Recent reports suggest that the evolution of human beings is still occurring to this day. Extreme examples of human evolution, such as an entirely new species or superpowers that could rival the X-men are obviously not the case, but this is simply because evolution is much too subtle to be noticed in such a dramatic way. The human brain is the most common reference to what places Homo sapiens in a category of their own and made their evolution so significant.
Throughout the meticulous study of human evolution, examination of the human brain’s neocortex has proven to be the most crucial aspect on which scientists focus when studying human evolution. Its increase in size over millions of years led to the development of language, long term planning and abstract thought. It is the developing human brain, therefore, toward which scientists turn when examining human evolution as it progresses. The need to pass infants through the birth canal, however, has always limited the size of the head, which in turn limits the size of the brain. Scientists believe that, with the increase in the rate of Caesarean sections and better pre- and postnatal care, the circumvention of the conventional birthing process may be the key to developing larger brains, the most likely direction for our evolution in this current age.
The evolution of humans is still occurring, but it may not necessarily be by historical and conventional means. Stephen Hawking has lectured that it was natural selection that brought Homo sapiens, and other species, this far, but that we will soon enter a new stage of evolution. This new stage will not be characterized simply by changes in our DNA, but also by the inclusion of the exterior information and knowledge that humans have gathered over the last 10,000 years. Hawking continues by saying that human evolution is unique because of this ability to gather knowledge, stating “We are more than just our genes.” This idea hearkens back to Richard Dawkins’ theory on cultural evolution, or memes.
Knowledge and information itself has now become a determining factor in the direction of our evolution, and Darwinian evolution by natural selection in the case of human evolution has been more or less cast aside. Direct targeting of genes such as gene replacement and repair are clear examples. The idea that genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis will be cured through gene replacement is revolutionary, while the idea that manipulating the genes that control intelligence is extraordinary.
The fact that evolution in humans is still occurring is more significant than the general public has realized. It is even more astounding that human beings will be responsible for their own evolution, guiding it in a way that Darwin and his contemporaries could not possibly have foreseen. History and the fossil record have shown that a deciding factor in the progression of a species’ evolution is the drive to acquire resources so that an organism may be able to mate and spread its DNA throughout its population. Though the implications behind genetic manipulation and guided evolution may be clouded, it is clear the direction of the evolution of Homo sapiens will be a significant event in the history of the earth.
Opinion by David Jones