Physical Anthropology

What is Evolution



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"What is Evolution"
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Evolution is a progressive change. In general, we expect it to refer to positive change, though that doesn't have to be the case. The word "evolution" scares a lot of people because they only associate it with the "Theory of Evolution" and all the conflict that surrounds that idea. That's almost funny. because even in our daily lives, we have but to look around and we see signs of change - of evolution - everywhere.

Technology has been undergoing a rapid evolution for over a century now, constantly accelerating. Just looking at computers, we can see explosive growth as processing speeds double every couple years, storage space keeps getting bigger (and cheaper), and original applications continue to emerge, as well as improvements on old software. Think back...how many operating systems has Microsoft marketed now? How far have Windows XP and Vista evolved beyond the original Windows environment? If you're a Mac fan, then compare your iMac to the orignal little garage-built model that really got the PC train rolling. Television has evolved, sired by radio and motion pictures to grow out of picture tubes, beyond electron guns, and on into amazing flat LCD and plasma technologies. Even the trusty old oven evolves, moving on from wood and coal burning monsters to gas and electric models and now enhanced power saving and convection technologies. The world of science and technology pushes onward, evolving constantly, and it is an exhilarating example of evolution.

Thoughts evolve. Ideas evolve. Since the beginning of thought, every thought has led to another thought, and old thoughts can be revised and improved upon, or built up into a greater understanding. The aforementioned "Theory of Evolution" is even the product of an evolution of ideas. People often attribute it to Charles Darwin (poor guy - so often vilified) when all he had was an idea about "natural selection". He had observed that in a mixed population of animals, those with certain traits were more successful in survival and reproduction. In some cases those traits were cosmetic - brighter colors to help attract mates. In others they might be functional - a stronger beak for cracking nuts open. The more successful of the species passed on their traits, and the less successful tended to diminish over time. As people learned about genetics and how genes were inherited, other people combined this new idea with Darwin's old thoughts. Other people found similarities in the genes between species, and supposed that not only traits were passed on, but that new changes (mutations) were also passed on, adding up, over time, to an entirely new species. The "Theory of Evolution" was not born out of one person's mind, but out of a progression of ideas contributed by many researchers and theorists over decades. It evolved to fit new discoveries along the way, and still continues to evolve in detail today, as scientists unravel more genetic code and gain an ever greater understanding of how life works. This article is even an evolving process as I write it. When I first saw the article title, and that everyone had focused only on the evolution/creation debate, my idea was that evolution was so much more. That thought grew as I considered technology, ideas, and yes, life too. It has kept growing as I write, and I recognize that architecture has also evolved over time, educational philosophy has evolved, and even Bart Simpson has evolved over the years, growing more cultured with an actual depth of emotion that the first season's "Eat my shorts" rapscallion lacked.

To touch on the topic of human evolution, which no doubt everyone has desperately awaited, we can take a look at historical times. There's no need to speculate about cave-dwelling ancestors, not when mere centuries have brought about notable changes. People today have smaller teeth than they did a few centuries ago. A small wonder, since our food has grown more processed and easier to chew. Big teeth are generally even viewed as unattractive, so it is easy to guess that such a trend will continue. People are taller on average than they used to be too. Some of this may be genetics, but it also could be the result of better nutrition. Either way, modern people have evolved to become slightly different from even the people in the history books. The process of change is much slower for people than it is for our technology, but it is there, and it is observable. Other life evolves too, and not always as slowly. You might think of bacteria and viruses, which sometimes mutate at astounding rates. Bacteria become drug-resistant because they evolve continually, and some strains gain the resistance they need to survive even in a toxic environment. Viruses like AIDS are difficult to treat not only because of their sturdy construction, but because they constantly re-invent themselves (not a conscious process, but the result is the same).

Natural forces cause the Earth to evolve - building and tearing down mountains, reshaping the land and sea. People too, cause the Earth to change. Many people now view "Global Warming" as a response to human pollution. If true, then the Earth is evolving in response to our actions. Out in the vast reaches of space, gasses are coalescing and new stars are forming. Old stars are flaring brighter as they explode in spectacular supernovae. Our entire universe is built upon change, and evolution makes everything new.

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