Did you know that a star-nosed mole or a slug is just as evolved as you are as a human being? We don’t like to think that way. We want to believe that the combination of our big brains, opposable thumbs, self awareness, ability to invent tall skyscrapers and big wars, and achievements like sending probes into space and landing on the moon make us the most evolved species on the planet. It turns out that we’re just really good at being human. A star-nosed mole is just as good at being a mole rat as a human being is at being human. We’ve both had centuries to adapt to our environments.
But environments are changing, and so evolution doesn’t level off once we hit a supreme adaptedness. People talk about about how some day our sun will overheat, and whether human beings will be around by then. Some speculate that humans will have died out. But that’s not necessarily the reason that we won’t be around. Caleb Scharf, astrophysicist and author of The Copernicus Complex, says that if we don’t die out, we’ll have evolved into a different species by the time the sun overheats. Evolution, he says, doesn’t think it’s possible or desirable to hold to our current evolutionary makeup.
Personally, I wonder what our decedents in a billion years (when the sun gets so hot, the Earth’s oceans will boil) will think about their evolutionary ancestors who lived in the 21st century. Will they still have our Instagram accounts as a kind of archeological record, or will we be just as mysterious to them as early humanoids are to us? In A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, geneticist and author Adam Rutherford tells us that the classic image of the hunched over caveman was based on a skeleton of an early man that we later discovered had osteoarthritis. We may have big brains, but we have a lot to learn about evolution and our early ancestors!
Where are we going? Where have we been? How have other species, including Neanderthals, adapted and evolved? Check out these pop science books, all brand new this year…
Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution’s Mysteries Solved by Kenneth Catania
Examining some strange and spectacular creatures, Great Adaptations offers a wondrous journey into nature’s grand designs. (September 2020)
“His delight is contagious.” –Kirkus Reviews
In the tradition of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, a winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books shows how four tools enabled us humans to control the destiny of our species. (January 2020)
Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind by Kermit Pattison
A behind-the-scenes account of the shocking discovery of the skeleton of “Ardi,” a human ancestor far older than Lucy – a find that shook the world of paleoanthropology and radically altered our understanding of human evolution. (November 2020)
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes
Based on the author’s first-hand experience at the cutting-edge of Palaeolithic research and theory, this easy-to-read but information-rich book lays out the first full picture we have of the Neanderthals, from amazing new discoveries changing our view of them forever, to the more enduring mysteries of how they lived and died, and the biggest question of them all: their relationship with modern humans. (October 2020)
From acclaimed writer and biologist Sean B. Carroll, a rollicking, awe-inspiring story of the surprising power of chance in our lives and the world. “Fascinating and exhilarating–Sean B. Carroll at his very best.” –Bill Bryson, author of The Body: A Guide for Occupants (October 2020)
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