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The future of travel may depend on the evolution of the past.

I’m assuming most of you reading this believe in evolution, or at least parts of it.

The most interesting aspect of an article I just read on the Daily Galaxy website is that it states evolution, as we have known it, is now obsolete.

Oh, really?

The piece begins with this quote from Freeman Dyson at the Institute for Advanced Study:

Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over. The epoch of species competition came to an end about 10 thousand years ago when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the planet. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the driving force of change.

This brings up several questions for me (global warming, anyone?), but for the purpose of this post, I’ll stick to author Casey Kazan’s point of reference: the “domestication” of biotechnology will be the driving force of the next 50 years. To some extent, this is already the deeply-embedded case: take a look at food engineering (with the newest scary idea to breed cows that feel no pain), and the continued debate over stem cells.

But the real gist of the article is that cultural evolution, which is not Darwinian in nature, has replaced biological evolution. So what does this mean for the 21st century traveler?

Cultural Interdependence Vs. Separate Identity

Kazan adds:

Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization.

Interesting view, especially if we consider whether it is possible to culturally integrate based on nature vs. nurture. But Kazan once again quotes Dyson, who says, “…the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was before separate species and intellectual property were invented.”

Photo: h.koppdelaney

This information makes me wonder, will the need – or desire – to travel then become obsolete?

If you contemplate that the evolution of man came about from constantly moving to new areas and developing survival mechanisms based on place, if biological evolution is “over,” do we need to keep moving? Or will biotechnology simply bring another place to us?

Part of Kazan’s argument sounds wonderful to me: the holistic interpretation that we are not separate, but instead are all one and interconnected, and that this will extend to how we share and live in a global community.

The other part, though, I must admit I’m afraid of: losing any separate identity, and therefore culture, will negate the need to see other places. We can just conjure up our desired locale based on an antiquated idea that the people of a different place had something to offer us. But these positive differences will no longer be a reality.

Then, we might just long for the past.

What do you think about the “end of evolution” and its implications on travel? Share your thoughts below.



About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • Richard

    There is an interesting idea I once fell across about the evolution of ideas as though they were genes in an organism, called memetics. The notion was that people in society adopt beliefs and structures through which they interpret the world based on what is most useful to them, rather than what is true. In a similar fashion to how genes for traits which allow for better physical survival are selected for, people will adopt the social or cultural norms which allow them their best chance of social survival.

    It would be a rather depressing idea if the chance for cultural evolution were squandered on what is most socially useful, rather than what people might really find to be true or best (in some ephemeral sense of the term). Looking at the ideas we buy into every day as a part of the consumer society in the west, I would just hope that we might pick up some more gentler, perhaps more intrinsically meaningful or peaceful ideas from other cultures, rather than keep spreading socially ‘useful’ ideas of climbing for status.

    A really thought provoking article – thank you!

  • Amanda

    I think that once we are all interconnected, and possibly no need for travel, and are one culture, we will find a new planet, new species to connect with, learn about, fight with, for years to come. Until, that is, we again realize we are connected to them, then we discover a new galaxy.. so on. We are really small in a really big place, plenty of room for exploring!

    And come on, Capt. Picard was a traveler! ;) Thanks for the article.

  • david miller

    while i’ll grant that cultural evolution may be changing our lifestyles and the societal structures and systems that are in place (both positively and negatively) i just can’t accept that it in any way supersedes our biological evolution, nor that biological evolution has “stopped.”

    Here is a case that comes to mind:

    Cultural evolution has affected many countries in this way: mothers have ‘bought into’ the concept that it isn’t necessary to breastfeed their babies.

    As western medicine has generally centered on disease and not well being, scientists are just beginning to really understand the implications that things such as breastfeeding has, not only for the child but, in this case, for the mother. A quote from this article reads: “For most of human evolution the absence or early cessation of breastfeeding would have been occasioned by miscarriage, loss, or death of a child. We contend, therefore, that at the level of her basic biology a mother’s decision to bottle feed unknowingly simulates child loss.”

    I believe that there are certain inviolable element of our evolutionary makeup such as the need to have immediate contact with our mothers when we’re born–There are many others. The need to explore, to find new places, to travel-it’s in there too. Maybe not as strong for some as for others, but it’s in there.

  • Tom Mulhall

    Biological evolution has ended? Tell that to people who have died from Aids, SARS, swine flu, etc. Biological evolution is always going on.

    Also travel will never become obsolete. If you said that to someone who lives in a cold weather climate, they would laugh in your face in winter time. No people will always want new experiences and different ones.

  • Carlo Alcos

    I think that is a pretty egoistical viewpoint – that evolution is done. We tend to think that we are the pinnacle, that this is it. This isn’t it. We’re just part of it, and it keeps going.

    Like it’s easy to think that this, the way we live today, is the best way to live, is the only way that we could have lived. Agriculture – the end of nomadism – started 10,000 years ago. This is the root of our current civilization, how we got where we are now. But it’s quite imaginable that things could have been different, that we could have branched an entirely different way. Anyway, point is, we take for granted that this is it.

    We could very well be heading towards cultural and racial homogenization, but I think long before that happens we will wipe ourselves out and a new civilization will arise, an evolved civilization that can properly live on the earth. All of the programs we implement to fix our problems are just sticks in the river, not enough to divert the flow to a new direction (yes, I am influenced by Daniel Quinn).

    Besides, haven’t you seen Waterworld? With melting ice and rising seas, it’s only natural that we’ll start having gills…

  • Mark Tisdale

    Hmmm, I’m of mixed emotions over this one. There’s definitely some truth to homogenization. Look at America, most any suburb built in the past decade is going to look fairly darn similar. At least in the US. I’m not per se 100% convinced that globalization on this level will wrap the globe, even when we add in a rapid bio-tech evolution.

    And it would be a pretty darn boring world if it does. Truly, if the world’s cultures blended such that the only thing unique to find was the terrain and the weather? Bleh!

  • Emona

    I recently read an article that I have trouble finding now. It’s about a book which is really a fantasy-optimistic prediction of the world 50 years from today. It was supposed to be comforting, written as an oasis for a reader tired of articles on a) global warming b) financial meltdown. According to it, the world of tomorrow found a solution for both ecological and economic problems by taking more then a few steps back. People, 50 years from now, live in small interconnected communities, they produce food and other necessities locally; big cities are abandoned and, because of the advanced communication technology and in order too reduce carbon footprint – intercontinental travel is extremely rare!
    I think that the evolution of our species shifted on a fast track. The evolution of our ideas, that is. Global warming as a big issue and also the economy left us in a situation where the only thing left to do is the right thing. I just hope we will also find a sustainable and a green way to travel. After all, it is essential for this change in our ideas, our conscious that’s going on.
    I don’t think the cultural differences will disappear… only our fear of them. People looking to live more “green” and sustainable will turn to their local food production which means local cuisine and also travelers will come interested in the unique local culture, which will keep it alive and cherished. Sure, there will be things present everywhere… but not more then today… we’re supposed to learn from each other, nothing wrong with that.

  • Anil

    I disagree – biological evolution hasn’t stopped for our species or any others. Despite our profound impact on the planet evolution is still occurring and we’re an experiment of the Darwinian process. There is no evidence that a brain like ours is an evolutionary advantage in the long run.

    I’d say that the while our motivations for travel are generally similar on the whole – sustenance and curiosity. I don’t think our species will ever lose the desire for either. We’ll be traveling as long as we’re around.

  • zyxo

    I also disagree. It is not because a cultural evolution has come into existence that biological evolution stops. They simply coexist. After cultural evolution comes technical evolution : not only messing around with genes but evolving machines, evolving software etc. You ain’t seen nothing yet !

  • Tim Patterson

    Thought provoking post – advances in biotech are creepily inevitable.

  • christine

    Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. Amanda, good point on the fact that no matter what, there will always be more out there!

    I see Casey’s post on Daily Galaxy as simply an extension of the continued debate over nature vs. nurture. Personally, I think one is as important as the other, and always will be. One may seem to take precedent at a moment in history – for example biotech as we speak – but the other one will always come back to the forefront at some point.

    It is the ebb and flow of life, like anything. As biotech seems to reign supreme, more and more people are accessing “long-ago” biological necessities, as David noted about breastfeeding. I think we will continue to see a resurgence of true, not man-manipulated, “nature” as we figure out how to keep this species surviving.

  • Brett

    Biological evolution will continue until the planet blows up or the sun goes out, at least.

    Humans’ desire to travel will end when humans go extinct. (Earth’s geographic diversity is enough of a baseline motivation to guarantee this, although as mentioned above, curiosity about other people is also with us for the long haul.)

Our travels of today will surely seem primitive to our descendants 150 years from now.
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