimensions, and that students need to be fluent in talking about these structures and standards.

Independent of the subject studied, students need to be able to articulate thinking about thinking that reflects basic command of the intellectual dimensions of thought: “Let’s see, what is the most fundamental issue here? From what point of view should I approach this problem? Does it make sense for me to assume this? From these data may I infer this? What is implied in this graph? What is the fundamental concept here? Is this consistent with that? What makes this question complex? How could I check the accuracy of these data? If this is so, what else is implied? Is this a credible source of information?, etc…, etc…”

With intellectual language such as this in the foreground, students can now be taught at least minimal critical thinking moves within any subject field. What is more, there is no reason in principle that students cannot take the basic tools of critical thought which they learn in one domain of study and extend it (with appropriate adjustments) to all the other domains and subjects which they study. For example, having questioned the wording of a problem in math, I am more likely to question the wording of a problem in the other subjects I study.

As a result of the fact that students can learn these generalizable critical thinking moves, they need not be taught history simply as a body of facts to memorize; they can now be taught history as historical reasoning. Classes can be designed so that students learn to think historically and develop skills and abilities essential to historical thought. Math can be taught so that the emphasis is on mathematical reasoning. Students can learn to think geographically, economically, biologically, chemically, in courses within these disciplines. In principle, then, all students can be taught so that they learn how to bring the basic tools of disciplined reasoning into every subject they study. Futuring encompasses nearly all disciplines.

Reference(s)

Richard Paul, Linda Elder, and Ted Bartell, (1997). California Teacher Preparation for Instruction in Critical Thinking: Research Findings and Policy Recommendations: State of California, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, Sacramento, CA

The Future of Homo Sapiens

By professor Jacob Palme, First version 29-May-2006, last revision 23-Mar-2012

Will the human species, Homo Sapiens, continue to evolve in the next millions of years? If so, how? What can we learn from what we know about Homo Sapiens development until now?

The Creation of Homo Sapiens

The human species (Homo Sapiens sapiens) started its existence between 110 000 and 50 000 years ago. Its development diverged from the apes about 5 million years ago.

The earth has been capable of supporting life for about 3 billion years, and is expected to continue being able to support life for between 200 million and 5 billion years in the future.

Using the higher estimate, if we view the period of being able to support life as 24 hours, then we are now about 9 o’clock in the morning, humans diverged from the apes about a minute ago and the human species started to exist 1-2 seconds ago.

Using the lower estimate, if we view the period of being able to support life as 24 hours, then we are now about one hour before midnight, humans diverged from the apes about 2 minutes ago and the human species started to exist about 5 seconds ago.

The average life span of a species on earth is a few million years. Every year, thousands of species cease to exist and thousands of new species are created. Will thus the human species cease to exist in a few million years, like most other animals? If so, why, and what will replace it? Or are humans so unique and different from other species, that experience from other species cannot be applied, and humans may continue to exist for a much longer time?

Note: This paper discusses many ethically and politically sensitive issues, and some readers will probably be offended by this. But the goal is not to give any views on what is right and wrong, what should be permitted or forbidden. The goal is only to discuss what will probably happen in the future of human evolution.

Differences between Humans and other Species

Humans differ so much from other species, that human future development may not be governed by the same principles as other animals. [Miller 2004] says that humans and human society should be seen as a fourth system of structured energy, Tetrology, different from the previous atomic, chemical and biological systems.

Miller says that humans differ in the use of advanced technology, use of controlled energy, use of clothes, use of sense-enhancements like glasses, telescopes or microscopes, advanced social organization, advanced language.

Also many religious organizations and other belief systems regard humans, or sometimes a subset of humans, as the chosen people, made by God to mimic himself.

On the other hand, it is apparent that many typical animal behaviors also occur in humans, as has been pointed out by [Morris 1967-1997] and [Diamond 1993]. Humans have a mating behavior and an aggressive behavior which is obviously inherited from our animal ancestors.

This is important when discussing the future of the human species, because humans may be so different that experience from animals cannot tell us anything about the future of Homo Sapiens.

How a Species Ceases to Exist

To discuss this issue, one must first discuss which processes causes a species to cease to exist. Some such processes are:

  1. The species is specialized to a natural habitat, which ceases to exist. The risk for this is rather low for the human species, because of its high adaptability to changing environments. A cosmic catastrophe like a giant meteorite will certainly kill most people on earth, but some will probably survive, and will rapidly proliferate again.
  2. In the case of humans, because humans have so thoroughly modified their environment (cutting down forests, carbon dioxide pollution, etc.) there is a risk that humans will themselves modify their environment in such a way that they cannot survive in it any more.
  3. The species is out-competed by another species, like the Neanderthals were out-competed by Homo Sapiens. There is today no existing species which might threaten the human species. There is a possibility that a new species, based on humans, may replace the human species, but then humans do not stop to exist, just continue in another form.
  4. The species gradually evolves, through natural selection, into a new species. Such evolution is however slow for such a large and wide-spread species as the human. It usually occurs in small, geographically isolated environments.
  5. The species is exterminated by a ruthless predator. This is the way the ruthless predator Homo Sapiens has exterminated almost all big animals on the earth. Also within the human species, races have been exterminated or nearly exterminated by other races, for example the Australian aborigines. Such extermination is nowadays labelled “genocide” and is very much disapproved of. No non-human predator threatening humans is likely to evolve, expect possibly a new species based on the human species.
  6. The human species might also be threatened by a new virus or bacteria, but experience indicates that it is unlikely that such a threat will appear, such that we will not be able to combat it or that the whole species will be exterminated by such a threat.
  7. When bacteria grow in a mold, they reach a stage where there are too many bacteria, and they all die because of overpopulation.

How a New Species Can Replace Homo Sapiens

A new species, to replace Homo Sapiens, might be created in different ways:

  1. By natural selection in a limited population (New species occur mostly in limited populations, [Mayr 2001 p. 136]. Widespread species undergo little evoutionary change [Mayr 2001 p 254].) This is not very probable, since the tendency to intermingle among all humans is very large. Much more probable is that the human species itself evolves without splitting into a new species [Mayr 2001 p. 191], but also such evolution is not very probable, at least in a short time range [Mayr 2001, p. 261].
  2. By explicit creation through breeding or genetic manipulation of Homo Sapiens. This is the most likely alternative. When parents are given the option of creating better-than-average children, it can be expected that many parents will choose this option. Even if politicians talk a lot about the ethics of genetic manipulation, they will in practice probably not be able to stop some people using this option.
  3. By explicit creation through breeding or genetic manipulation of another species. But no such species very suitable for replacing humans exist.
  4. By an artificially created species. This might even be based on computers and not on biology. However, we are very far from this option today [Pearson 2004]. “Artificial intelligence” is a branch of computer science, but its results until now are very far from creating a species which can outcompete humans. No computer has the general adaptable intelligence of humans, nor can they even reproduce themselves.

Has Homo Sapiens Evolved Before?

Modern Homo Sapiens originated between 110 000 and 50 000 years ago. But until 50 000 years ago, it existed only in Africa. Then, in just a few thousand years, the art suddenly expanded into the whole of Europe and Asia, and eradicated all the rests of previous humanoids like Homo Neanderthalus and Homo Erectus [Klein 2004]. Many anthropologist believe that this must have been caused by a genetic mutation, for example a mutation which increased the language capabilities. Other’s claim that the human brain has not changed for 150 000 years [Mayr 2001, p. 252]. But they base this claim on fossils, and fossils may not show changes in the organisation within the brain.

After that, Homo Sapiens continued to live as a hunter-gatherer until about 10 000 years ago, when agriculture suddenly began and rapidly changed the prosperity of Homo Sapiens. Why did this suddenly happen 10 000 years ago? Many anthropologists believe that again, the cause was a mutation, probably in the area of linguistic skills.

Genetic research shows that certain genes related to the brain size did change between 5 800 and 37 000. Exactly this gene cannot explain changes in humans, since not all intelligent humans have this particular gene. But the fact that genes related to brain size have changed in this time span indicates that humans are still evolving [Warner 2005].

One of the researchers behild this result is qouted as saying “Our studies indicate that the trend that is the defining characteristic of human evolution — the growth of brain size and complexity — is likely still going on If our species survives for another million years or so, I would imagine that the brain by then would show significant structural differences from the human brain of today.”

Thus, it seems as if Homo Sapiens has evolved, and as if the major evolutionary events occurred quite suddenly. If this continues, we can expect that a sudden good mutation perhaps 10 000 years into the future can again change Homo Sapiens by natural selection. Of course we do not know exactly when this mutation will evolve.

How Homo Sapiens can Evolve

Homo Sapiens can evolve through natural selection or through breeding or genetic manipulation. Breeding and genetic manipulation is most probable for a few people in technically evolved countries.

Natural selection is most effective when many animals die before reproduction. Thus, natural selection is more effective in developing countries. In industrial countries, medical development allows most of those who would die to live and reproduce.

The size of the brain of humanoids has increased three times in the last two million years [Hofman 2002]. This icnrease has meant more connections, less nerve cells. This means that with the current design, the brain cannot become more than three times larger than it is today. Other studies [Pearson 1997] indicate similar results.

Note that a species need not evolve. Some species remain identical for hundreds of thousands or millions of years [Meyr 2001, p. 193, 195]. And the evolution of humans has had long periods of little change, such as the Homo Erectus which did not change very much for 1.5 million years.

Will Homo Sapiens Deteriorate

Some people say that the lack of effective natural selection for humans in industrial countries will cause the human species to deteriorate, since natural selection is necessary to keep a species healthy. As a simple example, the existence of spectacles would cause more people to be born near sighted.

However, this is counteracted by immigration of people from less developed countries. This immigration is today so large, that it can probably counter the risk of deterioration of the species as a whole.

Also, future use of genetic manipulation and intentional breeding can be expected to counteract degradation.

Genetic Manipulation and Artificial Breeding

Genetic manipulation and artificial breeding is today disliked, because it was used in earlier years by governments in questionable ways. Most known is the Nazi ideas of killing or sterilizing “inferior people” like Jews and people with mental illnesses. Also in non-Nazi countries, enforced sterilization was common earlier, but is not done so much today.

The reason for this is that such government control is today not regarded as ethical, and also that the efficiency of such schemes is debatable. All schemes which reduce the genetic variation within the human species can cause more harm than value.

In spite of this, it is my belief that genetic manipulation and artificial breeding will be important in the future, but not done by the governments but by parents. Already, today, more and more pregnant women voluntarily screen for disabilities and genetic diseases of the faetus and choose abortion rather than giving birth to a child with a genetic illness [Tännsjö 1999].

This will probably become much more common in the future, with better medical and technical options of influencing the genes of future children [Pearson 1997]. There will certainly be a lot of discussions about the ethics of this, but my belief is that positive genetic manipulations will eventually become accepted ethically. And this might create a race of superhumans, which might even become a new species threatening its creator.

Evolution of Human Cultures

One can note that a Darwinian type of evolution today does not exist only for Homo Sapiens itself, but for various cultural organisations of humans. In particular, the economic competition on the world market has many Darwinian features, with survival of the fittest as one central function.

Do You Agree?

If you do not agree, or have more ideas on the future of Homo Sapiens, you are welcome to comment on this paper. Your comments may influence future versions of it. A forum for discussion is available.

References

The original of this paper can be found at http://web4health.info/en/aux/homo-sapiens-future.html.

There is not very much written about the future of Homo Sapiens. There are a large number of books about evolution and human evolution and about how humans were formed by evolution, and this is important for understanding what will happen in the future. Here are presentations of some such books:

 

  • [Leakey and Lewin 1977]
  • Origins: The Emergence and Evolution of Our Species and Its Possible Future
  • By Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin.
  • ISBN 0-525-48013-7.
  • E. P. Dutton publishers 1977.
  • A detailed and interesting overview of all the stages of evolution of Homo Sapiens since the separation from the monkeys 5-7 million years ago.
  • [Mayr 2001]
  • What Evolution Is
  • By Ernst Mayr, Basic Books, 2001.
  • Lots of information about how Darwinian evolution works.
  • [Miller 2003]
  • From DNA to ABC
  • By Joel Miller.
  • ISBN 91-972454-3-7.
  • BenTarZ Productions, 2003.
  • A collection of essays, many of them give interesting ideas on human development and human languages development. Are humans distinguished from the monkeys by the use of tools? But monkeys also sometimes use tools. Are human distinguished by building houses? But beavers and birds also build nests.
  • Miller claims that modern human society is a distinct new stage which he calls “civil society”. I wonder if historians five hundred years from now will agree with this?
  • On the future, the author says that implanting of electronics inside the human body will be an important feature of how people live in the future. I agree with him, this is quite probable an area where major changes in our lifestyle will come in the future.
  • [Bryant 1999]
  • Evolution of animals and the age of reptiles
  • by Peter J. Bryant
  • An overview of how life started and developed on earth. Life started 3 billion years ago, multi-cellular organisms 2 billion years ago, complex organisms 600 million years ago, mammals outcompeted the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
  • [Miller 2004]
  • Tetrology and the Tetrastic System
  • By Joel Miller
  • A presentation of the view that the human system of organizing knowledge is so different from the previous atomic, chemical and biological systems, that is should be seen as a forth, Tetrastic system.
  • [Pearson 1997]
  • The Future of Human Evolution
  • By Ian Pearson
  • Darwinian Evolution will have limited impact on the future of Homo Sapiens, since other kinds of evolution, such as breeding, genetic engineering and electronics will take over as dominant factors.
  • [Warner 2005]
  • Human Brain Still a Work in Progress
  • By Jennifer Warner, The Human Genome Project, citing: Evans, P. Mekel-Bobrov, N. Science, Sept. 9, 2005; vol 309: pp 1717-1720; 1720-1722. News release, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. News release, University of Chicago Medical Center, Science Daily.

 

  • [Morris 1967-1997]
  • The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo and Intimate behavior, The Human Sexes, The Naked Eye
  • By Desmond Morris
  • ISBN: 0-385-33430-3, 1-56836-163-7, 0-09-1878675, 0-563-38358-5.
  • These three books which give many interesting insights into how human behavior is governed by our animal past.

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Credit

Original Article reprinted with permission from here.