Books sometimes are said to “meet a need” or “fill a niche” or call forth a suggestion that the work can address some modest subject area for a limited reading audience that so far has not been served by related works in a circumscribed field. Far more rare are the occasional books that create a space that is all their own and mark out a territory so large that it will be explored fully and tenanted to full extent only later by others. The Dynamic Human does just that: it creates a new domain. In doing so it brings to mind Julian Huxley’s Evolution: the modern synthesis (Allen & Unwin, London,1942), which did indeed join together much particularistic biological knowledge that had been amassed before, and organized it into a framework that would inspire and guide several generations of scientists through places that they had not even imagined before. The effect is to create broad avenues of influence among fields that previously had been linked by wandering footpaths or had existed entirely in isolation.
The territory mapped out here begins by establishing a solid core of knowledge about the place of humans in nature, and their ancestry ranging from the earliest upright and bipedal humans such as Orrorin tugenensis at about six million years ago through our immediate Neandertal predecessors and thereby to ourselves. The treatment of this material is dynamic indeed; the fossils that comprise tangible anchor points are not dogmatically arrayed into socially constructed “just so” stories describing the supposed “bushiness” of our ancestral record. Instead, the complexity – and, necessarily, uncertainty -- of interpretation is signaled by noting that there are nearly two dozen different definitions of the species category, considered by many to be a routinely reliable building block, which it is not. Interpretation of ancestral relationships is informed further by introducing principles of microevolution known from living populations. These are offered as the basis for understanding more reliably the past, during which the same mechanisms must have operated to bring about major transformations over long spans of time.
Evolution of body leads enchantingly here into exploration of the mind, biosphere melding into noosphere engendered by the internet and all of its quantum informational permutations. In this insightful projection of our human future, multiple modes of thought receive their due. Allowance is made for the intuitive approaches of shamans along with the systematically logical approaches more familiar to scientists. Particularly valuable are the concluding sections exploring the brain and cognitive enhancement technologies. Humans have a somatic past that has been shaped by millions of years of organic evolution. From it our minds have emerged to operate via thought processes both conscious and unconscious, imaginative as well as analytical. Now brain-machine interfaces are upon us, with at least 59,000 people already recipients of neurological enhancement devices. In the future more minds will exhibit mental processes benefiting from these and other cognitive enhancement technologies. More numerous by orders of magnitude are our conspecifics whose minds are altered by a plethora of pharmaceuticals. In this “brave new world” the challenges we face will include the need to deal with the increasingly blurred boundaries between reality and fiction. The Dynamic Human will help many of us make sense of our chaotically exciting world.
Robert B. Eckhardt, Ph.D.
Professor of Developmental Genetics and Evolutiionary Morphology
Not everyone accepts organic evolution. Those who accept it often see it as a list of events that occurred in the past and produced fossil entities. In relation to our own origins, if we accept evolution at all, we see it as a creative force that must have produced “the first human” at a particular time and in a particular place. Lots of research effort has been expended to pinpoint the precise date and location of this event. Once we have learned when and where our species emerged we think it has been complete and the rest is just learning how it spread around the world and shaped its history. We are studying its characteristics in order to better understand how to save and prolong its life. There is still a tendency to view human beings as a static category that will continue as such into the future unless some catastrophe causes its extinction. The same train of thought makes us believe that we are all copies of the same template that can be understood by studying what is typical.
There is an alternate approach that views the world as a continuously changing complex system comprising variable units that do not conform to any stable plan. We humans are a part of this interminably changing system. We did not appear suddenly and we are not resistant to change.
Like other organisms, human animals continue to evolve generation by generation. As noted by many thinkers, evolution is a non-linear process that is notoriously indeterminate. No two organisms, including humans, are exactly alike and each generation differs, albeit sometimes imperceptibly from the previous and the next generation.
Human mind has a biological substrate. It is not just the very physical structure of the brain with its maze of interconnected nerve cells, but also the chemical regulation of the entire body that changes the way nerve cells communicate. Therefore the entire body informs the mind. Our bodies are suffused in the rhythms of nature. The body is a plenum of kaleidoscopic interactions. Through this, individual minds communicate with nature and with each other. This is an interaction borne out of millions of years of trial and error embedded in nature. The human mind is not a logical machine, it is a product of organic interactions.
Our present-day existence is but a short stop in the journey of our ancestors from the past into the future. While our technologies may continue to inform the journey of human bodies and minds, they are incapable of arresting it.
Maciej Henneberg and Arthur Saniotis
Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Unit
The University of Adelaide, Australia and
The Institute of Evolutionary Medicine,
University of Zurich, Switzerland
List of Contributors