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Cadell N. Last
, Evolutionary Anthropologist
Global Brain Institute, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
• If we achieve radical life extension (see: de Grey 2004) how will human life history be affected?
• Hypothesis: Biocultural organisms with indefinite lifespan should be expected to permanently
delay biological reproduction in favour of cultural reproduction. The human life history pattern
in the modern world can best be described as the fourth major primate life history transition
towards delayed biological reproduction and extended life span.
Primate Life History:
Transitioning from “Living Fast, Dying Young”
• Life history pattern: the way time and energy are allocated between growth, maintenance,
and reproduction (Gadgil & Bossert 1970)
• Throughout primate evolution: three major transitions (Robson & Kaplan 2003)
• Prosimians ! Monkeys (40-30 mya)
• Monkeys ! Apes (20-15 mya)
• Apes ! Humans (2 mya – 200 kya)
• Life history transitions connected to encephalization
• Increased social learning / parental care (Geary & Flinn 2000)
Table 1: Great Ape and Human Life Histories (Robson & Kaplan, 2003)
Chimpanzee parenting Gorilla family
• Modern human life history co-evolved with encephalization (specifically neocortex) (Cutler 1975)
• Life expectancy and brain size correlated in mammals (Kaplan & Gangestad 2005)
• Evolving sexual maturity from fossil data on: (Holly Smith & Tompkins 1995; Flinn & Ward 2004)
• Cranium size, skeletal ontogeny, dental maturation
Table 2: Major transitions in human life history (Hawkes 2003; Miller 2000)
Life History Trade-offs in Human Evolution
• There are always “trade-offs” between energy (e) expenditure on biological growth (e),
maintenance (m), and reproduction (r) (Figueredo et al. 2006)
• Finite energy (e) forces strategy between current/future reproduction (r) (Kaplan & Gangestad 2005)
• (e) investment (g)(m) increases chances of future (r) (Robson & Kaplan 2003)
• (e) investment (r) decreases chances of future (r) (Gadgil & Bossert 1970)
• Neocortex growth fuelled by ability to acquire/distribute hunted and cooked meat (Ambrose 2001)
• Dependence on cultural and technological processes for energy increased
investment in learning: e = g/m > r (Mace 2000)
Childhood became an intellectual and social stage of development requiring
increasingly large amounts of time and energy dedicated to cultural reproduction at the
expense of current biological reproduction. (Last 2014)
• Agricultural world: little-to-no life history change: (Lawson & Mace 2011)
• No extra learning required / No extra energy for 99.9% of people
• Industrial world: demographic transition due to increased energy: (Galor & Weil 2000)
• Pressures for extra cultural learning emerge
• Reduction of fertility (~2) / Increase in median mortality (~80) (Mace 2000)
• Culturally universal / Predicted completion by 2050 (1750-2050) (Bongaarts 2009)
Table 3: Global Fertility Rate (2014 est.) (The World Factbook 2014)
Into the Future (Another Explosion?) (see: Last 2014)
• Evolutionary theorists have difficulty reconciling modern life history with adaptive model
• Proposal: demographic transition is best understood as the *beginning* of fourth primate life
history transition towards completely delayed biological reproduction and indefinite life extension
• Difference: this is the first life history transition driven *solely* by cultural evolution
• Cultural reproduction is out competing biological reproduction
• Cultural replication as complexity construction:
• Problems / opportunities (cultural replication as vocation)
• The biological and cultural evolutionary pathways:
• Cultural evolution uniquely manifest in humans (Tomasello et al. 1993; Tennie et al. 2009)
• Can produce adaptive complexity (Caldwell & Millen 2008; Laland 2008)
• Accelerates speed of evolution (Tennie et al. 2009)
• Human spends entire life in cultural replication (Caldwell & Millen 2008)
• Culture in process of modeling and replacing biology?
• Encephalization and culturally-mediated biological reproduction:
• Absolute brain size not increasing (yet); although information demand increasing
• “Information overload” pressure for higher cognition (Logan 2007)
• Mind-to-cloud? (Kurzweil 2012)
• Cultural decision to avoid biological reproduction (Castles 2003; Lee & Mason 2010)
• Culturally self-imposed delay of “sexual maturity”
• Biocultural Life History Model:
• Time/energy investment in (g)(m)(r) can equally be cultural as well as biological
• Increasing cultural (g)(m) increases future cultural (r)
Therefore: achieving radical life extension (i.e., consistently optimal (g)(m) of biological/
technological substrate) should be followed by a complete shift towards time/energy
investment in cultural (r) at the direct expense of biological (r) (Last 2014)
Alexander, R.D. 1990. How did humans evolve? Reflections on a uniquely unique species. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan.
Ambrose, S. 2001. Paleolithic technology and human evolution. Science, 291: 1748-1753.
Bongaarts, J. 2009. Human population growth and the demographic transition. Philos T R Soc B, 364: 2985-2990.
Castles, F.G. 2003. The world turned upside down: below replacement fertility, changing preferences and family-friendly public policy in 21 OECD countries. J Eur Soc Policy, 13: 209-217.
Cutler, R. 1975. Evolution of the human longevity and the genetic complexity governing aging rate. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 72: 4664-4668.
de Grey, A. 2004. Escape Velocity: Why the Prospect of Extreme Human Life Extension Matters Now. PLoS Biol, 2: e187.
Figueredo, A.J. et al. 2006. Consilience and life history theory: from genes to brains to reproductive strategy. Dev Rev, 26: 243-275.
Flinn, M.V. & Ward, C.V. 2004. Ontogeny and Evolution of the Social Child. In: Ellis B.J. & Bjorklund D.F. (eds.). Origins of the Social Mind. New York: Guilford Press.
Gadgil, M. & Bossert, W.H. 1970. Life historical consequences of natural selection. Am Nat, 104: 1-24.
Galor, O. & Weil, D.N. 2000. Population, technology, and growth: From Malthusian stagnation to the demographic transition and beyond. Am Econ Rev, 806-828.
Geary, D.C. & Flinn, M.V. 2000. Evolution of human parental behavior and the human family. Parent-Sci Pract, 1: 5-61.
Hawkes, K. 2003. Grandmothers and the evolution of human longevity. Am J Hum Biol, 15: 380-400.
Holly Smith, B. & Tompkins, R.L. 1995. Toward a life history of the hominidae. Annu Rev Anthropol, 24: 257-279.
Kaplan, H. & Gangestad, S.W. 2005. Life History and Evolutionary Psychology. In: Buss D.M. (ed.). The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.
Kurzweil, R. 2012. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Penguin.
Last, C. 2014. Human Evolution, Life History Theory, and the End of Biological Reproduction. Current Aging Science, 7: 17-24.
Lawson, D.W. & Mace, R. 2011. Parental investment and the optimization of human family size. Philos T R Soc B, 366: 333-343.
Lee, R. & Mason, A. 2010. Fertility, human capital, and economic growth over the demographic transition. Eur J Popul. 26: 159-182.
Logan R. 2007. The Extended Mind. University of Toronto Press.
Miller, G. 1997. How Mate Choice Shaped Human Nature: A Review of Sexual Selection and Human Evolution. In: Crawford, C & Krebs, D.L. (eds.). Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. New York: Routledge.
Miller, G. 2000. The Mating Mind. New York: Anchor Books.
Robson, A.J. & Kaplan, H.S. 2003. The evolution of human life expectancy and intelligence in hunter-gatherer economies. Am Econ Rev, 93: 150-169.
Tennie et al. 2009. Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture. Philos T R Soc B. 364: 2405-2415.
The World Factbook. 2014. Country Comparison: Total Fertility Rate. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications /the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html accessed: May 11, 2014.
Tomasello, M. et al. 1993. Cultural learning. Behav Brain sci, 16: 495.
Model of Demographic Transition Population Pyramids from developing/developed world
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• Major life history consequences from later sexual maturity and longer life expectancy:
• Reproductive support by post-reproductive individuals (specifically post-
reproductive females) likely led to the development menopause (Alexander 1990;
• Maintenance of extensive male support of reproduction via provisioning of
both female and offspring likely led to concealed ovulation and continuous,
non-reproductive sexual activity (Miller 1997; 2000)
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Human Brain Expansion Figure 2.2 Human/chimpanzee brain size comparison”
Source: The Great Leap Forward (http://fubini.swarthmore.edu) Source: Wikimedia.org
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