The Evolutionary Future

The Evolutionary Future: A History of Humanity's Biological Destiny

Erika Milam

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Model for the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey, on display at the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (June 2013).

Typically, we think of evolution as a theory that explains the present in light of the past. Scientific explorations into the convoluted history of life on Earth, the diversity of species and their biogeographic distribution, differences between the sexes, processes of adaptation, extinction, and speciation—all elucidate the living world we know today. Similarly, historians of science are well aware that the scientists who people debates over evolutionary theory disagreed about interpretations of the past because of what they implied about the present.

Yet many evolutionary theorists have also argued that when humans became human (a highly mobile and contested target, to say the least), a new set of biological principles came to govern our present and future. Traits they were unwilling to ascribe to animals, such as creativity, will, beauty, intelligence, foresight, language, even humor, became possible bedrocks of our cultural evolution. This project explores the history of these evolutionary futures. Scientists and authors of speculative fiction alike speculated about what our future might hold by extrapolating forward from their understanding of humanity’s evolutionary origins. In short, this project re-excavates the history of evolution in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries by attending to these varied constructions of humanity’s possible biological destinies.