Thursday, January 16, 2014
Technology As Evolution
The theory of evolution is one of the most powerful and confirmed theories in all of science, genetic information alone is enough to confirm common ancestry between everything from humans to crabgrass. We share the vast vast majority of genetic code with all life forms on this planet, meaning we are chemically and physiologically alike in most processes.
Of course there is also massive fossil evidence to back this up, we are more sure of this than anything except maybe Newtons gravity. But what people seldom discuss is the future of evolution as it relates to humans.
This subject cannot be approached without bringing technology into the mix, because it has essentially become the deciding factor of change in our lives. When humans began to create technology, they gained access to a means by which any individual could take a personal step in evolution simply by choosing how and when to use certain technologies.
This leads to an ever quickening pace of change as technologies and knowledge compound upon themselves and build to an ever greater crescendo. It is this pattern that leads to the exponential growth we experience all around us.
As this happens, ideas take on new profundity, which leads to the concept of memes and memetic evolution. A meme is like a single unit of an idea. The term "meme" was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene". He used it to describe the way ideas compete and adapt to survive.
“When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.”
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
As technology becomes more digital, memes take on a greater power. With information technology, memes can fly around the planet at ever faster speeds doing battle for our attention.
Each iteration of evolution has brought our consciousnesses further into the picture as a factor, and this trend is only going to continue until we control the process completely. Before technology, we had arguably only one way to control evolution, mate selection.
“Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.”
-Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
As technology began to surface, you got to choose whether to hunt with spear, bow, sling, atlatl or a big rock. Whomever hunted best ate best and so the weapons with the best advantages were used by those who survived best, and passed down to their children.
This pattern applies to everything, clothing, building techniques, medicine. As the number of technologies available to humanity increased, it allowed us greater and greater control over how we lived and survived. The battle of the memes had begun.
Now one might imagine a time in the future when we control everything about our existence, from the outside world to our own genetics and chemistry. When this happens we will functionally be in control of how evolution advances. What we will do with this is anyone's guess, but the world today probably holds many hints as to how we will use this control of our destiny.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."