Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


Unlikely intelligence

Originally uploaded by [Soren]

The Independent reports that professor Conway Morris has claimed that “alien biospheres will be strikingly similar to the terrestrial equivalent and that in such biospheres intelligence will inevitably emerge”.

From statements such as this one, one would have thought that intelligence had developed many times during the history of this planet.

For instance, it’s reasonable to assume that life on planets with similar gravity and air density will have quadrupeds, bipeds and flying animals, and that eyes and ears and brains are all likely to develop.

Just think about how similar the body shapes of fish, dolphins and ichthyosaurs are, although they have very different origins.

However, it doesn’t seem to be the case that human-level intelligence has ever developed before on Earth.

This makes me wonder whether there’s something about high intelligence that makes it almost impossible as an evolutionary strategy.

I think I read somewhere that there is genetic evidence that the human race almost died out before it really got started (cannot find the link just now), so although we were eventually very successful, it was hard to get there.

Another way of looking at it is that there has only been human-level intelligence for approximately 100,000 years out of the past 500,000,000 years (the time of the Cambrian explosion), or 0.02% of the time.

I wish somebody could explain to me why high intelligence never appeared before. Surely evolution could have produced it many times, and much sooner, if only it had been a successful evolutionary strategy.

One thought on “Unlikely intelligence

  • I’d bet that human-level intelligence has emerged many times during the course of Earth’s history; indeed, super-human levels of intelligence would not be surprising; and I would not even be (very) surprised to find instances of such on Earth today. High-level intelligence need not look at all like ours (and with our yet limited understanding of intelligence, we might not recognise it), nor lead to technological changes like those of Homo Erectus/Sapiens/etc.
    To add to this uncertainty, we would even have a hard time detecting traces of technological changes (like buildings or landscape changes or gadgets, for instance), since it would take fewer than 100M years for almost all land area to have been churned and grinded into anonymity. Forest reclamation is very fast and would consume most of our big cities within just a few millenia. Fossils would be found after 100M years (of us or of cars, say) but only very few; far fewer than those of dinosaurs, say. And this is disregarding the majority of life-forms to date, namely those in the ocean.

    PS: Very nice blog, btw.!


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