The Study Of Accelerative Evolution
Accelerative evolution began around 550 million years ago with the emergence of a central nervous system. Accelerative evolution must end at latest around the middle of this century.
Accelerative evolution, with respect to a neural network lineage, began around 550 million years ago with the emergence of a central nervous system. This point is the first in a sequence of eight communication revolutions, the most recent being the world wide web. These points form the terms of a geometric progression, verging in the future around the year 2048. Interspersed, somewhat randomly, within the time interval between every pair of these successive points there lies a period during which there was an ecological transition to a new mode of sustenance. The most recent was the transformation caused by industry and the next might have already started. The next communication revolution is predicted to occur around the year 2043 if accelerative evolution has not ended before then. The alternating sequence of communication revolutions and ecological transitions must end with this event.
An accelerative rate of change in relation to history implies continuity in development.
The universe is estimated to be around 13 700 million years old, and life on earth, 3 800 million years old. Almost all present humans can be viewed as being elements of a single communication system built upon a foundational level of interconnected neurons. This neural network has a lineage that descended from the first animals with a nervous system.
It is suggested that the sudden appearance of animals with forms representative of current bilaterian phyla during the Cambrian Explosion and their rapid diversification ever since was caused by the emergence of a central nervous system. In retrospect, there is a trajectory emanating from this event which has displayed accelerative evolution for the past roughly 550 million years.
This trajectory can be comprehended, before the arrival of Behaviorally Modern Humans, by evaluating all tree branch nodes of its genetic ancestry (with reference to current and extinct species) and then, after the arrival of Behaviorally Modern Humans, by identifying the river trunk and river tributaries of its cultural ancestry (with reference to current and extinct societies).
The emergence of a central nervous system was the first point in a sequence of communication revolutions. The time interval between every pair of these successive points is around one tenth in duration of the previous time interval. The sum of the geometric series occurs around the year 2048. This future date will be referred to as the communication climax (henceforth CC).
Interspersed within the time interval between communication revolutions there lies a period during which there was an ecological transition to a new mode of sustenance. These periods are somewhat randomly placed, as if their initiation and progression were sensitive to natural and social environmental circumstances.
The arrival of an animal body plan having bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry promoted the reorganization of neurons from a diffuse network to a concentrated network resulting in the emergence of a central nervous system.
0. Central Nervous System
≈ .55 billion years before CC in the last common ancestor (henceforth LCA) of current protostomes (for illustration, the holometabolous insects are extremely successful members of this clade) and current deuterostomes (for illustration, the jawed vertebrates are extremely successful members of this clade). Almost all current animal species are members of one of these two clades.
Nurturing of Offspring
Start - Protected embryonic development in the LCA of current amniotes. Birds and animal clades collectively described as reptiles descended from the sauropsid lineage, whereas mammals descended from the synapsid lineage.
Finish – Supplemental nourishing provided by milk delivered from teats in the LCA of current therian mammals. This clade includes the marsupials and placentals, but excludes the only five remaining species of egg laying mammals.
1. Enhanced Vision
≈ 55 million years before CC in the LCA of current primates. A greater proportion of brain mass became devoted to visual perception, and a lesser proportion, to olfactory perception. Finer depth perception provided by more converged eye orbits combined with hands capable of grasping, and presumably concomitant developments in eye-hand coordination, are very appropriate adaptations for the most likely primate origin scenarios. These involve specialization for leaping movements inside an arboreal habitat, catching insects, or feeding on fruit located at the end of tree branches.
Start - Opposable thumbs in the LCA of current catarrhines (Old World anthropoids: non-American monkeys, and the apes). The precision grip aided feeding and the power grip aided locomotion.
Finish – Manual dexterity in the LCA of current great apes. For example, the building of orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee nests demonstrates considerable sensorimotor coordination.
2. Observational Learning
≈ 5.5 million years before CC in the LCA of current chimpanzees (our closest surviving relatives) and current humans (descended from a lineage that was adapted for bipedal locomotion before the arrival of the first human species). The transmission of culture was now possible, initially commensurate with how novel behaviors are adopted throughout a chimpanzee social group.
Start – Skilled use of hard stone objects as hammers for creating hand held tools from stone objects with conchoidal fracturing properties in the LCA of human species. These Oldowan culture tools just had unifacial cutting edges.
Finish – Stone tools with bifacial cutting edges made according to a geometric shape ergonomically suited for hand use in the LCA of (Middle) Acheulean culture humans. It is likely that humans could by now control fire.
≈ .55 million years before CC in the LCA of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens (Anatomically Modern Humans). Homo heidelbergensis, the putative progenitor of these species, had a brain size approaching that of current humans. It appeared around this time with more advanced tool making techniques that foreshadowed the subsequent skills of Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans. Neanderthals had the anatomical features necessary for speech. They inherited the same version of the FOXP2 gene as current humans; mutations in this gene can cause speech and language disorders. Neanderthals could initially successfully compete with Anatomically Modern Humans, inhibiting their movement into Eurasia from Africa.
Start – The advertisement of a common inheritance through the decorative use of red ochre pigment in the LCA of Homo sapiens (Anatomically Modern Humans sensu lato). The cost of such customs is compensated for by greater social cohesion. This unity could have initiated the division of labor according to gender like past hunter-gatherers. The first Middle Stone Age tools materialized: grindstones would have been useful for processing red ochre and gathered foods and prismatic core blades better for processing structural materials and hunted foods. The appearance of a gracile skeletal frame could be explained as a requirement for greater mobility and athleticism, and neotenous traits, as a consequence of self-domestication. Red ochre was used symbolically by past hunter-gatherers throughout the world.
Finish – The organization of hunter-gatherer bands into a tribe through the exchange of beads in the LCA of Homo sapiens sapiens. Beads are a non-perishable and portable medium of exchange bestowed with a quantitative value. Their accumulation can confer authority on the holder, albeit in this context in a non-hierarchical society. Bead production is labor intensive suggesting the achievement of a division of labor according to gender comparable to past hunter-gatherers. Bead production coincided with the appearance of regional diversification in culture. Their exchange would have facilitated the spread of advantageous behaviors across a region wide network. Beads were important symbolic exchange items for past hunter-gatherers throughout the world.
4. General Intelligence
≈ 55 thousand years before CC in Behaviorally Modern Humans. They are associated with the Later Stone Age in Africa and Upper Paleolithic in Eurasia. Intellectual abilities have remained fundamentally unimproved upon ever since. These humans spread with unprecedented speed across the world, expanding into almost all terrestrial niches. Perhaps the content and relative arrangement of sentences could now encode a ‘picture’. It is proposed that an impasse was reached at this point: henceforth, continued accelerative evolution required human social networks getting larger or developing stronger interconnections.
Start – Permanent settlements sustained by the cultivation of cereals, in the Late Natufian culture of the Levant. This region acted as a corridor connecting Africa to Eurasia. Subsequently, a similar set of plant and animal domesticates would be exploited by communities in the Levant and — where civilizations would later arise — in the neighboring regions of the Aegean, Anatolia, Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Finish – Settlements capable of seeding urbanization, in the Naqada II culture of Upper Egypt. The Ancient Egyptian civilization originated from these Chalcolithic Age communities. Ancient Egyptian is an Afro-Asiatic language. The two most likely scenarios are that either proto-Afro-Asiatic spread alongside farmers from the Levant or spread in north-east Africa after farming had arrived there from the Levant.
≈ 5.5 thousand years before CC in Ancient Egypt (Early Dynastic Period) as an information storage system. This recording method greatly aided long-term memory through preservation and working memory through visual display. The first documents were pictorial, almost without text.
Start – Central government control of the most important store of value, in the Ancient Egyptian Empire. With the conquest of Kerma the Nubian gold supply was finally secured. The territorial consolidation and expansion that followed included the incorporation of Canaan. This region was within the sphere of influence of Mesopotamian states where silver was the most important store of value. Subsequently — after the Bronze Age collapse — Iron Age Canaanite speakers were of central importance to intercontinental commerce: Hebrew tribes had control over the most important trade route connecting Egypt to Mesopotamia and Phoenician city states were paramount in trade across the Mediterranean Sea.
Finish – Establishment of a central mint for issuing gold and silver coinage, in the Roman Empire. This was one of many administrative reforms that occurred in a relatively short period of time following the birth of the imperial government and concurrent with the onset of ‘Pax Romana’ – an era of relative peace and prosperity. Greek culture had a dominant influence on Roman culture. The Greek alphabet descended from the Phoenician alphabet, as did the Aramaic alphabet. For illustration, Greek became widespread as the lingua franca of the Greek Macedonian Empire and Aramaic became widespread as the lingua franca of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.
6. Printing Press
≈ .55 thousand years before CC in the Holy Roman Empire as an information broadcasting system. Latin was still a lingua franca across Western Europe despite the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Affordable copying of documents was made possible by mechanizing the process using movable type and a press. Prior to this point, a major input of culture that had flowered in Maghreb Islamic states arrived into Western Europe, mostly through Spain. This not only included developments made by Arabic speakers, but also a revival of Greek texts and the relaying of advancements originating from China and India. A dominant influence probably would have resulted if it had not been for physical geographic barriers and the geopolitical barrier of Western Christian states where coinage issued from central mints had reappeared.
Start – Manufacturing as embodied by the factory system at the Cromford Mill for spinning cotton, in the British Empire. The switch from Latin as the language of scholarship in England, to English, had occurred only relatively recently before.
Finish – Mass production as embodied by the moving assembly line at the Highland Park Plant for building automobiles, in the United States of America. These English speakers would have a dominant influence on the rest of the world.
7. World Wide Web
≈ 55 years before CC in the global community as an information access system. These hypertext-linked documents distributed across computers connected by internet telecommunication became popular with the debut of the Mosaic web browser.
The complexity arising from each communication revolution onwards is accordingly mirrored in behavior or, with the emergence of general intelligence in Behaviorally Modern Humans, in knowledge and the arts.
An examination of ecological transition time periods will reveal within them a very significant concentration of key events (including advancements in communication) that initiated new developmental pathways. During these intervals, a transformation occurs in anatomical organization (accordingly mirrored in behavior) or, after the emergence of general intelligence in Behaviorally Modern Humans, in economic organization (accordingly mirrored in knowledge and the arts).
An extrapolation of the retrospective interpretation so far presented can give an insight into the future, but it is not advisable to make excessively detailed future predictions considering the unpredictability of such events in the past.
Assuming accelerative evolution has not already ended, the next communication revolution is predicted to occur around the year 2043 based upon a simplistic calculation: 1993 (debut of Mosaic web browser) + 50 = 2043. When taking into consideration the potential for greater affluence around the world it seems likely that accelerative evolution could continue to this point, but it would require the completion of an ecological transition before then. It is possible that this transformation might have already started as the earliest starting point of previous ecological transitions has passed relative to the current time frame.
At some point the time required to raise a new human generation will present a biological limit preventing accelerative evolution. If another ecological transition occurs – during an interval within a 50 year period - it will be the last because another cannot be completed in the subsequent time frame – during an interval within a 5 year period. Therefore, if another communication revolution occurs it will also be the last.
Slowing world population growth could be viewed as a potential impediment to accelerative evolution. It could also instead be construed as the effect of optimal system responses. It is probably not coincidental that world population is likely to plateau around the middle of this century.
28 September 2013, Glasgow