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Is intelligence an inevitable step in evolution?

More and more we are redefining what intelligence means to us and finding more examples of it in the animal kingdom. We can only speculate, but do you think that there have been intelligent animals on the level of dolphins, crows, elephants, squids, etc. that have come and gone in some of the many mass extinctions in ages past? In other words, what is your opinion about the inevitability of intelligence appearing through the process of evolution in many animals, even some that died off in mass extinction(s), and how does this intelligence relate to the types of intelligence humans seem to (occasionally) possess and/or exhibit? What does this mean to our picture of human superiority?



http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1335227/animal-intelligence G

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    Feb 26 2014: Intelligence is a product of experience: therefore should accumulate with time. Our combined intelligence is also a factor of population, so the cumulative effects of time & population growth give us the abilities we have today.
    A few thousand years ago we had some smart individuals building pyramids.
    There is no reason to suspect that today's individuals are any smarter than the pyramid builders, in fact our accumulated smarts would be struggling to build a pyramid today. We only have records for these few thousand years, but there is no reason to suspect any evolutionary adaptions within our brain. To go earlier is to guess and speculate, I'll leave that to others.

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      Feb 28 2014: 59,000 BC Y-Chromosome Adam ... ...
      50,000 BC Colonisation of Australia. ... ...
      35,000 BC first cave paintings. ... ...
      30,000 BC Neanderthals die out.
      25,000 BC Oldest arrow heads discovered in Africa.
      10,000 BC Domestication of the dog. First pottery made in the Jamon period of Japan. ... ...
      8075 BC First sighting posts establish at Stonehenge. ...
      8000 BC First known fortified city - Jericho. Link
      8000 BC Mammoths go extinct on the Siberian mainland. ... ...
      7500 BC Agriculture begins. ... ...
      5000 BC Earliest known writing. (Balkan-Danube Script) ... ...
      3300 BC Sumerians arrive in Sumer. The earliest continuous writing known: receipt on clay tablet. Tablet
      3200 BC Newgrange complex was built in Ireland. link
      3150 BC Some evidence of Comet impact known as a world flood. ... ...
      3020 BC Henge is started at Stonehenge. ...
      3000 BC Bronze Age begins ... ...
      2700 BC First ziggurat is built in Iraq. ...
      2650 BC First pyramid of Djoser is built at Saqqara in Egypt ...
      2638 BC Khufu becomes king of Two Lands of Egypt. Pyramid of Khufu was built ...
      2600 BC First large temple mounds are built in Peru ... ...
      2570 BC Great Pyramid of Giza completed.
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      Feb 28 2014: RE: there is no reason to suspect any evolutionary adaptions within our brain.

      (why do people make such unknowing statements?)

      Microcephalin, a gene regulating brain size, continues to evolve adaptively in humans.

      The gene Microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size and has evolved under strong positive selection in the human evolutionary lineage. We show that one genetic variant of Microcephalin in modern humans, which arose approximately 37,000 years ago, increased in frequency too rapidly to be compatible with neutral drift. This indicates that it has spread under strong positive selection, although the exact nature of the selection is unknown. The finding that an important brain gene has continued to evolve adaptively in anatomically modern humans suggests the ongoing evolutionary plasticity of the human brain. It also makes Microcephalin an attractive candidate locus for studying the genetics of human variation in brain-related phenotypes.

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        Feb 28 2014: Given the diversity of brain size among the existing world population; it will come as a shock for many to hear that intelligence is related the size of their bonce.

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          Feb 28 2014: This is deflecting the point that research supports that we continue to evolve,
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        • Mar 2 2014: I've seen the "Dog's Decoded" a number if times, it's a great documentary that speaks to the amazing plasticity of dogs and the profound impact they had on our survival and our evolution as well. Another good documentary is "A Murder of Crows" it talks about the intelligence, problem solving capability, and tool use of certain crows. Surely there is some form or level of abstract thought going on when solving a two part puzzle to obtain food.

          Edit: the whole film is great, but if you have 5min you can YouTube "a murder of crows" and skip to minute 15. It shows some toolmaking and problem solving that seem to me to be on par with some chimps.
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  • Feb 25 2014: The point is we're missing tht point of the debate here. Yes. Intelligence is definitely inevitable.
    You can see throughout the course of evolution, how the human species has consistently gotten better, in terms of technology, science, understanding of nature (the abuse and preservation of it) and so on.
    From the CRT TVs, to the palmtops, we have continuously evolved. Evolution in itself means growing into a better version of oneself.
    So, I feel eventually we will evolve into a more superior, intellectual race than we are now as is perceivable throughout the course of history.
    We are now intelligent enough to create technology and use it for our comfort only. We will soon be smart enough to actually do this in accordance with the preservation of our natural habitats and systems too, reaching a point where technology is hand-in-hand with the consistent betterment of nature.
    • Feb 25 2014: Thanks for your post, your last sentence is definitely a worthy goal to set our sights on.
    • Feb 25 2014: We are going to achieve harmony by spreading ideas amongst the brains we have already got, not by evolving physically.
  • Feb 25 2014: Jacob

    An interesting question. I would argue that the evolution of an ecosystem tends towards complexity if there is an energy surplus. Complexity may express itself as intelligence, but not as a necessity. Evolution had been going on for a very, very long time before mammals came along. I mention mammals as they have such an advantage in intelligence. Intelligence is varied in all species, but the ratio of brain size to body size is an important one. We have a rough fossil record of this ratio, and it is not favorable to the possibility of brilliant brontosaurs, (though it is not impossible).

    As to the similarity of animal intelligence I would assert that animals use theirs for the same ends, and with the same motives as ourselves. Otters play for the same reasons you do, wolves hunt in organized packs in order to increase their individual share, beta baboons connive to acquire female company, apes use tools to acquire food, etc... This leads me to the opinion that we are little different in method from other animals of intelligence, though we are vastly more efficient.

  • Feb 24 2014: Not at all. Think of termites and ants. They have been around for hundreds of thousands of years just doing their thing. Then there is that ancient fish they discovered still in the ocean a while back. If a species is successful they will remain as they are although offshoots may evolve, The species that successfully react to change evolve. If change comes too fast, the species simply dies out. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems whether its a stick to fish out termites or cooperating with friends to defeat enemies.
    Are humans different Perhaps but I believe motivation is a necessary element..
    • Feb 24 2014: How we define intelligence is part of why I started this conversation. "Cooperating with friends to defeat enemies" is something that ants certainly do and termites have been described as having "natural/scientific swarm intelligence system" and yet most of us don't view them as intelligent creatures or disregard the types of intelligence they exhibit as being inferior. I am curious about why some creatures, like sharks, seem to have either stopped evolving or evolve at an extremely slow rate.

      • Feb 24 2014: Intelligence is the ability to build internal pictures: pictures of the external environment, then pictures of the organism that is doing the picture building, then imaginary pictures of what the external environment could be like, and then the ability to make a decision that stimulates the nervous system to either fight or flight or devour or show off or have sex. Humans do this. Sharks do this. Bacteria don't do this.
        • Feb 24 2014: I don't think that's(abstract thought) the only definition of intelligence though. At least not anymore, it seems we are broadening our definition of the forms intelligence can take, and rightfully so in my opinion.
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          Feb 27 2014: I believe that definition of intelligence is a personal one to you. In the years of study in my field I've never encountered a definition of intelligence such as yours until now. And even then, let's say your right that your intelligence IS 'intelligence' then you are confused again right off the bat. As there is no scientific proof yet that I, you, or anybody else in that matter has the ability to form 'internal pictures'. Then there is no proof at all that by your definition, anybody is intelligent. If we have the technology to record and test these 'internal pictures' then imagine the technology and knowledge to be gained from that!. The best we can do for now is picture which areas of the brain are stimulated or not. But we cannot see per se what those 'internal pictures' are. Also, might I ask, do you have the ability to turn into a shark in order for you to draw the conclusion that sharks 'do this'?
      • Feb 24 2014: Evolution is mutation. The goal of any organism is to self-replicate. Not mutate. The goal is not to evolve. The goal of intelligence is to self-replicate. Sharks and humans self-replicate. Sharks and humans are intelligent.
        • Feb 24 2014: You went right over my head with that one brother.
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          Feb 27 2014: You need to restate your propositions and conclusions in a clearer and a more orderly manner sir.
      • Feb 24 2014: What puts us humans at the top of the food chain? Our physical bodies? Our intelligence? Something else?
        • Feb 24 2014: Yes to all three I guess. Physical bodies (walking upright and opposable thumbs), intelligence (abstract thought, problem solving, and communication), something else (many things actually including chance and luck).
      • Feb 24 2014: Have sharks stopped evolving because they are perfect? Because no mutation can possibly be fitter?
        • Feb 24 2014: Im not sure its possible to stop evolving completely, just to evolve slowly and gradually.
      • Feb 24 2014: What is evolution?
        • Feb 24 2014: Heres a few definitions from the old intraweb.

          Evolution is the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successivegenerations

          the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.synonyms:Darwinism, natural selection More2.

          the gradual development of something, esp. from a simple to a more complex form."the forms of written languages undergo constant evolution"synonyms:development,advancement, growth,rise, progress, expansion,
        • Feb 24 2014: : a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations ;

          Here's another
  • Feb 22 2014: Evolution develops intelligence where it both serves as an advantage, and the random mutation occurs. Its no more or less natural then any other evolutionary process. Its also not always an advantage (a more capable brain usually requires a greater investment of energy).

    As for our role in the web of life, no such thing as far as I'm aware. Role indicates purpose, and purpose necessitates intelligent design.
    • Feb 22 2014: I don't think I expressed myself as clearly as I should have. I didn't mean that evolution has some kind of intelligence, I was asking if it was possible if intelligent animals on level of today's crows, dolphins, etc.came about during any of the times before the last mass extinction. If given a long enough time between mass extinctions, some form of what we consider intelligence to be, would be inevitable.

      Besides humans, is there another animal whose intelligence hasn't been a benefit? I say besides humans because I'm not sure we will survive as a species longer because of our intelligence or become extinct sooner because of it.

      No point in arguing semantics, but by role I didn't mean purpose, I meant how we fit into the biosphere.
      • Feb 22 2014: There might have been animals as intelligent as say, crows in years past that have since gone extinct. If they did exist however, it was likely fairly recent. As a general trend, animals tend to get more clever the more recent they are as brain architecture improves with the generations, with "warm blooded" animals much more so then their "cold blooded" counterparts (mostly because of the increased energy usage of a better brain--for the same brain, a warm blooded creature which spends a lot of energy anyway may see a 10% rise in energy consumption while a cold blooded one may see 50%, with the numbers made up on the spot and in no way exact).
        It also helps that warm blooded animals are much more widespread then they were, say, 100 million years ago.

        As for the second question, I've already partially answered it, but a brain wouldn't be useful if it takes up more energy then its worth. For some herbivore that has to do nothing but eat grass and run when a predator shows up, being clever is mostly a waste of resources. A scavenger that has to get creative to find its meal on the other hand, may well churn an energetic profit. Predators are in general terms, usually smarter then their preferred prey, animals with a varied diet are often more intelligent, and being an alpha predator is actually detrimental compared to the beta. Again though, this is all very general, and there is no shortage of exceptions.

        As for our role in the biosphere, what's our role in anything? The best answer seems to be "whatever you want it to be". Barring any belief in the supernatural, there is no one telling you what your role in the biosphere is.
  • Feb 27 2014: No. I don't have the ability to turn into a shark.
  • Feb 25 2014: Are we as clever as we like to think? If we were around during the last mass-extinction then would we be extinct now too?
    • Feb 25 2014: I think when we are running on all cylinders we are extremely clever, but I don't know if that would be enough to survive a mass extinction or whatever catastophic event thay caused a mass extinction. Thats why I added luck to the list of why we were at the top of the food chain (web). We're lucky that we've had a relatively stable environment to evolve in.
  • Feb 24 2014: Is the world not perfect because our intelligence isn't perfect?
    • Feb 24 2014: I think the world is just fine, and will continue to go on with or without us. Our societies are imperfect, without question, maybe not because our intelligence is imperfect, but because our utilization of its potential is has been imperfect. We have all the tools to build whatever kind of civilization we want, but we are distracted by fleeting pleasures, misguided by fear based hatred, and eaten up with the societal cancer that is greed. Sorry, got a little intense there. Ha ha
  • Feb 24 2014: What types of intelligence do humans seem to occasionally possess and occasionally exhibit?
    • Feb 24 2014: From wikipedia:
      Human intelligence is the intellectual capacity of humans, which is characterized by perception,consciousness, self-awareness, andvolition. Through their intelligence, humans possess the cognitiveabilities to learn, form concepts,understand, apply logic, and reason, including the capacities to recognize patterns, comprehend ideas, plan,problem solve, make decisions,retaining, and use language tocommunicate. Intelligence enables humans to experience and think.

      Which all sounds great but we also have the ability to act thoughtlessly, to self deceive instead of perceive, to act without logic or reason. To fail to recognize patterns, comprehend ideas, etc. We are capable of a lot but I said (occasionally) because as often as not we don't live up to our full potential as individuals or as a species.
      • Feb 24 2014: It is boring at the top of the food chain.
        • Feb 24 2014: Ha we've come full circle. Man the only thing I truly regret in my life is the time I wasted being bored. There are an almost infinite number of things we can do with our lives and there's not enough time in the day to be bored. Be constructive with the time you have, or destructive if thats the path you choose, just don't be wasteful with it.
      • Feb 24 2014: Don't be telling people to be destructive in their spare time you doughnut!
        • Feb 24 2014: Ha ha, heyi don't advise it but you gotta choose your own path brother. I've had to come to a point where I balance between the two. I have to feed both wolves.
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    Feb 23 2014: When it comes to collective collaborative co-operative "intelligence", it sometimes looks like animals are way ahead of us - ants for example.
    Co-operative "intelligence" for the greater good is also demonstrated by humans in many innovative and compassionate ways, but this type of intelligence does not yet seem to have reached our leaders. Perhaps this is because they are still at war with themselves, and less evolved than many exemplars on the ground of everyday life.
  • Feb 23 2014: "I  read a few of your other posts, you seem bored. What's the solution to humanity's boredom."

    Talk about it.
    • Feb 23 2014: Thats what we're here for, brother. Let's talk about it. Tell me about humanity's boredom. I don't guess I see the connection between boredom and war mongering or feeling compassion.
      • Feb 23 2014: War is one of the destructive things and compassion is one of the creative things we do in our spare time after we have filled our bellies and got warm by the fire.
        • Feb 23 2014: I would have guessed greed, fear, and/or meglomania as the cause for most wars. I see compassion is just the recognition of the life in another creature. A feeling of similarity if not connectedness.
  • Feb 23 2014: If intelligence is not natural, then what artificial means created ours?
    • Feb 23 2014: I should have said "inevitable" instead of "natural" , its a better fit for what I meant.
  • Feb 23 2014: Intelligence. Animals. Evolution. Extinction. Humans. Ask me a question containing those 5 words, please.
    • Feb 23 2014: What is your opinion about the inevitability of intelligence appearing through the process of evolution in many animals, even some that died off in mass extinction(s), and how does this intelligence relate to the types of intelligence humans seem to (occasionally) possess and/or exhibit?
      • Feb 23 2014: Humans and animals and insects and worms are the result of a single molecule that self-replicated about 4 billion years ago but the self-replication process was a bit sloppy so the replicas weren't exact replicas and some of the changes included the ability to build internal pictures of the external environment which helped the molecules to self-replicate even more, even when the atmosphere or temperature of the external environment was hostile - even when there were predators! Humans are the apex predator. It is boring at the top of the food chain. War and compassion and art are symptoms of boredom, not intelligence.
        • Feb 23 2014: I read a few of your other posts, you seem bored. What's the solution to humanity's boredom.
  • Feb 23 2014: Maybe it is. But then evolution, in the official version, does not possess any kind of "natural step" since it is supposed to happen through random naturally selected mutations within a genome. In other words its all an accident although the solidification of it once it happens is not. Certainly the development of intelligence enables primates, which are not well armed or possess specialised natural instruments, to create their own instruments which can fulfil a task to aid their survival.
    • Feb 23 2014: Is it possible that the inclination towards sophistication and intricate complexity make intelligence of some form or another more likely, the effect of a diverse ecosystem?
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    Feb 22 2014: Jacob,
    I have read that hunting practices of predator dinosaurs hunting in highly skilled formations with seemingly complex communications to bring down their prey. That was 70 million years ago. We have seen wolf packs work elk herds really smartly, and we have seen sea otters use rocks as tools to break open oyster shells.
    Is this intelligence a step in evolution and hold implication for humans?


    As I see it, every generation is dumbing down from the previous generation. One day, I see dogs keeping us as pets.
    • Feb 23 2014: Ha! I guess I cant disagree to much about the state of human intelligence, but then these TED conversations are the only social aspect of my life, not much of a people peraon. As a matter of fact the implication of iIntelligence in the animal kingdom seems to me to be that (though we are capable of very beautiful things) we are not so special in the grand scheme of things and we could stand to have a slice of humble pie. This world is not ours to dominate and recklessly abuse precisely because we all just a link in the web.
  • Feb 22 2014: Let's hope so it may be the only way to overcome the biases handed down through he ages, but hopefully conscious evolution will speed up the process. I'd certainly love to learn more.
    • Feb 22 2014: You'll have to check out some of the bonobos. They seem to have some stuff figured out a little better than we do ha ha.
      • Feb 22 2014: Thanks. Yes I think most of nature has things figured out better than we do. Thinking has become a curse in many cases. What purpose do the negative aspects of thinking serve?
  • Feb 22 2014: Intelligence is the natural phenomenon of evolution, As the evolution happening, more and more information are adding with your experiences. Evolution simply means "Evolved through practical natural experiences". There is no as such artificial experience which you can count in evolution. Human is in evolution but machines are not the direct part of evolution.
    Evolution is a state of imperfection which is going towards a state" to attain perfection"
    Divine is perfect so there is no evolution there, human is a state of imperfection till the time it doesn't becomes divine so it is imperfect till that moment.
    Religions are imperfect so there are evolution, there are various theories.
    divine is one, with no theory, just with practicality.
    • Feb 22 2014: You are aiming way over my head I'm afraid. I was really talking mote about the intelligence we are identifying in animals, not humans. Thank you for your response, ill have to let all that soak in for awhile.
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    Feb 22 2014: You must be a really smart person. I've always felt that way about people from Texas.

    But then again, what happened with Ted Cruz? LBJ was smart. George W. was smart. Lotsa' people from Texas have made really smart politicians. Lotsa' people have made really strong leaders. But Ted Cruz?

    I worry about that one!

    Intelligence is a natural step in evolution. And really smart people (and animals) are more successful than not-so-smart ones! Same story with hands. Humans (as primates) are the first to have both an opposable thumb and a brain big enough to make it work. They say that raccoons are evolving along the same lines and they are likely to replace us (if we ever, either abandon planet earth, or destroy ourselves totally).

    But Ted Cruz? He doesn't engender much optimism for me in the future!
    • Feb 22 2014: I'm not and I haven't always felt that way about my fellow texans, ha ha, ol cruz is a fine example, thank you for your overestimation though. It seems like it would be somewhat inevitable, not "ego" of course, but some level of intelligence seems like a natural stepping stone.