Human beings are animals though of a special kind. We are mostly hairless and bear remarkable similarities with the apes. According to the process of natural selection, we have evolved to be the most superior of all living beings. In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote about the uniqueness of humans more than two centuries before Darwin came up with the theory of evolution.
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel, in apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”
This line from Hamlet brings chills down my spine each time I read it. As humans, we have evolved from the earliest creatures by a unique trajectory through time. At the same time, we claim to be gods. Forget about other creatures, we leave no stone unturned in comparing ourselves to each other as we attempt to seek superiority over the next person. We forget that, somewhere down our ancestral lines, we all link back to each other–becoming one and the same.
Out of Africa
The oldest fossils found so far, all trace back to the African continent. Recent genomics studies as well as the evidence from our antecessors indicate that Homo sapiens took their first steps in Africa before dispersing throughout the world. Moreover, most scientists believe that there is more genetic diversity in Africa alone, as compared to the genomes of the entire world put together. This makes the Mitochondrial Eve—the woman who could have been the first Homo sapien–African by origin. Hence, from a scientific perspective, humans originated in Africa.
Whether or not Mitochondrial Eve was the Eve from the Abrahamic religions, is still a topic for debate. According to religious texts and beliefs, Adam and Eve may have first emerged in Sri Lanka before spreading out on earth and establishing their family somewhere else on earth. The exact region where they lived and stayed for the remainder of their lives is not known.
However, what we presently understand based on scientific evidence is that these modern humans or Homo sapiens (wise man) are believed to have originated from Homo erectus (upright man). Homo erectus is an extinct species of humans that first appeared between 1.9 million and 100,000 years ago.
Our present understanding of why Homo erectus no longer exist is based on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. According to this theory, the strongest creature lives while the weaker one dies. This would mean, Homo sapiens were fitter hence better at survival as compared to Homo erectus. However, I believe there is more to evolution than just the survival of the fittest–especially since Homo erectus did survive for a long time before going extinct.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
A Culture of Cooperation
There may be another branch to evolution than just competition- which is cooperation. Many species have mutually survived over eons. Our very cells are the way they are because of their alliance with different hosts over the millennia. According to endosymbiotic theory, our mitochondria is derived from a bacteria which became incorporated in our cells over the years. This then passed down from one generation to the next, becoming an inherent part of our body system.
Survival of the fittest makes us see the world and our past through a strictly competitive lens when possibly, we may have started as one interconnected team. Evolution may have more to do with surviving along with each other; instead of rising above one another.
We as humans are the product of two kinds of evolution–one biological and the other cultural. However, while talking about these two, we talk in opposing senses–namely one is passed down socially while the other one is rooted in our DNA. When the truth is that, neither can happen without the involvement of the other- thus we are co-evolved. Our DNA authorizes the culture, while our culture influences our biology.
Perhaps this is what makes us unique as humans and therefore arguably the most evolved of all species.
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