What evolutionary changes would happen to a population of humans – generations of humans – who left Earth to find new lives in the vast wonder of space?
The environment out there, beyond the protective environment of our home planet, is very different from the one we’ve evolved in for millions of years. It’s quite conceivable that our species would become something altogether different.
For decades, this potential transformation of humanity has been fertile ground for speculative fiction.
In James S. A. Corey’s wildly popular The Expanse series, and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, away from the strictures of gravity we see humans evolving to be unnaturally tall, brittle-boned creatures. In Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught If Fortunate, we see the reverse – bones thickening on high-mass exoplanets, to support a higher body mass.
We see a lot of longevity as imagined technologies extend our lives. Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels are a brilliant example of this, wherein humans develop the ability to live for centuries, and become cosmic dilettantes. In Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, humans have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent, they’re pretty much a new species.
While the specific outcomes and pathways vary quite wildly in science fiction, the concept itself – human metamorphosis away from Earth – isn’t that far-fetched. It may not seem like it, but as we go about our day-to-day lives, humans are still evolving.
Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice University, has written a book on the continuing human evolution, and spent a lot of time thinking about how we might evolve in the future. According to him, migrating away from Earth is bound to change us.
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