Jody Mak

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Has the advancement of medicine halted human evolution?

There are around 7 billion people in the world. Now how many of the 7 billion would actually survive without modern medicine? Of course, I do not have that number to tell you nor can I think of any sort of algorithm to be able calculate that due to the complexity of the question; but it is something to think about.

Undeniably, the world is keeping the ill alive. In return, the genes that are predisposed to being ill are passed onto the next generation. These 'illness' genes live on. But medicine will advance so that those most of these illnesses won't become a major factor in one's life.

Now let's return back to the theoretical world without medicine. Countless people die. The strong survive. The stronger genes survive. Cycles of generations pass and genes become stronger than the previous generation.

Imagine 50 cycles of generations later in both scenarios: the one with medicine and the one without medicine. Now take away medicine from the world that had medicine. Which group, as a whole, do you think has a stronger immune system and are more fit for the survival?


A friend of mine asked me, "why are you premed and why do you want to be a doctor?" In short, I told him I want to help people. Then I dug deeper to see if that was the right thing to do. I also happened to be taking a biology course and we were covering speciation, natural selection, and evolution. I reached a conclusion that medicine is keeping the ill alive and in a sense, harming the direction and potential of human evolution. Then I started asking myself how other factors impact this question such as morality, socioeconomic status, technology, and much more. My ideas started to clash and that's why I found this topic so interesting. Are we satisfied with our species' capabilities? Is it right to ever be satisfied with our species? How distant in the future are we willing to care about? I want to hear what you think. I'd like to further give my opinion but this message is limiting my words.

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    Aug 9 2011: Evolution is part and parcel of using tools i.e. "those organisms that have a propensity to use or invent tools, whether those tools be chemical or mechanical, will have a greater chance of survival."

    The issue is that evolution doesn't care if the organism would have died but for the intervention or use of the tool, rather it looks for only one thing.....survival. Those who invent and use medicines are just tool users and inventors with bigger chances of passing on their genes.

    Whether we are of the view that these genes are no good because they are not "Spartan" is irrelevant
  • Aug 8 2011: This idea is amazing. Another view could be that the human race has reached its peak in evolution. After gene therapy & modification, we literally rule over diseases/congenital anomalies. Population explosion has begun. On basis of a time line, graphically population would be represented by a j shaped curve. We are approaching the peak of the curve. After the peak, there is only one possibility, a sudden downfall of our species. In that case, either earth would be destroyed, or most probably, a new species will take over the earth. So the crux is that nature always has its own way of controlling life!
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    Aug 7 2011: I would say, we are just an other specalised form of life. The birds get better at flying, the cats at catching mice. We get better in using tools, altering our enviorement and outsourcing our abilities, because, this is what we do, it is human to do so. Medicine will not stop the human evolution, it will speed it up. Why? Because it alters the circumstances under wich we live and mankind has to adapt to it.
    The souces of our abilities relocate from our DNA to our brains and to the machines we build.
    If you live untroubled whit a deathly disease, because medicine can help you, you are not ill, but well adapted to an enviorement, that provides this help.
    If we would live on the ground of the oceans, our dependence on air could be considdered as illness, as well, as our dependece on medicine and technology could be considered as disease, if we would have to live with out them. But both things are equally not the case.
    We live with and in kulture not despite of nature, but because of our nature. :)
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    Aug 5 2011: I do not think it has done that but it has altered natures natural selection of who lives and dies around the word
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    Aug 5 2011: Yesterday my wife asked nearly the same question to me? And I realized that I have no idea bout evolution status at all. I only came up with the idea that maybe somewhere between industry revolution ans ww2 we have passed the evolution process in our minds and then it all fall apart since we start to create things even if dont need them to survive, just like game consols or breast implants etc.
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    Aug 5 2011: This is so interesting. But to add my input, I have to disagree, and agree. I believe that evolution is a mega process. And as we all know, it takes years and years to undergo. But I think (I haven't studied much on evolution, so sorry if I'm wrong), humans, as we are now, have reached probably near the end of the evolution process. I know we are bound to lose hair soon, but as far as a different body transformation, I don't believe that'll happen anytime soon, if it ever does happen. As far as agreeing with you, I do believe that the medicine is keeping the ill alive. And because of that, strong genes are mixing with the weak. Without them, like you said, the strong genes will prevail. But we also have to look at it through a different perspective. Scientifically, it makes sense. But when it's your mother, father, siblings, or anyone that is dear to you that is sick, you would want them to stay as healthy and as alive as possible. And of course, the only way to that health, is through medicine. It has pros and cons, but this is a very interesting thought and statement.
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    Aug 5 2011: A small excerpt from a recent article from the NewScientist:

    "Advances in genomic analysis make it clear that natural selection is still alive and kicking. One study found that around 1800 gene variations have become common in the past 50,000 years (Nature, vol 437, p 1299). Another study found that selection actually accelerated over this time, perhaps because by colonising the world and creating complex cultures we have subjected ourselves to a wide variety of new selection pressures (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 104, p 20753)."
  • Aug 4 2011: I don't think so. In fact the opposite can be argued. Medicine is saving everyone who would otherwise have died before reproduction. This means that a wider range of evolutionary possibility is open to us. People with bad genes can block the effect with medicine and be fit to reproduce.
  • Aug 3 2011: Jody..
    Sure.. Evolution unfolded without intervention of human mind, but now We think we are wiser than that.