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What does the future hold for humanity? That is a subject that must be studied by those of us who hope to participate in a meaningful way with what will come. Rebecca D. Costa in On the Verge does a better job than most of us squinting into the possible futures and suggesting alternate scenarios and preadaptations to those possibilities. When reading the first part of this book I was thinking she must have been reading this blog because of the overlap with ideas which I post about such topics. But, by the end of her book, I realized that was impossible because there are fundamental differences between her relationships with reality and mine.

One error, as I saw it, was the development of the idea of “predaptation: the ability to adapt a priori,” p.8. That is a core idea discussed in this book. It is an idea that is kicked around in the academic community of evolution-argumentation. The usual point of view is that adaptation comes after the real-world experience that a creature has survived and therefore has had the opportunity to reproduce.

Plants and animals other than humans are not thought to have any ability to predict the future beyond what they can easily perceive in their immediate perceptual environment. The degree to which their actions do seem to predict the future, it is argued, is derived from past experiences bred into their DNA. Those came into being because of the survival of these individuals’ ancestors and the death of those ancestors’ cousins who on average didn’t have a particular DNA trait. The argument is that human beings do have the ability to pre-adapt because they can predict the future. There is a sustained development in this book of the idea that this ability is an evolved human trait. Perhaps that is true, but it would appear that to evolve it would require modern language capabilities and the resultant conversations that become available about the complexities of past and future experiences before the ability could evolve. Those abilities have an inbred DNA component to make them available to a speaker and a listener without which it wouldn’t have evolved. Thus without the complex speech available to us, other creatures can not have the preadaptation ability.

Perhaps I quibble too much on that point, but the concluding paragraph of the book on page 209 makes it clear that Costa believes we are on a cusp of being so capable of predicting the future that we are about to assume “our rightful place as aspiring Masters of the Universe.” I doubt that will happen and the best we can hope for is to exploit the concept developed by Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile. That means to design a path forward in such a way that the possible problems can be easily controlled better than your competitors can control them.

I recommend On the Verge . It has many good ideas discovered by an experienced and deep-thinking author.

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