Man—500,000 Years From Now

A Scientific Attempt to Forecast What May Occur in the Future Evolution of Man

If any one of my readers happens to be a chiropodist who has had abundant opportunity to examine minutely and professionally a large number of feet, he will bear me out that the little toe is frequently very little indeed. Sometimes this fifth toe even lacks a toe nail, or it may have only the merest suggestion of one like a tiny claw—not a flat nail. Unfortunately in this respect I cannot compare the present state of affairs with the condition of the little toe in early man because his toes are not preserved for our inspection. But we can study the toes of the anthropoid feet nearest man’s—the gorilla’s. Here we find a well developed little toe with a complete nail. From this we deduce that man’s little toe has become progressively smaller and more useless.

The Loss of the Fifth Toe An analysis of the mechanics of the foot reveals why this is so. In the primitive primate foot the line of leverage in walking passes through the middle toe, which symbolized its primacy over the other toes by its greater length. In the course of primate evolution the line of leverage shifted to a position midway between the big and the second toes as a result of adaptation. In man we find that the line of leverage has remained in this position or even moved over entirely to the big toe. As a result of this greater weight bearing and mechanical functioning the big toe has grown to the largest of all the toes with a progressive decrease in size and function as one moves to the little toe. The increasing loss of function in the little toe is revealed by the fact, which was mentioned above, that in a large number of people it has degenerated to a tiny digit often without a nail or only the merest vestige of one. This suggests the probability of its future disappearance. But since nature is slow I dare go only so far as to predict that the little toe of our future man will be even littler and that in many it will perhaps be simply a suggestion of a digit. This loss of toes, however, need not surprise us, for it is a phenomenon well known in the evolution of a number of common mammals, such as the horse, cow, camel, pig, etc.

We are now coming rapidly to an end of this portraiture, but I wish to complete the picture with a few words on the hair of our future man. It is well known, or more precisely, This loss of toes, however, need not surprise us, for it is a phenomenon well known in the evolution of a number of common mammals, such as the horse, cow, camel, pig, etc. it has been observed by some investigators that baldness is much more frequent among the highly civilized races of mankind than among the primitive people of nature. Can you, for example, think of a bald-headed Indian! I suppose some have existed, but it is a phenomenon as rare as a full-bearded Indian. Similarly you would have difficulty finding a bald-headed Polynesian or Melanesian. But among Europeans many of our young men at thirty are already well along the road to baldness. In India, too, this phenomenon is common. Although here I am on treacherous ground, I hazard the guess that with advance in civilization the incidence of baldness will increase, and that in the future of 500,000 years from now it will not only appear earlier but more extensively.

A Recapitulation Finally, we shall give our future man less body hair than he now possesses. Man varies widely in the amount of body hair with which he is covered. But among all groups he is relatively glabrous, or hairless, when compared with the anthropoids. Indeed, it is evident that in the course of human evolution the pelt has constantly diminished. This process of depilation has advanced farther in some races than in others. The Mongoloid people, for example, I hazard the guess that with advance in civilization the incidence of baldness will increase, and that in the future of 500,000 years from now it will not only appear earlier but more extensively. are very glabrous as are the Negroes. Only the white stocks have lagged behind in this respect. Therefore it seems but natural to suppose that European man will continue along the line of progressive loss of body hair.

To sum up our prophecies on the future man we may impressionistically describe him as taller than we, with a more capacious and rounder head, fronted by a more vertical and smoother brow. His face will be smaller and more recessive in profile. The teeth in his jaws will be reduced in number and will also be smaller in size. In particular the third molars, but also in some cases, the lateral incisors will be absent. Caries or dental decay will continue to be a serious problem requiring constant supervision to keep in check. Some representatives of this future race will walk on four-toed feet and many will in early adulthood have become bald. The body hair will be less abundant, perhaps reaching the condition of hairlessness found in Chinese and Negroes.

These, then, are some of the characteristics which I predict for the man of the future. But in addition to these differences from ourselves, there will be many similarities, so many in fact that you would have little trouble in recognizing him as a fellow-member of the same genus. But were you miraculously preserved to that far distant future, I am afraid that you would need to seek among the phylogenetic laggards and the “primitive” people for somebody exactly like the folks back home.

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