How will physical and cultural evolution interact in the future?
We have evolved in two ways since hominids first emerged somewhere in Africa two and a half million years ago.
Culturally; we live together in massive populations and interact in a mostly peaceful way. How did we evolve that degree of tolerance? Epidemic disease resistance (physical) promoted city living (cultural) but cities also drove disease resistance. What came first?
Physically; large brains, upright posture, small teeth, delicate features, opposable thumbs and so on. We cannot assign a specific reason why each of these traits evolved and why they came together two hundred thousand years ago.
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This site, in southern Anatolia, is the first place where monumental architecture is found. There is no evidence of settlements or agriculture around the site but the genetic ancestor of domesticated emmer wheat is found nearby. The site itself consists of twenty or more carved and decorated stone circles built at different times.
We cannot know what the purpose of the stone circles was. In this context it does not matter. Something brought many different groups together and the imperative to build the structures overcame inter group rivalry. The need to build the structures forced people to find ways to gather enough food to keep them fed while they stayed there. It would have been very difficult to build the structures without central planning. This established a hierarchy that sat over each groups own decision making processes.
Therefore this process resulted in:
• • The introduction of new techniques for food gathering and storage; these would have included herding together animals for slaughter, gradually concentrating food plants in a smaller area as discarded seeds resulted in new crops and building pens for animals and baskets for grain to store food during times when people were busy with construction.
• • A new way of making decisions as the building planners told people how to distribute resources and coordinate building activities.
These changes meant that people could live in larger groups, at first only during the part of the year when the activities associated with the stone circles took place, but eventually all year round. The jpurney to living in cities had begun.
In what sense are these changes evolutionary?
The key driver of evolution is natural selection. In biological terms this means that organisms that make better use of their environment than their competitors pass on their genes more often. Over time the traits that allow better exploitation of the environment are inherited and those that do not are not inherited.
A culture which is less able to gather food from its environment will be more likely to collapse or die out than a culture which can make better use of its environment. Even if a culture only has a small advantage over time it will expand into the territory controlled by less able cultures. This process does not need to involve conflict. Hunter gatherer groups can die out after a few hard winters. Agricultural or pastoralist groups may suffer but they will survive more often and move into territory vacated by failed hunter gatherer groups. This process continued to result in larger and larger settlements and eventually cities ruled by Kings.
So this process is evolutionary.
In the same way in the future those cultures that can better exploit the technological landscape we live in will grow to dominate the world, and indeed have done already. The next phase of technological development is manifesting itself as the online world. Cultures are appearing that are connected digitally but not...