Could orthodox conceptions of Human evolution--which rest upon the theory of Behavioral Modernism--be marred by cultural and epistemological biases. For example, are industrialized human populations actually more evolved than First Humans (circa 100 ka) and/or currently existing hunter-gather populations? Or might the perceived differences result from divergent values and systems of knowing?
closed as primarily opinion-based by Joseph Weissman♦ Jan 3 '15 at 16:04
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Although I respect Ken Wilbur and other transpersonalists, they seem to see evolution as a single track, whereas it is clearly something more complex. It presents to us at least a tree of evolutions, and perhaps a network where traits emerge and fold back together into more complex systems than could evolve in a simple, goal-seeking manner.
We have certainly evolved adaptations that allow us to populate a broader range of the planet. So while you may or may not want to consider local adaptations as evolution of the whole species, we do see the process of evolution at work selecting humans for different environments. It is not clear this somehow advances the species as a whole, because they seem to take the form of selective trade-offs. But they allowed us to migrate to areas we could not previously occupy.
In the north, for instance, light skin allowed us to move north of the tropics and still have enough Vitamin D (while letting us get more skin cancer). And we evolved the various blood types to resist diseases more often caused by the cold (while creating certain difficulties in childbearing). To the far north, we think we evolved fat accumulation for warmth, and when those same people moved through the far north to the middle of the Americas, we see the same mechanism adapt for long-term survival in regions with extreme seasonal variation (while making for a lot of diabetes currently). So, this presents at least a 'tree' of adaptations that increases our flexibility.
Also, there is a good reason not to consider technology as 'evolution', since it can be lost and regained far more easily than atavism can allow physical traits to be lost and regained. Merging these two concepts seems unwise, since they pursue different goals, an currently, to my mind, seem to be trending in opposite directions. We are trying very hard to suspend physical evolution, and to make humans' ability to reproduce more equal, and we see the middle classes worldwide in particular producing fewer copies of their genes in the interest of promulgating more emphasis upon their 'memes'.
As they do so they mix those memes in new and interesting ways that change the memes themselves far faster than simply recombining would seem to. I think our framing from most of advanced science, for instance, combines tropes from religions that arose far, far apart (in particle theories alone: spontaneous generation, irreducible indeterminacy, 'vibrations' as forms of matter, 'light' as the basic substance, the horror of emptiness), and generates new concepts entirely from among those combinations, that could not be foreseen in the originals or gotten by simple combination (like quantization of energy as well as matter). I would claim this means our psychical 'evolution' is more of a network where tropes split and merge and present a less atomic model than 'memes as mental genes' allows for.
This non-linearity complicates the notion of 'levels' or 'degrees' of evolution beyond a very basic, broad scale. And I think it is best done away with to begin with, since, wherever I have seen it as a trope, it is generally racist or classist in origin.
As much as I love Ken Wilber's "No Boundary" and his general project, I take his views as more of an attempt to unify and modernize the "perennial philosophy", rather than anything having to do with the realm usually covered by science. As such, these two areas should not be compared.
Our techno/social level has improved from better information transmission and preservation (language, writing, global communication, etc...) and not biology. This has allowed us to better build on what went on before and hence move forward. I think all people are biologically capable of the same intelligence, but since advancement is a social phenomena, we should look at it from the cultural level. Some cultures may encourage or discourage this transmission and thus their progress may be affected accordingly. How did these different cultures arise if not due to differences in biology? Environment! At this point, I'd recommend Jared Diamond's book Guns Germs and Steel. If nothing else, it can help build an appreciation of the interdependence between "progress" and the environment.
Having said that, if one holds that evolution is any process in which replication success is driven by change and a selection pressure, then one could look at successful societies or ideas from an evolutionary perspective. What ideas or social structures spread? Which ones die out? Why? You needn't look further than the state of the world and many indigenous cultures to see this in action.
In this sense, yes, we've evolved and will continue to do so. However, it's important not to make the mistake of assuming evolution means we're getting better, or heading towards some pre-defined state. If we turn into a "degenerate culture", that is as much evolution as if we turn into an "enlightened" one.
Also, if you turn this idea on its head and look at concepts as the central players (rather than people or social groups), you'll get The Meme.