An unmatched pair, Modernity and Human evolutionary design

by wonderfullyrich on March 9, 2008

At least once a day lately I am reminded how we live on a body based on several million years of randomly permutated designs that proved to be the most fit for the enviornment.  Yet in most cases evolution was on a scale and of a term that no human has witnessed.  In contrast our modern world evolves at such a pace that every human on the planet has witnessed the effects of an evolving technological world, we’ve gone from radios to the internet in our grandparent’s lifetime.

Today I’m struck by how our brain is being overwhelmed by that modernity.  I recently have picked up the habit of reading Wired Magazine after I realized that I’ve been reading their blogs and personally enjoy the insightful and thoughtful reporting.  I’ve found the magazine to be less stellar as I still like simplicity rather then fancy stylistically, but the article on “Why Things Suck” spoke volumes to me.  Many of the synopsis presented such as Why Traffic Sucks, or Why Air Travel Sucks are exactly what I think about and want to tell other people about.  I’ve even started and might yet finish a post on what traffic might look like if you implemented computer driving and why you shouldn’t be afraid of it.

Yet, as I read these synopsis on things that suck, I find myself reaching for strategies and methods (read adaptations) where I can struggle to remember the insights into the future.  Ideas that I’ve garnered from Wired, thoughts from a book on The Art of Reasoning I am reading, and notions that have developed from experience at work, seem intangible and in away there’s a sort of desperate clinging to put these items into a place where I’ll remember them indefinitely.  I find myself further considering how much over the years I have learned and how much of distilled learning has actually shaped the perspective I have now.  What, from all the things I’ve read and learned, does my brain actually form into being an ethical and moral person, and what is boiled into a piece of trivia without context?

I being to ask myself how we as humans are going to cope with the massive amount of knowledge that we are faced with in this day and age. It is impossible to sift through the libraries of knowledge and retain an active memory of it (unless you are have a photographic memory).  It’s most likely impossible to sift through even a portion of it and become a modern Renaissance man.  We have of course begun to specialize, or study and learn small parts of the knowledge.  Break the world in a component pieces that we can firmly grasp in our brain and which will not overwhelm it.  Biological necessity has driven us to this.

Yet, here in the US, we still hold the idea of a Renissance man as the ideal.  Indeed our ideal democracy is where the voters are educated and wise enough to vote with intelligence on all issues.  I am beginning to doubt this is realistic based on our current biological make-up. We are now beginning to push our bodies way beyond the niche they were best adapted for 10,000 years ago.  It’s worth remembering an often repeated quote “We are doomed to repeat history if we cannot learn the lessons from the past.”  I’ve already repeated my own experiments of history many times and although I admit it’s how I learn the best, it seems more of a design flaw then a character trait.  There are lessons that policy makers and voters should learn from our history, but is lost in the technological confusion.

Perhaps it’s not so fair to expect US voters to understand what the budget process is for the US government, maintain a family life, bombard them with huge amounts of visual fiction/non-fiction, feed them a very specialize diet that is designed to taste good, and actually walk away remembering what happened yesterday.

More then likely the age of biological augmentation is nearly upon us.  How do we cope with the mismatch of 10,000 years between biology and technology?  By pushing technology to replace and extend biology.  Be this positive or negative, we likely live in the generation in which humans ingenuity and upper brain functions start taking the place of evolution, or at least adapting biological evolution to fit with our technological evolution.

It’s much like using your CD player/MP3 player with an FM adapter in your car, it works, but neither player or car were intentionally designed with the other in mind and the quality of sound suffers because of it.  If we intentionally force a faster paced biological evolution (computer modeling/simulation of genetic/protein evolution), or even directly re-engineer genetic code to be specifically designed to handle more active memories (like adding more RAM to your computer) then you’ve come out with the next generation of humans (Humans 2.0) who are intentionally designed to deal with the vast amount of knowledge that is available to them.  Instead of an FM Adapter for you car, the car now has an iPod dock (or built in internet radio) that doesn’t need an adapter.

I’m not sure that we really are considering the consequences of toying with a slow and well paced process like evolution, but it does seem likely to be upon us.  Perhaps we should go the route of re thinking society’s norms and slowing life down again to fit within the evolutionary timeframe of long lifed humans.  Either way though, perhaps next time you get a headache and take a Tylenol to clear it, or realize that your transfixed by the fast moving pictures on television, or put a coat on to protect you from the cold/rain, etc. hopefully you will realize that technology already is allowing you to adapt your body to the technological world in which we live.

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jwichmann 03.09.08 at 18:45

Man, registration and everything? That’s rough. But at least I learned today that my inability to remember the word ‘polenta’ in everyday conversation isn’t entirely my fault. -jen