It’s been said that humans will one day leave Earth and take up residence on another planet, or perhaps in some type of free-floating vessels (1, 2, 3, 4). This idea is on the agenda not just because we now have the means to travel into space, but perhaps even more so because our current environment is in dire straits as a result of overpopulation, industrialization, and pollution. It’s not a question of if some of us will make the leap to a new planet, but when, according to certain experts. As exciting as such a journey may seem, it’s riddled with challenges. While not impossible to conduct, it would be expected to leave man a shell of what he once was…
A Darwinian view of space travel
What the people who are pushing for more technology, more industry, and more space travels don’t seem to realise is that we’re biological, earthly beings of a Darwinian design. As a result of evolution via natural selection, we’ve not only adapted to certain environmental situations and inputs, we’ve come to rely on said conditions to function well. This is a natural consequence of evolution.
In the absence of evolutionarily normal stimuli, our biological systems go into a tailspin. This is seen all over the world, including in the modern, industrialized parts of it, where it’s now the norm, rather than the exception, to suffer from a chronic health disorder, whether it be obesity, insulin resistance, depression, autoimmunity, back pain, or irritable bowel syndrome. Basically, there’s a lot of sickness and gloom going around.
This state of affairs reflects the fact that we’ve moved away from the natural milieu for which our genes were selected over evolutionary time. If we were to leave this planet altogether, going up into space, we’d become even more disconnected from our natural origins; hence, it’s reasonable to assume that we’d show even less of the energy, robusticity, and spirit that we’re capable of expressing.
The list of issues that will bring about this decline is extensive, to say the least. A lack of sunlight reaching the skin, a complete disconnection from the electrically charged surface of the earth, absence of natural stimuli (trees, birds, oceans, etc.), a severe nutrition-gene discordance brought about by a major departure from our natural diet, a loss of contact with the microbial systems that have contributed to shaping and priming the human complex, a major disruption of the light and dark cycles we’re evolutionarily accustomed to… the list goes on…
There’s no quick fix for these mismatch issues, which are bound to have a devastating impact on health. No amount of pills is going to turn an artificial, non-eartly existence into a healthful one. A vitamin D supplement, for example, certainly won’t make up for the myriad of genetic effects that sunlight has on the human organism. As for nutrition, it’s futile to try to create a completely satisfactory alternative to our diet of evolutionary adaptedness in a lab. It’s simply not going to work, as there’s a natural, intricate balance, dynamic, and seasonality to the ecosystems and life forms that we’ve historically derived nourishment from. In other words, it’s not reasonable to assume that we’ll be able to provide the types of inputs we’ve come to rely on as a result of millions of years of evolutionary selection on Earth on a completely different planet, no matter how many clever solutions we put in place.
What about our bodies? Can we change them so that they become suited for life in space? Not really… To think that we can genetically engineer our way into space is a bit like thinking that an automobile can be turned into a jet aircraft. It’s simply not going to happen, for the simple reason that our biology is extremely complex. To think that we’re capable of artificially overriding or controlling the myriad of reactions that take place inside our bodies is absurd. Even more absurd is the idea that we’d be able to precisely and effectively change our metabolism, immune system, and so forth in such a manner that we’d thrive in a completely new environment. A key point up in all of this is that chronic diseases and health problems resulting from novel environmental stimuli, such as cardiovascular disease, don’t just involve one or two genes, but rather hundreds.
We can certainly wait for evolution to change our bodies; however, that’ll take ages, particularly now, as we’ve loosened the link between physical health and Darwinian fitness. Not to mention that environmental conditions would have to be somewhat stable for a substantial period of time for ‘complete’ genetic accommodation to occur.
The bottom line: From a Darwinian point of view, it’s clear that any attempt to move humans into space will have major biological repercussions
What’s often forgotten in this technologically and industrially ‘enhanced’ day and age is that we’re a part of the larger network and cycles of life here on Earth. We’re not separated from it. As a result of evolution, we’re intertwined with the rest, firmly biologically connected to the whole. What this is to say is that any attempt to leave the system will have untold consequences. As we’ve now increasingly separated ourselves from nature and the conditions to which we’re biologically suited as a result of Darwinian selection, many such effects have already started to rear their ugly heads. Any further disconnection would be expected to exacerbate the situation further, removing even more of the natural vitality and vigor of the human animal. The proposed action of moving humans to another planet may be said to represent the most extreme form of disconnect in this regard, in that it completely separates Homo sapiens from its earthly underpinnings. It can be argued that it should only be done when all other options are exhausted. Basically, it would absolutely be best if we were able to save the planet we’re currently on, as it’s the only one that suits our evolved biology.