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Friday, 17 January 2014

World With No Humanity

One day Humanity will end - maybe with a whimper, still locked to this planet (or maybe our solar system). Or perhaps we will have broken away, and at massive expense of resources, launched arks of humanity to distant planets, to colonise another star and its planets, leaving a Dying Earth behind. But in any event, the end of humanities reign on Earth will come. If you were a betting man, then on Earth it would be sooner rather than later on a planet exhausted by mankind’s depredations, with famine and disease sweeping around a poisoned globe. Although we may just take the whole biosphere with us in a blaze of nuclear light …..

So what comes next?

Well in the great scheme of things, and by that I mean the geological epochs that govern the Earth, the 25,000 years or so that make up the mini epoch of the 'Killer Ape', when mankind will have really impacted the planet, is nothing, a mere blip that covered one 'Ice Age' and bit of global warming, and in terms of the Solar System or Galaxy, its not even a second on the clock ... tick, tock and humanity has been and gone.

But assuming that we haven't poisoned it completely, or lit up the skies with a second sun for a while, Earth Will Abide, and life will resume on the planet. Maybe there will be enough surviving descendants of the Killer Ape to slowly but surely (assuming no extinction event occurs), start repopulating the plains, maybe as hunter-gatherers - only to resume the sort of 'civilisations' that existed in the past.

Lack of resources such as iron and coal, may limit the extent to which it can rise this time round (although 'mining' the remains of banks (metal coins) and landfills etc may provide some 'metals'). So a interstellar observer may see a new Egypt or Rome, with barbarians populating the steppes (if horses, or some equivalent such as camels survived), but no rise into the Industrial / Technological revolutions of the 18th century because the Iron and coal that powered those events are just not there on a wasted earth.

Of course if humanity was truly wiped from the planet, and that’s at least a 50/50 possibility, then depending upon the cause, and assuming it’s not a planet sterilising event, then evolution will just offer another species a chance to 'rule' the Earth. We have had the Plants, then the Reptiles, then the Dinosaurs, then the Mammals .... would it then be the Insects? Possibly, if there was an evolutionary imperative that forced the social insects such as Bees, Ants, or Termites to develop higher levels of activity ... maybe fighting over limited resources, but is hard to see their limited brains developing to that level. They might dominate the fauna of Earth by their numbers, and spread, but not by intelligent design.

But there are other creatures, mammals admittedly, who have enough guile to flourish in a world without humanity, but they would all need some additional evolutionary push to become the dominant species.

The Great Apes – our nearest cousins: These would seem the natural successors, but in fact they took an evolutionary line that led to them not reaching the potential of humans .... but maybe given the right circumstances, they may back evolve in enough respects, to be able to get out on the plains and start hunting (this being the apparent driver for the common ancestor of Apes and Humans to split). However, it seems likely that we will have made them extinct inside 100 years, and so they may not be around to get their chance to succeed us. So we probably have to look elsewhere for the new lords of the Earth. 

Baboons are big, aggressive social animals, not as bright as Chimps and Bonobo’s etc, but far more aggressive – they are cunning raiders of farms and each others territories, and they are not under immediate threat of extinction by man. They learn quickly and have a selfish kind of greedy cunning, that I suspect is what our first ancestors displayed when they broke with the apes. To me they look the strongest contenders.

Earth's Next Dominant Species May Not Be Our Ancestors

Of the others contenders, well there are rats for example, they exist in great numbers, and are quick to exploit environments and opportunities, but their small physical size means that even in great numbers, they are still 'prey' to many other species. These sorts of creatures were around during the rise of the Dinosaurs and just don't have the physical mass to make it. They would however evolve into a lot of variants, to fill a lot of ecological niches (including large sizes), if there were no predators such as cats, dogs or eagles around. So one could image Rhino size rats given the opportunity and time by nature.

Then of course we may be leading ourselves down the wrong path by thinking of ‘Lords of the Earth’ …. It might be the Oceans that produce the next dominant animal on the planet … the Dolphin or Whale families are suggested as possibly intelligent, but while they remain in the sea, we may never see this potential exhibited, even if humans were gone. Apart from the obvious threat of extinction now, there is also the lack of need. Without humans the oceans would once again teem with fish (in the 17th century, some cod banks were so abundant that it was said that a man could almost walk across their backs in the German Sea), and so with food a plenty, where’s the need to conquer the land from which their distant ancestors evolved? The seas Poets and Singers of ballads they may be (or become), but lords of the Earth, probably not.

However the oceans does hold one other candidate, that’s highly intelligent, has appendages that can grasp, manipulate and propel, and can even now make its way across land in limited circumstances – the octopus (cephalopod molluscs). The may even have evolved from land creatures or shoreline creatures in the past, and are big brained and big eyed, and curious ….. So given a free run, they may well become the masters of the aquatic and partially aquatic worlds. Whether they could take on a land world with predators I am not sure, but they may be able to evolve to do so later in the game. They have survived extinction events over the 500 million years of their history and that’s something many species haven’t.        

Of course I am only guessing and a million factors could tip the balance in favour of this or that species .... still I find the idea that we are not required, and that the solar system will continue without us, rather entertaining .... as I said earlier the Earth, like 'the Dude,' Abides.

 Update 3rd February 2014:

There were reports on the radio and press recently of a prediction of evolution on the move .... Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist from the University of Leicester was quoted as predicting that rats could grow to be the size of sheep (or even bigger). He said that these super adaptable creatures could take advantage of larger animals becoming extinct in the next 100 yrs, and over a long period of evolutionary time could grow to be 12st+ ( 80kg) - and bigger than a current Capybara.

'Animals will evolve, over time, into whatever designs will enable them to survive and to produce offspring'.

So essentially, by our extermination of other mammals, we already creating evolutionary niches for species to move into.

11 comments:

  1. You don't appear to have considered the most likely scenario ; that life continues without us and without any extra-ordinary intelligence. It's interesting to hypothosise about why we developed self-consciousness and to speculate about other creatures doing the same but if watching us and being taught by us doesn't initiate that elusive spark, I don't think that our absence will do it either. It may or may not happen, it really does not matter, and it doesn't matter that it doesn't matter either. As you said ; "tick-tock" !

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    1. Hi Vroomfondel - I happen to believe that given long enough, intelligence to some level always will develop (even if not greater than proto-human), as long as there is a little kick start from nature. So for example, the sea slugs and other orginal life forms on earth, eventually led to us .... what was the reason why they just didn't carry on in the sea, in a perpetual world of slugs?

      Evolution!

      It leads inevitably to at least an intelligent hunter. Who knows, there may even have been an intelligent Dinosaur, if fate hadn't taken a hand

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    2. Evolution led to at least an intelligent hunter but I don't think that this was inevitable. What is inevitable is do-or-die, a species will either adapt to changing conditions or go extinct. Intelligence is just icing on the cake. Maybe in our case it was necessary for survival, but I still don't think it was inevitable because nature/evolution doesn't care if a species survives or not.

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    3. To clarify : animals are already very intelligent as intelligence is a lot more than a QI score. We're really talking about self-awareness which sets us apart from the rest of life on Earth.

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    4. I hate to play dirty pool old chap, but didn't you enter in too much the same debate with some other dude ... self awareness is not just a human trait, many animals exhibit it. So it doesn't differentiate us 'from the rest of life on Earth'. The best hunter is the most intelligent one - humans. Evolution, whether caring or not, will still push one species to become the best hunter (and by default, intelligent)... so if we aren't there, some other species will fill that evolutionary niche.

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    5. The other debate was about emotions and I argued that we shared some with animals; I don't credit animals with human-like self awareness. I don't think that we occupy an evolutionary niche but a special domination afforded by our intelligence and self-awareness and that it's not a faculty impossible for another species to evolve, just not inevitable. Either of us may be right, it's a difficult thing to prove.

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    6. Chuck. From Albany1 February 2014 at 22:34

      Do animals feel love? Using the term emotions is a loose way to describe animal behaviour vrs human or intelligent behaviour.

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    7. I don't even think that humans feel love, it's just a hightened, romanticised feeling of sexual attraction.

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    8. Chuck. From Albany6 February 2014 at 22:19

      Buddy I have been married for over 20 years and I can assure you that although I love my wife dearly, I am not in the throws of a heightened, romanticised feeling of sexual attraction for her, and haven't been so for many years.

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  2. Reproduction forces animals to do all sorts of things, some enter into it without a hope of coming out alive, others stay with their partners for life, and one species imagines that they have 'soul-mates' with magical properties between them which they call "love".

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  3. Mind you, I saw a program on honey badgers in Africa. Tough as nails, fearless, and very smart. Would give even big rats a run for their money.

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