A glance at the human experiment

In today’s blog we take a peek at evolution with Dr. Ian Tattersall, PhD from Yale University, and Curator Emeritus and Senior Scientist in Residence at the American Museum of Natural History.

David: Is there randomness in the story of human evolution?

Ian: Every evolutionary history is deeply affected by random external events. Paleoanthropologists are finally beginning to realize this.

David: Did language inspire more complex forms of language in a kind of bootstrapping effect?

Ian: I would guess that language, once invented, rapidly acquired all of its nuances. Including its tendency to diversify.

David: To what extent is it reasonable to make a break with our past in trying to build a viable modern civilization?

Ian: We were clearly not fine-tuned by nature to be the kind of creature we are. So we have the ability to change, unshackled by the past.

David: Feelings of jealousy or envy affect human interaction in negative ways. Did humans evolve with a stronger sense of the individual compared to the group? Would it be scientifically legitimate to attempt to identify current pressures in our environment that lead to collective well-being?

Ian: Humans are extremely prosocial, with a keen sense of group membership, yet each individual mentally constructs the world in his or her own way. If you could think of a way to adjust the environment in such a way that everyone spontaneously behaved so as to align the individual and common interest, that would be to everyone's advantage.

David: Is it possible to identify pressures that may have an impact on human evolution?

Ian: Being human is a very young experiment, and we are far from having explored all of its ramifications. Anything is possible, which is both exciting and scary.

David: Thank you Professor!

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