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Hawking Says Humans Have Entered a New Stage of Evolution

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the already-banned-in-kansas dept.

Biotech 398

movesguy sends us to The Daily Galaxy for comments by Stephen Hawking about how humans are evolving in a different way than any species before us. Quoting: "'At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information. I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race,' Hawking said. In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, 'an external transmission phase,' where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. 'But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage,' Hawking says, 'has grown enormously. Some people would use the term evolution only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes.'"

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What's his point? (4, Insightful)

i-like-burritos (1532531) | more than 5 years ago | (#28576991)

This is basically just a useless semantics argument.

Re:What's his point? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577027)

Our species is more than just the information we carry in our DNA.
It's all the information we "own".

Only honest discussions are useful. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577085)

Professor Hawkings cannot make a convincing point unless he admits and affirms the fact that evolution also produces differences in intelligence. Look at Germany, France, or Great Britain. They are nations whose people have made awesome contributions to science and technology. Here, science includes political science.

Now, look at all the nations of Africa. The Africans produced nearly nothing, by comparison.

Evolution created a situation in which the Germans, the French, and the English have an IQ that is signficantly greater than the IQ of the typical African. The difference is about 20 points on a standardized IQ test.

IQ tests are not racist. So-called "White" IQ tests taken by Japanese folks also show that their IQ is approximately equal to "White" IQ. Japanese IQ is about 20 points greater than African IQ.

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (2, Insightful)

ahankinson (1249646) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577217)

I think you're trying to make a useful argument here, and on the surface you're trying to challenge the idea of racial intelligence. But your post is horribly misguided. I can't decide if you're flaming on purpose, or just plain ignorant, so I'll bite.

You're assuming that everything that has value is somehow linked to science and technology. You completely dismiss differences in cultural values as being somehow 'less' than the output of the Europeans. The IQ test has, built into it, the cultural bias of the white, european, while completely disregarding other values. You can bet that if the IQ test included intelligence and observations on how nature behaves outside of the constraints of 'the scientific method' the Europeans would have their asses handed to them by the native americans, the australian aboriginals, or any other culture that couldn't give two pig shits about European science or technology.

Walk, don't run, to your nearest library and check out "Guns, Germs and Steel". The author successfully challenges and completely and systematically demolishes the idea of some sort of inherent racial intelligence difference.

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (2, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577509)

So you're saying that the Scientific Method is bunk? Sorry, but you just lost me with your argument there. The Scientific Method is the reason we have advanced technology now, and aren't just sitting around in grass huts or caves and suffering with a life expectancy of 30. The "all cultures are equal" line is bunch of liberal B.S. Some cultures are absolutley superior to others. Cultures which treat women as property, for instance, are inferior cultures.

Of course, this has nothing to do with race, but as a typical liberal, you had to inject race into it. Cultures developed differently, in different places, because of external factors as noted in Guns, Germs and Steel: geography, suitability for agriculture, etc. The people from these cultures are interchangeable: take some African-born infant and raise him in Western Europe with advanced medicine and European parents and he's going to turn out basically a dark-skinned European, with European culture and probably just as smart as an average European. The IQ test isn't biased; it's just showing that people raised in poor conditions, with poor nutrition (especially in childhood), possibly in war-torn countries, tend to not grow up to be as smart as children that grew up in better conditions, where were able to spend their childhood exercising their brains learning math, science, language, etc. instead of dodging bullets or swatting flies.

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577729)

In the PBS version of Guns Germs and Steel, Diamond starts out with the aboriginals on Papua New Guinea. If you buy the latest claims of mitochondrial DNA mapping, these guys went straight from Africa heading east ~100k years ago and havent changed since. I mention the PBS version because the opening scenes of this segment show almost an entire village squatted down in a dirt field tending to individual tubers ( I forget what kind exactly, but it's supposedly the only stuff that can grow in the highlands). That scene should make you understand what selective forces the environment can have on the cultural evolution of different races. These guys settled in a place where in each and every one of them had to squat down in the dirt all day just to put enough food on the table. With a constraint like that, its no surprise that they been living in the same grass huts for a hundred millenia. There's simply no time to think, let alone advance.

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (2, Informative)

AhtirTano (638534) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577801)

So you're saying that the Scientific Method is bunk?

No, that's not what he said at all.

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577789)

Culturally, Europeans, Asians, Indians (and to some degree, Persians/Arabs) have provided humanity with many cultural advancements/improvements in art, philosophy, the 'humanities', and so on - arguably up to and largely inclusive of the earlier disciplines which led to current science and mathematic disciplines. Africa, on the other hand, has provided us with endemic disease, lecherous political problems, and pretty much nothing of positive consequence (other than solutions forged elsewhere for their problems).

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" is just one theory. It does not accurately (or even try to ) account for modern conditions, where the diseases are of domestic origin and non-trivial amounts of assistance have been given to make the endemic population successful.

IQ tests are designed to test reasoning and problem solving ability, first and foremost. Simple mathematical x + y = z type stuff, as well as other differentiation scenarios. It doesn't factor in "cultural values" or any such bullshit which has no sway on intelligence. They don't test "what does this person know?" they test "how well does this person figure?"

Asians have shown to have an intelligence as much over Europeans as Europeans have over Africans. I believe the "20 point" figure of the GP is mostly true. This does not, however, indicate a lack of humanity on the part of the Africans, though it might suggest a threshold for societal acceptance for more advanced social principles and behavior (as indicated by the historical record and status quo).

Re:Only honest discussions are useful. (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577235)

I have no idea where morons like you come from. Sub-saharan Africa has the highest genetic diversity on the planet. Ponder that for a moment. It means that your notion of some sort of genetic "dumbness" is bunk.

But maybe that explains your own stupidity, fear and ignorance. I'd feel sorry for you, if you weren't such a loathesome pile of garbage. Now go find a rock, you useless piece of shit.

Re:What's his point? (1)

Swizec (978239) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577127)

Every social scientist in the world, and, well, pretty much EVERYONE in the world has heard the phrase "The evolution of society" at one point or another. Hawking is ... I don't know what he wanted to do. Humans as organisms aren't evolving (much), people are. So what exactly is new about his words?

Re:What's his point? (3, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577245)

Well, first of all, humans are still evolving. I understand Hawking's point, but he's understating one aspect of our species to overstate the other.

I'll take his point, but I'll say none of this just began with literacy. The change in our evolution, if you can call it that, started with culture, and culture started a lot earlier than books, a lot earlier, in fact, than humans. Our closest relatives, the higher primates, show, to one degree or another, those abilities too.

Re:What's his point? (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577463)

I agree, it did not begin with literacy, there was Culture and Religion way before literacy.

Your consciousness depends on your collection of cells to work together as a _group_ (with the individual cells regularly making sacrifices for the benefit of the whole).

But independent cells have done pretty fine for billions of years, without this newfangled "working together for the better of the whole" idea :). Are your poor little white blood cells and neurons doing that much better than protozoa? Do they even know "You" exist? Red blood cells don't even have a nucleus.

Can Culture and Religion benefit the hosts? Or only some cultures and religions?

Re:What's his point? (3, Insightful)

Raffaello (230287) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577609)

Exactly. Apparently something that is very, very old news in social science circles [wikipedia.org] has just occurred to Hawking, so naturally, it must be a new idea, right?

Miranda: How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!
Prospero: 'Tis new to thee. (The Tempest, Act V:Sc. 1, line 183-184)

Only honest discussions are useful. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577137)

Professor Hawkings cannot make a convincing point unless he admits and affirms the fact that evolution also produces differences in intelligence. Look at Germany, France, and Great Britain. They are nations whose people have made awesome contributions to science and technology. Here, science includes political science.

Now, look at all the nations of Africa. The Africans produced nearly nothing, by comparison.

Evolution created a situation in which the Germans, the French, and the English have an IQ that is signficantly greater than the IQ of the typical African. The difference is about 20 points on a standardized IQ test.

IQ tests are not racist. So-called "White" IQ tests taken by Japanese folks also show that their IQ is approximately equal to "White" IQ. Japanese IQ is about 20 points greater than African IQ.

Re:What's his point? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577185)

Well if you look at what he says from individualistic perspective, then the you are right. Evolution affects species not individuals. However, if you are trying to understand the broader changes happening right now with humanity. Everyone wants to know where we are going. That is hugely significant. We advanced to the point that developing intelligence born out materials not possible through biological evolution. We are also getting close to programming our DNA to adapt to any environment and drive our own evolution. Of course, we could just apply these principle to understand how the US economy will evolve in this post industrial age. What will drive our growth. That might help your stock portfolio.

Re:What's his point? (4, Funny)

ssintercept (843305) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577299)

these goddamn anti-semantic bastards!

i didnt put my hand through my buddys guts at Normandy to hear you spew...

ohhhhh...it means what????

sorry....carry on...

That's what I was thinking... (0, Troll)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577551)

I thought he was an astro-guy, probing the heavens, and trying to prove that something (literally) could come from nothing so as to make God go away before he dies.

Where's this anthropologist been hiding all this time?

Re:What's his point? (1)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577719)

Semantics is the study of meaning. So if you mean it's an argument about what things mean, then you're correct. Calling it useless is pretty asinine though.

...someone page kurzweil... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577005)

...the singularity is already here [wikipedia.org] ...

Re:...someone page kurzweil... (3, Insightful)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577345)

There is one flaw of this projection. It is the same problem that has inflicted mankind as long as there has been human consciousness.... the power of human denial.

It is the one thing you can bet on and always win.

Re:...someone page kurzweil... (2, Funny)

edumacator (910819) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577451)

No it isn't.

Re:...someone page kurzweil... (1)

I(rispee_I(reme (310391) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577671)

I simply refuse to believe that.

Dr Spaceman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577009)

Doctor Spaceman, when they check my DNA, will they tell me what diseases I might get, or help me to remember my ATM pin code?

Absolutely. Science is whatever we want it to be.

He says it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577011)

So it must be true.

Memes (5, Insightful)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577015)

So he's talking about memes [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Memes (5, Interesting)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577131)

A fun question to ask people is: "if you could only have one, which would you rather do: author a successful book or be parent to a successful child (raised by others)". The answers tell you whether the person sees themselves as a bundle of genes or as a bundle of memes.

The overgrown human brain is just a big appendix the body provides as a home for symbiotic memes :)

(obviously, it's not Hawkings' area of expertise so we expect to find people who have already had the idea)

Re:Memes (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577297)

That depends ... is the mom hot?
Consequence-free sex wins every time.

Re:Memes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577669)

Yes.

I believe what he might be referring to is... (4, Insightful)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577019)

Memes. [wikipedia.org]

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist of some note, coined the term to describe the ideas that people create, that reproduce in much the same way genes do.

This came from his earlier ideas of a "selfish gene [slashdot.org] " to postulate that genes existed to propagate themselves, which helped to describe a lot of aspects of evolutionary development, from altruism to various kinds of suicidal behavior. In other words, it isn't the lifeform itself that is important in the reproductive cycle, so much as the information they pass along.

Ryan Fenton

Re:I believe what he might be referring to is... (1, Informative)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577057)

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist of some note

See http://richarddawkins.net/ [richarddawkins.net] and his youtube channel [youtube.com] for many fascinating videos of interviews / debates etc..

Re:I believe what he might be referring to is... (1)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577491)

Daniel Dennett, in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, has already essentially fleshed out the idea that Hawkings is getting at. Influenced, of course, by Dawkins.

Anthropologists have been saying this for a while (5, Interesting)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577031)

This is a fairly accepted view among cultural anthropologists, who pay their bills by digging up ancient cultures and studying the progression of ideas, religions, and technologies. One guy, whose name I forget, but whose paper they made me read in Anthropology 101 made the comparison between hardware and software evolution. In more modern terms, Windows, Linux, OSX, etc, all run on the nearly ~30-year-old x86 CPU, but no one is going to say that computer programs now are where they were 30 years ago, just because the instruction set hasn't changed much.

Re:Anthropologists have been saying this for a whi (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577069)

and windows? we should be ashamed as mankind of that. it's clearly not the best mankind can do? we should be capable of doing better than windows, i am not saying Linux/OS X are any better but my god! Windows is truly horrific!

Re:Anthropologists have been saying this for a whi (4, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577305)

But computer programs aren't that different compared to 30 years ago.

Just look at the operating systems:

Unix is pretty old. When you strip away the "transparent windows" and flashy glitz, the popular desktop computer O/Ses (Linux/OSX/Windows) are just as primitive as stuff 30 years ago.

And look up the "Mother of all Demos" - they had real time video conferencing, working together with a remote user over a WAN on the same document. So many innovative concepts, 40+ years ago.

The hardware available then naturally limited these pioneers, I'm sure they had plenty more they could think of but could not implement.

Linux - just Unix revisited.
Mac - The WIMP from PARC finally makes its way to the public (note the scrollbar was invented in 1977).
Windows 95/2K- ok the taskbar was nice (I think the Acorn had it first).
Windows XP - whoopee a new colour scheme, and some rearrangements, no big improvements
Windows Vista - I can't say this is a big improvement, in many ways the user experience is worse.
KDE/GNOME - basically the same old thing as "X" years ago, now with Wobbly Windows and stuff copied from Windows 95.

As for apps, the spreadsheet was a decent leap 30+ years ago. The browser? Go look at the Demo again and look up the history of hypertext. DTP? I dunno...

The Lisp fanatics will say stuff is just as primitive as it was 50 years ago, if not more primitive ;).

Re:Anthropologists have been saying this for a whi (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577657)

That's the point of what cultural evolution is. The basics nuts and bolts haven't changed. But what you do with it has. 30 years ago, you didn't do your personal banking online, you didn't read news online, you didn't do your research online, and you couldn't get a quick sanity check on your calculations by looking up something on google or wikipedia. But after 30 years of purely software innovations running on the same hardware, the (cultural) mindset us geeks have when using a computer has adopted useful practices and rejected the dead ends, which is exactly what cultural evolution is.

Re:Anthropologists have been saying this for a whi (2, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577681)

I think this highly oversimplifies things.

Yes, many "mechanical" things about computer software hasn't changed that much in 30-40 years. The C language is 40 years old and still is the language of choice for many things. Most other languages are similarly imperative, if not downright derived from C (functional languages, while at least as old, never really caught on much). Operating systems still basically work the same way: they allow separate processes with isolated memory, separate users, restricted access to hardware by programs, preemptive multitasking, etc. Even GUIs aren't that new, since the WIMP interface was invented by PARC in the 70s.

What's new is all the high-level stuff done with it: having an internet that not only connects universities, but is accessible by everyone from their home or their mobile phone. Buying stuff on the internet, communicating with each other on Facebook, etc. The thing that's changed is who uses this technology, and what they use it for.

When I was in high school in 1989, the only people that had computers at home were either adults who needed them for work, or geeks like me. Most people didn't have computers, and thought anyone that spent their spare time on a computer instead of watching some crap on TV were crazy. Now, every knucklehead has a computer and knows how to use the internet. People spend all kinds of time screwing around on sites like MySpace and Facebook. So many people read the news online that newspapers are going out of business left and right. All kinds of people are using Craigslist to buy and sell stuff locally, or to meet each other.

As for apps, the spreadsheet was a decent leap 30+ years ago. The browser? Go look at the Demo again and look up the history of hypertext. DTP? I dunno...

Actually, browsers have evolved a lot in the last 15 years. They started out as just a way to display marked-up text, and now they're a way to not only show all kinds of data (text and video), but a way to interact with other systems. For instance, look at Google Maps, or other AJAX apps. That's not static data, it's basically a way of running an application remotely. IMO, the whole HTTP legacy of web browsers is holding them back. The entire way interactive web pages are written now seems like a giant kludge, when for many things it seems like it'd be simpler to just write an app in C++ or Java or whatever, run it on the remote server, and display it remotely on the user's computer.

ill start (-1, Troll)

sentientbeing (688713) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577033)

I see that Stephen Hawking is ill in hospital again.

They shut him down for an upgrade and when he rebooted, Norton AntiVirus had deleted his childhood memories.

Devolution? (0)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577035)

It could be argued that we are devolving, since we now try to keep everybody live with modern medicine, and the "less genetically robust" are able to reproduce. Here's [slashdot.org] part of a not entirely unrelated discussion.

Re:Devolution? (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577317)

At worst, modern medicine just slows the pace of evolution by reducing competitive pressures. However, by keeping a larger population alive, there are more chances for useful mutations to appear in the gene pool, so humanity may be able to make up for any losses due to sub-optimal recombination.

Re:Devolution? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577499)

As pointed out elsewhere, humanity isn't important. The genes themselves are. "Devolution" may be a bad term. The genetic changes have a much stronger societal element now. Since I'm here, I may as well point out that instead of sending humans out to colonize space, which really totally impractical, we should just send out rockets filled with DNA. It doesn't even have to be human. Any DNA will do. It would be like those plants that shoot their seeds out some distance. And would have a much better chance of success of escaping the planet before its and our destruction, which could happen at any second. Pleasant thought, eh?

Re:Devolution? (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577749)

I guess if you consider producing and keeping alive someone like Hawking "devolving" then you have a point.

Slashdot sucks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577049)

and it's all your fault.

How CAN YOU sleep at night?

Has he lost it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577073)

And I thought he was smart?

Re:Has he lost it? (1)

Idiot with a gun (1081749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577531)

No, there are several other scientists of note in the fields of biology (Richard Dawkins comes to mind) that have been saying this for (IIRC) a few decades.

ten thousand years (5, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577089)

Ten thousand years is only 400 twenty-five year generations. That's not a lot of time for any significant alteration in how our evolution works, especially considering the millions of years it took to get us this far in the first place. Perhaps Dr. Hawking should stick to theoretical physics.

Of course having said that, he's a father, grandfather, world famous author, and Nobel prize winning genius, despite being a wheelchair bound victim of neuromuscular dystrophy who can barely speak, whereas I am single, childless, and broke, despite being relatively healthy.

Re:ten thousand years (1)

Swizec (978239) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577139)

Clearly you need to impair yourself physically to allow your brain to develop. See, blindness develops your ears, deafnes develops your eyes, and physical disability develops your brain.<br><br>Why do you think all the best graders in primary school suck at sports and get picked on? This is why.

Re:ten thousand years (1)

narfspoon (1376395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577179)

Clearly you need to impair yourself physically to allow your brain to develop. See, blindness develops your ears, deafnes develops your eyes, and physical disability develops your brain.

Training to develop under-used muscles/skills is what I hope you meant. Disability by itself doesn't provide any such strengths.

Re:ten thousand years (3, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577319)

Clearly you need to impair yourself physically to allow your brain to develop. See, blindness develops your ears, deafnes develops your eyes, and physical disability develops your brain.

Training to develop under-used muscles/skills is what I hope you meant. Disability by itself doesn't provide any such strengths.

No, but, the human condition seems to provide us with incredible potential in a diverse set of skills, but only enough capacity to develop a subset of that potential - if you become handicapped in one area, and you don't get despondent / depressed / suicidal, your drive to excel gets channeled into other areas, developing them beyond normal levels, and the fact that you are handicapped seems to "free up additional capacity" for the non-handicapped skills.

Not just good hearing for the blind, also savant skills, etc. TMI experiments seem to promise the ability to induce temporary handicaps that temporarily enable some savant skills - very very sketchy at present, but that's what the experimenters want to see, and they have some data to back up their dreams already.

Hawking himself may be an example of this - no ability to waste time on sports, etc., but plenty of time to think about theoretical physics, and potentially lots of spare brain capacity that would otherwise have been learning how to hit a ball with a stick, etc.

Re:ten thousand years (1)

doti (966971) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577691)

the human condition seems to provide us with incredible potential in a diverse set of skills

I, for instance, am able to produce incredible sounds with my armpits.

Re:ten thousand years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577255)

That's not a lot of time for any significant alteration in how our evolution works

Who said that altering how evolution works takes time?

especially considering the millions of years it took to get us this far in the first place

That's how long evolution took, not how long altering it took.

Re:ten thousand years (4, Interesting)

whisper_jeff (680366) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577265)

Ten thousand years is only 400 twenty-five year generations. That's not a lot of time for any significant alteration in how our evolution works...

Not true, at all. I recall reading about a study (in Russia, iirc) where scientists attempted to breed a specific trait into wild foxes. They went through a program of selective breeding and in _seven_ generations, they successfully altered the genetic traits of the animal. Seven. So, 400 generations is _PLENTY_ of time for evolution to alter our species in meaningful ways given that it can be accomplished (admittedly, in a controlled environment) in just 7.

Re:ten thousand years (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577805)

Yes, it is plenty of time for evolution to change us. However, like I said, it is not a lot of time to change HOW evolution works to change us. We'll be using DNA as gene storage and mitosis for trait mixing for quite some time to come.

Re:ten thousand years (5, Interesting)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577275)

I think you are missing his point... what I hear is that the "external store" is an essentially new phenomenon on earth that has been exponentially growing for the last few hundred years, and that we, as a species, are evolving through development of the external store rather than changing our DNA.

Interestingly enough, within the next 25 year generation, that external store will likely become powerful enough to enable us to rewrite our DNA in meaningful ways, potentially bypassing millions of years of Darwinian evolution... unless SkyNet takes over.

Re:ten thousand years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577515)

"That's not a lot of time for any significant alteration ...."

Actually, studies of genetic changes have shown that not only have we not stopped changing, we're changing *faster* since the dawn of agriculture.

Which, if you think about it, should make sense. Our population exploded when we started farming, and with it, our entire lifestyle changed. Before that we had a few hundred thousand years of mostly just doing the same old same old we'd always done. There are a lot of skills that influence your success or survival today that didn't exist 10k years back, and a lot of the skills that were critical back then don't have much impact today.

Re:ten thousand years (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577665)

That's one of the key points of cultural evolutionary theories: culture evolves MUCH faster than genes. Even if we allowed the full force of natural selection to determine our physical evolution, our culture changes so much faster that our physical evolution is essentially static in comparison. A cultural "generation" isn't anything like 25 years.

Re:ten thousand years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577727)

So, Hawking really knows his physics. Does that mean there isn't room in his brain for anything else?

Re:ten thousand years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577775)

single, childless, broke, and healthy = free

Re:ten thousand years (2, Insightful)

paleo2002 (1079697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577777)

With all due respect to Dr. Hawking, the idea that humanity evolves differently from other species is nothing new amongst paleontologists and evolutionary biologists.

Most plant and animal species evolve by natural selection (or mutation, or whatever the current fad alternative theory is) over generations and hundreds of years. If local climate becomes colder, mammals with favorable cold adaptations such as thicker coats gain a selective advantage. Over time, the gene for thick coats becomes fixed in the population. For humans, if it starts to get cold out, we put on a coat. Or we build insulated enclosures that feature heated swimming pools.

Because of our ability to alter the environment, communicate abstract ideas, and store information outside our genetic code, humanity is able to adapt to environmental changes in real time, rather than geologic time. Its still evolution - change over time, adapting to new environmental factors - but much faster.

And, more often than not, the environmental changes are of our own making. We adapt to new technologies, new life styles, and new information as society progresses. Those adaptations spread quickly through the social environment via education and mass communication. You need to use a blackberry to be successful in your new job, but you're not sure if you inherited the texting gene from your parents? No need to mate with a slashdotter and pass the job off to your kids, just read the instruction manual!

Professor Hawking got there first! COOL! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577099)

I have created a new equation to describe this phenomena and published it at my blog. Proof is as follows.

3 + 5 = 8
3 + 5 = âz
3 + 5 = 8 or âz

10
12
TF

Try this with 3.14159 and see what happens! COOL, huh?

Two variable random number generators plus a true false switch equals the basic building block of artificial intelligence. A three dimensional switch.

A resistor works on a similar principle, it has three possible states, floating ground, ground or current.

Current equals 1. Ground equals 0. Floating ground equals 0/1 or 1/0 or âz.

Now combine the three dimensional switch with the two dimensional switch and start to link these switches together in a topological network and the ultimate decryption key is created. You just need enough Turing/Gibson swarm units.

My blog is located at http://lifeoftheoutrider20.blogspot.com/

Proof complete!

Next!

Re:Professor Hawking got there first! COOL! (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577119)

We are either the sum of our genes True False or Indeterminate. And the ideterminacy of Heisenberg is obvious in our DNA if you look at it a certain way.

Also, my slashdot ID is Phrackwulf

And that was supposed to be the symbol for "infinity" in the above equation but slashdot couldn't handle it!

ARRRGGGH!

[-)

As long as we are not our own worst enemies (4, Insightful)

hwyhobo (1420503) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577103)

We are more than just our genes

Yes, but we must be willing to use that knowledge to improve human chances for long-term survival, not to counteract the evolution just to feel good. If we take the latter course of action, as it is trendy to do, we are in effect using our evolutionary advantage against ourselves.

Re:As long as we are not our own worst enemies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577585)

So what you're saying is "just say no to drugs"?

Evolution does not work solely through mutation (5, Insightful)

whistlingtony (691548) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577147)

Errrgghh.... Stephen Hawking said something that bothered me. I feel weird.....

Now, I am not a biologist, or even in the field. I have read The Selfish Gene, and consider myself up on evolutionary theory....

OK. There are several misconceptions about evolution that drive me nuts. Why? Because it's incredibly important to understand, as it helps explain so much about life on this planet. It hurts me that people accept the Law of Gravity, but poke at the evolutionary process....

Ok... Misconceptions.
1. Evolution has a goal.
It doesn't. We are not going to transcend or become ultimate beings. No. It just adapts critters to their environment. What's neat is that critters adapt to each other, together. Think about that, and ecosystems, and all that web of life stuff for a while and it's pretty neat.

2. Evolution is critter-centric.
We are simply carriers for genese. Evolution is gene centric. Most of your genes are useless to you. Stuff that is stupid at a critter level can make perfect sense at a gene level. Those little bastards are using us, and don't care about us at all, as long as we breed.

3. Survival of the fittest.
It's survival of the breediest, not necessarily of the fittest.

4. Evolution works through mutation.
Errrrgghh... I disagree with Stephen Hawking. Ok, mutation helps, but you know what? Evolution doesn't need it. Most mutations result in a f*kup, not something useful. Evolution just needs seperate populations and/or environments. Eventually populations diverge and become more suited to their environments.

I feel weird....

-Tony

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (2, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577181)

We are simply carriers for genese. Evolution is gene centric. Most of your genes are useless to you. Stuff that is stupid at a critter level can make perfect sense at a gene level. Those little bastards are using us, and don't care about us at all, as long as we breed.

Don't anthropomorphize genes; they don't like it.

Evolution just needs seperate populations and/or environments. Eventually populations diverge and become more suited to their environments.

Evolution also needs variation. Mutation is one mechanism which provides that (though not the only one).

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (5, Funny)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577555)

Evolution also needs variation. Mutation is one mechanism which provides that (though not the only one).

Monsanto is another one.

mutant post (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577259)

how does a population "diverge" if it cant mutate ?

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577285)

No, it's not necessarily "survival of the breediest". The breediest does not survive in the long term if that population growth alters its habitat beyond its ability to adapt. Examples of this can be found at the cellular level (e.g. cancer cells breeding out of control may kill the organism, including the cancer) and at the cellular-phone-using level (e.g. H. Sapiens breeding out of control crowds out too much CO2-eating vegetation adds too much CO2 into the air, causing the greenhouse effect and its own eventual extinction).

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577321)

Oh god mods... Please MOD PARENT DOWN!!!

1. Evolution has a goal.
It doesn't. We are not going to transcend or become ultimate beings. No. It just adapts critters to their environment. What's neat is that critters adapt to each other, together. Think about that, and ecosystems, and all that web of life stuff for a while and it's pretty neat.

How can you say that evolution doesn't have a goal but then say that it adapts "critters" to their environment? These two statements are contradictory. Evolution most certainly *does* have a goal - it is to make organisms as fit as possible, which is precisely what "adapting to the environment" is about.

2. Evolution is critter-centric.
We are simply carriers for genese. Evolution is gene centric. Most of your genes are useless to you. Stuff that is stupid at a critter level can make perfect sense at a gene level. Those little bastards are using us, and don't care about us at all, as long as we breed.

This one is just wrong. Genotypes (the genes themselves) are nothing without phenotypes (how the genes are expressed in organisms). Adaptations are completely based on phenotypes - the ones that work are kept. There is no such thing as genes that are stupid "on a critter level" but not stupid "on a gene level". Evolution doesn't care about how "elegent" the genes are, only how fit the organism that grows from the genes is.

3. Survival of the fittest.
It's survival of the breediest, not necessarily of the fittest.

What you've managed to state here is why fit organisms survive. Very good. However, just saying that successful organisms breed the most is missing most of the picture. The real question is *why* they breed the most, and it's because they're fit. Thus, survival of the fittest.

4. Evolution works through mutation.
Errrrgghh... I disagree with Stephen Hawking. Ok, mutation helps, but you know what? Evolution doesn't need it. Most mutations result in a f*kup, not something useful. Evolution just needs seperate populations and/or environments. Eventually populations diverge and become more suited to their environments.

Separate populations and/or environments are why mutations are selected for, but they are not why the mutations are created in the first place. Evolution most certainly *does* need mutations, as well as a way to mix mutations.

Honestly, how can you call yourself "up" on this stuff?

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577431)

Seriously? SERIOUSLY??? Whenever there's a guy claiming to be out to dispel some sort of misconception, he automatically gets +5 Insightful? What a fucking joke.

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577447)

3. Survival of the fittest.
It's survival of the breediest, not necessarily of the fittest.

The term "fittest" is referring to animals that have the highest fitness in an evolutionary sense. Fitness [wikipedia.org] [Wikipedia] is defined as an organism's ability to propagate genes to future generations. Although this definition seems vague on a short time scale, it is general enough to mean that organisms whose genes survive well into the future have high fitness whereas those whose genes don't survive for whatever reason have low fitness. Breeding a lot increases the short-term fitness without any guarantee of the long-term fitness. Of course, an organism that doesn't reproduce at all has a fitness of zero.

4. Evolution works through mutation.
Errrrgghh... I disagree with Stephen Hawking. Ok, mutation helps, but you know what? Evolution doesn't need it. Most mutations result in a f*kup, not something useful. Evolution just needs seperate populations and/or environments. Eventually populations diverge and become more suited to their environments.

What are you talking about? Evolution depends on genetic diversity, which only exists due to mutations. Even though some mutations are detrimental to the host and result in a loss of fitness and others do seemingly nothing at all, there are still (rare and hard-to-observe in your lifetime) mutations that result in greater fitness. At this point, there is already a lot of genetic diversity, but there is always room for more. We never know what the future will bring, but if a new, mutated gene is helpful for some yet unknown climate, it will survive. As far as we can tell, it's happened many times before, and it will probably happen again.

Mutations happen all the time, be it a transcription error or a problem with genes crossing over [wikipedia.org] . Without these mutations, evolution wouldn't happen at all. There would only be a single species of archae, all of which would have the exact same genetic makeup. Mutations are what create the separate populations you're talking about.

Evo: Cultural v. Mutation v. Bring What You Gots (4, Interesting)

cmholm (69081) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577489)

Hawking is talking about cultural adaptation, which isn't a new concept. What's (relatively) new is the realization that human evolution has continued into historic times [nationalgeographic.com] . So, Homo gets three bites at the apple: a chance to adapt via culture, enabling it to survive in environments that would otherwise select against it; adapt via thus far dormant or undesirable existing genetic characteristics; and adapt via continuing random mutation (most of which will continue to be undesirable for a given situation).

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (1)

Chemicalscum (525689) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577683)

4. Evolution works through mutation.
Errrrgghh... I disagree with Stephen Hawking. Ok, mutation helps, but you know what? Evolution doesn't need it. Most mutations result in a f*kup, not something useful. Evolution just needs seperate populations and/or environments. Eventually populations diverge and become more suited to their environments.

I feel weird....

-Tony

Not only are you weird you are wrong on this point, though you were more or less right
on your first three. Evolution operates on variation. The ultimate source of variation is mutation. The fundamental source of mutation is radiation and other events at a quantum mechanical level. Therefore evolution is stochastic. Without mutation while their could be some limited evolution by genetic rearrangements, however there could no longer be any evolution of proteins which is the real driver of evolutionary change.

Does that explain it simply enough.

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577701)

Now, I am not a biologist, or even in the field...

You should've stopped here. Reading one book and not even tangentially being involved in the field doesn't give you the requisite knowledge to point out misconceptions with any sort of confidence.

Plus, another reply to you basically refuted each of your presented points.

Re:Evolution does not work solely through mutation (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577709)

No, evolution needs mutation. From dictionary.com:

mutation: a sudden departure from the parent type in one or more heritable characteristics, caused by a change in a gene or a chromosome.

Mutation isn't simply a random base pair getting smacked by a gamma ray, it's all the processes that randomly change our DNA, from those gamma rays to copying errors. Yes, mutation by itself makes for crappy, slow, probably unworkable evolution. But without mutation there is no way to introduce novelty into the genome - you end up just shuffling the same genes over and over. Except that without mutation you wouldn't even have genes.

Also.. (0)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577157)

Machines should stay machines. Just get smarter and be better able to be used by us. I can't wait to give my design for the best safety gunlock ever to Springfield Armory! Machines = Machines. Humans = Humans. Humans with too much machine equals broken doll with living soul! SCARY! Like Chuckie! Humanity should be able to decide on that and they will once everybody on earth has a laptop! World government! Also the U.S. government just made money worthless because we are a debtor with the biggest gun on earth so all we need is an economy based on money, credit and sex as work and women are liberated from being slaves to men and garden of eden results! Works for lesbians and homosexuals right now! Unless they become indeterminate! YAH!

HAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHHA!

 

Darwin (1)

Mr_Plattz (1589701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577173)

If someone is stupid enough to purchase a fake product for a flu that won't kill them in the first place, we can only assume this is for the greater good of the world. If they are a high risk factor (cancer, etc) then one would like to think they aren't on the Internet purchasing random drugs.

memetics vs genetics (0, Flamebait)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577193)

genius in a wheelchair versus moron with nine kids

ding ding ding round one!

What about Mammals? (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577229)

I think doctor Hawking is missing a step. Natural selection did not manage to produce humans without any external information. Humans are Mammals. Most (all?) Mammals tend to pass on behavioral traits in a non-genetic fashion from parents to offspring. So another major step in the evolutionary process would have been the appearance of animals whose mothers continue to care for them after birth, and impart higher-order influences on their offspring other than the contents of their genes.

Take it Further: Transhumanism (4, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577241)

But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes.

Take that line a step further and you get transhumanism. We are no longer an isolated life form, but are inherently coupled with our tools. Tools that extend our minds around the planet. The Internet.

Books are cool, but they're pretty uni-directional. Wikipedia is cooler, updating our knowledge base in real time. Twitter is even faster; a brain extension so fast and light that it recently fomented revolution.

Yeah, we're past genes. What's more, we're rapidly passing static tools like rocks, newspapers, and books. Our minds are connected to each other in real-time, planet-wide. Our individual minds are gaining connectivity to the hive mind and extending our capabilities, much as our giant neocortex lifted us above the other animals.

See: Transhumanism [wikipedia.org]

Public Service Announcement (3, Insightful)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577243)

Life isn't just about passing on your genes.
We can leave behind much more than just DNA.
Through speech, music, literature and movies...
what we've seen, heard, felt ...anger, joy and sorrow...
these are the things I will pass on.
That's what I live for.
We need to pass the torch,
and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.
We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with.
The human race will probably come to an end some time,
and new species may rule over this planet.
Earth may not be forever,
but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can.
Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.

What he is refering to is our ability to create .. (3, Insightful)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577253)

... and use higher and higher levels of abstraction [abstractionphysics.net] so to communicate and develope more and more refined technology that will someday allow us to advance beyond where we can see ourselves going today. To the point of enabling us to create a black hole for the purpose of its rebound effect of creating a galaxy so as to continue on the expansion of the universe for the insurance of the continuation of conscious life.... to repeat the process.

One of the things I have noticed about our evolution is that it seems to be related to population growth. As our population grows we face new problems that we must adapt to and this generally leads to advancements in social development. One recorded event is the story of the tower of Babylon and how the population growth and specialization grew to the point of a bicameral mind break down [julianjaynes.org] that lead to expansion and now so long after, we have come back together in population growth with further advancements.

Another interesting analogy or extension of this process is that of open source software where branching projects off to eventually bring the best of the branches back together.... and its all based on, in essence, Abstraction Physics [abstractionphysics.net] of code development. Where the difference between human to human language and human to machine to human, is automation of human created abstractions...

Qualifications (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577263)

Sure, he's a smart guy, but what are his qualifications? He's a physicist. He should leave the biology to the biologists. You don't hear Richard Dawkins speculating on the nature of black holes, do you?

Specialization / Speciation (4, Insightful)

rlseaman (1420667) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577279)

Stephen Jay Gould told an anecdote about Richard Feynman excitedly announcing that he had discovered new principles of evolution. On inspection they turned out to be either well known findings or well known fallacies. Basically he was largely ignorant of the literature in the field. It says more about physicists than about evolution that he would deem himself qualified to wade into the fray with such minimal preparation.

It is not surprising that Stephen Hawking, another great physicist, similarly feels empowered to speculate about evolution without apparently having read Richard Dawkin's popular works. Others have mentioned memes, but Dawkin's notion of the extended phenotype might be even more pertinent. Hawkings appears to be taking the notion of the meme to the extreme of thinking that species evolution is now relying on actual gene analogues outside our physical corpus. Rather, our genes remain internal, but their somatic expression is external to ourselves.

Dawkins? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577445)

Dawkins only claim to fame is mocking Muslims and Christians. He's a good showman and a mediocre scientist.

We're doomed... (4, Funny)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577293)

If Hawking is saying our evolution is now dependent on our (for most people) public education system... we're fucked.

Pack your bags, it's Idiocracy time.

That's it. (1)

kms_one (1272174) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577301)

I am ready to become one with my robot overlords.

Write about what you know (2, Insightful)

etherlad (410990) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577397)

Sir Stephen Hawking is a very smart man, and I have the utmost respect for him.

However, he should stick to the areas of his expertise and let biologists talk about evolution, because that's their area of expertise.

I wouldn't expect anyone to take Dr. Richard Dawkins' thoughts on quantum mechanics as definitive, and this is no different.

Re:Write about what you know (3, Funny)

DrGamez (1134281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577537)

If a brilliant man who talks like a robot says something - I'm pretty sure I'll listen. It's just THAT cool.

Re:Write about what you know (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577621)

Oh for fuck sakes. The man has a brainstorm, and you feel he's out in left field. Apparently the man has touched on a subject that biologists have been discussing for a while now, and he did it without any substantial background in biology or the study of evolution. I doubt he was expecting another nobel prize for this. You say you have respect for him, but you don't have basic respect for intellect, so I doubt your disclaimer whole heartedly.

Re:Write about what you know (3, Insightful)

paulsnx2 (453081) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577637)

Makes one wonder about folks that take Dr. Richard Dawkin's thoughts on theology as definitive, doesn't it?

Re:Write about what you know (3, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577741)

Hawking is more or less repeating ideas that others have come up with, as others have pointed out, but your post is pointless. If you disagree with someone, Hawking or otherwise, make a cogent argument refuting theirs. "He's a physicist and this is biology" is just a slightly mangled appeal to authority - a logical fallacy.

Ironically, Hawking is saying many of the same things that Dawkins has said.

Re:Write about what you know (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577809)

Yeah, interdisciplinary talk never amounted to anything. Everything is separate. People should stick with a specialised field and stepping outside that is simply unproductive. And while we're at it, perhaps you shouldn't have posted your comment unless your area of expertise is the study of areas of expertise.

Snake, listen: (1)

DrGamez (1134281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577519)

You mustn't allow yourself to be chained to fate, to be ruled by your genes. Human beings can choose the kind of life that they want to live. What's important is that you choose life... and then live.

Stopped Evolving (1)

Gravedigger3 (888675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577575)

I see where Hawking is coming from and I guess that he's right if you accept his new use of the word evolution, which is fine. But in the classic Darwinian sense I would argue that humans have STOPPED evolving. Our weak and stupid are allowed (rightfully i suppose) to live simply because we have created a civilization to support each other (in most countries). There is seldom any real natural selection in the traditional sense since the weak (whatever your definition of that might include) live on and most likely will breed along with all the strong. You could argue the Idiocracy point of view that we are "devolving" based on the same kind of argument but I wouldn't take it that far... yet.

Re:Stopped Evolving (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577763)

The definition of "fittest" from an evolutionary point of view is "best able to propagate genes." Evolution doesn't care at all about your particular judgement regarding who is fit.

The only way we could come close to stopping evolution is if we were somehow able to make a rule that everyone must have X number of kids, and then enforce it so that everyone had exactly X kids, no more, no less, no cheating, at all.

The real change is software.... (0, Troll)

paulsnx2 (453081) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577627)

Hawkins is right about the external store.... But the real change is when we began to code processes for computers. The interesting thing about books isn't that they exist, but that we can read something from 2000 years ago and continue processes defined by such texts.

The interesting thing about programs isn't that they exist external (like books), but that a machine reads something defined external to itself, perhaps from another country or time, and executes the processes defined by such tasks.

In the latter case, no HUMAN was required. We successfully built a mechanism by which processes can be defined and propagated without direct human involvement (other than supplying the computer, and putting it in touch with the software).

Suddenly I can have access to processes meticulously defined and tested by others without having to read a book or study or practice. I just load up a program and execute.

We have not only externalized the genetic store, as it were, but also the role of the organism in executing the processes.

Slippery road (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28577707)

This is a slippery road to finding God... or something.

Lamarckism (1)

sehlat (180760) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577715)

Otherwise known as the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Human genetic evolution is Darwinian, but cultural (memetic) evolution is Lamarckan.

comparing natural and intellectual evolution (1)

doti (966971) | more than 5 years ago | (#28577787)

So, he is comparing the natural (genetic) evolution with our intellectual (externally carried information) evolution.

Then, we could compare the stages:

speech <==> multi-cellular organisms
writing <==> central nervous system
printing <==> dry-land vertebrades
internet <==> ???

What's next?

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