March 23, 2005

More on the Minimal Set

NuSapiens continues the discussion on the Minimal Set of colonists. A suggestion which turned up in the discussion of my earliest post is the following. As NuSapiens states:
Abiola recommends a group of around 100 Africans or African-Americans (since most of global human diversity is a subset of African diversity) screened for genetic diseases, who will live in monogamous heterosexual pairs. The group would include medical doctors, chemists, botanists, zoologists, metallurgists, engineers, and generic schoolteachers, but not lawyers, philosophers, etc.

In fact, this is quite similar to what probably happened when the first biologically modern humans left Africa. Of course, the OOA humans had the extra challenge of meeting archaic sapiens, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalis, in their travels in Europe and Asia. The other key difference is level of technical ability, but not technological toolkit.

This may seem like a reasonable suggestion: only one planet was populated by humans, Earth, and this was populated by Africans and their descendants. So, prudence would have us repeat the experiment without changing anything in the "recipe" of success, and hence send an African sample to our hypothetical colonization mission.

There are, however, two problems with this idea.

First, there is no reason to repeat the course of evolution. Since we already have humans adapted to extreme environmental conditions, there is no reason to start from scratch, i.e., from Africans, hoping that these will adapt (once again) to all environments found in their new planet. We'd be better off sending a cross-section of humanity instead. This would contain adaptations not found in Africans, related to the diverse environments of our planet, and perhaps influential for the development of civilization on Earth.

Second, it must be remembered that the people who managed to colonize the whole surface of our planet were not general Africans, and almost certainly very different from African Americans. They were drawn from a very specific subset of Africans, i.e., prehistoric East Africans. By drawing a sample from general Africans of today, we would not be approximating the ancient African population which gave rise to the greater part of mankind and human civilization.

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