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Re: Intelligence - Bad for Evolution?
by on Friday September 26, @02:59AM
learning is not bad for evolution. On an evolutionary point of view, a trait (such as learning abilities) will evolve under natural selection if: there is genetic diversity for this trait (and this was already shown long time ago in Drosophila) and if its fitness benefits outweigh its costs. We selected flies under environmental conditions which we expected could favor learning abilities (Mery&Kawecki, PNAS 2002). After several generations of selection the learning abilities of the flies increased showing that learning can be highly beneficial under this environmental conditions. Even if every generation flies had to compete with other flies, the fitness benefits of learning always outweigh the potential cost. In the recent work we present data showing that if one increases the level of competition (by reducing the amount of food available) then flies with increased learning abilities show a reduction of their competitive ability compared to standard flies (may be because flies with better learning abilities have to allocate more energy to the development of brain structures) This does not mean that learning ability is not a key to natural selection. Irrespective of the mechanism of the trade-off, this study demonstrates that to interpret differences in learning ability among populations or species one needs to compare not only its benefits, but also its costs. It is the balance between the two that will determine whether learning ability will be favoured by natural selection.
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Re: Intelligence - Bad for Evolution?
by on Friday September 26, @09:29AM

Interesting... I have never really found a good answer to a question about intelligence and evolution, perhaps you could answer it for me.

Assuming that inteligence comes in degrees, wouldn't a slight increase in speed or strength be more likely to improve the odds of survival than a slight increase in intelligence in a highly competitive environment?

Or to frame it differently, the question I have never been able to resolve is why we see intelligence as being the pinnacle of evolution rather than an "ultimate predator" taking that role. Perhaps intelligence is a survival trait because it facilitates cooperative behavior?

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  • Re: Intelligence - Bad for Evolution?
    by on Tuesday October 07, @10:31AM
    Most chance mutations, the driving force in evolution, are not beneficial. The few that give the slightest advantage to any organism in any environment are sometimes incorporated. Intelligence, as humans define the term, is rarely a factor in the vast majority of evolutionary changes. Speed and strength are two more frequent changes that you mention. There has been an "arms race" in the development of these two factors between predetors and prey for eons.

    The first hominids had a brain size 1/4 of homo sapiens. They were 3-4 feet high and had, due to climatic changes, descended from an arboreal to terrestrial environment in a short time. It is highly unlikely they could possibly evolve the speed and strength of their competition in the African savannah. The recent tiger attack on the animal trainer Roy demonstrates this point.

    Gould and Eldridge's theory on Punctate Equilibrium proposes that evolution is not alway slow as stated by Darwin. The massive increase in the size of the human brain is often given as an example that drastic and relatively short-term evolution can occur, particularly under conditions of extreme hardship. William Calvin proposes that the harsh conditions of the Ice Age was the stimulus that resulted in the rapid recent increase in human intelligence.

    Encephalization (a term used for rapid increase in brain size and, presumably, intelligence by paleontologist and anthropologist) is not new to evolution. This occured approximately 100 million years ago in Caetaceans (whales and dolphins) before its develpment in other mammals, including homo sapiens.

    Cooperative behavior is the most recent theory that intelligence has survival value. It is virtually always present in social animals (elephants, whales, dolphins, monkeys, man). This goes directly to the foundations of consciousness, particularly extended consciousness, which is essential to cognition. Several theorist from the relatively new discipline of evolutionary pschology have proposed that it is an individuals position in a group that is the driving force of conscious development. The "winner of the game" is the one that can use his or her ability to communicate (through grooming, sex, deception, alliances etc.), along with projection of long term consequences of their choices of partners with who they interact. This takes a very complex level of awareness with access to a history (in the form of memories) of previous interactions within the group.

    This is not significantly different from our corporate culture or social interactions in general.

    It is clear that the question is not one of intelligence vs. the "ultimate predator". Humans are both. Our predation extends not only to other groups who do not share our ideals or beliefs, but also to the environment.

    Neanderthals existed for over 200,000 years. Our immediate ancestors appeared about 30,000 years ago. There are many biologist who believe we may not ultimately be as successful as our extinct relatives (in terms of time before extinction). In this context, the question is not "is intelligence bad for evolution (which is entirely neutral), but if the manifestation of intelligence is an effective strategy for evolution. Evolution will continue with or without us.

    I will not go into the prognostications by Clark and Kurzweil etc. that an intelligent machine (conscious, spiritual or otherwise) will eventually replace man (who apparently will become extinct when machines realize that humans are expendable) as this is too much of a digression from the original query.

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