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Evolution: Has Human Culture Replaced Biology?

DVD-1081-2_300x375 Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over. The epoch of species competition came to an end about 10 thousand years ago when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the planet. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the driving force of change.

Freeman Dyson  -Institute for Advanced Study

It has become part of the accepted wisdom to say that the twentieth century was the century of physics and the twenty-first century will be the century of biology.

Freeman Dyson predicts that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years.

Dyson's mentor in the field of biology, Carl Woese, professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois and the world's greatest expert in the field of microbial taxonomy is the creator of the Three Domain Hypothesis, which explored the ancestry of microbes by tracing the emergence of defined species from the pool of primitive gene-swapping cells that characterized the early history of life.

Woese and other scientists began to find evidence for a previously unknown group of prokaryotic organisms. These organisms lived in extreme environments - deep sea hydrothermal vents, "black smokers", hot springs, the Dead Sea, acid lakes, salt evaporation ponds.

Because they appeared prokaryotic, they were considered bacteria and named "archaebacteria" ('ancient' bacteria). However, it eventually became obvious from biochemical characteristics and DNA sequence analysis that there were numerous differences between these archaebacteria and other bacteria. Before long, it was realized that these archaebacteria were more closely related to the eukaryotes (including ourselves!) than to bacteria. Today, these bacteria have been renamed Archaea.

Woese’s big idea is that primitive life existed as a community of cells that freely exchanged genes. They shared a basic translation system for making proteins, but had little else in common. These cells evolved as a community and not as distinct lineages. Before Woese, the tree of life had two main branches called prokaryotes and eukaryotes, the prokaryotes composed of cells without nuclei and the eukaryotes composed of cells with nuclei.

Woese refers to this time as the “progenote era” where the word “progenote” refers to a cell that has not yet established a definite link between a stable genotype and a heritable phenotype. At some point in time, certain cells make the transition from progenote to the founders of a stable lineage. The transition point is known as the “Darwinian threshold.”

"The real mystery, however," writes Woese, "is how this incredibly simple, unsophisticated, imprecise communal progenote—cells with only ephemeral genealogical traces—evolved to become the complex, precise, integrated, individualized modern cells, which have stable genealogical records. This shift from a primitive genetic free-for-all to modern organisms must by all accounts have been one of the most profound happenings in the whole of evolutionary history. Although we do not yet understand it, the transition needs to be appropriately marked and named. “Darwinian threshold” seems appropriate: crossing that threshold means entering a new stage, where organism lineages and genealogies have meaning, where evolutionary descent is largely vertical, and where the evolutionary course can begin to be described by tree representation."

According to Woese, bacteria were the first species to emerge from the pool. From that point onwards, the evolution of bacteria was “Darwinian” and could be represented by a bifurcating tree.

Woese asks a profound question: When did Darwinian evolution begin?  In his "New Biology" article in the journal Nature, Woese describes a "golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist."

By Darwinian evolution Woese means evolution as Darwin understood it, based on the competition for survival of non-interbreeding species. He underscores the radical observation that  Darwinian evolution does not go back to the beginning of life. When Woese compared genomes of ancient lineages of living creatures, he found evidence of numerous transfers of genetic information from one lineage to another. In early times, Dyson emphasizes, horizontal gene transfer, the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent. It becomes more pronounced the further back we go in time.

"Life was then a community of cells of various kinds," Dyson points out "sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer."

In the Earth's history of cell evolution, some three billion years ago, a single cell separated itself from the community and its offspring became the first species of bacteria—and the first species of any kind—"reserving their intellectual property for their own private use."

Dyson describes the next stage of cell evolution: "With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species."

The Darwinian interlude an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer that had begun two to three billion years is over. The basic biochemical machinery of life had evolved rapidly during the few hundreds of millions of years of the pre-Darwinian era, and changed very little in the next two billion years of microbial evolution. Darwinian evolution is slow because individual species, once established, evolve very little. With rare exceptions, Freeman states, Darwinian evolution requires established species to become extinct so that new species can replace them.

The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the . Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change.

Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization.

And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species.

In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Dyson sees the world as moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, "when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was before separate species and intellectual property were invented."

The nonliving universe is as diverse and as dynamic as the living universe, and is also dominated by patterns of organization that are not yet understood. This picture of living creatures, as patterns of organization rather than collections of molecules, applies also to sand dunes and snowflakes, thunderstorms and hurricanes.

The reductionist physics and the reductionist molecular biology of the 20th century will continue to be important in the 21st century, but they will not be dominant. The big problems, the evolution of the universe as a whole, the origin of life, the nature of human consciousness, and the evolution of the earth's climate, cannot be understood by reducing them to elementary particles and molecules. New ways of thinking and new ways of organizing large databases will be needed, Dyson adds.

The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development, to help us solve some of our urgent social problems and ameliorate the human condition all over the earth. Open Source biology could be a powerful tool, giving us access to cheap and abundant solar energy.

The shifting balance of wealth and population between villages and cities is one of the main themes of human history over the last ten thousand years. Freeman sees the shift from villages to cities coupled with a shift from two kinds of technology: green and gray.

Green technology is based on biology, gray technology on physics and chemistry. For the first five of the ten thousand years of human civilization, wealth and power belonged to villages with green technology, and for the second five thousand years wealth and power belonged to cities with gray technology.

Green technology gave birth to village communities ten thousand years ago, starting from the domestication of plants and animals, the invention of agriculture, the manufacture of textiles and cheese and wine.

Gray technology gave birth to cities and empires five thousand years later, starting from the forging of bronze and iron, the invention of wheeled vehicles and paved roads, the building of ships and war chariots, the manufacture of swords and guns and bombs. Gray technology also produced the steel plows, tractors, reapers, and processing plants that made agriculture more productive and transferred much of the resulting wealth from village-based farmers to city-based corporations.

Beginning about five hundred years ago, gray technology became increasingly dominant, as we learned to build machines that used power from wind and water and steam and electricity. In the last hundred years, wealth and power were even more heavily concentrated in cities as gray technology raced ahead. As cities became richer, rural poverty deepened.

Within a few more decades, as the continued exploring of genomes gives us better knowledge of the architecture of living creatures, we shall be able to design new species of microbes and plants according to our needs. The way will then be open for green technology to do more cheaply and more cleanly many of the things that gray technology can do, and also to do many things that gray technology has failed to do.

In his book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet, Dyson describes a vision of green technology enriching villages, halting the migration from villages to mega cities. There are three key components of the vision: the sun to provide energy where it is needed, the genome to provide plants that can convert sunlight into chemical fuels cheaply and efficiently, the Internet to end the intellectual and economic isolation of rural populations. With all three components in place, every rural village in the world could enjoy its fair share of the blessings of civilization. People who prefer to live in cities would still be free to move from villages to cities, but they would not be compelled to move by economic necessity.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

Highly Recommended:

Stephen Hawking: "Humans Have Entered a New Stage of Evolution"

Source:

Our Biotech Future by Freeman Dyson

Related blogs:

http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2006/12/three-domain-hypothesis-part-6.html

Comments

Great perspective ahead, indeed. But we do not need to forget the dark side of each new toy of progress. The biotech can provide a new cheap edge over the benefits of current grey technologies but the same new cheap edge will apply to possibilites of mass-extinction tools. The importanace of the new biotech and culturetech will have to go hand-in-hand with our maturity to prevent the new power to fall into the hand of destructive forces. Otherwise, all this will remain just a sweet dream of past in the silly and pointless self-destruction event.

Like we always have and, regrettably, always will.
The faster we progress the faster we devalue ourselves.
What happens once we design an organism capable of mental feats no human has ever be capable of?
If we create them, I doubt we will be able to control them.
Our laws we would program into them would probably be hailed for their circumspection.
But so was Euclidean geometry.


From the article above : "Although we do not yet understand it, the transition needs to be appropriately marked and named.
“Darwinian threshold” seems appropriate: crossing that threshold means entering a new stage, where organism lineages and genealogies have meaning, where evolutionary descent is largely vertical, and where the evolutionary course can begin to be described by tree representation."

My comment : Well said and correct sentence.

More sentences in the article :

"The shifting balance of wealth and population between villages and cities is one of the main themes of human history over the last ten thousand years. Freeman sees the shift from villages to cities coupled with a shift from two kinds of technology: green and gray.

Green technology is based on biology, gray technology on physics and chemistry. For the first five of the ten thousand years of human civilization, wealth and power belonged to villages with green technology, and for the second five thousand years wealth and power belonged to cities with gray technology.

Green technology gave birth to village communities ten thousand years ago, starting from the domestication of plants and animals, the invention of agriculture, the manufacture of textiles and cheese and wine.

Gray technology gave birth to cities and empires five thousand years later, starting from the forging of bronze and iron, the invention of wheeled vehicles and paved roads, the building of ships and war chariots, the manufacture of swords and guns and bombs. Gray technology also produced the steel plows, tractors, reapers, and processing plants that made agriculture more productive and transferred much of the resulting wealth from village-based farmers to city-based corporations.

Beginning about five hundred years ago, gray technology became increasingly dominant, as we learned to build machines that used power from wind and water and steam and electricity. In the last hundred years, wealth and power were even more heavily concentrated in cities as gray technology raced ahead. As cities became richer, rural poverty deepened."


He makes the history of Sapiens-Sapiens and how in his opinion the social evolution has dramatically impacted the sapiens-sapiens : I AGREE.

It is NOT studying old skulls and bones and very old elementary works around fires that can demonstrate that the sapiens-sapiens is natural-direct evolution of Cromagnon.

The cited "Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization.".

I AGREE 100% there is again NO evidence at all that 10KY ago intelligent sapiens-sapiens were a darwinian evolution of Cromagnon ...no skull and no fires around.

He fixes the "darwinian threshold" at 10KY agò : completely agreed.

Nobody knows how 'sapiens-sapiens' suddenly appeared with 'ideas' of villages ...'organization' of small and increasingly complex societies in small cities that NEEDED a written language ...laws...regulations....History facts and many other application for written languages.

Some 'guys' at an article above related to 'Cromagnon VS Neanderthal' sustain that the real history of sapiens-sapiens is in the search of skulls and fires and bones and may be some primitive drawing in some cave to UNDERSTAND how cromagnon (that they infer is us) evolved into modern men.

These guys do not even understand what they are talking about and tend to become aggressive...as all those that have poor knowledge but sustain that they understand the 'EVERYTHING'.

Good article...good theories...good dates (10KY) for the insurgence of 'sapiens-sapiens' that is NOT cromagnon....sapiens-sapiens is us (may be NOT them at above article).

Regards to the article and to the assemblers: well done and well assembled.


I find many of the assumptions of the new biology based on technological thinking. If humans will guide the next stage of evolution, we're screwed, because right now we lack the proper ethical and moral responsibility to do so. How can we survive by killing of the biosphere? This is absurd, and exactly the direction we are heading if we maintain the current course. Green technology is not the solution; wisdom and a sense of the sacred is. Furthermore, there are alternative views of evolution that have a quite different outlook. For example, Kropotkin challenged Darwin's assumption that fitting means competition. Fitting really means cooperation and finding how you *fit* into a niche. It's true that some species compete for territory (such as humans), but even that kind of competition involves a lot of cooperation with the environment. (BTW, are we really that evolved, even though we engage in human sacrifice and engage in the hunting of other humans in the name of abstract principles like God, Democracy and Freedom? All the while searching for ways to leave the planet while turning our oceans into an acidified sewer?) Anyhow, perhaps the human break with evolution is in the violation of the natural laws that made us a sustainable species for hundreds of thousands of years. When we moved from the neolithic into what Mumford calls the "megamachine"--organized human labor to make us into parts of a machine--we stopped harmonizing and cooperating with nature and began to dominate it (and women simultaneously). So obviously I disagree with Dyson's technological fantasy of nature. In fact I find it dangerous and unethical. I hope we can put the breaks on before it's too late.

"What happens once we design an organism capable of mental feats no human has ever be capable of?"

I do believe that's what's known as the Singularity, and what will happen?
We don't know.
That's the point of the Singularity. The world will change more than we can comprehend.

You scared?

I'm not. I'm looking forward to it! :)

watch evolution theory collapse from here -> http://www.harunyahya.com/presentation/collapse_in_europe/index.html

There seems to be a lot of misrepresentation of evolution's involvement in the beginnings of life, and the future of evolution This article does nothing to clear it up.

The whole idea of genes being freely passed 'horizontally' or 'vertically' needs to be deeply clarified. It gives the impression that an organism that passes genes back and forth to organisms not like itself, in which they all benefit as a group is not natural selection. That is exactly what it is. If they could not do that, they would die out. They are excluding the degree in which not only do organisms fight each other off but the fact that they also can and do co-evolve become dependent on other forms of life.

In the case of these 'pre-darwinian' organisms, the proof that they evolved in the classical manner of 'Darwinism' is that they evolved at all. Their random gene passing produces better suited organisms that produced better suited organisms and so on until the present state of life. That is natural selection and evolution.

The article is misguided on this point.

As for 'post-darwinian' natural selection, it will and does play a huge role in cultural evolution, not through genes, but through Memes and (if not the same thing) cultural information.

Please smack me down if I've made an error or mis-represent something myself.

cheers,
J

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