Tuesday 17 July 2012


Robot Arm by Victor Habbick
Science Fiction is big on evolution, namely the evolution of humanity - either from long term exposure to the freakiness of space, or conscious evolution by tampering with genes. Either way it's seen as the ultimate solution to the secular version of original sin (how terribly nasty we humans can be), or the inevitability of the ongoing march of science.

So, will space change humans? Unlikely, simply because of our passion for technology. Humans have always used technology. Clothing is a form of technology - it is not natural, it is a deliberate manipulation of nature. The Naked Ape set out from Africa for colder regions long ago and, via the invention of clothing, took its environment with it, keeping its body at the same required temperature. Astronauts also take their environment with them - via spacesuits, oxygen tanks and, as will be likely, centrifugal gravity habs. All this negates the need to biologically adapt to the environment. Did the Inuit evolve hairy bodies like the polar bear, or blubbery skin like the walrus? No, they developed suitable clothing and, after thousands of years, remain recognizably human in all their traits and features. When Europeans encountered them after millennia of separation, they did not encounter aliens. Hereditary changes have been negligable and we remain, as a species, unchanged.

What about conscious evolution then? Will we, with the technology that, supposedly, will soon be within our grasp, change ourselves into post-humans? Well, the problem with this thesis is that humans have been able to alter biological features for thousands of years - pre-dating even civilization. We did it with selective breeding - of dogs, cattle and wheat grains. No lab coats were necessary for this, yet we've never done it to ourselves. And it's not because we've been too humane or moral to do it either. Humans have routinely slaughtered, enslaved and eaten other humans. Infanticide was a common method of birth control. So why have we never bred or created 'new' human types from slaves or unwanted children, the way we've done with dogs? Clearly there has to be a reason, an enduring reason that has lasted thousands of years. What that reason is, I do not know. But it's not an idle question and until we can answer it, we cannot take the idea of conscious evolution for granted.

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