Human evolution in one handy gif

by Matthew Cobb

Here’s the branching path from then to now, covering about 3.6 billion years (not to scale). Press the arrow to watch the gif. Some of the earlier bits are somewhat guesswork, but you get the idea.

JAC: Note that this animation is misleading in that it presents our species as the culmination of evolution, which of course is not true. In that sense its progressivism is wrong. They could easily have put a squirrel or a cactus as the final step!

45 Comments

  1. Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Is it really misleading? Seems to me they’re just showing the path that led to modern humans, not implying that humans are a goal.

    • Jacob
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      I agree. I really liked that they showed other species branching off. I thought that implied nicely that we’re looking only at our branch.

      • Curt Cameron
        Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        I thought the same thing – the fact that they showed other branches beginning to head off in their own directions made me happy that they didn’t show humans as the pinnacle, just one branch among many.

        • Luis Servín
          Posted February 17, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          I think this tweet shows a very nice video depicting that and making it clear that evolution is not linear and a step process. It’s in spanish but self-explanatory.

          • W.Benson
            Posted February 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            If someone wanted to be entirely neutral, why not just show evolution as base substitutions on DNA? After all, the rest is just epiphenomena, isn`t it? [sarcasm, as usual]

      • Posted February 17, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I agree.

        • Posted February 17, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Me too.

          How could humans not be at the end of the path that leads to humans?

          /@

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 17, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

            How am I not myself?

          • Posted February 17, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

            And one shouldn’t conflate “terminus” which we (again, necessarily and tautologically) are, with “goal”.

          • Posted February 17, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

            “How could humans not be at the end of the path that leads to humans?”

            Perhaps we’ve just stepped out for lunch.

            • Merilee
              Posted February 17, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

              Speak for yourself re: being OTL🐸

              • Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

                I am probably guilty as charged.

              • merilee
                Posted February 17, 2016 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

                LOL

            • Posted February 18, 2016 at 12:27 am | Permalink

              “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” — DNA

              /@

  2. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Clearly, the last step should have been a cat.

    • merilee
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      you beat me to it!!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      No it should have been the first step where Ceiling Cat coughs up a hairball that kicks off evolution.

  3. will_ethan
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s too human-centric to say that humans ARE the culmination of evolution. Our species DID go to the moon, discover antibiotics, write “1984”, and create representative democracy. That is not nothing! 🙂

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      On the other hand, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

      • jeremyp
        Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        I think you win an Internet for that.

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Yes, just when our species is getting pumped up, you have to come along and let the air out.

    • peepuk
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      “our species DID go to the moon”

      True, but the first animals sent into space were fruit flies. The first primate in space was a Rhesus macaque, his name was Albert II. Unfortunately he didn’t return safely home (malfunctioning parachute).

      So space travel isn’t that special 🙂

    • plingar
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Humans are not the culmination of evolution. This is unfortunately a typical arrogant human claim. Humans will probably be responsible for their own demise despite antibiotics and trips to the moon etc. Will this also be not nothing?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Only if you incorrectly think evolution is synonymous with improvement.

    • Shwell Thanksh
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      If you consider a less anthropocentric measure of “culmination”, you could get a different result. Would any other species consider walking on the moon to be important?
      I don’t believe we’d come out on top if you consider most individual members currently in existence, or total biomass, for example.

  4. Michael Sternberg
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The source of this animation is Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Odyssey, 1980.
    I was pretty taken by its poetry the first time I saw it.

    http://www.openculture.com/2014/03/carl-sagan-explains-evolution-in-an-eight-minute-animation.html

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      I was thinking that too. That is shows a branching pattern is good, and i also liked the music.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Yes, this animation had a big impact on me at the time. Sketchy and crude as it was, it really helped me visualize the journey that Darwin was proposing. The beguiling Bach music probably helped to calm my inner fundamentalist who felt a bit of panic at this knowledge too! 😉 To this day, in my mind evolution happens to the tune of Partita #3.

    • Posted February 17, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and the show also includes an animation showing that many branches off happened.

  5. Joseph Stans
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Instead thye put my prom date last.

  6. Fernando
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    As *musical beef* pointed out, they’re just showing the path that led to modern humans, not implying that humans were the goal.

    This gif was taken from the original Cosmos (with Carl Sagan), episode 2, as we can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZpsVSVRsZk

    Sagan explains very briefly some of the steps that led to the humans.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Yeah, and it’s a lot better with the music too.

    • Posted February 17, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t mean to imply that they were showing humans as the goal of evolution under a misconception; my beef is only that the video could be interpreted that way, which does feed into a common misconception.

  7. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    We have lost a lot of muscle mass compared to our ancestors.

  8. Posted February 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Like many commenters, I’m afraid I have to disagree with our esteemed host PCC(E). I don’t think it’s progressive or suggests that human evolution is the culmination. It simply shows the evolution of humans, which had a given path. What’s the problem with that? It could have been of stick insects, or mushrooms, or anything. It’s of humans cos it’s about human evolution – how else could we portray it. It isn’t about ‘evolution in general’ – that would indeed be bad. Come on, PCC(E), respond to your readers! – MC

    • Posted February 17, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I did above. I do think it’s a good video, my only beef is that it can feed into a widespread misconception.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 17, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Given that Jerry and Matthew are using the same account, I’m amused that this looks like Jerry is talking to himself. And disagreeing.

  9. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    It would be anticlimactic if the gif ended up with a tapeworm.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 18, 2016 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      I dunno. They’ve figured out how to get other species to do all their work for them!

    • Posted February 18, 2016 at 12:30 am | Permalink

      … segmented worm … another segmented worm … a slightly different segmented worm … a somewhat flatter segmented worm … a tape-like segmented worm

      /@

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 18, 2016 at 1:45 am | Permalink

        Hey, annelids have been successful much longer than primates. 😀

        Would make a pretty boring gif, though…


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