Thursday, February 11, 2016

Could evolution produce a "perfect" being?




Would evolution ever render the "perfect organism?"

It's such a tempting notion to entertain. If you look at human origins, we've certainly (perhaps arguably) come a long way from our primordial state into what we are now. Instead of going through artificial means, is there an "endgame" for evolution where humans will reach a state of perfection all on our own? In theory, yes. But the sad news is, probably not. Evolutionary perfection is just a myth in general.

So say researchers at Michigan State University. The team of scientists have conducted the longest running experiment on evolving organisms in a fixed environment. They have watched 60,000 generations of E. Coli bacteria, the human equivalent of 1.8 million years. In the interstitial moments between generations, mutations occurred. Thousands of them. From the article:

"If bacterial growth follows a power law model as the researchers assume, this implies that while increases in fitness slow over time, there is no upper limit. Their newest findings, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, bear out this hypothesis, showing that the line of best fit for bacterial evolution matches much more closely to, and even exceeds, a power law model. There is no end game for evolution."

The leader of the study, however, makes clear in no uncertain terms that the lack of an "endgame" is only theoretical. There likely is indeed a limit as to how far humans, or any other organism, can develop, but as explained in the report we are so far from that point that "it's not even relevant." One other important caveat the researchers point out is that their experiment is quite different from the way things work in "the wild." The study was carried out in a fixed environment. Fluctuations and changes are going on all the time due to natural and human-caused events:

"Faced with an unsteady future, most species, including humans, are struggling to catch up. While evolving past climate change entirely is likely impossible, some species have already begun to change. Tawny owl feather colors, for example, are changing to match a snowless landscape, and pink salmon in Alaska are migrating earlier in response to warmer water temperatures."

Will humans reach the "upper limit" of evolution? Perfection? Theoretically, yes. Likely, no. Besides, perfection is a relative term.

Sure would be nice though. Something, whether evolution or alien intervention, needs to speed our physical development along so we can adapt to all we have done.

Otherwise there may not be anyone left to evolve.



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2 comments:

  1. On FB, Josh said: " I think an argument can be made that all currently living species ARE "perfect beings" adapted to the environment and niche in which they live, including humans. When humans leave this rock and expand to the stars, I would expect us to evolve dramatically to meet the needs of new environments. The first travelers and their descendants will probably decrease in size as bone mass decreases and food availability is limited. If we populate a planet that has lower oxygen levels we will have a subspecies that will develop larger lung capacity to cope. Thus there will never be a perfect being, just the one best suited to the current demands of their environment.
    Personally I am far more interested to see how we will use technology to artificially advance ourselves without the need for random mutations. We could use genetic engineering to eradicate genetic diseases and we could use computers to create cybernetic organisms that are faster, stronger, and smarter than any human would be alone. I just wish we could live long enough to see these things become a reality."

    "Perfect" is indeed a relative term as I said in the article. But I sure do agree with your second paragraph and have been an unabashed transhumanist for a few years now. We may not live to see all of those advancements become reality, but a few will happen sooner than we might think. Question is, will most of us be able to afford them?

    ReplyDelete
  2. On FB, Josh said: " I think an argument can be made that all currently living species ARE "perfect beings" adapted to the environment and niche in which they live, including humans. When humans leave this rock and expand to the stars, I would expect us to evolve dramatically to meet the needs of new environments. The first travelers and their descendants will probably decrease in size as bone mass decreases and food availability is limited. If we populate a planet that has lower oxygen levels we will have a subspecies that will develop larger lung capacity to cope. Thus there will never be a perfect being, just the one best suited to the current demands of their environment.
    Personally I am far more interested to see how we will use technology to artificially advance ourselves without the need for random mutations. We could use genetic engineering to eradicate genetic diseases and we could use computers to create cybernetic organisms that are faster, stronger, and smarter than any human would be alone. I just wish we could live long enough to see these things become a reality."

    "Perfect" is indeed a relative term as I said in the article. But I sure do agree with your second paragraph and have been an unabashed transhumanist for a few years now. We may not live to see all of those advancements become reality, but a few will happen sooner than we might think. Question is, will most of us be able to afford them?

    ReplyDelete