This week's post basically comes down to one thing: natural selection.
Every person might get a different picture in their mind when they hear 'natural selection'. For example:
But how does natural selection work, exactly?
And, even if you know the answer, have you ever seen it explained using colourful potato people?
It seems like it all begins with genes. Genes tell cells what to do. Or something like that.
Genes themselves seem to originate from either of these:
And so within any species there's likely to be a bit of genetic variation.
Some genetic traits, like fluffiness, are more useful for survival than others.
But the amount of usefulness of any trait depends completely on the environment: no trait is inherently useful.
When a species has good genes for a certain environment, it basically gets to live longer and have more babies with its same genes.
So over a loooooong time an original species can become a totally genetically different species
(and if you’re interested in what makes something a ‘species’, the rule of thumb seems to be: if you can successfully make babies with something, it’s the same species as you. If you can’t, it probably isn’t, and you probably shouldn’t try).
Anyway, so the same species with groups living in a few different environments might slowly undergo genetic transformations in a few different directions, and evolve into a few different species.
Which is what happened in the case of monkeys and humans, and all the species in between. The ones living in environments where it’s best to have monkey genes got to stay monkeys. The ones who had to migrate out of the jungle and walk across the dessert learned to walk upright and headed down their own evolutionary less-monkey path.
For me, this is super interesting because it’s a reminder that, as much as we like to think of complexity as being somehow ‘better’, complexity is not a rule, and it is not the natural direction of every species. Which is why this picture can be a bit misleading:
According to real scientists on the Internet (I’ve always wanted to use that sentence as a complete reference), evolution actually has no direction. Life is basically a random mess.
And in fact, it's not totally uncommon for species evolve to become LESS complex.
It all just depends on the environment.
Which leads to another super interesting question; with all the big environmental changes we’re experiencing at the moment, what’s next for us?
Read last week’s post to find out what we think about possible futures of biological evolution (probably should have posted this one before that one oops).
Also, tune in next week, because I did a whole lot of research on whether we can make robots more creative and it’s a very cool topic!