Humanity has gone a long way. We started of as nomads, that depended on surroundings to beings with advanced technology. But that leads to the question, would our species, Homo Sapiens, further develop into a new type of human? How would that human look like?
The history of mankind is a short history. If the past were a 12 hour clock, the final minute would be the history of the human species. Still, in this very short time, we sufficiently changed into the beings we are today. we changed from hunters to sedentary creatures to creatures living in empires and later nations. So who were the first humans? The first humans we would recognise as actual humans, were the Homo Habilis who lived around 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago. Likely they lived in East and South Africa. The first remains of this species was found in 1963 in Olduvai Gorge, a crucial paleoanthropological site in Tanzania.
Whether the Habilis can actually be seen as the first evidence of a Homo is still a debatable topic. Why most presume the Habilis is a human species was because of its flat face structure and fairly big brain with a volume of 600 to 900 cm³. Although its body proportion could be seen as more Australopithecus. The Australopithecus were one of the early hominids, they looked similar to the human species, but are quite different as well. They were not as handy, compared to the Homo Habilis. Hence why “Homo Habilis” is literally a translation for “handy man”, they were also not as intelligent and relied heavily on their environment.
How exactly the humans and hominids evolved in this way is what researches call a ‘missing link’. It is believed that some time, paleoanthropologists would find another species that could clear up this situation. A couple of years ago they thought they had already come across a type of human that could have been our ancestor. This new species was called Homo Naledi, or human star. Only the term “Homo” is a misconception. Initially they thought it was that missing link that they were looking for, but upon further investigation, it was clear that it was another Australopithecus. Its face was clearly not flat and neither was its body proportions in any way sufficient to get called human.
How did the Homo evolve?
How exactly humans have evolved can be explained by the work of Charles Darwin, Struggle for existence. Only the strongest in the ecosystem are capable of surviving. Herbert Spencer worked further on this idea with his work Survival of the Fittest. Survival is not only due to strength, it is also based on how well you could adapt to your environment. It is no secret, how well humans have adapted to the territories they wandered through. The Homo Habilis adapted to their environment by developing tactical hands, the Homo Erectus developed a straighter back and us, Homo Sapiens, lost hair on many parts of our body.
The last one could be seen as odd; why did evolution cause hairloss? This was predominantly a consequence for the increasing brain volume. Every new trait could always date back to the enlargement of our brains. Our brains consume most energy in our body, while you are reading this article for example, your brain is using 20% of your body’s energy. Thus for your brain to survive, humans have evolved to lose hair. Less hair, means our body has an easier time cooling down. Why we still have hair on our head is also a good question to ask, that is to maintain a certain distance from your skull to prevent sun rays from causing any heat on your head. And so our body managed to adapt continuously.
Our adaption to environment and cooperation, was our key to survival. That, supposedly, is one of the many reasons why we became the Homo Sapiens we are today.
What will future Homo Sapiens look like?
This is a question we always ask ourselves. We love to imagine how we would evolve in the future. The reality is, likely we would evolve in a certain way, but it could not be the same type of evolution as the ones millennia ago. Yuval Noah Harari, although after receiving much criticism, his hypothesis of how humans could become in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is notable. He presumes there are two possible outcomes.
One of which, would be that humans could become semi-organic and semi-anorganic. This means that we modify our body with material we make ourselves. This could be that we make our whole body out of prosthetics. To us 21st century people, this is no longer a science fiction. I presume, I don’t have to inform you that many wear machinery to replace a particular body part. May it be a leg prostetic or a hearing device. So the likely outcome would be for us to completely replace our bodies. We no longer would have to rely on our body parts and organs. You could call this type of humans, like they do in science fiction movies, cyborgs.
Another next step would also be as a result of our own desire to modify. Only in this case, we would not use anorganic material to modify, but change our bodies genetically from birth. Genetic diseases for example have caused many deaths for centuries. Having a deadly genetic condition, is a demise set in stone. Due to developments that already exist like CRISPR, this logic could completely be disproven. But Yuval Noah Harari criticises this modifying of humans in this way. We are essentially bio-hacking ourselves to become a better type of human. If we go very extreme, we could make ourselves more disease resistent, stronger, smarter and generally better than the Homo Sapiens today. This could become an entire species on its own, maybe we could call this the Homo Modificatus?
Could humans go back to their roots?
Another outcome that I see wandering around the internet, is the idea that we could be “evolving just backwards”. This of course is a joke, but it is interesting to think about. Would it be possible to get back to our roots? It will not be possible to go back to anthropoid. Nor to our predecessor. When we evolve over a long period of time, it is firstly a slow process of generations. Biologically, this is about innumerable crossing-overs that have to happen. When our genes modify, we can never devolve. You can’t see this anywhere in nature. When a virus adapts to its environment, it never goes back to its original form. It adds a gene modification that will continue for generations. So in theoretical terms no, we won’t ever devolve.
But whatever the future will bring us, it is still a question whether we would see another human species. This is not a question if it would happen naturally, it is a question whether it would happen based on the circumstances. Seeing how humans currently are progressing, likely we will be the final step of humankind. A step that will inevitably destroy itself and the world around it.