08 March 2007

Evolutionary Advantage

I have to imagine at some point in our evolutionary past, the ability to sort through and shut off sensory input was an attribute that some of us organisms had and some didn't. Presumably the ones that didn't have this mojo were unable to distinguish which of, say, that beautiful sunset or the rapidly approaching carnivorous thing required more immediate attention, and didn't live to reproduce.

I can't quite grok the current analog to this situation, even as the sheer level of input from universe to the individual continues to rise seemingly exponentially. A professor giving a talk at my undergraduate institution (and this was fifteen years ago before the rise of internet-as-information-conduit) once compared the rising network of global information exchange to a nervous system. When one part sustains damage, the information about it immediately radiates to all (connected) parts of the globe. Some parts respond, some parts don't, depending upon the input. But there doesn't seem to be an evolutionary disadvantage in the inability to handle the flood of information that comes at an individual-as-brain-cell in the information age. If the makeup of your brain is that the nonstop flood of instant everything causes it to short-circuit and you to curl up in a non-responsive little ball, well, you might not be able to function in society, but it's not the kind of thing that stops you from reproducing, is it?

So the analog is perhaps not evolutionary in the survival-of-the-fittest/luckiest sense, but evolutionary in another way?

1 comment:

Periapse said...

We humans are a weird little species. Especially so when you consider that the current digital input deluge we are awash in is not only of our own devising, but is largely unexperienceable by other species. It's like we hear voices, see spirits, the rest of the animal kingdom can't detect. We appear schizophrenic to the perspective of other animals or our pre-civilization ancestors.

I agree that the "filtering" analog is not one of our own reproductive selection, but evolutionary in another way. The selection is for higher order constructions than us humans. It is the filters we build, from pay-per-view to the blogosphere, that are being selected for based on how well they help us manage infoglut. Thus our own creations are now engaged in Darwinian competition. I think this gives a different slant, or nuance of meaning, to the phrase "post-human evolution". We have largely ceased biological evolution, but in the noosphere, hidden to all but us, strange new beasts breed and evolve.