The Web is more than just a powerful tool, it’s our greatest adaptation. An expert explains why

The Internet allows us to do all kinds of things we never imagined possible. It lets us communicate with people across the world. We can learn whatever we want at the click of a button. We can navigate roads using our iPhones, and translate languages within seconds. It makes us smarter, and more versatile, and faster than ever. But the Web isn’t just a truly extraordinary invention, it is the apex of human evolution — and the ultimate evolutionary adaptation.

It may seem strange to think of the Web as part of the process of natural selection, but Raymond Neubauer, a professor at the University of Texas, doesn’t think so. In his far-reaching new book, “Evolution and the Emergent Self,” he argues that technology should be seen as part of our planet’s grand evolutionary narrative. He claims that two evolutionary strategies — one, emphasizing simplicity and rapid reproduction (as in bacteria), and the other, emphasizing complexity and hyper-intelligence (as in humans) — have been hugely successful in dominating the planet. The book charts the ways those strategies have managed to pop up everywhere from the animal kingdom to cellphones.

Salon spoke to Neubauer over the phone about the rise of the super-brain, his own religious beliefs and why outer space is almost certainly filled with life.

The book argues that books and cellphones and the Internet could be seen as part of our grander evolutionary strategy.

As I walk down the halls here, I see so many students typing away at their computers and everybody’s walking around with their little auxiliary brain. One brain is no longer sufficient and that is certainly the next step in terms of being able to master the forces that have impinged on us and be able to protect and expand humanity. Computers and the Internet now are in a sense creating a global brain where you can access information almost instantaneously and anyone has access to it.

In a sense, the Internet could be seen as the apex of human evolution.

The Internet provides us [evolutionary] mastery. It shows us how to build things, overcome disease, and allows us to maintain and buffer our way of life despite perturbations from the environment. We are a species now that can not only live on land but go onto the sea and go into space. We’re able to heat and cool our buildings at will in big cities where the lights never go out.

On the other hand, we’re losing the ability to have long-lasting human relationships and I don’t think everything is better necessarily through the union of technology and human behavior. We still need to confront each other face to face and talk about things to establish trust and work together. I don’t see technology as the solution to all of our problems.

Read more at Salon.com

Published On: December 4, 2011

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