Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Technology and Natural Selection

Many years ago I was taken with the possibility that the telephone, by giving us an alternative to face-to-face conversation, would alter the ways that our minds perceive and confront reality.  On the few occasions I spoke of this idea to friends, I was the subject of laughter.  What a crazy idea was the most common reaction. 
One person did  note that many people had stopped writing letters or postcards because it was so easy to call  and talk directly.  Exactly, I replied.  Isn't it possible that prolonged habits of this kind will weaken the written form of our language?  Might it not weaken our mental capacity to form coherent and logical statements if we do away with the process of writing our questions, answers or ideas?
After all, when we speak on the phone we rush our speech to  permit the other party to respond.  When we write, we use a much slower, reflective process whereby we choose our words, re-read what is written, edit what we wrote, and may even sleep on it to be sure we got it right.
No, everyone felt, human nature can't change without genetic change.  Using the telephone won't do that.
Well, hold on there!
Rob Boyd, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA has co-authored a book with Peter J. Richerson titled "Not By Our Genes Alone: how culture transformed human evolution".  They have researched this idea for a number of years and present examples of genetic changes due to habits of living derived from a people's system of beliefs.
The first chapter of their book reviews the prevalence of violence in the South of the U.S. when compared to the rest of the nation and the possible causes for it.  It is an interesting read.
If there is merit to this branch of anthropology, (and I believe there is), what of the ubiquitous cell phone, the computer, the television?  All these inventions have changed the way we live;  no one doubts that.  They may also be changing what kind of human beings appear in the distant future.
An exciting time to be alive.  Oh, to be young again, and devote one's life to study this!
And this is a separate issue from the physical effects of chemicals in our food and water and that now live in our bodies.  We have become permanent receptors for chemicals.  When babies are born today, some of these foreign chemicals are already in their bodies, passed on to them from the parents.

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