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Have Humans Entered a New Stage of Evolution? (Weekend Feature - A Galaxy Insight)

Discovery_chan_id1_04a Although It has taken homo sapiens several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his Life in the Universe lecture, is about a bit a year.

"By contrast," Hawking says, "there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA."

This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. "At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information."

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

"I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race," Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has  been in what Hawking calls, "an external transmission phase," where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. "But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage," Hawking says, "has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes."

The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.

Stephen-hawkingMeanwhile, Hawking observes, our human brains "with which we process this information have evolved only on the Darwinian time scale, of hundreds of thousands of years. This is beginning to cause problems. In the 18th century, there was said to be a man who had read every book written. But nowadays, if you read one book a day, it would take you about 15,000 years to read through the books in a national Library. By which time, many more books would have been written."

But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls "self designed evolution," in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. "At first," he continues "these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression."

If the human race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction, we will probably reach out to the stars and colonize other planets. But this will be done, Hawking believes, with intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

Casey Kazan

Related Galaxy posts:

The 10,000 Year Explosion: Has Human Civilization Turbo Charged Evolution?
Homo Sapiens -The "Time Travelers" -A Galaxy Classic
“Hyper-Speed” Evolution Discovered
Bringing Ancient Human Viruses Back to Life: A Jurassic Park or Salvation?

Immense Journey



As already said , I AGREE with the ' 10 000 Years explosion' referring to the intelligence of 'sapiens sapiens' (that is us now and NOT cromagnon).

Has the human DNA changed a bit ????

NO I do not think the intelligence is only a matter of DNA and I assert there are NOT 2 single Humans 'perfectly equal' among us Human Beings....then I cannot well understand the LIMITS of the 'Human genoma mapping' (there are big ones in my opinion).

Our intelligence is nowadays Mostly society and culture induced as it is "pervasive" in its nature.

Regards : It is indeed an interesting a debated matter

If we have entered a new phase of Evolution, it will be short lived. Once we design Nano Tech to the point that we can successfully redesign ourselves to have *any* body we want, then the Singularity will begin, and we'll enter a Post Humanist Phase.
That's my prognostication, and I'm sticking to it :)

I agree with Jamerz, my first thought after having finished the article was "Singularity!" Personally, I can't wait. I feel like we've been constituted solely of meat for far too long.

I thought I'd read this before:

Recycle news much DG?

Isn't this essentially another way of describing what Richard Dawkins talked about with "memetics" and "extended Phenotypes" and whatnot? I do think this is a particularly awesome phase of our existence. More and more people these days are less worried about their genetic legacy than they are with leaving their own intellectual or memetic stamp on the world.

Hawking is a wise man...We have evolved/are evolving into creators...For good or bad/Better or for worse..It will be done..We will copy/try to immitate our creator..Only then we will know for sure ,if we can...If we should have..If we are any good at it..

What are our options?..We were created/evolved to create/explore/understand/grow..Whether it was Intentional or not...Doesn't matter to me..

I have faith in the future..and forever after..

Everything is energy and information...The rest is recyclable waste..

Over and out there from here...

In 1 peace or in pieces..



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