Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Ephemeral Existence of Humanity

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The Ephemeral Existence of Humanity

Article excerpt

The last few hundred years have decisively increased our understanding of mankind's origin, present existence and conditions for continued survival. The accumulation of scientific knowledge is based upon the fundaments of the classical languages, Greek and Latin and the use of alphabetic writing, which permits a sharper focus on word creation and logical/temporal connections. This is in marked distinction to older, hieroglyphic means of expression, which favor a more concrete and less analytical cognitive style.1 During the Renaissance in Italy, circa AD 1400, the extension of this classical foundation led to a more rigorous and effective study of nature and established the cumulative nature of recorded observations and deduced principles and natural laws that is the hallmark of modern science. Gray and Atkinson2 give us an excellent survey of the relationships between the modern languages and their clades. Mankind utilized this linguistic foundation to develop a more efficient use of natural resources than had been possible in all of prehistory. The process culminated in the industrial revolution, which brought in its wake an accelerated growth in the size of human populations. While heretofore population density, plotted on the ordinate against time, displayed only a minimal long-term increase interrupted at times by the ravages of plagues and war, this has been followed by a period of exponential growth.3

Key Words: Population; Natural resources; Evolutionary history; Time scales; Space travel; Expanding universe.

Human Development

The gene expression patterns of humans, chimpanzees, orangutans, rhesus macaques and other "higher" primates are rather similar. However, compared to the other primates, humans have higher expression levels of many brain-expressed genes. These differences between humans and animals are attributed to changes in gene regulation brought about by directional selection. This is likely to involve changes in transcription factors and/or their binding sites in the regulatory sequences of genes/ Expression profiling in primates reveals a rapid evolution of human transcription factors. The relationship between these biochemical changes and the phenotypic evolution of human ancestors is still unresolved, but it appears that since at least the time of early Homo erectus 2 million years ago, evolution has accelerated in the lineage leading to the Cro-Magnon about 40,000 years ago, as if each novel gene expression pattern were more liable to faster evolution. While natural selection favored larger brains - and presumably greater brainpower - throughout human evolution, this is no longer so today. With the least advanced populations on earth growing at a rate of 4% per year while the populations of the most advanced countries are stagnating or contracting, the descendants of today's fast-reproducing, backward nations will most likely dominate in the future.

We can trace in some detail the continuous adaptation of organic life to the changing conditions of a planet with a current oxygen level of 20%, which happens to receive the right amount of radiation from its sun to maintain a temperature in the range of -400C to +400C, and equipped with a rather weak gravitational field that can be overcome by rockets of manageable size. Adapted to the conditions on this planet, human ancestors not only survived, but managed to enhance their populations with the gradual progress of social structure and technology, despite the recurrence of brutal and bloody wars. Hunter-gatherer groups adopted the agricultural mode of subsistence, and with the final development of industrial methods, the use of fertilizers, basic development of energy sources and methods of transportation, their descendants have not only triggered an exponential growth of humanity as a whole, but have effectively shrunk the globe and turned humanity into one global community.

However, exponential population growth is but one stage in a developmental sequence. …

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