WASHINGTON — Is human evolution over? That’s the question Briana Pobiner, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, asked an audience here Saturday (May 17).
Humans are evolving at an increasing rate, thanks to medical advances and a larger population, Pobiner said at the “Future Is Here,” a two-day conference celebrating the future of humans, the planet, life beyond Earth and deep space, hosted by Smithsonian Magazine. But just as humans are continuing to evolve, human parasites are evolving, too.
“I invite you to look into the eyes of our ancient relatives,” Pobiner said. "Why did most human ancestors go extinct, while homo sapiens survived? The answer has a lot to do with human brains." [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]
The human brain represents only about 2 percent of the body’s weight, but consumes 20 percent of its energy. The biggest evolutionary changes have occurred in the neocortex, the brain’s outer wrapping that processes abstract thinking, long-term planning, empathy and language, Pobiner said.
As human brains continue to evolve, will humans eventually develop gigantic heads and scrawny bodies, as depicted in some sci-fi films? Historically, the birthing process has limited brain size, because babies’ heads had to fit through the birth canal.
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