Environment as a Change Agent

65 million years ago during the early Paleocene, the first primate-like creature evolved from the family Plesiadaptis. It was a small tree-climbing mammal that looked more like an insect-eating tree shrew. It was the beginning of the great age of primates and especially the branch of evolution that led to Homo sapiens – us.

This isn’t so long ago, actually. The dinosaurs existed for 230 million years until the biosphere was rudely interrupted by a meteor strike and to a lesser degree by some growing genetic deficiencies. Even so, such long timelines expose the role of the biosphere as a major player in evolution. Humans would not have been happy living during an earlier era of Earth’s history; the continents would have to spread out a bit to permit acceptable weather patterns and ocean currents; a few intense ice ages would be required to transition to fresh water so land creatures could evolve.

The reader is aware of the old, trite puzzle, ‘what came first the chicken or the egg?’ The puzzle hangs around because there are two logical answers: immediately, the answer is the first chicken hen must exist before there can be the first chicken egg; the other path of reasoning is that the genome of the chicken first occurred within the egg – a composite of several generations of genetic shifts. But another question precedes: What came first the chicken or the environment? Inevitably, the environment must be suitable for chickens in general to exist.

Environments normally change slower than creature evolution. Still, creatures have no choice except to adapt or disappear. On the other hand, creatures will modify the environment to fit their needs. For example, ahermatypic coral draw calcium from their environment to build homes for themselves; the beaver rearranges trees and leaves to build a dam which makes a pond, which enables a home safe from predators by placing the home in the middle of the pond. Neither creature has created a new biosphere but has rearranged a few conditions to better fit their needs.

So it is with humans. What humans sense about the environment is that it does not guarantee safety or longevity. In the great migration of pioneers across the western US, the environment was a threat, not a means of sustenance; the great gardens of the British Isles and Europe which require constant maintenance and an appearance of tight control also stems from an innate sense that the environment is not necessarily man’s best friend and must be mastered. One can imagine that the whole science of astrology is an effort to place meaning into an indifferent cosmos.

Innately, humans have sought to make life better and more secure by rearranging the environment. It started in earnest by collecting iron, copper, coal, nickel and other minerals; humans have always been aware of magnetic resonance in some fashion (electric charges in fish were documented in 2750 BC) but did not begin to extract magnetic forces until 1600 when William Gilbert identified the phenomenon and coined the word ‘electricus.’ Throughout the next 300+ years, humans were able to organize electrical resources to make life easier with motors, tools, light and energy in many forms. In the early 1900’s, Einstein and Fermi expanded electrical knowledge by entering the world of nuclear physics and quantum theory – the very building blocks of the biosphere and the Universe itself.

Humans are rearranging the biosphere to fit their species’ needs – nothing more than super intelligent beavers. But there is a difference. The human brain is a genuine mutation. A new branch of evolution’s tree is emerging. It is a species that will survive as the planet’s environment experiences significant changes.

One marvels at the synchrony between environment and evolution. We humans live lives and have known families in just a hundred years or so; written history goes back only a few thousand years. Modern Homo sapiens has existed only about 90,000 years. Our scale of change isn’t worth the blink of an eye. On the planetary scale, environment and evolution are changing every moment but at such an insignificant pace that it takes eons to notice.

Serendipitously, we live at a time where both the environment and the world’s specie profile are changing more rapidly than usual. The question to ponder is how much change is forced by our beaver habits and how much is caused by planetary shifts and cycles? Mariner suggests the combination is algebraic, changing more rapidly and more drastically than a normal curve of change would suggest.

Speaking in broad terms, it appears the human brain prefers the world of artificial intelligence, that is, an environment less dependent on mammalian characteristics and more dependent on an environment of electromagnetic existence. As our brains wrestle with this odd transition, the mammalian behaviors still hold on to make life awkward; sort of having one foot in and one foot out, so to speak. CBS news covered the fact that electronic giants like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limit the use of smart phones by their children; just one small incident of struggle between the mammalian instincts and the brain’s preference for electronic communication.

We have pondered the end of the Earth and Sun since primitive times. The idea of Armageddon and the idea that we can escape to a heaven reflect our awareness that the mammalian age will not last forever. Will a life of artificial intelligence enable survival for a longer time as the Earth moves through ages of growing disruption to the mammalian environment? Perhaps the forces of environmental balance push species survival – invoking evolution one day at a time.

Ancient Mariner