Red Queen Rising

firered

(…continued from DNA and Evolution:  Super Humans)

 “Now! Now!” cried the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy. The Queen propped her against a tree, and said kindly, “You may rest a little now.”

Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree all the time! Everything’s just as it was!”

“Of course it is,” said the Queen: “what would you have it?”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

~  Lewis Carol, Through the Looking Glass

We humans have very brief lifetimes.  We burn bright with the light of a trillion cellular bursts of oxygenated sparks for a few seconds—and then we wink out of existence, like billions and billions of fragile fireflies on a warm summer night, flaring in and out of existence on the timeline of history.  Along the way, we add a multitude of traits and survival characteristics that would allow us to send forth, our young offspring to continue onward through the march of life.  In the same manner, we also delete from our collective genetic memories, those disadvantages which lead to eventual extinction of our lines.

We, who are alive today, are the results of billions and billions of human generations, trying this and that, sacrificing a multitude of lines and of lives in search of the most advantageous, the best, the brightest, the strongest, and dare I say, the most godlike qualities to imbue into the bodies of their offspring.  This is not vanity speaking.  This is a matter of life and death.  No.  Death is a natural part of life, because without death, there can be no life.  The situation is far more dire.  It is a matter of life or extinction, because with extinction, there is no more chance at continuing the circle of life and death—at least for that lineage or species.

After a millennium of vigorous study, we humans have figured out the grande finale plan of the universe.  It is a harsh plan, but it is a wise one, with far-reaching implications.  The plan specifically determines that we cannot simply hold our ground and maintain status quo.  If we do not continue to evolve, pit ourselves against the stresses and challenges that our environment throws at us, we will not only die, our species will go extinct.

This theory is called the Red Queen Hypothesis, as outlined by Leigh Van Valen, a professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.  In one of his published works, he outlined his idea of the Law of Extinction and then proposed the Red Queen Hypothesis to explain the intricacies of the Law of Extinction.  In short, as the Red Queen emphatically states to Alice, it really does take all the running that we can do just to be able to maintain our current stance.

Imagine a moving sidewalk, going in the opposite direction that we want to go towards.  If we move at the exact same speed as the escalator, we will never deviate from the spot we are currently standing on.  To move forward, we must go faster than the moving sidewalk.  Moving slower than the sidewalk means we go backwards and will eventually be pushed off the platform.

Charles Marshall, director of the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology and professor of integrative biology stated that he and his colleagues “…found that a decrease in the origin of new species is just as important as increased extinction rate in driving mammals to extinction.  Each group has either lost, or is losing, to an increasingly difficult environment.  These groups’ demise was at least in part due to loss to the Red Queen — that is, a failure to keep pace with a deteriorating environment.” [1]

That deteriorating environment is Earth, and that group which is losing its ability to exist is us humans.  In our increasingly crowded living situation on Earth, we, as individuals making up the world’s population of 7.1 billion inhabitants, [2] can barely find enough food to feed all members of our human race.  We are running out of room and resources for most other endeavors as well and may soon face a cannibalistic way of life as we plunder each other for scarce commodities to ensure our own survival.

It is into these turbulent, crowded conditions that the super-men and super-women will be born.  They will be the next step in human evolution and it is to be celebrated and encouraged.  Without the new human species springing up, we will eventually fade away, much as the Paranthropus robustus did.  Who were they, you might ask?  They were a group of vegetarian hominids which branched out at the same time as Homo erectus and Australopithecus africanus, but while we humans, as well as Lucy’s species of hominids, continued to thrive due to the fact that we could consume meat as well as vegetation, the Paranthropus robustus died out quite early in the game, unable to sustain themselves with plant material only.  Eventually, Australopithecus africanus did also go extinct, but we are seven-billion and going strong.

Within that large number of living beings, there exists the key to our continued survival.  We are mutating at a frantic pace, every day, every hour, indeed, every minute.  New mutations arise naturally, from random human combinations, allowing for a genetic diversity which will hopefully allow for humanity to survive any future cataclysmic events.  Of course, in such a stressful and stressed environment, not only are we mutating forward at a much faster rate than ever before, we are also mutating backwards much faster too.  Weak genes which resulted in weak humans would have been eliminated in ages long past, when physical and mental strengths were requirements for survival.  Today, they are nurtured and maintained, allowing for genetic weaknesses to be spread throughout the general human population.

Irregardless of the efforts of mankind to maintain status quo, nature has her own agenda, and she pushes us from behind, propelling us forward without pause.  Those of us who are able to keep up with her moves forward into the next generation.  Those who can’t simply wait for the ride to stop, and they get pushed off.  The ride goes on, with or without us.  And in the end, we embrace the new human species springing forth into the new millennium because this is the only way we can evade species-wide extinction.

1.  University of California – Berkeley (2013, June 20). The Red Queen was right: Life must continually evolve to avoid extinction.ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2013/06/130620142934.htm

2.  Geohive:  Current Human Population.

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