What Free Climbing El Capitan Tells Us About Evolution

What Free Climbing El Capitan Tells Us About Evolution August 8, 2020

Spiderman has nothing over Alex Honnold. Neither does an arachnid. Because while it’s amusing watching a spider climb, witnessing a man scurry up a cold sheet of granite 3000 feet high is like catching a glimpse of the progression of human evolution in realtime.

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Yet, on June 3, 2017, this is precisely what this superhuman spider did: climb Yosemite’s El Capitan monolith in four hours with nothing more than a pouch of white chalk and a pair of TC Pro climbing shoes.

In an opinion piece by the New York Times writer Daniel Duane said of the accomplishment:

“I believe that it should also be celebrated as one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.”

(To put this in perspective, the first ascent of El Capitan took 45 days over an 18 month period.)

When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, I doubt he speculated about the potential of his own species to evolve in such miraculous ways. Darwin simply postulated that humans share a common ancestry to great apes; that all species evolve from common ancestors; and natural selection ensures that species which adapt with certain qualities thrive while others become extinct.

But humans evolving to scale vertical walls like spiders? Preposterous!

In fact, Darwin waited 20 years to publish On the Origins of Species. Rumor has it he feared the condemnation of his colleagues and potential religious backlash. Had he verbalized that humans would someday acquire spider-like traits he may have spent his final years in the insane asylum!

We have Darwin and others to thank for sparking our understanding of the fluidity to which all living things transmute — in time — from one form of life into another. Yet, the science behind the origins of our species did more than break the stranglehold of creation myths. It is now causing an evolution in the way we think about the potential of humankind. For millennia, many Christian sects have been claiming that humans were once created perfectly; as tall, majestic beings of superior intellect and longevity, but due to the effects of sin we de-evolved into the stumpy and ignorant creatures we take selfies of today. But most freethinker’s share a more optimistic perspective: We are magnificent creatures and our potential to become better was never in doubt.

The physical requirements Alex Honnold used to climb El Capitan were beyond extraordinary. Spiders rely on eight legs and produce as many as 600,000 magnetic-like setules which allows them to cling to smooth surfaces. Alex used but four limbs with only 12 contact points: 10 fingers and two shoe-shod feet. He describes the qualities that helped him to succeed in this TED talk video:

Could our entire species evolve to have the physical and mental capacities to climb like Alex?

Not everyone, of course, because Alex was born with the remarkable combination of physical agility, mental competency, and sufficient motivation to climb. These attributes allowed him to purposefully evolve his abilities in a way that no other person on earth has done before. Yet, as groundbreaking as Alex’s conquest was, there are many individuals these days performing an astonishing array of physical feats that were unheard of just a few decades ago.

Witnessing the evolution of athleticism in real time

Anyone who is familiar with the two popular sports programming shows called “X Games” or the “Red Bull” channel on Youtube has been stunned by watching the incredible physical feats being performed by people across the globe. On any given day you can witness the youngest members of our species leaping through cityscapes like monkeys, flying through the Alps on wing suits, free-diving to depths of 700 feet and holding their breaths for periods up to ten minutes, performing handstands on the edges of buildings hundreds of feet above the ground, running 100 kilometer foot races over mountainous trails, and soaring through the air on skateboards, bikes, and almost anything with wheels.

So, when it comes to the ability humans have to adapt and modify their physical attributes the sky’s the limit!

Yet, it’s not just in the physical arena where humans are learning to evolve their abilities, because many individuals also possess superhuman mental faculties. There are artistic and musical savants, geniuses in the fields of science and mathematics, and men and women with extraordinary memories. Still others possess high-levels of sensory perception, ambidexterity, echolocation, and individuals such as monks who can control their body temperatures with their own thoughts. And while still scientifically unproven, some individuals claim to have capabilities such as astral projection, dowsing, psychic energy, telepathy, and precognition.

Clearly, humans are evolving. We are evolving not only in our respective environments, but collectively as a species. The levels to which humans will evolve and the kind of creatures we will be in a million years is anyone’s guess.

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott R. Stahlecker is the author of the novel "Blind Guides, “Picking Wings Off Butterflies,” and “How to Escape Religion Guilt Free.” He is a former pastor and previous owner of several hospice agencies. “I’ve spent roughly thirty years as a freethinker. Among the many things I’ve discovered is that there’s few non-religious websites that offer optimistic discussions about free thought; about its benefits for individuals and societies, or tips on how to develop freethinking skills. Which is why I created Thinkadelics; to engage with others on a range of topics — from newsworthy posts to in-depth features — which best articulates the joys of being a freethinker.” You can read more about the author here.

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