I sure as damn hope so.
As I understand it, evolution is a process fueled by breeding, mutation and selection- possibly not in that order. All of those things are still clearly taking place. The problem (debatably, I’m at serious risk of sounding like a eugenicist or just a bastard here) is that with mastery over the environment, the selection isn’t happening in the traditional manner. Humanity isn’t specialising to fill a niche any more, its just making its own niche bigger by force. Trampling on the Earth around it at will. By pumping most of its evolutionary resources into brain embiggening, and the socio-cultural advantages that wins, humanity has got to a point where evolution doesn’t happen quite how it used to.
Our point of view is fixed to a personal level, which is a level where you can’t see evolution happening anyway. I suspect there is still change happening, but it’ll happen at a pace too slow for us to recognise. You can look in the mirror once a day and not notice any change, but sometimes can’t recognise yourself in an old photograph.
Beyond that, there is another way in which we are evolving, and perhaps we are doing that too fast to even recognise it as such. As much as we like to draw distinctions between the worlds of nature and technology, they are part of the same world, and our culture is as much a part of our evolution as our hands or mouth. Humanity’s strength (and hubris, potentially) is its ability to extend its powers so far beyond the individual. The shared knowledge of community has driven our evolution from the plains to the stars. Through communication and collaboration, we have built civilisations. Its an incredible achievement, and we must not ignore it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it has led us too enlightenment. We still percieve the world as mostly competition, failing to recognise its opposite as the main driving force. I despise evolutionary psychology type arguments, purpoting that gender difference or economics is set in stone by the behaviours of hypothesised cave or plain dwelling ancestors, but I believe fairly whole heartedly that if those early versions of ourselves had done nothing but compete, we would not be where we are today.
There are lessons to be learnt from our earlier selves. We need to recognise the scale of collaboration all around us, note that that is our strength, and that we can guide it. We need to recognise that the model that gives us should be extended out of humanity, and to the rest of the world. The Earth is not a resource, but a fellow traveller. We can’t communicate as readily, but we can still recognise the collaborative nature of the biosphere, and tread carefully as we build our futures.
We need to evolve, and oddly, we can direct some of it. We’re smart enough to choose our futures. At least I hope we are.
Because we must.
Illustration by David