THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE AND SURVIVAL........ Can Homo sapiens survive or is extinction inevitable?””
AFTER MORE THAN 4 BILLION YEARS AND MULTIPLE mass extinctions, intelligent species finally evolved on Earth. What prompted this? Was it inevitable? There are many opinions, but the only explanation that should really matter is the one that can be found in the history of evolution’s struggle to maintain life in a universe ensnared in a perpetual cycle of birth, life, and death.
From an evolutionary perspective, it seems as if the entire reason for the existence and evolutionary journey of an intelligent species is to mature past the point of self-extinction and become capable of surviving the universe’s existential threats. Put simply, to keep life alive. This book explores the possibility that intelligent species emergence was an evolutionary response to the universe’s endless propensity for destroying life, and, about climate change and Homo sapiens’ role in that response.
Homo sapiens evolved in a universe in the grip of an endless cycle of birth, life, and death. Notwithstanding, evolution found a way to perpetuate life by evolving species capable of reproducing themselves. Evolution has managed to get life going on Planet Earth and has kept it going ever since, repeatedly jump-starting life in the face of numerous mass extinctions. Yet, after all of this effort to evolve and sustain life, species survival seems to remain at the mercies of the universe. Even after surviving for millions of years, species like the dinosaurs could do nothing to avoid extinction at the hands of this Universe.
That colossal meteorite impact that put an end to more than half of the Earth’s species, including all non-avian dinosaurs, was felt across the evolutionary species universe and may have changed the course of evolution forever. It certainly got evolution’s attention. It’s possible that the evolution of an intelligent species that can choose its own fate—survival or extinction—might have been evolution’s response to the inability of otherwise-successful species’ to save themselves when confronted with such random galactic, solar, or planetary scale existential threats.
It is unsurprising that it wasn’t long, in geologic time, after the elimination of the dinosaurs—widely believed to have made the rise of mammals possible—that intelligent species, in the genus Homo, including hominins and eventually Homo sapiens, entered the picture. About 6 million years before Homo sapiens showed up, evolution began grooming and winnowing a clutch of emerging hominin species. Most went extinct, but some survived and eventually gave rise to what we now know as Homo sapiens. One evolutionary question might have been whether one of these intelligent species would survive past the point of self-extinction to evolutionary maturity, be able to migrate from planet to planet and star to star and, eventually, perhaps to other galaxies if necessary to survive.
No matter what one might believe about why we are here, then, intelligent species evolution might be nothing more or nothing less than evolution’s response to the universe‘s existential threats to the survival of life. Evolution, it seems, wanted to find a way for life to survive, whatever the universe might throw at it, and the evolution of mature intelligent species might well have been the answer—so far.
So, more than 6 million years ago, evolution set out to evolve a new kind of animal species that would be free to choose its own evolutionary destiny. A species that would in time evolve the capability to transcend and largely replace the instincts that control the behavior of all other animal species. A species with an emergent intelligence that would enable it to evaluate potential outcomes and make choices to shape its own evolutionary outcome in ways no prior species could. A species that could make choices so far-reaching that it could potentially, perhaps inadvertently, bring about its own extinction and the extinction of numerous other species, or instead make choices to mature beyond the point of self-extinction, to evolutionary maturity.
No prior species could do anything other than follow the integral biological routines endlessly executing in its brain; none could reprogram itself or do anything beyond its natural instincts. But with this fixed programming also came an advantage.
Such species never had to ask, “Why am I here?” or wonder about their purpose in life; they lacked the intellectual tools to do so, and that purpose was hardwired inside them. Every area of their lives had been preprogrammed. Nor were such species going to come up with the means to drive themselves or other species to extinction: they would never develop the ability to change Earth’s atmosphere, precipitate global warming, poison the food chain, or hunt or fish other species to extinction. They could never enslave others of their own species nor wage global warfare against them. Such species had no need to grow to evolutionary maturity as they evolved; they were as fully matured as they would ever be.
Homo sapiens, though, would need to reach evolutionary maturity just to survive and avoid self-extinction. The attributes that enabled an intelligent species to transcend the limitations of prior species—intelligence and the freedom to choose its own evolutionary destiny—were simultaneously its greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses.
With intelligence and the freedom to choose came the awesome responsibility to choose to grow to full evolutionary maturity—a challenge no prior species had ever had to face. Like human infants, intelligent species require guidance and time to grow into full evolutionary maturity, or, like immature adult humans, they will self-destruct and take themselves out and potentially all other species with them, and that, it would seem, is the survival struggle twenty-first-century Homo sapiens now confront.
Whether we are aware of it or not, our species, Homo sapiens, is engaged in an evolutionary battle for its very survival, and the enemy it faces is within. Homo sapiens’ freedom to choose its own evolutionary outcome, and the intelligence that comes with it, can be used to either reach that level of evolutionary maturity that other species begin with, or to imagine, innovate, and create the means of its own extinction. The evolutionary pattern at work here is uncomplicated, and innovation has little if anything to do with it. Notwithstanding its ability to adapt and innovate, an intelligent species must reach evolutionary maturity, or it will go extinct. No maturity, no survival. It’s that simple.
The greatest threat to Homo sapiens’ survival is not a meteorite impact, not a death star, not WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), and perhaps not even AI (artificial intelligence). Though possible, most of these are unlikely in the short to intermediate term, and others, such as WMDs and AI, are but symptoms of the real threat. The real threat, the clear and present danger, is Homo sapiens itself.
But alas! The search for evolutionary maturity and survival is not exactly a topic that preoccupies Homo sapiens today, and therein lies the problem. This may be due to a lack of a true understanding of Homo sapiens’ reason for being and potential role in the greater evolutionary scheme for life in the universe. It may also be due to not understanding the dire consequences of getting the relationship between its survival and its maturity wrong.
Homo sapiens appears to have conjured up its own reasons for being and missed those landmarks that might have led it in a direction more consistent with survival and evolutionary maturity. Today humans have arrived at a point where a handful of men are literally capable of extinguishing our species.
Fortunately, it does not appear that evolution has left this intelligent species to fend for itself. It may have provided numerous survival rules and patterns, assembled here into a survival manual, a Species Survival Maturity Model, to show the way, a kind of yellow brick road that runs past the point of self-extinction and on to evolutionary maturity and survival. In the following chapters I attempt to delineate that yellow brick road and identify the landmarks along the way, making it easier to follow in the hope that our species may yet notice and change direction before it’s too late.
This is a book about survival. It asserts that in a universe ensnared in endless repeating cycles of birth, life, and death, evolution appears to be firmly on the side of life and intelligent species survival, and, consequently, extinction is not inevitable.
It explores the backstory—why, from an evolutionary perspective, an intelligent species like Homo sapiens may have evolved in the first place and what it needs to do to continue to survive in such a universe. It explains the yin and yang relationship between intelligent species’ survival and its attainment of evolutionary maturity.
It depicts the struggle to mature past the point of self-extinction to reach evolutionary maturity in terms of an evolutionary survival game of life that may well have begun more than 5 million years ago with the evolution of the genus Homo, possibly Earth’s first intelligent species and forebears of Homo sapiens.
It identifies what appear to be survival rules and patterns that evolution may have strewn like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, instructions for intelligent species to follow in order to play to win and thereby survive, and it organizes these into a Species Survival Maturity Model.
It shows the potential link between reaching evolutionary maturity and developing the abilities necessary to survive existential threats such as those that took out the dinosaurs and achieving interplanetary migration.
It concludes with a peek at where Homo sapiens’ evolution could be headed (extraterrestrial mature intelligent species evolution) should it manage to mature past the point of self-extinction. It also looks at the potential opportunities Homo sapiens might well have to collaborate with evolution in the spread of mature intelligent species life across the galaxy.
And, finally, it considers what could be in store should Homo sapiens fail to mature. It explores which of these two outcomes Homo sapiens is likely to choose and why: maturing past the point of self-extinction to survive, or, failing to mature and going extinct. These are the only possible outcomes in this evolutionary game of life. Choose well.