For the first time, researchers have applied the concept of an evolutionary trap to all human populations. This work, which was quite abstract and exploratory, nevertheless made it possible to arrive at some very interesting conclusions; Researchers have identified fourteen evolutionary dead ends that could one day put humanity in a very difficult situation.
This concept of an evolutionary trap emerged in the 1990s, when the evolutionary biology research community began noticing numerous changes in certain organisms. Many species seemed increasingly less well adapted to their environments due to innovations that benefited humanity.
For example, evolution has ensured that many insect species have developed a special attraction to light; we’re talking about photo taxis. If this phototaxis was selected in the course of evolution, it is necessarily because it is a particular evolutionary interest. The latter is not yet completely clear to researchers. On the other hand, in our time this behavior is no longer strictly beneficial. For example, it can also encourage them to get a little too close to an insect repellent lamp; Today, phototaxis has therefore become an evolutionary trap.
An evolutionary reading of human progress
Until now, work on this theme has mainly focused on isolated species. But recently, a team of researchers affiliated with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences took a different approach; they wanted to explore the various evolutionary traps that could call into question the future of humanity.
“ As a species, humans are incredibly creative. By working together on a very large scale, we are able to innovate and adapt to many circumstances. But these abilities also have unintended consequences. It can be said that the human species has done “too” well, and is in some ways too intelligent for its own good. “, explains Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the study.
“ The concept of an evolutionary trap is well known in the animal world. But just as insects are attracted to light, an evolutionary reflex that can lead to death in the modern world, there is a risk that humans will be lured into a trap by new phenomena. “, he specifies.
14 major evolutionary pitfalls
In its latest publication, his team identified fourteen potential evolutionary pitfalls that directly threaten our species. They classified them into three categories. The first concerns technological pitfalls. For example, there is a risk that humanity will be overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of its own inventions.
This is a theme that is now known to everyone. We can quoteindustrializationwhich has undoubtedly moved our societies forward…but also laid the foundation for global warming, with all the consequences we know. Nowadays, more and more observers are also mentioning the risks associated with this rapid development of artificial intelligence.
The second category brings together traps that “ structural “. The researchers specifically mention the consumption-production dynamics and theenormous urbanization. Finally, the third category concerns traps “ global “, like the Conflicts Or increasing need for resources.
For example, researchers mention the gradual simplification of agriculture, which is starting to become worrying after decades of monoculture. Humanity is largely dependent on certain high-yielding plants such as wheat, rice or soybeans. Their intensive cultivation caused the number of calories produced to explode, allowing our species to multiply enormously. But this also means that our food system is increasingly vulnerable climate change or diseases, which could have devastating consequences in the future.
Traps are often connected
All these phenomena have already been separately documented; on the other hand, this is the first time that a study offers an interpretation of the situation on a global scale through the mechanisms of evolution. And this approach revealed interesting information.
To start with, the researchers explain this 12 of these 14 traps are in a “ deposit ». In the context of the research, this means that humanity has already become so entangled in some of these evolutionary pitfalls that it soon very difficult to get out. The dynamics behind global warming are a good example of this.
This work shows that very clearly these traps tend to reinforce each other. Therefore, if humanity falls definitively into one of these cases, it will become even more exposed to the other. For example, the authors mention the increasing autonomy of technology, through disciplines such as robotics and artificial intelligence. This is already a potential evolutionary pitfall, but it is all the more threatening because it accelerates the decline of what researchers call “ share capital “.
The other problem is that the multiplication of these interconnected risk factors makes these pitfalls even greater harder to understand for humanity as a whole. “ In modern systems, social and environmental problems grow in niches that seem abstract, far removed from the societies that might prevent them. The evolutionary forces that got humanity to where it is today no longer work as well on a global level », summarizes Lan Wang-Erlandsson, co-author of the study.
No inevitability (yet).
However, the researchers do emphasize that Humanity is far from doomed to failure. On the other hand, to secure our collective future, we will absolutely have to regain control of all these processes. And this will necessarily involve a combination of education and social responsibility.
“ We must actively transform our societies. It is time for people to wake up to this new reality so that they can collectively move forward. We have the capacity to do this, and we are already seeing signs of such steps. But to escape this status quo, we must cultivate our collective ability to create conditions in which we can flourish as a species », concludes Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.
The text of the study can be found here.