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More humans are alive today than had ever lived before 10,000 BC
January 19, 2010 11:50 PM   Subscribe

The human population of Earth has almost always been about 50,000.

"Geneticists have long known that the ancestors of modern humans numbered as few as 10,000 at some time in the last 100,000 years." But new research indicates that that figure was not a one-time bottleneck, but rather the normal state of human affairs for at least the last million years or so. Pre-historic humans -- biologically just like us -- were just a second-rate ape species waiting to be wiped out by an environmental shock. (via)
posted by grobstein (85 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
(This is not a certainty, of course; you will discover some caveats in the article. But it kinda blew my mind.)
posted by grobstein at 11:53 PM on January 19, 2010


So MeFi has more members now than there were humans for tens of thousands of years.
posted by sien at 11:53 PM on January 19, 2010 [20 favorites]


I thought the more inside was going to be about Beloit freshmen.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:56 PM on January 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


So MeFi has more members now than there were humans for tens of thousands of years.

But less than 18,500 breeding individuals, I would hope.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 11:57 PM on January 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


But less than 18,500 breeding individuals, I would hope.

That, that doesn't seem very nice?
posted by grobstein at 12:01 AM on January 20, 2010


That, that doesn't seem very nice?

Aw, I was only kidding. Breed away, everybody!
posted by chorltonmeateater at 12:02 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that the Neanderthal population, at its peak, was something like a magnitude smaller that that.

Which makes me wonder about the ratio of living humans to humans living no more--like weren't there around a 100 million human beings on the planet in the days of the Roman empire ? If we could avoid extinction at our own hands and never minding the fate of the rest of the ecosystem, (think Republican!) how many of us would there have to be to exceed the number deceased ? Have we already reached peak reincarnation yet ? If so, where do the new souls come from ? Flies ? Spiders ? Kittens ? Puggles ?
posted by y2karl at 12:04 AM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


thx
posted by bam at 12:04 AM on January 20, 2010


Oh shit. I just realized that I know everybody on classmates.com.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:06 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wasn't that about the number of survivors on Battlestar Galactica?
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:07 AM on January 20, 2010 [34 favorites]


Or, to put that in terms your puny human brains can understand, your race was roughly the size of Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Or slightly larger than Wilkes-Barre, PA. The seat of Luzerne County!
posted by bicyclefish at 12:15 AM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


They put the number at 18,500 people, but this refers only to breeding individuals,

Big spaceship. But no way was it the Galactica. Lorne Green was not my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather.
posted by philip-random at 12:23 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jed Eckert: ...Well, who is on our side?
Col. Andy Tanner: Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
Darryl Bates: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
Col. Andy Tanner: There were.
posted by bwg at 12:57 AM on January 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


Will we be able to use genomes to pinpoint our ancestors first contact with the monolith?
posted by bstreep at 1:03 AM on January 20, 2010


Read up on the Toba Catastrophe. It seems like there's a good chance that there were a lot more humans 100,000 years ago, and that many of them died off at one point, leaving just about 1-10k families.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 AM on January 20, 2010


What do geneticists know? Until last week or so they were telling us we were practically identical to chimps.
posted by Phanx at 2:15 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"So MeFi has more members now than there were humans for tens of thousands of years."

The idea of having my partner options reduced to just those who are members of MeFi seems more than a little depressing, frankly.
posted by markkraft at 2:32 AM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


The idea of having my partner options reduced to just those who are members of MeFi seems more than a little depressing, frankly.

Much better than your prospects would be where I live. A fact for which I weep nightly
posted by JHarris at 3:41 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


In biological terms, it seems, humans were not a very successful species, and the strategy of investing in larger brains than those of their fellow apes had not yet produced any big payoff.

Yeah, but then humans left for college and, like, their whole world opened up.
posted by PlusDistance at 3:47 AM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


We're still just a second rate ape species. Quantity doesn't translate into quality.
posted by dortmunder at 4:10 AM on January 20, 2010


We're still just a second rate ape species.

Which of the other apes have walked on the moon? Which have even developed sufficiently to talk about the possibility of walking on the moon, or to even realise that the moon is something that could be walked on? As ape species go, I think we're probably doing OK.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 4:43 AM on January 20, 2010 [27 favorites]


The largest attendance for a soccer match ever was 199,854 people - Brazil v. Uruguay in the World Cup at the Maracana Municipal Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, July 1950.
posted by popcassady at 4:50 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Ultimate Olympian, I think you may be biased. That some people walked on the moon is of debatable value to us as a race. Whether or not other some other ape species has discussed the possibility of going for a stroll on the moon is also not known. Perhaps that is all the neanderthals ever talked about.
posted by asok at 5:06 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


As ape species go, I think we're probably doing OK.

We're doing alright, but bonobos get laid a lot more.
posted by mek at 5:18 AM on January 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


While the number of humans alive at once may have been low, it's worth recalling that our population density was also very low and we were spread out over a very large geographical area (probably true even before we left Africa) so the chances of a single disease or catastrophe wiping out our entire species were not as great as it might seem. Considering that those same geneticists believe just a couple of dozen people are responsible for populating the Americas, I'd say humans have proven a pretty difficult species to get rid of.
posted by localroger at 5:19 AM on January 20, 2010


"The idea of having my partner options reduced to just those who are members of MeFi seems more than a little depressing, frankly."

I dunno. Breeding Pair sounds a lot more fun than Spouse.
posted by rokusan at 5:24 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Comparable estimates for other primates then are 21,000 for chimpanzees and 25,000 for gorillas. In biological terms, it seems, humans were not a very successful species, and the strategy of investing in larger brains than those of their fellow apes had not yet produced any big payoff. Human population numbers did not reach high levels until after the advent of agriculture.

Why is the success of a species measured by population size? Try putting it this way: The large human brains enabled each individual to more efficiently capitalize on and defend food in a given area, reducing the food available for other individuals and therefore shrinking the population.

It's like the old food chain picture of 1000 antelope and 1 lion. Which is the more "successful" species? The one spending 80% of it's time feeding and looking around fearfully or the one spending 80% of it's time sleeping in the shade?
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


We're still just a second rate ape species.

Yeah, but we're the smartest monkeys.

as evidenced by the synth solo at 2:07
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2010


As ape species go, I think we're probably doing OK.

Not to be contrary, (well, rather, to be entirely contrary,) but the moon-walking feat was just a very expensive and time-consuming way of peeing on a tree to mark our territory. I'll consider us successful when we find something productive to do up there.
posted by griphus at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


So MeFi has more members now than there were humans for tens of thousands of years.

Not after accounting for sockpuppets. There are only about 20 actual MeFites.
posted by FishBike at 6:06 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll consider us successful when we find something productive to do up there.

You typed this onto a computer on the internet and still can't think of anything "productive" from the technological burst the space race gave us?
posted by DU at 6:07 AM on January 20, 2010 [20 favorites]


DU- I will fully acknowledge the space race as a catalyst for a new technological age. The actual race and results thereof were a global dick-waving contest.
posted by griphus at 6:14 AM on January 20, 2010


For some things, it is probably possible to evaluate them on the intended effects vs the actual effects. Like, can we praise/blame Columbus for America when he didn't even know it was here?

But JFK specifically said "we choose to do this not because it is easy but because it is hard". Seems to me he knew exactly what effects the dick-waving would have. That makes the "actual race and the results thereof" pretty meaningful.
posted by DU at 6:17 AM on January 20, 2010


This is almost comically inaccurate. The human population of Earth has almost always been about zero.
posted by Flunkie at 6:22 AM on January 20, 2010 [21 favorites]


We can praise/blame Columbus for making a journey with a point: a more efficient trade route. I'm not completely sure, but as far as I'm aware the moonshot was conceived without any (greater) goals outside of sticking a flag up there, raising national morale and getting the Soviets back for Sputnik and Gagarin. I'm sure the scientists and engineers saw this as a fantastic opportunity to do research they would not have been able to fund otherwise, what with most funding being directed toward military applications. My only point is that, whether for lack of trying or not, we've spent nearly a half-century having done next-to-nothing with this genuinely incredible accomplishment.
posted by griphus at 6:27 AM on January 20, 2010


My only point is that, whether for lack of trying or not, we've spent nearly a half-century having done next-to-nothing with this genuinely incredible accomplishment.

Well, I agree we should do it more. And I'm glad that's your only point, because it sounded like you were saying we should have done it less.
posted by DU at 6:32 AM on January 20, 2010


y2karl: Which makes me wonder about the ratio of living humans to humans living no more


In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the narrator writes: "There are more people alive now than have died in all of human history. In other words, if everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once, they couldn't, because there aren't enough skulls!"

I have always loved that.
posted by cider at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2010 [21 favorites]


"There are twelve people in the world, the rest are paste"
posted by Burhanistan at 6:41 AM on January 20, 2010


Does this mean we're like vols or mice, and just on our first loop through a cyclical population boom?
posted by cccorlew at 6:44 AM on January 20, 2010


Burhanistan: "There are twelve people in the world, the rest are paste"

-- C. Montgomery Burns?
-- Soylent, Inc.?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:04 AM on January 20, 2010


-- MES (warning, offensive language)
posted by Burhanistan at 7:09 AM on January 20, 2010


Click on this Nova interactive map to follow world population growth over the last 2000 years. The figure doubles over ever shorter time spans.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:18 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not after accounting for sockpuppets. There are only about 20 actual MeFites.

I am every Mefite.
posted by The Whelk at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


griphus : The actual race and results thereof were a global dick-waving contest.

There are very few endeavors in the whole of human history that "a dick-waving contest" wouldn't be an accurate description of. If it weren't for this built in desire to best those around us, we wouldn't be here today, living in the modern world as we know it (for better or worse).
posted by quin at 7:35 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


"From the composition of just two human genomes, geneticists have computed the size of the human population 1.2 million years ago from which everyone in the world is descended."

Correlation to the appearance of one breeder.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:40 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Read up on the Toba Catastrophe. It seems like there's a good chance that there were a lot more humans 100,000 years ago, and that many of them died off at one point, leaving just about 1-10k families.

I'm not well-versed, but I think this discovery somewhat undermines the evidence for the Toba Catastrophe. One of the circumstantial reasons to believe the Toba eruption was a global catastrophe is that population geneticists believed there was a bottleneck about 100,000 years ago, with humans reduced to about 10,000 effective breeding pairs. If humans were always roughly that many, the hypothesis may not be needed.
posted by grobstein at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2010


er, effective breeding members? is the term?
posted by grobstein at 7:47 AM on January 20, 2010


Even with these newer lower numbers, I still think this estimate, of the dead largely outnumbering the living, is still fairly close to correct.
posted by wobumingbai at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and the strategy of investing in larger brains than those of their fellow apes had not yet produced any big payoff.

Sure, but three and a half million years ago a larger brain only set you back three clams.

Ironically, the ancestors of people who think of evolution as a strategy or an investment didn't buy in.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:59 AM on January 20, 2010


Why do people wanna hate on humanity? I'm comfortable with being human; why ain't you?

Oh I know: look at all the not-so-good humans have done. Well, to that, I submit all the awesome we have done. All-in-all, I'm having a good time. You?
posted by grubi at 8:06 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


cider: "In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the narrator writes: "There are more people alive now than have died in all of human history. In other words, if everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once, they couldn't, because there aren't enough skulls!"

I have always loved that."


Great quote, I had heard something like that previously, in a discussion about probability: if we take humanity as a whole, only half of the humans that ever existed have died, the other half are currently alive. But it would be incorrect to draw the conclusion that there's a 50% chance you might be immortal.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:11 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems fairly uncontroversial that there were several hundred million people around in 1 A.D. and that while the population has ebbed and flowed since, it's never dipped below that number since. Assuming people breed by the age of 20 and 2,000 years of 100,000,000 people, that gives you roughly 10,000,000,000 people not counting the surge of the 20th century. That doesn't count the previous 10,000 years ascent of agriculture, nor the fact that 100,000,000 is way on the low side for most of the A.D. era. So at best living people are a large minority of all those who ever lived. Taking less conservative estimates you'd probably get a post-agriculture total population of 50 to 100 billion.

Assuming total population of 50,000 pre-agriculture it depends on how far you go. Going back to Original Eve at 130,000 years you get about 300 million total individuals -- about the same number probably living in 1 A.D. If you go back 1.2 million years you get 3 billion, which is still kind of low.

So it appears that there may be more people alive today than lived during all the millennia before humans invented agriculture, but far more people have lived in the relatively recent past during the buildup to our current level than are alive today.
posted by localroger at 8:24 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


"It seems like there's a good chance that there were a lot more humans 100,000 years ago, and that many of them died off at one point, leaving just about 1-10k families."

Then there was that whole Great Flood thing that left...what, four couples?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:30 AM on January 20, 2010


Uh... excuse me? No. Chimps made it into space before we did, and they got us to pay for it. We're clearly not the smartest species of ape.
posted by Narual at 8:43 AM on January 20, 2010 [20 favorites]


Chimps made it into space before we did, and they got us to pay for it. We're clearly not the smartest species of ape.

(I know that's a joke but the first monkey to actually survive the flight/recovery process wasn't until 1967)
posted by Burhanistan at 8:51 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The actual race and results thereof were a global dick-waving contest.

What the fuck does that mean? Biologically speaking, all of life is a dick-waving contest. Or at least a pudenda waving contest. You think the discovery of America was some charitable, humanistic adventure for the selfless good of mankind? Dick-waving is the predominant impetus for nearly every mammallian activity.
posted by spicynuts at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!
posted by deacon_blues at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2010


So MeFi has more members now than there were humans for tens of thousands of years.

To be more accurate, many of the member numbers never became actual users, and of those who completed the sign-up process, half are sock puppets made for a punchline.

We're still just a second rate ape species.

Which of the other apes have walked on the moon? Which have even developed sufficiently to talk about the possibility of walking on the moon, or to even realise that the moon is something that could be walked on? As ape species go, I think we're probably doing OK.


Dolphins still laugh at us.

... the moon-walking feat was just a very expensive and time-consuming way of peeing on a tree to mark our territory.

Then what other animal is able to send pee out of the earth's gravitational pull and hit a moving object some 230,000 miles away? (Suck on that, dolphins!)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:31 AM on January 20, 2010


I may be an ape, but at least I'm not a damned dirty one.
posted by digsrus at 9:33 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dolphins still laugh at us.

To be precise, the dolphins are still laughing at Gallagher. Which kind of destroys your superiority theory.
posted by msalt at 9:54 AM on January 20, 2010


Breed away, everybody!

Isn't that just a polite way to say "Fuck you"?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


philip-random: "They put the number at 18,500 people, but this refers only to breeding individuals,

Big spaceship. But no way was it the Galactica. Lorne Green was not my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather.
"

Umm, I think you just fucking spoiled BSG for me. Yes, I haven't watched it. Yes, I was eventually going to, but if this sounds like what I think it sounds like... umm... Thanks a frakking lot!
posted by symbioid at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2010


DU- I will fully acknowledge the space race as a catalyst for a new technological age. The actual race and results thereof were a global dick-waving contest.
posted by griphus at 9:14 AM on January 20 [+] [!]


Oh boooo, boooo killjoy. And even if you're right about the space race.....GOD DAMN OUR DICK IS BIG!

Geneticists have long known that the ancestors of modern humans numbered as few as 10,000 at some time in the last 100,000 years. The critically low number suggested that some catastrophe, like disease or climate change induced by a volcano, had brought humans close to the brink of extinction.

Dear Mother Nature,
Good try back there in the Pleistocene; A+ for effort. Don't feel bad, though, we're tricky little coackroaches, we apes are. BTW, nice trick leaving all that fissionable Uranium lying around - we almost fell for that. Hoo boy, would our faces have been red if we had thrown ourselves into a radioactive furnace. Oh, and putting a finite amount of delightfully combustible hydrocarbon deposits into the ground? I see what you did there - very clever, but you'll have to do better than that. Oh, what now? You're going to pull a greenhouse effect on us? Were you even paying attention when Waterworld came out? It's just not going to be that easy to get rid of us.

PS: And by the way, if you decide to call in a hit on us from the big players outside the asteroid belt, tell your friends out there that we're coming for them next. We ain't no stinking dinosaurs.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:24 AM on January 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


> Breed away, everybody!

Isn't that just a polite way to say "Fuck you"?


More of a "Fuck y'all."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:40 AM on January 20, 2010


So, for most of human history, humanity was equivalent to... Enid, Oklahoma? That would explain a lot.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:58 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Umm, I think you just fucking spoiled BSG for me. Yes, I haven't watched it. Yes, I was eventually going to, but if this sounds like what I think it sounds like... umm... Thanks a frakking lot!

Breathe, dude. It's OK. Lorne Greene is a reference to the original BSG from the 1970s, not the new one.

That said: don't do it. Please. Stop watching now, before it's too late!

Ah, who am I kidding? This has all happened before...
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2010


Dolphins and gorillas are pretty awesome, but I have yet to see one knock out a "Hamlet," paint the Sistine Chapel, invent the game of Go, cultivate coffee, or eradicate polio.
posted by ErikaB at 11:30 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea of having my partner options reduced to just those who are members of MeFi seems more than a little depressing, frankly.

Really? Aside from a few mouth-breathers, I'd much prefer this group to pick from than, say, my town's high school population. Which was almost all mouth-breathers.

Though I suspect there are still more dudes than ladies around the Blue, and many others not interested in hetero pairings/matings, so that brings the numbers down a little.

But in a Noah's Ark/Spaceship situation, I think we'd make a workable, if talky, group of proto-colonists.
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2010


To be precise, the dolphins are still laughing at Gallagher. Which kind of destroys your superiority theory.

Well, maybe not -- they're laughing AT Gallagher, after all, not WITH him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on January 20, 2010


Dolphins and gorillas are pretty awesome, but I have yet to see one knock out a "Hamlet,"

How do you even know what kind of rich poetic, dramaturgical life dolphins may or may not have? Do you speak dolphin? Have you been amongst them while they frolic in the sea? They might have an incredibly story-filled existence for all we know. Just because they don't have opposable thumbs or written language, don't assume they don't have a life of the mind and ability to communicate.

That said, I have no proof that they DO have those things. I'm just more likely to believe that dolphins have a rich oral culture than I am that gorillas could do anything on that list.
posted by hippybear at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the dolphins are laughing at the sonogram of Gallagher's skull that only they (and other similarly sonar equipped cetaceans) can see.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2010


Dolphins and gorillas are pretty awesome, but I have yet to see one ... eradicate polio.

Oh yeah? Well when was the last time you got polio?

Thank you, dolphins.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2010


Dolphins never equate correlation with causation, either!
posted by Burhanistan at 12:02 PM on January 20, 2010


(I know that's a joke but the first monkey to actually survive the flight/recovery process wasn't until 1967)

Certainly a joke, but you're off by several years.

"On May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, Able, a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, became the first living beings to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space." Able died a few days later from an infected sensor implant, but Miss Baker lived til the mid-80's.

Of course, the distinction is based on where "space" starts...
posted by Narual at 12:02 PM on January 20, 2010


Dolphins never equate correlation with causation, either!

The last time they did that was right before the Exxon Valdez.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2010


hippybear : How do you even know what kind of rich poetic, dramaturgical life dolphins may or may not have? Do you speak dolphin?

I do actually speak a bit of dolphin and I can tell you that most of their stuff is more along the lines of "Whee" and "Wanna Fuck?" and "Ooh, what's that? Let's go check it out" and very occasionally "Let's kill it."

So no. Not Hamlet.

More... Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Or, Ice-T.
posted by quin at 12:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Symbiod: Umm, I think you just fucking spoiled BSG for me.

Yeah, no - like, you're way past the spoiler statute of limitations, innit
posted by thedaniel at 12:31 PM on January 20, 2010


The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close summation, on the face of it, seems to be false, for the reasons localroger stated above. Which might be a good thing. If you consider the possibility that the human population will rise exponentially until there is a massive die-off, then the odds that you are alive at the point of the die-off are greater than any other possibility.

(I know there are problems with that logic: the premise relies on assumptions, and there is evidence that in developed nations population growth slows and may even become negative naturally. Still, this possibility has given me pause before.)

DU: Why is the success of a species measured by population size?

I am far from an expert, but....

We are using the biological definition of success here, and it has to do with the viability of a population, not of individual members.

Also, things like quality of life cannot be easily quantized, and this is a fairly hard science we are discussing here. Who is to say those lions aren't bored to death while laying under that tree, or overheated, or neurotic? And if they were, what weighting value would we attach to those states?

Further, population size is a very important indicator by any measure, since every other indicator implies a minimum population size (greater than one). Having more individuals decreases the chance of extinction tremendously; even if something were to destroy 99.9999999% human beings on the planet, there would still be around 7 left, and continued existence is the best indicator of species success of all, since all other measures depend on it.

Destroying ALL of a population can actually be fairly difficult, humanity's aptitude for it notwithstanding. (There are like 7 billion of us after all.) And yet, we haven't proven particularly effective at wiping out insect species, many of which are very successful. If aliens were to come down and try to individually exterminate human kind with lasers or something like it they would have a hard time doing it just because there are so many of us, and we're pretty good at hiding when you get down to it. (This is one reason I hold those kinds of movies where aliens come down and try to wipe out humanity by killing people in person in contempt, they are flawed just from their basic premise.)
posted by JHarris at 1:02 PM on January 20, 2010


This story - and thinking about the science behind it -- is, for me, the inverse of trying to comprehend the number of stars in the universe. I just can't really wrap my head around the smallness of it all.

So thanks for all the great comments which allowed me to laugh and rest my head before it imploded.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2010


Also: how has there not been a band named "The Toba Catastrophe"?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2010


If aliens were to come down and try to individually exterminate human kind with lasers or something like it they would have a hard time doing it just because there are so many of us, and we're pretty good at hiding when you get down to it.

Here's a great kids movie, whoever wants it: murderous aliens attack, but a hardy band of kids saves the day through their superior Hide-and-Go-Seek skills.
posted by msalt at 3:19 PM on January 20, 2010


Destroying ALL of a population can actually be fairly difficult, humanity's aptitude for it notwithstanding. (There are like 7 billion of us after all.) And yet, we haven't proven particularly effective at wiping out insect species, many of which are very successful. If aliens were to come down and try to individually exterminate human kind with lasers or something like it they would have a hard time doing it just because there are so many of us, and we're pretty good at hiding when you get down to it. (This is one reason I hold those kinds of movies where aliens come down and try to wipe out humanity by killing people in person in contempt, they are flawed just from their basic premise.)

Well but the thing is that almost all of our population depends on technological civilization. Before agriculture was invented, there were never more than about 50,000 of us, so imagine what would happen if agriculture was somehow uninvented.

Agriculture won't actually be uninvented, but it's not that hard to imagine technologically advanced aliens effectively uninventing it, by systematically destroying farms or whatever. The greatest mass deaths in human history have been variations on this. The Great Leap Forward was a partial uninvention of farms, for example.

Resilient insect species' success is probably much more robust than ours, because ours depends on particular forms of social organization, on fairly large scales, that could in principle be destroyed.
posted by grobstein at 3:23 PM on January 20, 2010


> Breed away, everybody!

Isn't that just a polite way to say "Fuck you"?

More of a "Fuck y'all."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:40 AM on January 20 [+] [!]


As I read it, it sounds more like "You all can go fuck yourselves."
posted by ooga_booga at 4:55 PM on January 20, 2010


"There are more people alive now than have died in all of human history. In other words, if everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once, they couldn't, because there aren't enough skulls!"

Ohhh, so everyone really was Napoleon or Cleopatra in a previous life.
posted by timory at 8:43 PM on January 20, 2010


That NY Times article is slippery. 50,000 isn't the total population of Humans on the planet 1.2 million years ago, but the population of the particular Homo group* that evolved into modern humans. We are fairly sure that groups like Homo erectus in Asia did not contribute significantly to the modern Human genome, so it is probable that the total Homo population was much larger than 50,000. They buried this point in the article,

"But that estimate would apply to the worldwide population only if there were inbreeding between the humans on the different continents. If not, and if modern humans are descended from just one of these populations, like Homo ergaster in Africa, then the estimate would apply only to that.

Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford, said it was hard to believe the population from which modern humans are descended was as small as 18,500 “unless they were geographically restricted to Africa or a small part of it.”

The larger question is if this finding is relevant to discussions about modern human population sizes. In a genetic sense it is interesting, but the reason for a species population sizes are more of an ecological question, and it is quite likely that ergaster and erectus did not interact with their environment in the same ways as Homo sapien did (and do). Not that, pre-modern Homo population questions aren't interesting, it's just that I don't think you can make something like a graph of "world human population change" that goes more than 200,000 years back, since the definition of what a human also changes over that time period.






*Probably ergaster, but knowing paleo-anthropologists they will probably come up with some new species name for this group in a few years.
posted by afu at 11:43 PM on January 20, 2010


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