So, the other day, I was excited. My wonderful bloggy buddy at Craving a Little Perspective tagged me a link to a TED talk on Facebook. When I first received the link, I thought, “Oh, that will be nice. When I sit down, I’ll watch that.” And then, I promptly forgot.
The next day or so, I clicked to her blog and found this post, which is interesting, debatable, and thought provoking. And it reminded me to go watch. And so I did. And that’s when I got excited. Here is the talk:
Now, if you don’t know much about the TED talks, let me tell you. They are entertaining, interesting, enriching and make you think and laugh- always. TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”. It started out as a conference from these three areas. It now provides free access to some fascinating lectures from the world’s most inspired thinkers and brilliant people.
This talk was given by Juan Enriquez, about the future evolution of humans. Since I know it is not always easy to watch something as opposed to read about it, here is what it talked about.
Stay with me – it links to autism in a fascinating way. Humans, really have not been around all that long in the history of the universe. In fact, life itself, on Earth, was wiped out five times. When you consider the duration from the beginning of time to the present, as he tells it, humans popped up only 99.96 into the story. There have been 29 “upgrades” to humanoids from their first appearance to the present. From Neanderthal to human, we had a change of 0.004 percent of genetic code.
And in the genetic information that has been discovered, is the ACE gene. Scientists have discovered that no one has ever climbed an 8000 meter mountain peak, without oxygen, without the ACE gene. Every male Olympic power athlete ever tested carries a 577R genotype. These are two examples of what we have learned about specific genes so far.
Next, Enriquez talks about how science seems to work in spurts. First, we heard about the mapping of the human genome in the year 2000 and then Enriquez says:
“[T]hen you don’t hear a lot, until you hear about an experiment last year in China where they take skin cells from this mouse, put four chemicals on it, turn those skin cells into stem cells, let the stem cells grow and create a full copy of that mouse.”
Enriquez mentions the future possible replication of human organs, skins and someday full bodies. He talks about how people may someday be able to upload their memories and download them to a new body based on current research. And how this presents many moral, political and ethical questions.
Then, he talks about one of the first places to show rapid evolutionary change- the brain. He says:
“The first place where you would expect to see enormous evolutionary pressure today, both because of the inputs, which are becoming massive and because of the plasticity of the organ is the brain.”
It is here that he brings in the discussion of the rise in autism rates. (78% in less than a decade). These are his words:
“And we still don’t know why this is happening. What we do know is, potentially, the brain is reacting in a hyperactive, hyper-plastic way, and creating individuals that are like this:”
[hyper-perceptive, hyper-mnemonic, hyper-attentive]
“You’ve also got people who are extraordinarily smart, people who can remember everything they’ve seen in their lives, people who’ve got synesthesia, people who’ve got schizophrenia. You’ve got all kinds of stuff going on out there, and we still don’t understand how and why this is happening.
But one question you might want to ask is, are we seeing a rapid evolution of the brain and of how we process data? Because when you think of how much data’s coming into our brains, we’re trying to take in as much data in a day as people used to take in in a lifetime.” …
Enriquez raises some thoughtful questions about rise of autism rates. In our autism community, we see so many different genetic changes, so many different forms of autism that we all relate to “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”.
Enriquez concludes like this:
“But when you see an increase of that order of magnitude in a condition, either you’re not measuring it right or there’s something going on very quickly, and it may be evolution in real time.
Here’s the bottom line. What I think we are doing is we’re transitioning as a species. And I didn’t think this when Steve Gullans and I started writing together. I think we’re transitioning into Homo evolutis that, for better or worse, is not just a hominid that’s conscious of his or her environment, it’s a hominid that’s beginning to directly and deliberately control the evolution of its own species, of bacteria, of plants, of animals. And I think that’s such an order of magnitude change that your grandkids or your great-grandkids may be a species very different from you.”
Yes, I see the moral, ethical and political issues. In a different way, I can see that my son may be the beginning of a new era. He processes information in a different way. In some ways, he is far beyond his peers. In others, far behind. He remembers things I had forgotten all the time. I’m not saying I agree or disagree. I’m saying this is food for thought.