As humans evolved, we developed technologies to modify our environment, yet these innovations are increasingly affecting our behavior, biology, and society. Now we must figure out how to function in the world we've created.
Over thousands of years, humans have invented ingenious ways to gain mastery over our environment. The ability to communicate, accumulate knowledge collectively, and build on previous innovations has enabled us to change nature. Innovation has allowed us to thrive. The trouble with innovation is that we can seldom go back and undo it. We invent, embrace, and exploit new technologies to modify our environment. Then we modify those technologies to cope with the resulting impacts. Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson explore what happens when we innovate in a way that leads nature to bite back.
To provide nourishment for a growing population, humans developed methods to process and preserve food; but easy access to these energy-dense foods results in obesity. To protect ourselves from dangerous pathogens we embraced cleanliness and invented antibiotics, which has led to rising rates of autoimmune diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. More recently, our growing dependence on the internet and social media has been linked to mental health concerns and declining social cohesion. And we are only at the beginning of the digital transformation that will influence every part of our existence. Our ingenuity has not only changed our world – it has changed us.
Focusing on immediate benefits, we rarely pause to consider the longer-term costs of innovation. Yet we are now starting to see how our choices affect the way our brains develop and our bodies function. The implications are profound. Ingenious opens our eyes to the dangers we face and offers solutions we cannot ignore.
1. The Outback
Sir Peter Gluckman is University Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Science in Policy, Diplomacy and Society at the University of Auckland and Chief Scientific Officer for the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences. He is president of the International Network for Government Science Advice. He was the chief science advisor to the prime minister of New Zealand from 2009 to 2018.
Mark Hanson is British Heart Foundation Professor and Director of the Institute of Developmental Sciences at the University of Southampton. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a recipient of the Distinguished Merit Award from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).
"This fascinating book offers a panoramic perspective of how social interactions, and our understanding of them, has emerged. The distinguished authors have the expertise to share ideas across a range of subjects, including evolutionary biology, history, and sociology. Their insights deserve wide readership."
– Martin Rees, author of On the Future
"Ingenious is a magisterial, wonderfully entertaining, superbly written overview of the history of our species, its attempts to escape nature, and the price of our success."
– Randolph Nesse, author of Good Reasons for Bad Feelings
"Gluckman and Hanson make the compelling argument that creativity and ingenuity are uniquely human traits, ones that shape our course of evolution with potential inadvertent consequences. This is a new and important dimension to our understanding of evolution and its aftermaths."
– Alan I. Leshner, American Association for the Advancement of Science
"A fascinating tour of humanity and its capacity for innovation. Part explanation, part users' guide, Ingenious combines knowledge from evolutionary theory, genomics, environmental studies, and science and technology policy to produce compelling insights regarding our past, present, and technology-driven future."
– Eric M. Meslin, Council of Canadian Academies