It only took 3,000 years…

It sounds like a joke, but 3,000 years is really very quick indeed, in fact the fastest genetic change ever observed in humans.  What am I talking about?

In the latest issue of Science, researchers comparing the DNA genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese found that it took only a few thousand years for Tibetans to develop gene mutations that enabled them to cope better with the high altitude, low oxygen environment they live in.

This is the random sort of information that I love, because it gets me thinking about time and our perception of it.  It’s a well-known fact that some cultures are more focused on immediate results and are short-term thinkers, while others prefer the long-term view.  But which culture would think 3,000 years is ‘incredibly fast’?  Oddly enough, it is the culture of science, if I am allowed that seeming contradiction in terms.

Science has progressed at such a rapid pace in the last century – and, in fact, seems to be accelerating every decade – that it feels strange that it should also be the one that thinks of 3,000 years as being extremely fast, or that our solar system is so young.  But scientists realise something that perhaps only parents are aware of:  you can’t rush nature.  You have to let things run their course and then, when it’s over, when the kids grow up or the gene has mutated, it feels like it was all over in a flash.

Meanwhile, economists, social scientists, managers and CEOs try to rush human nature.  It’s understandable – they want to see results now, not in 3,000 years.  But the short-term results may not be predictive at all of the long-term.


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