Future Evolution: An Illuminated History of Life to Come

Overview

Everyone wonders what tomorrow holds, but what will the real future look like? Not decades or even hundreds of years from now, but thousands or millions of years into the future. Will our species change radically? Or will we become builders of the next dominant intelligence on Earth- the machine?

These and other seemingly fantastic scenarios are the very possible realities explored in Peter Ward's Future Evolution, a penetrating look at what might come next in the history of the...

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Overview

Everyone wonders what tomorrow holds, but what will the real future look like? Not decades or even hundreds of years from now, but thousands or millions of years into the future. Will our species change radically? Or will we become builders of the next dominant intelligence on Earth- the machine?

These and other seemingly fantastic scenarios are the very possible realities explored in Peter Ward's Future Evolution, a penetrating look at what might come next in the history of the planet. Looking to the past for clues about the future, Ward describes how the main catalyst for evolutionary change has historically been mass extinction. While many scientist direly predict that humanity will eventually create such a situation, Ward argues that one is already well underway—the extinction of large mammals—and that a new Age of Humanity is coming that will radically revise the diversity of life on Earth. Finally, Ward examines the question of human extinction and reaches the startling conclusion that the likeliest scenario is not our imminent demise but long term survival—perhaps reaching as far as the death of the Sun!

Full of Alexis Rockman's breathtaking color images of what animals, plants and other organisms might look like thousands and millions of years from now, Future Evolution takes readers on an incredible journey through time from the deep past into the far future.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Will humans go extinct and thereby let evolution resume its "natural" course? NASA scientist Peter Ward thinks not. Profusely illustrated with paintings by Alexis Rockman, this book portrays an evolutionary course inexorably shaped by humanity. Ward envisions humans continuing into the distant future and becoming the main force in evolutionary change for all life forms on this planet -- whether through directly tinkering with genetic engineering or providing abundant niche environments for our successful co-species, such as rats.
Library Journal
Ward (geologic sciences, zoology, paleontology, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; The Call of Distant Mammoths) counters the majority of scientists who predict the extinction of our species as the price for the harm we've inflicted on our environment and on species worldwide. The future he forecasts is more chilling; Ward states unequivocally that humans are virtually "extinction-proof" owing to their ability to alter environmental conditions and insulate themselves from adverse conditions that affect every other species. Describing mass extinction as the primary catalyst for evolutionary change throughout our planet's history, the author makes a compelling case that we are well into the extinction phase of the Age of Megamammals and that future evolution will be seriously hampered by the lack of species diversity. He also foresees humankind's evolving alongside machines, in company with genetically altered plants that will infest the world as weeds and cloned animal species devoid of any evolutionary spark. Written in accessible prose by an expert in extinction theory with 37 color illustrations by top science illustrator Rockman, this book is highly recommended for its unique viewpoint and synthesis of scientific data. For public and academic libraries. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A smoothly told, plausible 360-degree scan of the evolutionary horizon, from the deep past into the far future. In order to take a stab at what changes we may expect for the next 500 million years, this playful examination of various evolutionary scenarios first looks back to what we already know about the evolution of life on Earth, concentrating on major observable trends. Ward (The End of Evolution, 1994, etc.) zeros in on extinctions and survivors: What survived the great Permian and Cretaceous extinctions? Are we in the process of a great extinction at the moment, and if so, what is its nature? Will humans inexorably be another species lost to change? Ward thinks not. We are too canny and cantankerous a species to crash and burn, he argues. More important, we have learned to manipulate some of the forces of evolution. It is not a question of whether there will be a human presence in the distant future-and by distant Ward is talking about the time when we have to contend with a dying sun. Rather, what will the "further domesticated vassals of humanity" be like, especially under the difficult climactic, epidemiological, and technological circumstances we will be providing? Will Earth be a planet of weeds? And will the animals that survive be those we think of as equivalents of weeds: flies, rats, fleas, ticks, starlings? Yes, affirms Ward, who enjoys a waggish sense of humor, for they are survivors like us. As the landscape is further fragmented and literally consumed, speciation will slow to a crawl; Earthlings will be a small and rank company. Meanwhile, for simple reasons of biology, humans won't be getting any smarter, but behavioral problems like depression, addiction,impulsive, compulsive, and cognitive disorders will be setting up shop in many more households. Then again, maybe not. Ward paints an intriguing picture, but it's still only one possible roll of the evolutionary dice.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780716734963
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/6/2002
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 7.42 (w) x 10.02 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Ward is professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the co-author of Rare Earth and the author of Rivers in Time, The End of Evolution, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and On Methuselah's Trail which won the Paleontological Society's Golden Trilobite Award for best popular science book of 1992.

Alexis Rockman is an artist living in New York City whose works have appeared in Natural History, The Sciences and The New York Times.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Chronic Argonauts
Chapter 1. The Deep Past: A Tale of Two Extinctions
Chapter 2. The Near Past: The Beginning of the End of the Age of Megamammals
Chapter 3. Into the Present
Chapter 4. Reuniting Gondwanaland
Chapter 5. The Near Future: A New World
Chapter 6. The First Ten Million Years: The Recovery Fauna
Chapter 7. Will there be a new "Age"?
Chapter 8. The Future Evolution of Humans
Chapter 9. Scenarios of Human Extinction: Will there be an "After Man"?
Chapter 10. Deep Time, Far Future
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Growing up in the Eisenhower Era of postwar America had a decided backdrop: optimism. There was a sense that everything was going to get better: jobs, the wages paid in those jobs, the quality of life. Technology was going to solve our problems. And far in the distance, like the Emerald City shown each Christmas on the inevitable repeat of The Wizard of Oz, stood The Future. The future! Gleaming cities, flying cars, and toiling robots doing all the work for leisure-sated George Jetson and his family in a world where technology has solved all ills. A time when everything would be so much better. My only regret in all of this was that I would be so old by the time The Future really kicked in about the year 2000, by all reckoning back then. And then a funny thing happened. The future, and faith in its inevitable improvement, ran headlong into the 1960s and 1970s. The future became a time envisioned as dark and polluted, with crowded cities where the robots are rebelling and killing off their human masters, where only a Blade Runner could save us -- two starkly different visions, separated only by a decade or so. The wonderful optimism of postwar America was transformed into the deep pessimism of Vietnam-era America in short order. A victim of that transformation was our rosy hope for the future, and how it would transpire.

In analogous (if less publicly visible) fashion, evolutionists are now revising their vision of how the future of animal and plant life on this planet might unfold. My own views on this topic have changed enormously. That change prompted me to write this new book, Future Evolution. During my long boyhood, I resolved to become a paleontologist. Like so many kids today, we were all dinosaur nuts back then, and I decided early on to study the past. But that in no way changed by belief that the future would be a better time, with even better animals and plants than now -- perhaps a bestiary even rivaling my dear old Mesozoic Era with its saurian inhabitants. The future -- in my mind, at least -- meant not only progress in the affairs of humans but progress as well in the evolutionary pageant that is the history of life.

The history of life has given us a vector of progress: single cells transformed into multicellularity; invertebrates begat fish, which evolved legs and crawled out of the sea, first as amphibians, then out of the muck of Coal Age swamps onto land as the ruling reptiles, rising onto hind legs as the enormous dinosaurs, then transforming both into the winged avians of the air, as well as sharing an ancestor with the hairy, suckling, warm-blooded dominants of the world today, the mammals. A sure direction of this vector is clear: progress, complexity, ever-greater success. Given such a directive from the past, who could doubt what the future of evolution would hold: bigger; better, cooler creatures yet to come. Surely the future of evolution must be interesting: Bigger birds? Giant insects? Six-legged kangaroos? Some body plan or physiology entirely unforeseen? No matter the details. Next would be better, or at least so it has seemed to those visionaries trying to predict where organic evolution might next take animal life.

Yet, what might happen in a world where the same forces that revised our vision of what future cities might look like also act on organic evolution? Who among us still believes that the Jetsons' world has a higher probability than the Los Angeles portrayed in Ridley Scott's movie Blade Runner? We live on a planet where there are 6 billion humans, heading toward 12 billion in the coming century. What will the effect of this change be on the animal and plant world, and, more to the point, on where evolution is taking the biota?

In Future Evolution, Alexis Rockman and I have envisioned a set of rules that will affect how evolution will proceed: Humans never go extinct and thus keep in place a world where the largest habitats available for animal and plant evolution are human controlled: agricultural fields, tree farms, deserts, polluted oceans, and cities. Under these circumstances the potential evolutionary winners are those animals and plants adapted to these new types of habitats. There will indeed be exoticism, but perhaps not in any way that might inspire Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Henry David Thoreau. As many new species may come out of scientific labs as out of nature itself. Welcome to the new vision of Future Evolution, a field guide to the nature to come.

If we could head off in some time machine, equipped to study the new flora and fauna of the Earth 10 million, 100 million, even 1 billion years from now, what sort of species might we confront? My own vision, born in a time of optimism and tempered by the half century since, is the basis for this book. (Peter Ward)

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