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Threats as Evolutionary Catalysts

We live in a time of unprecedented problems, some people say. Dwindling resources, energy shortages, the risks associated with new technologies, economic crisis, military & religious conflicts, environmental degradation and climate change. All threats that could doom us, they say... but it doesn't work with me!

Sure, we have some pretty big challenges ahead of us. But this is not the first time. Throughout the our history and prehistory, in fact throughout the entire history of life on this planet, we and our predecessors have been facing big threats, such as changing conditions and environments. Scientists now know that our ancestors were exposed to repeated changes in their environments.
We have been walking down this path many times before.

Also, these past changes often generated new threats and challenges we didn't know beforehand how to solve. Although some branches on our evolutionary tree indeed got extinct - as always is the case with evolution when you can't adopt to a new situation - we survived. Somehow, we managed to use our brains, imagination and ingenuity to find new solutions, create new tools and new ways forward. Simply because we had to!

But not only that. Today it stands clear that we owe these different threats, problems, challenges our very existence. In fact, we wouldn't have been where we are today, without them.

Scientists have long known that changes have caused primitive life forms to evolve. If you have a calm pond of water staying as it is for millions of years, not much is going to happen there. But if the water suddenly dries out, or if it's flooded, it may force species to try move somewhere else, or adopt to the changing situation. Change or you die. Some made it, some didn't.

When some scientists started to look at our early primate ancestors, they found an even more striking evidence of this. The size of their skulls, and consequently also the size of their brains, actually grew faster than average at those times when we have records of changes in the climate. Every time their climate changed, and therefore also their living conditions, they got smarter!

And since large, complex brains can process and store a lot of information, this was also useful to the early humans when solving other tasks and challenges, such as moving to new locations, learning about the changing phases of nature, or in their social interactions and the building of growingly complex societies. Over the course of human evolution, our brain size has tripled...

So, threats and problems have been catalysts for change, challenges forcing us to think harder, invent new tools and adopt to new situations, thereby triggering the advancements which have driven our evolution forward. At the time they happened, they were of course met by deep fear, uncertainty or desperation, just as with our current problems. But in the light of history, it often lead to something good: we grew up a bit... (cont)






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