Human evolution in one handy gif

February 17, 2016 • 9:00 am

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 thoughts on “Human evolution in one handy gif

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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]

  1. 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! 🙂

    1. “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 🙂

    2. 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?

    3. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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:

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

    1. 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.

  3. 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

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

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