Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative

By Christian De Duve | Go to book overview

Chapter 30
The Future of Life

WE HAVE REACHED a crucial stage in the history of life. The face of the Earth has changed dramatically in the last few thousand years, a mere instant in evolutionary time, and it is changing ever faster. What would have taken one thousand generations in the past may now happen in a single generation. Biological evolution is on a runaway course toward severe instability.

In a way, our time recalls one of those major breaks in evolution signaled by massive extinctions. But there is a difference. The cause of instability is not the impact of a large asteroid or some other uncontrollable event. The perturbation is from life itself acting through a species of its own creation, an immensely successful species filling every corner of the planet with continually growing throngs, increasingly subjugating and exploiting the world. For the first time, also, in the history of life, natural selection has been replaced, be it only partly, by willful intervention on the part of a member of the biosphetic community. The facts are before us, clear and unmistakable. Everybody can read the message and draw the obvious conclusions.


NATURAL SELECTION DERAILED

The human species is a product of natural selection, which put a premium on mutations that freed the hands and molded them for holding, signaling, weapon wielding, tool making, and other manual activities and on mutations that wired the brain into networks capable of directing the hands, planning the future, and communicating with other members of the species. The outcome is a being uniquely able to alter the course of the natural processes to which it owes its birth. Evidence of this power is all around us.

It all started some 40,000 years ago. Until then, early humans had coexisted fairly harmoniously with the rest of the biosphere. Organized in small, roving bands, they subsisted on fruits, berries, and other plant products and on the animals

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