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The Origins and Evolution of Intelligence
July 24, 2006 10:33 PM   Subscribe

The origins and evolution of human intelligence: parasitic insects? viruses? mushrooms? neural darwinism? foraging? machiavellian competition? emergence? or something else?
posted by MetaMonkey (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the only way we're ever going to develop a theory of developmental consciousness is when we realize, probably after the fact, that we've created one accidentally.
posted by slatternus at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'll have one of each, please.
posted by homunculus at 11:22 PM on July 24, 2006


What? No bicameral mind or aquatic apes?
posted by sourwookie at 12:15 AM on July 25, 2006


There is really no way to ever know. I mean clearly there is no way to test these hypotheses.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 AM on July 25, 2006


My vote is for the mushrooms.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:22 AM on July 25, 2006


Judging by just how messy the mind is, it was probably a smattering of everything.
posted by harpooner at 2:54 AM on July 25, 2006


The simplest is the likeliest. A brain is a body part, like a hand or a tail or an eye, and the brain's evolution (and the evolution of its parts and the parts of its parts and so on) was determined by the advantages various tiny incremental brain changes offered. Simple stuff.

It doesn't seem to me that being stoned (the mushroom theory) or being genetically combined with a bug (the ear parasite theory) offers any necessary additions to standard, simple evolution. They just make things more complicated. Evolution + an bug in the ear. Evolution + a stoner's "wouldn't it be cool" theory.

And the theory that foraging led to brain evolution is just an obvious part of normal evolution: the beast that finds the food outlives and outreproduces the beast that doesn't. Hand and eye, tail and brain.

Those are the propositions here that I've skimmed so far. Are any of the others more interesting, less loony?
posted by pracowity at 4:03 AM on July 25, 2006


something else?

I prefer the "immortal Zen master" theory.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:38 AM on July 25, 2006


mmm we're far too inefficient for the "German engineered" theory.
posted by foot at 5:57 AM on July 25, 2006


There is a little bit of crazy in that parasitic insect paper. Also, KHAAAAAAN!
posted by dammitjim at 7:19 AM on July 25, 2006


snakes
posted by nofundy at 7:25 AM on July 25, 2006


the "something else" link would make nice bookends
posted by subtle_squid at 7:39 AM on July 25, 2006


It doesn't seem to me that being stoned (the mushroom theory) or being genetically combined with a bug (the ear parasite theory) offers any necessary additions to standard, simple evolution. They just make things more complicated.

well, like it or not, certain observed realities about our biological make-up can only be explained by our being genetically "combined with bugs," though. we definitely owe a large part of our biological heritage to the intrusion of viruses and fungi. whether that means viruses somehow played a role in the emergence of consciousness is another matter completely (but to me it's an interesting question because so many of the behavioral patterns that distinguish us from other primates seem to be virus-like--for example, people often remark poetically that human cities look like outbreaks of disease. maybe there's more to those kinds of ideas than mere poetic truth.) but the problem with speculation like this is that it leads all too quickly to crazy town.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 AM on July 25, 2006


Man, that parasite one is...different. Some of it is poetic in an odd sort of way, but maybe that's just my parasite influencing me via my auditory nerve. I especially like this part:

"Mercury poisoning,
my ears odorously discharging, as I bent
to welcome my cat’s return
from a two day sojourn,
insect nymphs (no-see-ums) blew into my face
like a single whiff of fine sand.
Such en-masse infestation of a human, I learned, is quite rare."

Of course, if he's worried about parasitic infections causing schizophrenia, maybe he should lose that cat.

"‘Normal’ schizophrenia is caused by a single insect. Entering through the ear-drum as a nymph, he takes a discreet nocturnal blood meal12, becomes adult, impregnates a few host white blood cells and waits nine months for their birth (‘Whitey’ hybrids). [...] "At birth, these hybrids, ignorant of their own heritage, under the insect’s silent suggestive13 guidance, take three months musical training, then three months of speech training."

"In addition to schizophrenia, possession, overnight ‘personality change’, multiple-personality, narcolepsy, invisible rape and death, this Insect and his extensive entourage and IPcell,old,new software communication may well be the cause of numerous other maladies, paranormal phenomena, ‘memes’ and miraculous recoveries."

All your memes are belong to middle ear parasites?
posted by nTeleKy at 7:47 AM on July 25, 2006


I vote for visual acuity from sub psycho active doses of mushroom.
posted by hortense at 8:28 AM on July 25, 2006


Didn't the aquatic ape theory mention something about shellfish harvesting creating big brains?
posted by Brian B. at 8:56 AM on July 25, 2006


Evolution + a stoner's "wouldn't it be cool" theory.

You're using a pinhole-sized modern cultural conceit about "stoners" to dismiss humankind's relationship with psychoactives throughout history, and the impact of this relationship on religion, art, etc. in almost every known culture?

Maybe you should sidestep the tiny incremental brain changes in favor of larger, more thorough ones.
posted by hermitosis at 9:01 AM on July 25, 2006


saulgoodman: (but to me it's an interesting question because so many of the behavioral patterns that distinguish us from other primates seem to be virus-like--for example, people often remark poetically that human cities look like outbreaks of disease. maybe there's more to those kinds of ideas than mere poetic truth.)

In that bacterial and fungal colonies, colonial insects, sulfur vent ecosystems, and human populations are governened by very similar abstract laws regarding distance, mobility, and distribution of resources, this is not surprising.

You don't need a common genetic heritage, just a few simple rules.

hermitosis: You're using a pinhole-sized modern cultural conceit about "stoners" to dismiss humankind's relationship with psychoactives throughout history, and the impact of this relationship on religion, art, etc. in almost every known culture?

But that opens the question, from where do we get this response to psychoactive chemicals (which are not unique to humans as a species only in degree, not in kind.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2006


Oh, well that's simple: from Jesus Christ, my personal lord and savior.

Honestly, I have no suggestion that I could coherently express. Chalk it up to the mushrooms, I suppose :)
posted by hermitosis at 9:12 AM on July 25, 2006


In that bacterial and fungal colonies, colonial insects, sulfur vent ecosystems, and human populations are governened by very similar abstract laws regarding distance, mobility, and distribution of resources, this is not surprising.

Good points, KirkJobSluder. But still, why are human populations at least seemingly so much more inclined toward networking and building social infrastucture than our nearest primate relatives? Or do you think the differences between the social behavior of other primates and humans are only differences in degree that ultimately don't amount to qualitative differences? To me it seems we're almost pathologically driven to construct social infrastructure (roads, buildings, monuments) when compared to our nearest primate relatives, and other than that, there isn't much difference in our social behavior. To me it's just an interesting difference in behavior that might have some biological basis; I don't really have any grand theories here.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 AM on July 25, 2006


saulgoodman: But still, why are human populations at least seemingly so much more inclined toward networking and building social infrastucture than our nearest primate relatives? Or do you think the differences between the social behavior of other primates and humans are only differences in degree that ultimately don't amount to qualitative differences? To me it seems we're almost pathologically driven to construct social infrastructure (roads, buildings, monuments) when compared to our nearest primate relatives, and other than that, there isn't much difference in our social behavior.

Well, here I think also it is a difference of degree rather than kind. The apes are extremely social animals, with ritual cultures for defining status and alliance. They are also technologial animals.

The key difference I think is that humans continue to learn and adapt to new technology thoughout their lifespan, and have a richer vocabulary for communicating abstract concepts. We can see the roots of both of these behaviors in chimps, but not to the same degree. (And yes, for my bias I am a crazy animal rights person.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:41 AM on July 25, 2006


And is the Roman Forum and the modern shopping mall that far removed from massive communal piles of rhino shit?

I've started refering to dog walks as "taking the pup out to check his email."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:43 AM on July 25, 2006


And is the Roman Forum and the modern shopping mall that far removed from massive communal piles of rhino shit?


But why are our versions of these behaviors so hyper-developed and elaborate? Our analog to the communal pile of rhino shit is made out of massive networks of interreconnected plumbing hardware and machinery (not to mention complex systems of laws regulating their use)--what makes us take systems engineering to such radical extremes compared to our nearest biological relatives? Maybe it is just that tiny bit of genetic difference between us and our nearest kin. But to me, it seems so out of proportion somehow.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:16 PM on July 25, 2006


You're using a pinhole-sized modern cultural conceit about "stoners" to dismiss humankind's relationship with psychoactives throughout history, and the impact of this relationship on religion, art, etc. in almost every known culture?

Maybe you should sidestep the tiny incremental brain changes in favor of larger, more thorough ones.


I think you're missing the point. Unless 'mushrooms' make permanent and/or inheritable changes in the brain or gametes, their influence in human evolution is likely to be little more "make this homonid an easier target for predators temporarily".

I am not discounting their effect on culture, but that culture needs intelligence to develop and grow over generations - not the other way round.
posted by Sparx at 2:59 PM on July 25, 2006


I've started refering to dog walks as "taking the pup out to check his pee-mail."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:17 PM on July 25, 2006


Whenever I imagine the lives of proto-sapiens on the savannah I end up thinking about high school. Life is easy in Eden; the animals are tame, edibles are plentiful, weather is fair, disease has not yet come and so the band of primates becomes decadent and unsatisfied with their good fortune. They invent elaborate mating games which become more complicated with each generation. They create arbitrary tyrannies with rents and tributes. They divide themselves into tribes of association and desire. With no threat from without, the once gentle gardens of their society give way to a dangerous jungle with exotic and dangerous wildlife of its own: nerds, jocks, rebels, preppies, hippies, freaks. Some are banished from the Eden of the gentle plains and they weep for what they have lost and yet have never really known.
posted by wobh at 6:51 PM on July 25, 2006


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