Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Higher And Higher

There's an argument that evolution naturally leads to higher intelligence. It's not widely accepted in the scientific community, but it's popular outside it. One of the problems with the argument is its chauvinism. It can only be made on planets where higher intelligence has evolved.

There's a strong, near undeniable need for people to fit their metaphysical beliefs to whatever science they happen to accept. (Perhaps this is better than the other direction, where they reject well-grounded science.) But there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in their philosophy.

Conway Morris, the "heretical" biologist from the linked article, believes

Darwin’s idea that the brain secretes mind as the liver secretes bile doesn’t work. The roots of intelligence go much deeper than we realise, and go beyond animals. Slime moulds have something we can fairly call memory.

More chauvinism? After all, don't the slime moulds, and all the stages in between them and us, argue against him?

We may marvel at our intelligence and self-awareness (and sure, it's pretty special), but if you could talk to a dog, I bet he'd be more impressed with the magic of smell. He might even say evolution was designed to bring it about.


Blogger QueensGuy said...

There's a great Bruce Sterling sci-fi novella wherein a human visits a hive civilization that has hollowed out an asteroid. The gist of it is that, in response to the human invasion, the hive triggers a buried instinct and produces a queen with conscious intelligence to deal with the threat. The premise is that conscious intelligence is not a long-term adaptive trait because it leads to selfish behavior, but is occasionally useful for dealing with invaders.

6:00 AM, September 30, 2009  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I've always assumed that the most "successful" species on earth are the bacteria, fish and insects, since they have managed to pass on their genetic code for the longest time. In fact, if humanity were to die out in the next 100,000 years, which is a possibility given our apparent susceptibility to ever more adaptable viruses, our brief 1 Million years on earth as beings with intelligence and self-awareness would look like a short-lived, evolutionary mistake.

9:52 AM, September 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course the definition what is "higher intelligence" is just as key as the definition of "successful" in the post above. Isn't ongoing survival in the same form intelligent by definition? (employing the best means to accomplish the goal defined as success)

If we learn anything from prime time sitcoms (thinking of the big bang theory here), there's smart and there's smart and some smart isn't smart at all

10:07 AM, September 30, 2009  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I suppose there are different ways to measure success. At this point in time, humans are pretty widespread and so are a "success" by that measure. Compare them to any other mammals, many of whom are on the verge of extinction. (Some say this success is due to social cooperation, not unlike the reason that insects are so successful).

But you're right--in terms of time, there's no guarantee humans will have anything like the staying power of dinosaurs. (That's why it's so ironic something outdated is called a dinosaur.)

By the way, Denver Guy, have you been watching Heroes, or have you given up?

10:09 AM, September 30, 2009  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I just watched the first two episodes of Heroes last night. I runs against how I Met Your Mother, and the rest of the family insists I record that on the DVR, so I watched it at fancast last night.

My take is actually pretty good. With the major exception of the Claire story arc, the characters they have brought back are interesting and behaving in reasonably ways. The Claire arc is annoying - she threw herself out a window, dressed in good clothes it seemed, where someone could see!!! She has taken over Peter's role as numbskull. Plus, I think it is obvious that Gretchen knows exactly who Claire is, is a plant, killed the first roommate, and will be trouble. They'll surprise me if that is not the storyline.

Peter on the other hand is much improved. Still not to bright, but acting empathetically, which fits his character. And it makes sense he would want to withdraw from all the other Heroe shenanigans.

I think the motivations of the carnies is delightfuilly obscure, and despite my better judgement, I'm becoming interested in Tracy again (made of water girl is a great superhero!) And Hiro is funny again.

lastly, the mental battle between Parkman and Sylar holds a lot of promise. I hope we don't see Mohinder again. Same for Maya and other irrational characters. Overall - I'll keep watching, though my time is short since I liked Flash Forward and anticipate liking V as well.

12:12 PM, September 30, 2009  

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