Human Evolution & Intelligence StudiesTrending Away From Reductionism

April 07 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 17 Hot

How strong are your genes? How smart are you? People have traditionally estimated answers to these questions based on genetic surveys and IQ Tests, which can provide valuable answers, but stop well short of factoring in the system(s) surrounding us. This failure to account for environmental effects and group dynamics ultimately caps their utility when it come to the fundamental future-related questions we all seek to answer, like “How probable is it that I/we will survive?” or “How likely is it that I/we will thrive?”

But don’t worry, we’re getting better at quantifying our system all the time. Right now, we may be on the verge of a perspective shift that will help us to fill in a few more gaps and better our systems definitions. Both human intelligence and evolutionary studies appear poised for a due emphasis shift from reductionism (the focus on individual human agents and single brains) to a more holistic (the focus on large groups and the surrounding bio/info/tech structures) approach.

Cognitive theorist Jim Flynn, founder of the Flynn Effect, argues that it is impossible to properly measure intelligence without considering a combination of genetic and environmental effects. He and William Dickens of the Brookings Institution have developed a new model, which demonstrates that environmental factors play a much larger role in the evolution of cognition than previously thought. They theorize about how “industrialization’s rising cognitive demands, at work and leisure, could in fact be the kind of widespread (but not necessarily large), steadily changing environmental factor that could account for the higher IQ scores across so many nations.” (cont.)

Continue Reading

Is Evolution Exponential?

May 09 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2020   Rating: 10 Hot

Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

When Charles Darwin first proposed writing his landmark book on evolution, The Origins of Species, his editor suggested writing a book on pigeons because, in his words, “Everyone is interested in pigeons.” Fortunately, Darwin chose to ignore the advice. I am reminded of the story because even though Darwin’s theory was proposing only that species make modest, incremental changes over long periods of time, it was – and in many circles still is – a revolutionary idea.

What then happens if evolution is not just incremental in nature but rather exponential? That, too, is a revolutionary idea – especially since it could impact us within our lifetimes.

Well, we are now approaching a time when this exponential theory of evolution will be put to the test.

If you accept the notion of evolution, you will agree that the earliest life appeared on earth approximately 4 billion years ago. Complex cellular organisms showed up 2 billion years ago, and the first multicellular organism about 1 billion years ago. The first reptiles and dinosaurs made their appearance 300 million years ago; the first primates 40 million years ago; homo sapiens appeared 160,000 years ago; Cro-Magnon man 40,000 years ago; and modern civilization as we know it began about 10,000 years ago.

Thinking about this much progress over such an extended period of time is difficult. Years ago, Carl Sagan, the famed astronomer, offered up a “cosmic calendar” to make such progress more comprehensible to the layperson. He asked that they imagine the entire history of the universe as being compressed into a single year. (cont.)

Continue Reading

Civilization began slowly, but now it's off to the stars

May 22 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Author William McGaughey interprets world history as five civilizations appearing in succession over the last 5,000 years, each introduced by a new communication technology. In the first civilization, humans only wrote in graphic form, then about 3,000 BC alphabet writing was devised, and this began the second civilization.

This eventually led to the invention of the printing press in China in 593 AD and the world’s first printed newspaper in Beijing in 700 AD. These events were the beginning of the third civilization. The fourth civilization started in the 20th century with electronic recording and broadcasting, which is now merging into the fifth civilization which utilizes computer communications and the Internet, and is still in its infancy today.

Leaving the communications world, futurists ponder where we go from here. In 1964, Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev introduced a method for categorizing civilization advances based on energy consumption which he divided into three stages, Type I, II, and III civilizations. Type I harnesses all the energy from its planet, Type II, its sun, and Type III, its galaxy. Others have since added Type IV, which controls extra-galactic energy including dark matter that makes up 73% of the universe.

Today, physicists rate Earth at Type 0.7. Astronomer Don Goldsmith. reminds us that Earth receives only one billionth of the suns energy, and that we utilize just one millionth of that; however with the help of advanced nanotech and greater-than-human intelligence, many predict we could reach Type I status by 2100 or before. (cont.)

Continue Reading

"Magical Future" promises radical changes to how we view life

March 04 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 7

By Dick Pelletier

Since the dawn of humanity and the advent of civilized life, humans have depended on technology to carry them into the future. Now, from genetics to artificial intelligence to nanotechnology, science is on the brink of extraordinary mega-revolutions that will soon change how we view human life.

In the pre-industrial age, raw materials were locally grown, chopped, or quarried, then produced by local craftsmen, and consumed by local villagers. The Industrial Revolution and the creation of the assembly line changed all that. Consumer goods could now be mass produced and distributed worldwide. Today, a global civilization tied together by trade is rising, which economists believe will one day turn Earth into a “global village.”

Today’s information technologies enable businesses to produce goods and services more efficiently. With the Internet, ideas are shared instantly worldwide allowing employees to work away from the office. This is producing a series of development stages that futurists believe will revolutionize our commerce world.

The first stage of this revolution was the formation of international corporations that outsource production to where it is cheapest, such as clothes designed in the U.S. and stitched together in Mexico. The second stage was the creation of multinational firms that distribute design teams across the globe to wherever the talent lies.

The third stage focuses on design and manufacture; for example, electronic firms now buy all the parts from different companies and just add packaging to the finished product. The fourth stage, expected to advance rapidly in the next decade, allows three-dimensional objects to be emailed and printed on any inkjet-based printer. This enables consumers to build products themselves, without labor costs. (cont.)

Continue Reading

Stressor-specific hypersensitivity in the long-lived mole rat

July 11 2008 / by mycophage / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

(cross-posted from Ouroboros: Research in the biology of aging)

Stress resistance at the cellular level is correlated with longevity at the organismal level, to such an extent that one can screen for longevity mutants by first identifying stress-resistant animals. Conversely, the cells of prematurely aging mutants tend to be hypersensitive to stress. The idea here is that longevity is controlled in part by basal and inducible molecular defenses like antioxidants and chaperones, and that high levels of such factors confer both stress resistance and enhanced longevity.

What’s interesting about this pattern is that it seems to apply to a wide range of multiple stresses, with very different physical bases: oxidation, irradiation, starvation, heavy metal toxicity, and temperature, to name a few. Without a great deal of experimental proof to support it, one can imagine some central homeostatic integrator of cellular well-being, upon which all manner of perturbations might impinge and which might in turn control both the appropriate defensive responses and factors that determine longevity.

It would therefore come as a surprise if a long-lived organism turned out to be unusually sensitive to stress — and in particular, sensitive to particular stresses. In one fell swoop, this would falsify both the general, well-accepted correlative pattern (stress resistance = longevity) and the somewhat more fanciful model of a central homeostatic integrator.

align=”right” width=”100”>Lo, the naked mole rat, Heterocephalus glaber. A eusocial rodent roughly intermediate in size between a mouse and a rat (depending on where you shop), and slightly less aesthetically pleasing than an overcooked boudin blanc with teeth, the naked mole rat has recently drawn the attention of model-hungry biogerontologists worldwide: Perhaps because of the quirky selection pressures on eusocial animals, H. glaber is unusually long-lived compared to animals of similar size and body plan (like mice and rats). Like, ten times longer-lived. So, compared to mice and rats, mole rats should be much more resistant to all stresses, right? (cont.)

Continue Reading

The Next Great Political Debate of the Future?

February 12 2009 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2009   Rating: 7 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

In one of those wonderful historical anomalies, February 12, 2009 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Lincoln is recognized as one of the greatest American presidents for helping end slavery. Darwin, of course, is the father of evolutionary biology.


It might appear these two historical giants have little else in common except the same birthday, but Darwin’s theory of evolution will soon call forth a new political debate which could, if not peacefully resolved, rip this country apart as surely as slavery did.

In today’s Wall Street Journal there is an article describing how advances in genetic technology are ushering in a new era of “designer babies” and some parents are pre-selecting embryos based on cosmetic characteristics such as eye and hair color.

Continue Reading

Visually Stunning Steampunk Evolution Video

January 22 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

If you enjoy futuristic gadgets and evolution then this Saturn-commissioned steampunk commercial should be right up your alley (hi-def version here):

Though I'm sure it's primarily intended to wow, I enjoy the robotic take on evolution because of how it removes the emotional animal component and places the emphasis on basic form. It's very transhuman in spirit.  Unfortunately the sky does not open wide to a transcendent singularity at the conclusion of the video, which would have made it super-viral among the growing singularitarian community, but I'm sure that we'll see newer, more philosophically advanced car commercials in the near-future. ;)

Big thanks to John Smart of the Acceleration Studies Foundation for the link.

Evolutionary theories of aging, as applied to lifespan extension

July 03 2008 / by mycophage / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

(cross-posted from Ouroboros: Research in the biology of aging)

Prominent biogerontologist and evolutionary biologist Michael Rose (recently named the chief scientific officer of the Biogerontology Research Foundation) has reviewed the decades-old interplay between evolutionary theories of aging and efforts to extend animal lifespans.

In the article, Rose critically evaluates several of the assumptions underlying SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) as formulated by anti-aging activist Aubrey de Grey, placing them in the context of demographic and population-biological observations. Ultimately, Rose concludes that life-extension therapeutics must address the issue of age-specific adaptation in order to be effective (link; emphasis below is mine):

Making SENSE: Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence Evolutionarily

Thirty years ago, in 1977, few biologists thought that it would be possible to increase the maximum life span characteristic of each species over the variety of environmental conditions in which they live, whether in nature or in the laboratory. But the evolutionary theory of aging suggested otherwise. Accordingly, experiments were performed with fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, which showed that manipulation of the forces of natural selection over a number of generations could substantially slow the rate of aging, both demographically and physiologically. After this first transgression of the supposedly absolute limits to life extension, it was suggested that mammals too could be experimentally evolved to have greater life spans and slower aging. And further, it was argued that such postponed-aging mammals could be used to reverse-engineer a slowing of human aging. The subsequent discovery and theoretical explanation of mortality-rate plateaus revealed that aging was not due to the progressive physiological accumulation of damage. Instead, aging is now understood by evolutionary biologists to arise from a transient fall in age-specific adaptation, a fall that does not necessarily proceed toward ineluctable death. This implies that SENS must be based on re-tuning adaptation, not repairing damage. As evolutionary manipulation of model organisms shows us how adaptation can be focused on engineering negligible senescence, there are thus both scientific and practical reasons for making SENS evolutionary; that is making SENSE.


Continue Reading

Build Your Own Rear-Projection Touchscreen Interface

December 02 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Gadgets   Year: 2008   Rating: 2

It seems that once a technology is created and shown to work, it's not too long before someone creates a similar product in their basement for a fraction of the price.  Here's TradeMark Gunderson of the Evolution Control Comittee showcasing his rear-projection touchscreen he threw together using some LEDs and two WiiMotes.  Hope it inspires you to build your own since the Microsoft Surface costs about $12,500.

via Hacked Gadgets