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Nowadays we are living in a world that is emphasizing, in various ways, the concept that technological progress brings to our species welfare.

There are a lot of technological tools that help us to simplify our life, such as communication devices, computers, means of transport. Even The Internet bring us a knowledge that was unimaginable even few decades ago.

Now, such tools and services are dismissing the need to reason about how to solve a problem. This consideration also means that, at the end, we are loosing, slowly, what we learned in the past centuries.

This path can also bringing us to the extinction, potentially.

So, what can be considered as evolution of the human species and what, instead, can bring us to the extinction? And, in general terms, looking at the evolution of the species during the history, not only the human species, what indicates that a mutation is actually an evolution?

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    Considering it is normal for most kids nowadays in the western world to learn in high school what it took years of dedicated efforts for the a selected few like Descartes or Pascal to discover, I think the idea that we are going backward is mostly an illusion due to tunnel vision.
    – armand
    Feb 10 at 22:51
  • Such tools and services need to be created first, and there is plenty to reason about and problems to solve to create them. So we trade lower level problems they solve for us for higher level problems where those solutions are used as mere building blocks, which is an upgrade in complexity, if anything. And btw, extinction is just a regular part of evolution, biological evolution has no relation to "progress" or increase in complexity.
    – Conifold
    Feb 12 at 2:03
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Humans are eusocial, they have a hive-like quality, especially as regards language. We have made a kind of community living, which creatures not so different from other animals, can be born into and become something else. In the cases of children raised by wolves to beyond a certain age, they will never learn language, they are only intelligent animals. Single-cell life combined to create multicellular forms, capable of many new things. We can perhaps understand a spaceship colonising a new star, as not simply machine and pilots, but needing to transport and recreate an entire ecosystem, and that is a kind of organism - trees like mitochondria, and human factories like organelles. In particular, I like the idea that when brains have been digitised, there might be specific ones replicated for certain jobs, or teams if minds that work extra well together, and fulfil the human need for company and conversation.

Gaia theory has been called unfalsifiable, but it can be approached as systems thinking about the biosphere as a whole, which is perfectly valid. Earth has reached a certain point of information and energy density, we could see it as flowering - that spaceships carrying fragments of ecosystem to replicate then, are like seeds.

Destructive capacity is forcing maturity. Nuclear weapons created a system of international governance. There will come a time when a determined individual could not only kill a few hundred, but a whole city - a fusion bomb say. There will have to be a change both in how much we tolerate the mindset for such violence, and accountability of all governments globally to their people to prevent the conditions that help produce such a mindset.

Mutation is successful if it replicates, that is all. Enhancing resilience and adaptability are reliable routes to that.

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  • Humans evolve in cultural niches instead of biological ones,. That is without precedent and the reason why Darwin's theory is hardly applicable to the human species. It has almost nothing to do with mutations, really
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 11 at 17:53
  • @PhilipKlöcking: I was answering "what indicates that a mutation is actually an evolution?" I think there is a direct parallel, gene transfer among single-cell organisms. We used handaxes to be our claws. And we are going to use the whole toolbox of biology, to re-engineer ourselves and new ecosystems. The unit of selection may no longer be solely localised in an individuals genes, but viruses have meant that was never strictly purely true anyway.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 11 at 21:16
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First, a small pet-peeve: technology is definitely not "dismissing the need to reason about how to solve a problem". If anything, it helps us focus on the core of problems. For example, having massive amounts of data, or the ability to analyze it only helps us focus on the actual problems, which are still very present.

Also, I don't think changes to our way of living or thinking about the world are evolutionary in the strict sense of the word (in terms of genetic makeup, etc.) If you actually mean evolutionary changes, there is evidence that these are still going on and that some of these are sticking. In other words, evolution (in the biological sense) is definitely still going on, of course.

As to what can bring us to actual extinction, I'd say probably very few things. What comes to mind:

A very serious disease: It would have to be infectious enough to spread very quickly, probably airborne; at the same time it would have to be very lethal but not too lethal where so many people die that it can't be transmitted. My guess is even something with the right combination wouldn't actually kill off the species.

An asteroid hitting: If we saw this coming, my guess is the wealthiest members of the species would try to go live underground for years while things clear up, but I'm not sure how effective this would be depending on the size of the asteroid.

War: Conceivably, an all-out nuclear war might wipe us out. I think there are enough nuclear weapons for this, the problem would be that most of the attacks would be concentrated on a few countries, but the remaining regions of the world might die off from radiation/famine, etc.

Since the reasons above seem improbable, I'd say the continuation of the species is a safe bet. Where I see us evolving is towards more of a symbiosis with machines, blurring the line between what is human and machine, making great advances towards specific types of AI, though I'm not sure I'd say general AI is a given. This is probably the most important thing to determine our future as a species, how far we can go with AI.

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  • First of all, thanks for your answer, I appreciate. Then... what about Dana? XD joking Feb 11 at 16:30
  • Haha, she'd probably agree that the species will be ok, if anything due to her Catholic faith :)
    – Fox Mulder
    Feb 11 at 16:54
  • Small isolated pockets of survivors, especially ones with lasting grudges or mistrust, would likely cause speciation - another way for our species to disappear. Engineered diseases, would likely be the worst threat, in the serious disease category.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 12 at 1:34
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Evolution, in the biological sense, is nothing but getting from a shape A to shape B through time. Of course, mainstream biology is concerned with the shape of a single individual of a population and means of evolution for which is a simple mutation. However, we could elaborate this further.

I personally find there are two kinds of evolution that are concurrently happening:

  • The evolution of a single prototypical member of a certain species (e.g. a person)
  • The evolution of the population itself as an interdependent whole (e.g. a society)

The means of first one is a simple mutation in DNA. What leads to a mutation? UV, replication cycles, chemical agents etc.

The means of the second one can be argued about, which is what your question actually implies.

I think these two concurrent evolutionary processes are interrelated. For example, lifestyle changes regarding the advances of technology and means of production have a substantial effect on the evolution of a single prototypical member of society. In the modern age, we have McDonald's or Starbucks, dining & shopping in which is caused by our economical mode of production, i.e. need for a quick bite or coffee because we have to get to work as quickly as possible. In a farmer society, you could have more time and therefore you also would be nourished differently. In this example, our genetics regarding metabolism would be changed through time.

Technology also is one of the most substantial factors that change the course of production, as you have stated. Technology may make (biologically) weak to be able to cultivate its genes in the population. This changes the course of our evolution because it adds to the possibility of having multiple genes in the gene pool.

However, even with my biology background, I think the primary mode of our evolution should be considered our evolution as a society. We have created so many layers of structure over our biological one. On top of that, a single individual by himself does not have chance of staying alive in our society. Many organisms do have the ability to survive in nature by themselves. Most of us, on the other hand, literally can only survive only when we are part of the society, not individually. Our increasing interdependence on each other could be the means of our extinction. I don't think our over-reliance on technology will be the cause of our extinction, as even if the technology gets out of hand we will have our language and ability to cooperation to stay alive individually.

It is kind of similar to the tale of the Tower of Babylon, in which God degraded language (by making humans have different languages from each other) to prevent humanity from reaching himself.

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I think we often have too restricted a definition of evolution. For humanity, such a completely different creature in many ways, the next step in evolution may be far different from anything previously encountered.

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