If human beings are as Hamlet suggested, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty,” then why are we facing so many problems?
In many ways, people are better off than ever before: reduced infant mortality, longer lifespans, less poverty, fewer epidemic diseases, even fewer deaths per capita due to violence.
And yet global threats abound and by nearly all measures they are getting worse: environmental destruction and wildlife extinction, ethnic and religious hatred, the specter of nuclear war, and above all, the disaster of global climate change.
For some religious believers, the primary culprit is original sin. For ideologues of left, right, and otherwise, it’s ill-functioning political structures.
From my biological perspective, it’s the deep-seated disconnect between our slow-moving, inexorable biological evolution and its fast-moving cultural counterpart—and the troublesome fact we are subject to both, simultaneously.
It seems inevitable that as these cultural skills developed and provided leverage over the material and natural world—not to mention over other human beings, less adroit at these things—natural selection favored those individuals most able to take advantage of such traits. Up to a point, our biological and cultural evolution would have been mutually reinforcing. We are now past that point.
There is no reason for our biological and cultural evolution to proceed in lockstep, and many reasons for them to have become disconnected. more>