Although It has taken homo sapiens several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his Life in the Universe lecture, is about a bit a year.

"By contrast," Hawking says, "there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA."

This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. "At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information."

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

"I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race," Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, "an external transmission phase," where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. "But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage," Hawking says, "has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes."

The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.

Meanwhile, Hawking observes, our human brains "with which we process this information have evolved only on the Darwinian time scale, of hundreds of thousands of years. This is beginning to cause problems. In the 18th century, there was said to be a man who had read every book written. But nowadays, if you read one book a day, it would take you about 15,000 years to read through the books in a national Library. By which time, many more books would have been written."

But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls "self designed evolution," in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. "At first," he continues "these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression."

If the human race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction, we will probably reach out to the stars and colonize other planets. But this will be done, Hawking believes, with intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree not all people are equally gifted. Some are born leaders, some followers. Working with troubled individuals, families, and businesses, I found that effective, efficient thinking can be taught. It requires being able and willing to change and therefore I must determine if the individual, family and companies are ready for change or if they are stuck in adversarial relations.  
When people express interest in making improvement in their relationships, I have a "tool box" of things to teach about communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, critical thinking and building teams. When these are learned, used, and evaluated, there is always improvement. 


A problem occurs when they are not able and willing to find new, more effective, efficient ways to function in society. This occurs mostly when deep wounds lock people into attitudes that may have worked in former relationships, or when they were children, or they are unaware of wounds. A deeper therapy needs to occur ... which I am not trained to provide. 

A problem occurs, also, when they are in a support system that maintains and perpetuates their beliefs. Teen agers often follow peer pressure, or religious people often follows attitudes, beliefs, customs, traditions and values of the peers. They see no reason to learn new things.

Many people fear leaving their support system to learn new things. A sense of desire, or yearning for better relationships, or when there are too many things that do not ring true for them in their support system, they begin to seek other options. Those who doubt, question, or disagree and who seek a better life turn to new ideas.

Atheists, Freethinkers, Agnostics, Skeptics, Humanists do not have the answers, in my opinion; they have a process of thinking that has a high probability of solving problems, resolving conflicts, increasing healthy interpersonal and personal relationships. 

Madhukar, I agree with you 100%, being part of a flock looking for someone to tell them what to do or how to think is not the answer. 

Wanderer, powerfully stated. I like your reference to Keen: "never overestimate the value of sincerity." I agree, people of faith have a heavy investment in their theology and will fight hard to maintain it and perpetuate it. 

That is why it is so important that recognizing there is no god/s is important and valuable. So much so, we cannot remain silent. 

Oh yeah, that's where I heard it! I knew I only saw it a day or two ago, but that is about the limit of my memory these days... I'm so tired. Anyways, thanks Joan!

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