Read this article the other day and thought it was worthy of a post. After reading it I think it could be true but I also think that it could be false. I am mostly right in the middle, if not slightly leaning one way. In short the article says that humans in terms of our bodies are as strong, and as fast as we are going to get, and living as long as we are ever going to live. The article states that data has suggested that our lifespans and other physical accomplishments have plateaued and that we will not see them increase.
Taking the article at face value, I think, for the most part this may be correct both in terms of lifespan and physical achievements of the human body. But as always I am not sure the data is all the much help. If you look at say sometime in the 1500’s I would argue that some of the physical feats that we have accomplished today would have seemed impossible and they would have said something similar as to what this article is saying back then. Living to the age of 35, with 50-60 being the upper tier, was all one could hope for during that time. I would think that at any point in time humans could say we are at the peak of physical condition.
The real question is how much actual evolution or mutations could happen 500 years? I would argue not a great deal. When you look at other animals, how much have they evolved during that same time period. It’s hard to say, and for the most part evolution takes eons to show itself. But in a little over 500 years we have more than doubled the average life span and drastically increased the upper limits of human life, not to mention our physical feats.
My point here is that I do not think this is due to evolution, rather technology. Advancements in healthcare have enabled us to live longer with little to no evolutionary leaps. That can be seen as a good or bad thing, and for all we know the article could be correct in its statement. Technology may have pushed human life span to its peak and that is all we can hope for, but that statement assumes that there is no room or capability to evolve in the future. This could be the case, but I have a hard time believing that.
Something to keep in mind here too is that if we survive for another five to ten thousand years I have read that we will continue to evolve and at this point we will no longer be considered Homo Sapiens, but something else. So we have the potential to evolve into the next step, which would no longer be human, in that case we could potentially evolve longer life spans over that period, naturally, without the help of technology. In saying that I think the article could be correct in saying that, as humans, this is as long as we can hope to live. So if we put aside the fact that we are still, and could potentially evolve into something else, then the article could be correct. I also want to be clear that when I say we could evolve into something else, I do not mean some mutant with super powers (however that would be really cool). I just mean that scientifically we would not be classified as Homo Sapiens any longer.
Another point that the article leaves out is the idea of technological or artificial help in terms of life span. Even if you think that humans can no longer evolve in any way, I think that in the near future technology or some sort of artificial help will be able to extend human life spans. Technologies such as CRISPR and even technologies that can repair and extend the life of the infamous Telomeres, could drastically increase human lifespan. The problem here is that I have no idea when these technologies will become mainstream, but if I am being conservative I would say in the next 50 years one, both, or more similar technologies will have a positive impact on human life spans.
Putting technology aside and sticking with just natural ways and means, I think both life spans and physical feats will continue to increase, albeit by increasingly smaller amounts. So while in 500 years we increased the life span by more than doubled, I think in the next 500 years it may only increase by 10 or so years, probably less, naturally. But in that long of a span it’s really hard to differentiate how technology will play a role separate from just the natural progression. Because again as I said above I think there is relatively little to no natural evolution that will take place during that time period. I would argue that our increase lifespans are mostly due to better healthcare and I see that trend increasing exponentially. My point is that I think it will still increase just by small amounts.
The same can be said by our physical feats. Look at the times of world record sprinter in the 100 meter. At first it was thought impossible to get a time under 10 seconds, but that was proven to be false. Now the world record is 9.58 seconds held by Usain Bold. The point here is that it took almost 100 years to shave off 0.5 seconds from the 100 meter time. According to the article the 9.58 time is the fastest any human can run 100 meters. I do not believe that, it may take another 100 years but that record will be broken. But if it is broken it will not be by much. Again I think our physical feats will continue to progress, just by smaller and smaller increments. It may take 100 more years to get the time down to 9.4, then another 100 years to get to 9.35, so on and so forth.
There are two things at play here. The first is the technology for the runners. While it may seem silly it does make a difference and that technological advancement could be the difference of 0.005 of a second, which in Olympic standards could be a huge advantage. Athletes competing at the top level are always looking for an advantage no matter how small. I watched a TED talk on this and pasted it below. Basically the presenter talks about how the technology of the track and shoes made Bolt faster or at the very least did nothing to slow him down. However, he says that bold would have still beat Jesse Owens all things being equal, but by just a fraction of a second even though their times suggest otherwise. So still, Bolt is faster, and again this proves my point that we are marching forward just extremely slowly. Take a few minutes and watch the video, it is very fascinating especially when he talks about the swimming event and how the ledge of the pool made a difference along with the infamous suite that are now banned for the Olympics.
As I said in the beginning I think the article is mostly right, but it is impossible to make the argument without factoring in technology. With life spans we are sort of getting into another argument of what is the longest a human can live without the aid of technology? Some say that it is around 120 with no technological help. On the other hand Aubrey de Grey says that we could live forever with a few minor adjustments to our DNA. In the book Long for This World he talks at length about how we can cure aging and even death. It is a fascinating read if you want to check it out.
I think lifespans will continue to increase. While currently they may be plateauing, technological advancements in the coming decades could double or even triple our current lifespans. To me it seem shortsighted to make the claim in the article because it is near impossible to separate technology from the argument. However, the writer of the article could have made a distinction and said without the help of any technology we are at the upper limit of human life span. I would have been on board with that statement. The same can be said for sports and physical achievements. There will always be freak athletes and once in a generation athletes that will continue to break and set records but in some small regard technology will play a role however small.
I am mostly optimistic that we are not at the peak of our evolution. But if we were, I think it is ok. Look at the Shark, it has been around for millions of years and hasn’t changed much. It is perfectly adapted to its environment, perhaps humans are perfectly adapted to our environment as well. The big difference here is that the shark cannot improve itself through editing its genes or making its Telomeres last longer. Imagine a shark with a laser beam attached to its head.