Christina Sterbenz, an author for the Business Insider wrote a compelling article detailing how humans are amidst a rapid surge of evolutionary transition, but not the form of evolution we are accustomed to discussing. Sterbenz talks about we how humans are changing our mottos from “living fast and dying young” to “living slow and dying old”. As a species, our life expectancy has about doubled within a century and our birth rates are decreasing steadily. Humans actually spend the most time [of any animal] nurturing children into independence, and this time frame is only increasing as years go by.
Sterbenz quotes Cadell Last, doctoral student of evolutionary anthropology as the Global Brain Institute, when she starts talking about the “fundamental life history trade-off”. This tradeoff defines a spectrum of reproduction strategy, from producing as many offspring as possible or spending that time caring for offspring and making them as successful as possible. According to Last, humans are spending more and more time rearing young, and statistics support this; the CIA World Factbook lists that human fertility rates are decreasing, with half of the world’s countries having a fertility rate of 2.1. Since there are already so many humans on the Earth, this strategy of reproduction is very successful, producing better-prepared offspring who have better chances of survival.
Sterbenz goes on to discuss a different idea of Last’s, the idea of biological vs. cultural reproduction. Biological reproduction being a well-defined timeframe for an individual to create more offspring in a manner that provides them the best opportunity of survival. Human beings, according to Last, are moving towards cultural evolution, when an individual reproduces not necessarily with the best chance of survival, but works to assimilate the offspring towards a specific culture. For example, teaching children that stealing is bad isn’t necessarily best for their survival. From a purely survival based perspective, stealing can be beneficial, providing an individual with resources with minimal work. However, teaching a child not to steal benefits a culture, or a group of people, by creating a more cohesive and well-structured group that interacts positively.
This article talks about evolution in a different manner than we have seen so far, a purely genetic, phenotype/genotype-based way of defining evolution. It talks about evolution as a means for a group of individuals to create a form of structure that betters the group, not the individual. These changes are not necessarily based on genetic mutations leading to a different species, but rather the way we humans interact with each other. What do you all think of this idea? Does it seem legitimate to define this “cultural evolution” as evolution? Or should it be defined as something else? And if so what is that?
Also, what do you all think this idea of “cultural evolution” means for the human race? Will it eventually lead to genetic changes that enhance our abilities to survive in the modern age? Or has that form of evolution as we knew it come to a halt due to the new advances in medicine and technology that drastically reduce death rates in offspring?