Human Evolution in Gundam
It goes without saying that any anime fan worth his salt knows about the Gundam multimedia franchise. It first began in 1979 with the original Mobile Suit Gundam, and continues to this day with Iron Blooded Orphans. The series has several key elements that combine to give the series its unique look and feel, including giant robots, with the strongest known as Gundams, humans living in giant space colonies, and humans with psychic powers. I could focus on anyone of these elements, but the focus of today’s lesson will be on the idea of advanced humans with special powers, whether it is a New Type, Coordinator, or Innovator. I will not be looking at the powers themselves, but how these powers came to be.
In every case, whether it is a Newtype, Coordinator, or Innovator, they show super human abilities and each one is thought to be the next step in human evolution. We’ll start with the Newtypes of Mobile Suit Gundam fame. The first person to use the term Newtype in the Universal Century (the original gundam universe), was Zeon Zum Deiku, who thought that humanity would evolve new characteristics (psychic powers) after living in space.
While his explanation of how this would happen, by tapping unused parts of the brain, is nowhere near scientific, the idea of humanity changing after living in space is not. If you remember from the evolution lesson that organisms slowly adapt to their environment, gaining beneficial traits and losing harmful ones over the course of multiple generations. Living and working on a space colony would be a very different environment than living on Earth, despite all of the similarities.
Living in Space
Gravity on Earth is caused by the mass of the planet, while on a space colony gravity is simulated by centrifugal force. One difference would be that while the force is the same, the individual would experience some balance issues due to the Coriolis forces and the inner ear while on a space station. Also, there is the effect the no or low gravity would have on the human body, which goes beyond the space sickness individuals would experience upon entering space, due to changes in G-forces. Even with shielding, astronauts are exposed to around ten times the amount of radiation over a six-month period than a person living on Earth would receive. This increases the cancer risk, cataracts, and effects on the nervous system, including potentially raising the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The research on some of these areas is still relatively young and ongoing. However, NASA and other organization are currently considering it to increase the safety of long duration space flight.
The lack of gravity also influences the body, and while space colonies would have artificial gravity, it is still worth noting the effects for individuals who would spend most of their time working in zero gravity. The phrase use it or lose it is quite literal when it comes to discussing how the human body reacts to zero G environments. The constant strain that gravity places on our body forces the body to maintain muscle and bone mass to work against it. In low gravity environments, this constant force is gone and there is no stimulus for the body to maintain bone and muscle mass it no longer needs. Thus, astronauts lose a not insignificant amount of body weight (up to 20%) in just 5-11 days with no regular exercise.
Exercise does reduce this loss, but it still occurs.
Another consideration is how gravity distributes all of the liquid in our body, with most of it being drawn to our legs. In low gravity environments this pull does not occur and the fluid can redistribute, which puts pressure on other parts of the body, including the eyes, leading to vision problems. (You can simulate this to a degree by standing on your head for a short period of time). Also the blood volume decreases, leading to cardiovascular issues. There are several other effects, but I think you get the idea that living in space either in or out of a space colony is very different than living on Earth.
Clearly, humanity will have to adapt to the new environment offered by living in space colonies, but what is it going to take to become a new species or the next step in human evolution? Before we can dive into that I need to explain the concept of speciation, or how a new species evolves. There are three steps to speciation:
1- Separation- the original population is split into two groups that can no longer interact and breed with each other.
Given the way that the Earth and Space colonies in the Universal Century seem to act, there is probably just enough separation for speciation to occur in some areas.
2- Adaptation– the now separate populations adapt to the environment they are living in.
We’ve already seen how different living in space will be, so adaptation will occur.
3- Division– the populations have acquired enough adaptations and changes that they can no longer interbreed with each other.
The amount of time this will take varies from species to species and will be discussed a bit further below.
There are a couple of factors to consider when looking at how quickly a species will evolve. The first is how adapted the species is to the environment it is living in. Outer space is quite different, so evolution will heavily favor any trait that helps humanity survive in space. This will be limited by breeding with people from Earth and medical science mitigating any negative effects. On the plus side, however, the increased radiation exposure will increase the rate of mutation in the DNA of people living in space. Yes, this can lead to cancer, but it can also lead to the creation of beneficial traits in their offspring. I think it is safe to say then, that yes, people living in space are evolving in a different direction than those on Earth, but the biological pressure on humanity to evolve is not extremely strong.
This means that the main determinant to how fast a species evolves will be the generation time, or how long it takes for a group of organisms to grow to adulthood and reproduce. This will of course vary from species to species, with some bacteria having a generation time of 20 minutes in ideal conditions. With humans it’s around 20 years, give or take a few and variations being driven by culture and not biology. The longer the generation time, the longer it takes for a species to change. It took about 2 years for the common fly to develop a resistance to DDT, and it has a generation time of about 2 days. By doing the math we can determine that it took 365 generations of flies to develop a new trait, and even then, the flies were still the same species.
In the universal century, the first space colony was created in the year 001, and the first Newtype Char, is born in 0059, which we’ll call three generations later. Now could a new trait appear that quickly? Yes, it can, but would it make Char and the other Newtypes a new species of human? The answer to that is a resounding, “no,” there just isn’t enough time. Even if we go to the last known date in the Universal century in 0225, 11 almost 12 generations later, that isn’t enough time for all the people living in space to be New Types let alone be a new species.
Crazy space psychic powers, aside the idea of humanity changing and evolving after leaving Earth to live in space is a valid one, its just going to take a lot longer than what we see in the Gundam multiverse.
I know I said I would talk about Innovators and Coordinators in this lesson, but due to length I am going to save them for another upcoming post.
1- The phrase worth their salt comes from the Romans as the soldiers would buy salt with their salary, given how important it was in ancient societies as a flavoring and food preservation.
2- I left out the X-rounders from Gundam Age because I haven’t seen the show and they don’t really fit in with what I am covering here in terms of human evolution.