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Evolve or Bust

December 12, 2015

People like to theorize about the meaning of life. But what they’re usually thinking about is the meaning of human life, specifically their own. And within that question lies the assumption that humanity is the pinnacle of creation; that the meaning exists within our bodies, and we are able to achieve it in this lifetime.

I wish to question this assumption. I wish to theorize that humanity – homo sapiens – is but one stage along the road of evolution, and the goal is not to remain human but to transcend it.

The difficult aspect of studying the future of evolution is that it’s nearly impossible to tell what will happen next. This makes it tough to identify the best traits for survival. The life force, as we’ll call it, solves this problem by trying every possible permutation and letting natural selection sort out the details. It doesn’t care if it makes 10,000 mistakes, so long as it finds the one way that does work. We see this in genetics, for example: diversity is a boon because it allows the best statistical chance for survival.

But diversity is not a boon simply for the sake of diversity: as soon as nature finds its path, the playing field changes. For tens of thousands of years the species on this planet existed in a sort of equilibrium. Today, the earth is experiencing a massive die-off event because humans have proved themselves the most adaptable. And look at the diversity within homo sapiens!

Who knows what will happen in the future – will the climate shift, causing a massive die-off within humanity itself? Will we rush to our own destruction before nature gets a chance? Will we all learn to get along in a clean, green, utopian kind of way? Chances are the answer is somewhere in the middle. But whatever happens, the life force will not stop working.

It’s working right now. As we speak a shift is happening somewhere. Micro-changes. More twins. Autism. Brain chemistry. The human race is evolving, whether we want to admit it or not.

And whether we want to admit it or not, we have the power to affect that evolution. We do it every day. We affect our evolution by what we eat and how we live. We affect it by the decisions we make about vaccinations and childbirth and health care, to name a few. And we affect it on a larger scale by our science.

Soon it may be possible to map the human genome. Being able to isolate and identify the markers for hereditary traits and diseases is the first step toward being able to manipulate human DNA, which will open the door for a transformation the likes of which even Hollywood hasn’t imagined.

But even at our current stage of scientific ability, some level of guided evolution is possible. If it can be done with fruit flies, it can probably be done with humans. To date we simply haven’t had an acceptable goal to reach for, and we can thank Hitler for that. The fear of one branch of humanity being (or claiming to be) superior has become ingrained in our collective consciousness, and it’s holding us back.

At its heart, this fear circles back to the original question: why am I alive? We all want to be part of the group that survives, or transcends, or simply matters. The unspoken fear is that we will discover we are not in fact equal, but less than.

Because of this fear, the subject of, discussion of, and most definitely the practice of human experimentation has become taboo within our culture. And so instead of using our scientific prowess to improve ourselves, we have fallen into the trap of stasis. Our culture no longer works toward progress, but comfort. Our minds have stopped evolving.

Except they really haven’t, of course. No stasis lasts forever, and in this pocket of the universe few last long at all. The planet’s climate is a perfect example: while we argue about whether it is changing or not – and whether human development may have caused this change – the climate is just going ahead and doing its thing. At some level it doesn’t matter if we caused it or not; eventually the planet’s surface is going to become inhospitable to human life as we know it. The question is, do we wait around for it to happen and then react, or do we turn our scientific eyes on ourselves and get prepared?

How does one prepare for the unpredictable? The answer is diversity. Home sapiens’ best chance of species survival is to change into as many and as different forms as possible. A branch of humans who can breathe underwater. Another that can survive at 18,000 feet. People immune to radiation sickness. The ability to empathize with life that doesn’t look like us.

Of course this isn’t the same as Homo sapiens surviving as we are right now. That is simply not going to happen. The best we can hope for is to continue to be a part of the chain of evolution, which brings us back to the fear of being irrelevant. Hitler’s attempt to guide creation by removing the (perceived) threats to his bloodline has resulted in a situation where we’d rather everyone perish than one small group flourish, because we are operating under the false dichotomy that human evolution can only happen at the cost of the majority of the population.

In summary, our culture has fallen into the trap of stagnation due to the fear of being left behind. If we could broaden our thinking to see the possibilities of guided evolution, the human race could experience a transformation that would do far more than increase the likelihood of our survival: it would give us something to live for.

And that makes a lot more sense than the number forty-two.

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