Researchers identify 14 ‘evolutionary traps’ that threaten humanity

For the first time, researchers have applied the concept of an evolutionary trap to all human populations. This work, quite abstract and exploratory, nevertheless made it possible to reach several very interesting conclusions; Researchers have identified 14 evolutionary dead ends that could one day land humanity in a very difficult situation.

This concept of an evolutionary trap emerged in the 1990s, when the evolutionary biology research community began to notice numerous changes in certain organisms. Many species seemed to become less and less adapted to their environment due to innovations beneficial to mankind.

For example, evolution has caused many species of insects to develop a special attraction to light; we are talking about photo taxis. If this phototaxis has been selected for during evolution, it must be because it represents certain evolutionary interest. The latter is still not entirely clear to researchers. On the other hand, this behavior is no longer strictly useful in our time. For example, it can also encourage them to get too close to an insect lamp; today, phototaxis has therefore become an evolutionary trap.

An evolutionary reading of human progress

Until now, work on this topic has mainly focused on isolated species. But recently, a team of researchers affiliated with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to take a different approach; they wanted to explore various evolutionary pitfalls that could threaten the future of humanity.

Humans are incredibly creative as a species. We are able to innovate and adapt to many circumstances by collaborating on a very large scale. But these abilities also have unwanted consequences. It can be said that the human species has done “too” well and is somehow too intelligent for its own good. “, explains Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, researcher from Stockholm University and lead author of the study.

The concept of an evolutionary trap is well known in the animal world. But just as insects are attracted to light, an evolutionary reflex that can lead to death in the modern world, there is a risk that humans will be captivated by new phenomena. “, he specifies.

14 major evolutionary pitfalls

In their latest publication, his team identified 14 potential evolutionary pitfalls that directly threaten our species. They classified them into three categories. The first relates to technological traps. For example, there is a risk that humanity will find itself overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of its own inventions.

This is a topic that is now familiar to everyone. We can quoteindustrializationwhich has undoubtedly improved our societies… but also laid the foundation for global warming, with all the consequences we know. Today, more and more observers also mention the risks associated with rapid development of artificial intelligence.

The second category gathers traps called ” structural “. The researchers specifically state dynamics of consumption and production andmass urbanization. Finally, the third category refers to traps ” globally “, like Conflicts Or increasing resource demands.

Researchers state, for example, progressive simplification of agriculture, which is becoming worrisome after decades of monoculture. Humanity is largely dependent on certain high-yielding plants such as wheat, rice or soybeans. Their intensive breeding caused an explosive number of calories to be produced, which allowed our species to reproduce en masse. But it also means that our food system is increasingly vulnerable climate change or disease, which could have devastating consequences in the future.

Traps are often interconnected

All these phenomena have already been individually documented; on the other hand, this is the first time that a study offers an interpretation of the situation at the global level through the mechanisms of evolution. And this approach brought to light some interesting information.

For starters, the researchers explain it 12 of these 14 traps are in ” in advance ». In the context of the study, this means that humanity has already become so mired in some of these evolutionary traps that it will be soon very difficult to get out of it. The dynamics behind global warming is the best example.

Then, this work shows quite clearly that these traps reinforce each other. If humanity definitely falls into one of them, it will therefore be even more exposed to the others. The authors cite, for example, a gain in the autonomy of technology, through disciplines such as robotics andArtificial Intelligence. This is already a potential evolutionary trap, but it is even more threatening because it accelerates the decay of what researchers call “ share capital “.

Another problem is that the multiplication of these interrelated risk factors makes these pitfalls bigger and bigger harder to understand for humanity as a whole. ” In modern systems, social and environmental problems grow in niches that seem abstract, distant societies that could prevent them. The evolutionary forces that brought humanity to where it is today are no longer working well on a global scale », summarizes Lan Wang-Erlandsson, co-author of the study.

It is not (yet) inevitable

The researchers, however, insist on this humanity is still far from being doomed to failure. On the other hand, in order to secure our common future, we will absolutely have to regain control over all these processes. And this will necessarily involve a mixture of education and social responsibility.

We must actively transform our societies. It is time for people to become aware of this new reality in order to move forward collectively. We have the capacity to do so and we are already seeing signs of such moves. But to escape this status quo, we must to cultivate our collective capacity to create the conditions in which we can flourish as a species », concludes Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

The text of the study is available here.

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