Bernie Sanders speaking for the people.
Everyone knows that Lord of the Rings is a work of fiction. There is no evidence that JRR Tolkien’s elves, wizards, dwarves or orcs ever existed. But recent discoveries have raised an important question: did hobbits actually exist?
In September 2003 a team of archaeologists led by Peter Brown and Mike Morwood unearthed a new human species, fossil skeleton LB1, on the tiny Southeast Asian island of Flores. LB1 stood 1m tall, had an ape-sized brain, and lived only 18 thousand years ago. Scientists named it Homo floresiensis, but because of its small size, the press gave the species a different nickname: “hobbits”.
Scientists were shocked and completely at a loss to explain how LB1 could have existed, considering it lived at a time when Homo sapiens – that’s us – had colonized every available landmass.
The species small size can potentially be explained by “insular dwarfism”, which is the evolution of small body size as a result of migration to a small island.
The hobbits shared their island with another dwarfed creature, the Stegodon, as well as a creature – the komodo dragon – that experienced the counter-effect to insular dwarfism: island gigantism. But so far no evidence suggests that hobbits encountered modern humans. Flores was an isolated “Shire” for Homo floresiensis… keeping them separated from mainland Eurasia.
But, hypothetically, what would they have encountered had they left the comfort of their “Shire” and ventured out into the Middle “Pleistocene” Earth?
New evidence suggests that they would have encountered as many as four different human species. All of these species were exhibiting behavioural traits once considered unique to modern humans… and they were all interbreeding. These discoveries are completely changing the way we understand human evolution.
The first human hobbits may have encountered was Homo erectus; a species that successfully inhabited most of Eurasia and Africa for nearly 2 million years. That’s 20x longer than modern humans have existed!
As primatologist Richard Wrangham explained in his 2009 book Catching Fire, Homo erectus changed the planet becoming the first known species to make complex technology and control fire. This allowed them to excel as hunters and… as the world’s first chefs!
Their cooking may not have impressed Samwise Gamgee – but using fire to cook hunted meat became a common strategy for all humans… except the hobbits of Flores.
Further north into Middle Pleistocene Eurasia lived Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis, two species of evolutionary significance in that they expressed symbolic behaviour.
Symbols are objects that represent ideas. Historically, symbolic activity was thought to be a hallmark of modern humans. That idea no longer seems tenable.
Paleoanthropologist Francesco d’Errico thinks it likely that Homo heidelbergensis used pigments to decorate their weapons and bodies. This means Homo heidelbergensis’s objects were imbued with a symbolic meaning.
Neanderthals also engaged in a very symbolic activity… they buried their dead. The oldest known Neanderthal gravesite dates to 160,000 years ago. Proof that pre-modern humans understood and ritualized death.
Anthropologist John Hawks has argued in a recent issue of Journal of Anthropological Sciences that the collective evidence of Pleistocene hominins forces us to appreciate that art, ornamentation, music, and language-like communication was not the sole domain of modern humans.
Genetics research has revealed more surprises. In 2008, genetic sequencing of a finger bone from Denisova cave in Siberia revealed the existence of another new human species: Denisova hominin. Subsequent genetic testing revealed that not only did Denisova hominin interbreed with Neanderthals and modern humans, but they also interbred with yet another currently unknown human species!
All of these interbreeding and co-existing humans suggest that human evolution was not a linear progression of human forms… but a complex web of many interacting humans that were not genetically distinct.
Discoveries of this level of significance prompted anthropologist Leslie Aiello to assert that we would be naïve to believe the picture of human evolution is already fully known. How many more human species await future discovery?
As for Homo floresiensis, they may not have evolved like other humans, as they were disconnected culturally and genetically. They probably didn’t cook, make complex tools, or use language. But they were safe from the much bigger and more competitive world around them.
So what caused their extinction? We don’t know for sure, but approximately 17,000 years ago, a volcanic eruption devastated their island… and we see no more evidence of the hobbit humans after this date.
As a result, it’s possible that Flores was both the Shire and Mount Doom for our extinct human relatives.
Newest The Advanced Apes video is up! How Many Earth-like Planets Exist?! And are we any closer to finding another Earth?!
You and I have something fundamental in common. We are both ALIVE. We also both surrounded by an uncountable variety and quantity of living forms. Scoop up a clump of dirt, and you are likely carrying more bacteria than there are humans on planet Earth.
Because bacteria are so abundant, ubiquitous, and invisible to the human eye, biologist E.O. Wilson often refers to them as the “dark matter of the biosphere”.
But where did all this life come from?
Before we can answer that we need to figure out what life is. Besides being bizarre, many scientists describe life as an open system that constantly extracts energy from its environment in order to maintain its own internal processes. We call this complex maintenance a metabolism.
How does life manage to do this?
With something biologist Leslie Orgel called “specified complexity”. Life has a biological memory of its own environment encoded in highly ordered molecules. On our island of life, all that information is encoded in the same basic code: deoxyribonucleic acid; better known as DNA.
Then life does something else interesting. Life reproduces its own information; and as a result of differential survival, life changes over time in a symbiotic way with the environment, or it perishes.
But when did it first start to occur on Earth?
To find out, we need to go back 4 billion years, to the early Earth. When the Earth first formed, it looked nothing like it does today. The moon was much closer, there was no water, and most importantly, there was no life. There was geology, there was chemistry, but there was no biology.
Numerous fossilized biological microstructures from Australia, dating to 3.5 billion years ago suggests that this situation changed rapidly. Somehow, the Earth had started teeming with primitive life. What was going on?
Well, abiogenesis was going on, the natural process where biology emerges from chemistry. And it was going on in a very chaotic environment.
Earth weathered the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period of meteor and asteroid collisions, that occurred 100 times higher than the contemporary average.
To a life-filled planet, this bombardment would have been catastrophic. But to a life-less planet, this planet brought gifts, including water and organic compounds; critical ingredients for life as we know it.
The Earth now had oceans, and those oceans were filled with complex chemistry. But how did these ingredients spontaneously self-organize, into the complex biological structures we find in every cell today.
Back in the present day, abiogenesis has proven to be one of the biggest mysteries for modern scientists. This mystery runs so deep that microbiologist Lynn Margulis said: “to go from a bacterium to people, is less of a step, than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.”
Biologists like Jack Szostak are trying to take that step, by producing simple chemical systems that can transition into systems exhibiting life-like characteristics. The result would be revealing a scientific “holy grail”: understanding the pathway (or pathways) to life.
Experimentation has shown us that it’s really hard to replicate abiogenesis. But they have also revealed fascinating hints about the pathway to biology. Some organic molecules naturally develop water-loving and water-hating membranes. This allows for something essential for cellular activity: compartmentalization of amino acids and nucleotides, the building blocks of protein, RNA, and DNA. And consequently, a potential first step towards a proto-cell with the biological machinery necessary for cellular growth and reproduction.
While we have yet to uncover exactly how this pathway was achieved, what we do know is that once the genetic code for life emerged on Earth, those first living forms shared their genes as liberally as humans share ideas globally today.
By sharing biological information, early life developed useful adaptations, allowing them to persist through supervolcanoes, asteroids, and global ice ages. So although life is mysterious, it is also most definitely resilient.
Remember that clump of dirt I was holding with billions of bacteria? Our life-filled world stemmed from microscopic pioneers that shared a lot in common with these extant bacteria.
This simple life also makes me wonder. Is our pale blue dot unique in it’s ability to foster abiogenesis. Or is it a simple and common process throughout the universe?
I’ll be in the comments, so discuss this with my below!
A recent paper I submitted to a special publication on radical life extension (RLE) has been reviewed and accepted for publication. The volume will include articles by cyberneticist Francis Heylighen, philosopher Clement Vidal, biogenrontologist Marios Kyriazis, and evolutionary biologist Michael Rose, among others.
The central thesis of my paper posits that humans are in the midst of a fourth major life history transition towards completely delayed biological reproduction and an extension of our evolved life expectancy (~80). I further argue that the only fundamental difference between this life history transition and previous life history transitions is that this transition is driven by cultural evolution, at the direct expense of biological evolution. This may suggest that a deeper transition away from biological evolution in the human species is already emergent.
- Three major life history transitions have occurred throughout primate evolution
- All primate life history transitions have been driven by encephelization
- All primate life history transitions have resulted in later sexual maturation and longer life expectancy
- Current theories cannot properly account for emergent life history trends in the developed world
- Cultural evolution is beginning to outcompete biological evolution
- A modified life history theory can explain how cultural reproduction could replace biological reproduction
- The realization of radical life extension would likely lead to a dramatic reduction and/or complete elimination of biological reproduction
Her (2013) isn’t about the technological singularity. When we dissect the crucial ending of the film, we see that it is about another kind of singularity. A developmental singularity.
From Her we get a transformative piece of science-fiction, and the idea that hyper-intelligence could leave our universe… without biological humans even realizing…
Super-intelligence is within our grasp. Temporally speaking, we’re closer than most realize. The last few metaphorical kilometers may be the most difficult, or they may be surprisingly easy. No one really knows. But we do know that emergent technology can theoretically be used for global horrors, just as they can be used for global paradise.
Read article: Promises and Perils on the Road to Superintelligence
Humans have always recognized parallels between the operations of biological brains and the operations of computer systems. These parallels were so readily apparent because, even from the earliest days of automated computation, computers were able to do things that had previously only been achievable by humans. One of the early inventors of automated computer systems, mathematician Charles Babbage, realized that such devices could be programmed “to do algebra, play chess, compose music, process images” and so on.
Writers like Isaac Asimov were quite explicit in their comparison of computers and brains. In fact, at the 1964 World’s Fair, Asimov predicted that “computers, much miniaturized, […] will serve as the ‘brains’ of robots” in the year 2014.
Asimov may have been on to something. It is (almost) the year 2014 and “brain-like computers are starting to get a lot of attention (with good reason).
Full Article: Computers Inspired by the Human Brain
NEW VIDEO: Future of the Internet!
The Internet is a ubiquitous phenomenon that seemingly emerged out of nowhere. In my opinion, this emergence represents the most powerful example of exponential computational improvements. You don’t need me to tell you that the effects of networked computers have been overwhelmingly pervasive, but I find that too few people realize that the Internet is still in its infancy, and it’s still got a lot of evolving to do. So what is the future of this medium? How will it continue to shape our lives in the 2020s? 2030s? 2040s? Like the second The Advanced Apes video “Can We Live Forever?“, I put my futurist hat on and tried to see what we can expect from the Internet in the near-term future.
For more context: http://theadvancedapes.com/future-of-the-internet/
NEW VIDEO! Is There Life On Mars?
Mars has played a prominent role in the history of science. Our observations of the “red planet” have forced scientists to ask the biggest questions: “Are there other Earth-like planets?”, “other life forms beyond Earth?”, ” what about other intelligent species?”. As our technology has improved, we have been able to start answering these questions. But there are still more mysteries to discover and more exciting missions ahead of us… including the potential for a new home away from home.