What will ET look like when we meet him/her/it?

Posts tagged ‘Neuroscience and intelligence’

Cooking makes us weak…or something like that

Origins of Intelligence: the 1st post

The evolution of any trait is not a straight path.  Sometimes certain traits are selected for; sometimes they become less advantageous.  Sometimes selection for otherwise advantageous traits is obscured by selection against related traits.  As such we cannot trace exactly what made us intelligent.  Intelligence in this case I’ll define as self-awareness, the ability of the organism to plan, and the ability of the organism to act in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.  I’ll accept other definitions in the comment section.

The use of tools has been one of our most successful adaptations.  From cooking fires to computers, tools have changed the face of the earth, space, and even the structure of our bones.  Richard Wrangham has proposed that cooking food made the food softer, allowing pre-humans to evolve smaller, less robust jawbones.  Smaller jawbones meant that there were fewer constraints on the size of our head and we could then evolve large brains.  However, some might assume that a larger brain means more intelligence.  This is not the case as several studies have disproven the link between brain size and intelligence.

Why then did I mention this research?  It could be that there is a minimum brain size, a threshold that must be crossed before intelligence can evolve.  That threshold would be the minimum size at which a certain number of neurons could be packed into the given space.  Beyond that minimum, brain size would be irrelevant. I do not think this is likely though.  The key point is that we were already using tools before this shift in brain size.  Tool use does not relate to self-awareness but it probably relates to the ability to plan.  Intelligence was already happening before this particular shift in brain size.  The important question then becomes what other features made us capable of using tools?

Research has been done showing that after about a page of internet reading, people tend to get bored.  I am not even close to being done with the origins of intelligence, but I don’t want to bore you so the rest will have to wait for the next blog post!