Through the Wormhole s03e02 Episode Script

Is There a Superior Race?

It is an idea that has spawned hatred, war, and genocide.
It is one of the most polarizing questions we could ever ask.
Do different races not just look different? Are they fundamentally different? Will a future race of advanced humans look back and see all of us as a vastly inferior breed? Could there be a superior race? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
Speak of racial differences, and you're bound to inflame passions.
Bosnian and Serb.
Japanese and Korean.
Black and White.
The belief that one group's germ line is superior to another's has haunted history for thousands of years.
But now we're in the age of DNA technology.
We can track down minute differences in these chemical strands and perhaps discover whether they make Africans not just look different from Indians, but also think differently.
Science has long been misused to try and prop up bigotry, but daring to ask how we might be different is important.
Because the answers could tell us where the entire human species is headed.
I grew up in an all-black neighborhood in Mississippi.
I never thought of myself as better or worse than anyone.
But all around town, there were signs that other people did.
Martin Luther King Jr.
had a dream of racial equality.
And in the last 50 years, we've taken some steps toward the colorblind world he imagined.
But scientists are still trying to understand what race means, or if it has any scientific meaning at all.
Is race only skin deep? Or is there something internal, invisible, that sets the races apart? Evolutionary biologist Andy Brower thinks we can understand what the word "race" means by looking at another species, one he feels he was born to study.
Both my parents worked on butterflies for their PhDs back in the '50s.
So I just became fascinated by that at 5 years old, and I've had a little butterfly collection as a kid.
Definitely in my DNA, right from the start.
Andy studies Heliconius butterflies.
He has followed their fluttering wings all over the Western Hemisphere.
As much as he is enchanted by their elaborate wing markings, he knows that their beauty is only superficial.
They're poisonous butterflies, and they have mimetic wing patterns so that they are advertising the fact that they taste bad to potential predators, birds, usually.
So that the more butterflies exhibit a common color pattern, the easier it is for the birds to recognize that, "Okay, there's one of those red and yellow things.
They taste bad.
I'm leaving those alone.
" But Heliconius butterflies do not look the same everywhere.
A group in one region of South America has completely different wing patterns from another group that lives just across a river or another on the other side of a mountain.
This is a box of butterflies that are all the same species.
In French Guiana, a red band is on the fore wing and the hind wing is basically black.
And then, further south, you have red rays and the yellow areas.
These two rows in the middle here, the colors are different.
The wing pattern differences are probably driven by which colors and patterns stand out most clearly to the local bird population.
But these different-looking varieties -- you could call them races.
Appear to have identical inner biologies.
They smell the same, they recognize each other as being potential mates.
And so they produce hybrid offspring.
Hybrid offspring are perfectly fine.
There, there viable and healthy.
They can, their fertile, so they can lay their own eggs.
These butterflies all have the same life-span and the same adaptive poison to ward off predators.
The differences appear to be only skin deep.
It is the same for humans.
Race poses no biological barriers to mating, and our life-spans are all very similar, no matter what our ethnic background.
Are people, like Heliconius butterflies, all the same beneath our different-colored skins? In the year 2000, when President Clinton announced the completion of the Human Genome Project, the answer appeared to be yes.
And in genetic terms, all human beings, regardless of race, are more than 99.
9% the same.
Another decade of genetic study has lowered that number somewhat to 99.
No matter who you are or where you come from, a mere 0.
5% of your genetic code is unique to you.
What kinds of racial differences could like in that 0.
5%? Perhaps plenty.
Human and chimpanzee genomes only differ by about 3%.
That difference is enough to make our brains radically bigger and smarter.
John Hawks is a leading paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He studies the bones of ancient humans, tracking how we have changed since our evolutionary line split off from that of the chimp's about 6 million years ago.
When we look at a real brief thumbnail of our evolution, we started out as apes and became upright-walking people and then evolved stone-tool manufacture and bigger brains.
And those are big events that took millions of years.
But most of my work in the last few years has been focused on the very recent part of our evolution -- our time since we left Africa and evolved into the people we are today.
Scientists now agree the development of separate races began around 50,000 years ago, when modern humans migrated out of Africa.
There dark-skinned pigmentation was and remains a protective force against ultraviolet rays.
But as humans moved further north, dark skin blocked too much sunlight and reduced the natural production of vitamin D in our deep skin layers.
Lighter-skinned people fared better in Europe and China.
For those who migrated to South America and Southern India, darker skin once again protected them from the sun.
But John's research is showing that these now-isolated ethnicities continued to evolve over the ensuing millennia and that distinctions between racial groups do go deeper than our skin.
When I study archaeological samples of skulls that have come out of the ground from 5,000 years ago, from 10,000 years ago, we can see many of the changes unfolding in those samples as we go forward in time.
Brain size changed.
Teeth changed.
And then there are some kinds of changes that are distinct to different regions.
So, there are characteristics that we can point at in the skull that now characterize Asians versus Europeans.
John thinks racial differences run much deeper than our bones.
He believes almost every aspect of our biology changed as humans migrated around the world, even the way our brains work.
What separates one race from another? In the 50,000 years since small groups of people began migrating out of Africa, we've developed plenty of physical differences.
But what invisible difference might there be? Just how far apart has our DNA drifted? Paleoanthropologist John Hawks is tracking changes in our genes over the past millennia.
And he's discovered something unsettling.
Our DNA loves to gamble.
So, when we look at the way that DNA changes, it's sort of like our genes are addicted to gambling.
It's got four possible base pairs -- A, C, G, and T.
And here we've got, well, four colors of chips.
This is like a DNA sequence, except your DNA would be enormously longer.
The way that evolution works on these gene sequences As this gene sequence is reproducing itself, one base pair may get swapped out and a different one put in its place.
As we lay out many individuals' DNA next to each other, those individuals are gonna be different from each other at random places.
When a mutation happens, that can cause an enormous problem.
Or it could be an enormous advantage.
Between every generation, DNA makes about 60 of these random changes to its sequence.
Sometimes, it hits the jackpot.
Sometimes, it goes bust.
Most of the time, these mutations do nothing at all.
But all the changes that don't kill us are handed down to the next generation, living on like molecular fossils.
And these fossils give John a way to calculate how old any particular gene is.
The longer it has been around, the more random mutations would have collected around it.
The part that's functionally important stays the same, but as you go farther and farther away from that part, it's more likely to have swapped up with another sequence.
It's the length of that part that hasn't been swapped that gives us an idea of how long it's been around in the population.
Because the longer the gene has been around, the more likely it is that we'll have these random changes.
When John and his colleagues used this gene-dating technique in populations native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, they were in for a big surprise.
Many genes were much younger than they'd expected.
What we discovered was that lots of them showed evidence of really fast adaptive changes.
We're talking about that, in one part of the world or another, have undergone really recent adaptation.
We were pretty surprised to find that the number was so large.
John had expected to find that just a fraction of a percent of human genes would show signs of recent mutation.
But instead, he discovered that about 7% of our genes have mutated to new forms in the last 10,000 to 20,000 years.
Some of these genes are only found in certain racial groups.
These mutations are not just related to skin color and physical appearance.
The changes go far deeper.
Probably the most obvious examples are the examples where there's a disease that's new that some people have developed resistance strategies to.
So, malaria, for example, is a disease that has been around for about 5,000 years as a human pathogen.
Over that time, populations in South Asia, in Africa, have developed new adaptations to this particular disease.
But John suspects there is another force driving these genetic changes -- our civilization.
It is an idea that puts him at odds with most evolutionary scientists, including the father of them all -- Charles Darwin.
Darwin talked about the hostile forces of nature, the sun beating down on us, the cold of the winter, and these would change us, because we had to adapt to those environments.
And in human evolution, we could invent things.
We could change our behavior and our culture to insulate us, to buffer us from those things.
And so the idea was that humans didn't have to change biology in order to adapt to new places.
Charles Darwin's argument was that farming, houses, clothes, should stop our genes from changing and evolving, because we began protecting ourselves from our environments.
But John's research shows that the different ways groups of humans chose to live in different parts of the world could actually have driven genetic changes.
Probably the best example of how culture has influenced our evolution is milk drinking.
Now, it's not normal for adult mammals to have access to milk.
If you think about a bull trying to get milk up from underneath the cow's udder it just doesn't work in nature.
There have been many populations that have adopted dairy animals of different kinds.
Five of them have developed new mutations that give them, as adults, the ability to digest the sugar in this milk.
In northern Europe, this is a really common mutation.
But if you go to come parts of the world, like China, it's very rare for people to be able to drink milk.
But in fact, it's the ability to digest this milk, the lactase persistence, as we call it, which is the weird, mutant version of this.
And it's all happened in populations because they've changed their culture.
Just as the climates where different ethnic groups lived varied, so did the rules and habits of their societies.
And their DNA was forced to adapt.
If you're a human, you have to survive and deal with other people every day in order to reproduce.
And that makes culture your environment.
Genetic adaptations may even have altered the way our brains work.
John and his colleagues have discovered around 100 mutations in genes controlling brain chemistry that have taken place since humanity migrated from Africa.
One of them, a genetic variant called DRD4, may even have triggered that migration in the first place.
It's linked to ADHD, because when we study patients who have ADHD, they have a greater chance of having this gene.
One possible reason is that it made people more likely to move.
The DRD4 mutation is most commonly found in populations that live outside of Africa.
It appeared around 50,000 years ago.
It has been called "the migration gene," because traits like rapidly shifting focus and quick movements could have been very useful when our ancestors were on the move.
Even though short attention now appears less useful in our modern, sedentary society.
DRD4 is the best example of a gene that is clearly recently selected and has behavioral impacts.
It affects the brain in some way.
But there are others.
And we don't know what they do, but we can say that they're expressed in the brain, they're related to our behavior in some way, potentially.
But we don't know what those changes are for.
The notion that genetic changes affecting the brain might actually underpin the spread of humanity across the globe leads to an unsettling question.
Might some races have evolved to become more intelligent than others? It is a highly divisive notion, but some scientists are probing the issue, and their conclusions have triggered outrage.
It is a word that stirs powerful emotions.
Some scientists think the genetic differences between us are so small that the word "race" doesn't even make sense.
But understanding how evolution has shaped the races and continues to do so is of great scientific importance.
The trait that sets humans apart from all other species is our incredibly complex brain.
But could the brains of different races be different? Could they have different intelligences? Renowned psychologist Stanley Coren has spent years studying intelligence differences -- not among different races of people, but in different breeds of dogs.
Dogs are a marvel of genetic engineering, simply because we've kept the breeds separate.
You know, my grandparents were Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, but I take a golden retriever, and his granddaddy was a purebred golden retriever, and his great-granddaddy was, and so on and so forth.
So, there's less noise in the genome.
For at least 14,000 years, humans have systematically shaped the evolution of dogs, changing them to fit our needs.
Stanley has measured the intelligence of more than 100 breeds.
So, we can get dogs which, because of their breeding, differ in terms of their intelligence.
If you take a young child below 18 months of age and you put a towel over his head, he thinks that the world has gone away, and he sits there.
So, if Montana has a mental ability beyond an 18-month-old human, Montana should throw the towel off of his head very quickly.
Are you ready, Montana? Go.
Stanley's test results have convinced him that there are big differences in canine intelligence from breed to breed.
Where has the world gone? Okay, what a good dog.
And then I've got a beagle.
And his job is to amuse my grandchildren.
As dog intelligence goes, beagles are seven from the bottom.
So, this bench that I'm sitting on right now is more trainable than a beagle.
The top dogs in terms of intelligence are the Border Collie, followed by the poodle.
Some people say, "the poodle? That's a froufrou dog.
" No, the poodle is a retriever, okay? And he didn't ask for that silly haircut.
If some breeds of dogs are smarter than others, why could that not be true for the animals at the other end of the leash? University of Delaware sociologist Linda Gottfredson has been analyzing I.
test scores for the past two decades.
She claims they reveal a subtle but measurable link between intelligence, genetics, and race.
For very complex traits like intelligence, many genes have small effect, may push a person this way or that.
And they're really, really hard to find.
Individual I.
s are as diverse as the grains of sand on a beach.
But Linda believes there are patterns in this noise, patterns that depend on our genes.
As any parent knows, brothers and sisters look different.
They often have different personalities, and they often have different levels of intelligence.
The average difference between siblings is 12 I.
If you compare to random people walking on the beach, you might ask, "Well, how different are those people?" On the average, strangers differ by 17 I.
So, you see that biological brothers and sisters are 2/3 as different on the average as random strangers on the street.
The genes of strangers vary more than those of siblings, and Linda argues this is why their I.
s vary more.
Her interpretation of this data has led her to a controversial notion, that the genetic differences between races might lead to differences in the average intelligence of those races.
I guess there would be two rules about human diversity.
One is that there's lots of variation within all groups, but there's also a gradation between the groups so that there are recurring and sometimes large average differences between racial ethnic groups.
scores in any group of people are spread across a bell curve ranging from a score of about 70 to about 130.
There are outliers on either end, but most people are clustered around an average.
There are differences between racial ethnic groups on the average in I.
The average white I.
is arbitrarily set at 100.
Blacks in the United States and in many other western countries average 85.
Hispanics -- the average would be about 80.
Native Americans around that level.
And then Japanese and Chinese Americans above the white average.
And then Ashkenazi Jews probably around 110, 115.
Linda's research has made her a scientific outcast.
She's even been called a racist, a claim she denies.
Her critics argue that I.
tests results are heavily skewed by socioeconomic factors.
Childhood nutrition and access to healthcare can vary widely between different racial groups.
If you live in a good neighborhood with well-funded schools, you are more likely to be accustomed to the academic setting of an I.
And if you live in those neighborhoods, you are more likely to be Asian or White.
There are also concerns over whether the test questions have a cultural bias, a bias reflected by the fact that it's the white I.
average that's set to 100.
Is one race smarter than another? Depends on what you mean by smart.
Could I.
scores predict the greatness of an artist like Picasso or of a political leader like Gandhi? I.
is a narrow obsession.
No two people think the same way, regardless of their race.
So, here's a new question.
If the brains of the races are similar now, will that always be true? We are still evolving.
Could our brains one day become as different as those of Border Collies and beagles? Evolution has given human beings one incredible asset -- the remarkable network of nerve cells buzzing around inside our heads.
The growth of these three pounds of soft tissue catapulted human intelligence to a level far above the other species.
How much further can it grow? Will we eventually evolve into a superior race of super-intelligent humans? Neuroscience Professor Simon Laughlin from the University of Cambridge studies brain power.
He tests the limits of what brains and their nerve cells can do, all the while watching how much fuel they guzzle.
So, I'm interested in what the physical limits to the performance of brains are and in what determines the processing power of brains.
Simon has developed a unique way to see just how much information living brains are processing while simultaneously keeping track of how much energy they are using.
His window into the human brain is through the bulbous eyes of flies.
They're a simpler system, so it's like looking at a pocket calculator before you work up to actually trying to understand a really big computer.
The basic principles by which the fly's brain operates is the same as ours, but they're much easier to work with, and we have a much more complete understanding of what they do.
Simon's ability to measure the performance of fly brains is all thanks to this insect's most bothersome characteristic.
Anybody who's tried to swat a fly knows that they're very good at detecting movement.
And to do that, they have to be able to respond to very rapid and fast changes in light.
In fact, detecting light is most of what a fly's brain does.
Simon's lab is stocked with two species -- the blowfly, with large, bulging eyes, and the diminutive fruit fly, whose eyes are much smaller.
He and his team fit microelectrodes into the fly's nerve cells, then they expose them to a flickering light to record their processing power.
So, the cell responds to the light by changing its membrane potential.
And then we can process those signals to work out how much information they contain.
Simon discovered that while the fruit fly is able to see some of the changes in light, the blowfly picks up on even the most minute flicker.
The blowfly's bulbous eyeballs spew out a huge quantity of neural data, enough to fill up a one-gigabyte memory stick every minute.
But there's a downside for the blowfly.
So, the blowfly picks up about five times as many bits per second as the fruit fly, but because it has a much higher performance, those bits of information, each bit costs it about 10 times more energy.
Information is very expensive for a fly.
So, we have a sports car that has a very high top speed.
It has a very high performance.
But also, it has a very heavy fuel consumption.
It uses a lot of energy.
So, as we're idling along now in Cambridge, we're not using any of our performance at all.
This little car here has a lot lower performance than this sports car, but it's much more economical.
It uses much less energy to go a given distance.
So, you pay a high price for high performance, just like neurons.
The powerhouse brain of a human being is even less fuel efficient than that of the blowfly.
And this is why Simon is almost certain that the human brain has reached its limit.
So, if the blowfly is this sports car, then the human brain, with it's vastly superior performance, is like a space rocket.
Huge amounts of energy being used to process information.
The human brain is only 2% of our body mass, but it consumes 20% of our oxygen when we are at rest.
The smarter we get, the higher the energy cost.
If we wanted to have a brain that was 10% better, we might have to have one that was actually 20% bigger.
Then it would make increasingly large demands on the body.
If the human brain got bigger, it would be more difficult to give birth to children.
And if you wanted to make it much bigger, when the child was born, the brain would have to be less well-developed than it is now.
So, infancy and childhood would last longer.
Our brain has evolved to strike some sort of balance between the cost of processing the information, which is very high, and the amount of information we actually need to process.
But there may still be a way for us to become smarter.
If we take matters into our own hands, we may build a superior human race.
And only some of us will be part of it.
All of modern humanity can trace its ancestry back to a small group of people living in East Africa about 50,000 years ago.
We all looked very similar back then.
Over the millennia, we've adapted to our local climates and become the rainbow of people we are today.
But evolution hasn't stopped.
Where are we headed? Could a future race of superior humans Look like this? Peter Ward is a paleontologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
He finds evolution everywhere he looks, even inside a fish market.
Well, we got two really standard wonderful food fish in the Northwest.
We've got this nice big halibut and these beautiful salmon.
If we look at the fossil record, actually, these are way more primitive.
These guys were here first and, in fact, far more fish look like this -- that beautiful fusiform shape -- than this rather ugly thing.
It's been squished down and flattened.
It's like taking a salmon, rolling it on its side, bringing an eye over, and living forever with that totally rotated shape.
This guy lives on the bottom, and this is a superb adaptation for where it lives.
From the salmon, evolution created the halibut.
What, Peter wonders, might it do to humans? It is tempting to believe that nature has a master plan to evolve us into fitter, smarter, more attractive beings.
But nature doesn't work that way.
Our best traits and our worst traits are chosen for us quite randomly.
Albert Einstein most famously said, "God does not play dice with the universe.
" Well, maybe he was right in physics, but in evolution, there's a whole lot of dice playing.
Here's my evolutionary dice -- die.
This is A, T, G, and C -- the genetic code.
When they combine together, they tell an organism what traits it's gonna have.
And much of that combination comes together in random fashion.
So if I throw this evolutionary die, I'm gonna be stuck with this particular gene, and that gene might take me up any one of these four roads.
Three of those roads might kill you almost instantly.
One of them might be towards a really superior organism.
If Peter wants to make his way across town to a high-end restaurant using the rules of DNA navigation, he will have to rely on the random roll of a die.
One turn could get him closer.
The next could turn him back toward where he started.
There's no telling when or if he will ever make it.
Evolution is a random process that usually leads to genetic dead ends.
Ugh! But what if Peter could escape the randomness of natural selection? Up until we became a technical species, we were, like every other species, at mercy to the randomness and to, really, the nastiness of evolution.
The next stage of human evolution is going to be we humans tinkering right into the genome itself.
Not only can we change people in their lifetime, but we'll be able to change their very DNA so that they and their changes get passed on to the next generation.
With this type of directed evolution, Peter does not have to blindly depend on chance to get him where he wants to go.
Waterfront Seafood Grill.
Genetic technology could take you on a direct route from "A" to "B", as long as you can pay for the ride.
Peter believes that once humans start pursuing unnatural selection, we will diverge into two separate races -- those who are left rolling the evolutionary dice and those who can afford to design their own genome.
All right.
Thank you much.
I could see a point where once the differences we engineer into ourselves are so different from what you find in the wild, stock humans versus the genetically engineered humans, there will be a divergence.
If you had children that bred with other children with these enhancements, it keeps going.
You're gonna see a social drifting apart.
And speciation happens when gene pools separate -- populations separate.
It is a grim vision of the future -- a global gated community of super-rich, long-lived human 2.
0's hogging all the resources And a completely separate species of people who can barely survive.
But another technological course is driving us in a different direction.
The next big leap toward creating a superior human race may come from us putting aside our differences and putting our heads together.
Earth is already a crowded place.
And by the end of this century, the human population will probably reach 11 billion.
We'll be packed in as tightly as bees in a hive.
That prospect has inspired some scientists to envision a new evolution of mankind.
Just as insect colonies share the workload, perhaps we can learn to harness the power of multiple brains and create a vastly superior global hive mind.
"Sandy" Pentland is the head of the Human Dynamics Lab at M.
He's a pioneer of a new field of research -- computational social science.
Sandy believes humanity is about to become a smarter, superior species -- not because we're going to evolve at the individual level, but through a transformation in the way we work together.
So, human organizations are a little bit like an information machine.
The gears not only have to fit together, but they have to be synchronized so that they work together rather than against each other.
So, this desire to synchronize is something that's very ancient in our species, and you see it in dance and also in music, like here with the M.
Logarhythms, where bass comes in.
Bass: we And the baritone comes in.
Baritones: are Bass: we And the tenor.
Tenors: we are Baritones: are Bass: we and then they meld together into a whole.
We we are we we are we are we we are we are Music like this is an example of something that's much bigger than just the individuals.
We are Humans are naturally social creatures.
We developed language and culture to trade knowledge and share experiences.
Sandy believes that we are about to supercharge the degree to which we share knowledge, thanks to a quantum leap in communication technology.
One of the most profound changes has happened in the last decade.
And something that's not well appreciated is the fact that we all carry around phones, and these are getting smarter and smarter.
Take traffic, for example.
You can now look on your phone or on your car dashboard and see how dense the traffic is and get real-time updates.
Technology that lets us share pictures, share stories in a way we never could and just turns the clock right up more.
That's all driven by those phones that people are carrying around.
So, we're being able to make this sort of unified intelligence.
Handheld smart devices are getting us to work and think together like never before.
They are merging humanity into a single interconnected mind that spans the globe, capable of feats no single brain could achieve.
In 2009, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency set a challenge designed specifically for hive minds.
It placed 10 red balloons, each adorned with a special certificate, at secret locations across the U.
It offered a $40,000 prize to the team that discovered the GPS coordinates of all 10 balloons the fastest.
Thousands of teams took up the challenge.
Sandy's plan was to engage a swarm of cell-toting, social-media-connected minds.
And what we did is we leveraged social media in a very creative way.
So, I wouldn't just give you a prize for finding a balloon.
I'd give you a prize for recruiting people, one of whom might find the balloon.
So, if they found the balloon, you'd get some, too.
And what this does is it creates a cascade.
Thousands and thousands of people, all recruiting their friends to look for the balloon because it's in their interest to do that.
Sandy's method worked incredibly well.
His M.
team bagged photos of all 10 balloons, uncovered in places like San Francisco's Union Square and a tennis court in Virginia, in just nine hours.
They were able to find the balloons faster than anybody else in the world -- in fact, in a time that they generally thought was impossible.
In social species, there's a drive to be social.
If you ask, "What's the number-one thing that contributes to life satisfaction?" It's building things with other people.
And what we've done is developed technology to try and help us do that.
Imagine a sea of humanity with instant awareness of events taking place over ranges of thousands of miles.
We could trace the source of a viral epidemic to one apartment block in a matter of hours, just by seeing who was staying home from work with their cellphone turned on.
We could solve age-old problems of hunger and poverty by tracking supply and demand for food on a minute-to-minute basis.
What you'll see in the future, where we're able to pool our experience to make all of our individual experiences better.
So, what is the future of race? Genetics tells us that there are subtle differences between us.
Both on the inside and the outside.
Those differences emerged as we wandered the Earth as separate tribes, for more than 50,000 years.
But now, something new is happening in human history.
We don't have room to be separate anymore.
Technology, combined with our deep instinct to work together is about to push us one giant step forward.
And will create not a superior race, but a superior species, to which we will all belong.