Hey, take a minute to read this recent New York Times article by Nicholas Wade, “Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force”! This is the opening paragraph:
As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.
The whole piece is great. From that introduction, it goes on to explain fascinating evidence/patterns of gene-culture coevolution. This paragraph in particular struck me (admittedly in a way tangential to the author’s original purpose):
With archaic humans, culture changed very slowly. The style of stone tools called the Oldowan appeared 2.5 million years ago and stayed unchanged for more than a million years. The Acheulean stone tool kit that succeeded it lasted for 1.5 million years. But among behaviorally modern humans, those of the last 50,000 years, the tempo of cultural change has been far brisker. This raises the possibility that human evolution has been accelerating in the recent past under the impact of rapid shifts in culture.
Can you imagine the tools of your trade remaining unchanged for 1.5 million years? Some folks (my techie friends, particularly) would find that constancy stifling. But me? I am sort of enamored of the concept!
These days, the world changes so rapidly that staying at the cutting edge (of anything and everything!) can be completely overwhelming. We don’t often question the value of continually working to remain on that cutting edge, but I think we should.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re almost to a point of “advancing” ourselves to death — or at least “advancing” ourselves to a sad, ungrounded, stressed-out, unhealthy place. In my opinion, more advanced and faster and newer is NOT always better. There’s a lot to be said for basic and slower and classic.
Maybe I’m just a throwback with a batch of those slow Stone Age genes.
Or maybe I’m just getting old and cranky. Oy!