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Dean Falk is an American evolutionary anthropologist who splits her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico where she is a Senior Scholar at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), and Tallahassee, Florida where she is the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. Since receiving her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1976, she has taught anatomy and anthropology courses at various universities. Her research on the fossil record has taken her to museums in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Broadly speaking, her work focuses on the evolution of the human brain (paleoneurology) and the associated emergence of language, music, art, and science. Falk has published numerous scientific and popular books and articles, and has lectured extensively about evolution to both academic and public audiences.
More information may be found on her website: www.deanfalk.com.
Taking into consideration the history of human evolution, will Homo sapiens ever share the planet with another Homo species?
That train left the station with the last whimpers of Homo floresiensis (last seen ~ 50,000 years before present [BP]), Homo luzonensis (~50,000 years BP), and Homo neanderthalensis (~ 35,000 years BP). Although these (and probably other) species of Homo partially overlapped in time with each other and Homo sapiens, only one human species remains today—ours.
For Homo sapiens to speciate (give rise to another species of Homo), a subset of the world’s human population would have to become completely isolated from all other people, preferably in a habitat that exerted unique evolutionary pressures, and would have to survive and reproduce long enough to become reproductively isolated from all other humans.
That is highly unlikely because of globalization. Blame airplanes for putting a damper on human speciation if you will.
However, …. See ANSWER 3.
How will that species evolve – naturally, unnaturally, or by some other means?
My fondest hope this week has been that the UFOs that captivated the evening news would turn out to really be UFOs. Alas, similar to Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds,” this seems unlikely.
If aliens do, in fact, visit Earth in the not-too-distant future, they will not be from the genus Homo. The only way that could happen would be if a small group of humans from our planet engaged in space travel, established an extraterrestrial colony, thrived and speciated, and then (for reasons best known to themselves) decided to send space travelers to visit the old homestead.
As much as I love the idea of being alive when extraterrestrial life is finally discovered –especially if it is intelligent— I’m not holding my breath for Homo sapiens speciating in a space colony as I have fantasized, because the smart money says we humans are a “dead clade walking” (Jablonski, 2001).
As Henry Gee notes (Falk, 2022), humans are unlikely to “survive more than another few thousand to tens of thousands of years,” partly because we have become one relatively genetically homogenous population across the globe (Gee, 2021:188).
Falk, D. (2022). Implications of brain evolution in Cetaceans and Primates for highly intelligent extraterrestrial life. Journal of Astrobiology.com, 12, 45-64. Retrieved from FSU_libsubv1_scholarship_submission_1644502836_39cab6c7
Gee, H. (2021). A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Jablonski, D. (2001). Lessons from the past: evolutionary impacts of mass extinctions.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (10):5393-5398.
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Emily Morter.