I read Global Catastrophic Risks not only to deepen my understanding of global risks, but also to find ways to practically do something about it. Hopefully, blogging about the chapters as I digest them will assist on both accounts.
The book’s chapter 3 discusses our understanding of evolution, given the long perspective.
Evolution is not unique and has occurred several times in our history. Tool-making hominoids with communication skills have evolved independently in Africa (our ancestors), Europe (the ancestors of the Neanderthal) and south-east Asia (“hobbits”).
Environmental change is the major catalyst to drive evolution. Once species have filled their niches in the wake of an environmental change, adaption of organisms is only fine-tuned.
It has also been shown that in the last 40,000 years evolution has been driving our species forward, 100 times faster than before. Why this is so, is still unclear.
Today, psychological pressures and new environmental factors decide who among us reproduce.
When considering evolution, it is easy to focus on the physical adaption of organisms, but as humans evolve, it becomes increasingly important to consider intellectual evolution. We are still struggling to understand how to measure intelligence well. IQ is only one aspect of human intelligence, and has a low degree of inheritance. We still need to figure out if and how evolution can help humankind grow smarter over time. Although, in the near future, technical progress and the singularity are likely to supersede the process of evolution when it comes to improving the human race .
So how is evolution relevant to existential risks? It all comes down to how capable we will be in adapting to a changing environment. History has given us many examples of cultures going under because of their failure to survive a new environment. For example, the medieval Norse colonists in Greenland died out as they failed to change their eating habits, in a changing climate.
But, if climate change gives us enough time, our behavioral and societal models will have time to adapt.