View Full Version : Evolution convert, but...
09-24-1999, 11:11 AM
I have to say, since reading posts on this site and further investigating, I've all but abandoned my creationism beliefs. I saw creationism for what it was: trying to shoehorn science to fit what the Bible said (or what we think it says).
However, one thing still puzzles me. How does evolution explain how much smarter humans are from animals we evolved from? We developed art, music, physics, politics, engineering, calculus, philosophy, irrational numbers, cost accounting, and, yes, religion.
Where did we get all this from? I'm not interested in a creation/evolution debate, nor am I inferring anything from that question (gee, we're smart: must be because God created us).
I have been very impressed with evolution answers here and I want to hear what they say.
"It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument" - William McAdoo
09-24-1999, 11:24 AM
It was an accident. ;)
The general theory goes that an early ape-like creature began walking upright. This freed up the hands to carry things and to use more "found" tools. At some point, an adaptation allowed for a larger brain and tool using became tool making and tool inventing. Whatever process had become engaged to enlarge the brain capacity, (including earlier births to prevent big-brained babies from ripping their mothers in two and quite a few other modifications), continued as the brain got larger and took on more tasks. The tool-inventing animal had a lot more evolutionary success than its tool-using forebears and continued to develop. At some point, all that brain development led to further uses (e.g., language) and, eventually, (with much bitter debate as to how) consciousness.
Dr. F should be by to correct me soon.
09-24-1999, 11:33 AM
"...irrational numbers, cost accounting, and, yes, religion." ?? Well, I'd consider the first two of those as synonymous; there are other posters who would equate the first and third! ;)
It's my understanding that greater brain capacity, used for better interpretation of sensory cues, was a survival characteristic among plains-dwelling omnivorous hominids. An upright stance and the development of forelimbs into hands was a second pro-brain enlargement factor. ("See that antelope? Good eating if we can run it down. See that leopard? Avoid it, or we're the 'good eating.'")
In the Neolithic, specialization developed, where you would spend your time raising cattle, I would raise wheat, Jodi would grind it and produce bread, Phil would produce leather goods from the hides of the cattle you slaughtered, Gaudere would harvest grapes from the vines in the forest (and eventually decide to grow them on trellises), etc. By trading amongst ourselves, each could have meat, bread, leatherwear, and wine. Somewhere down the line DavidB came up with the concept that if one tanned hide is worth three bunches of grapes, and Jodi has two hides to trade but Gaudy only five bottles of grapes, Gaudy should give Jodi a token redeemable for a bunch of grapes when her next vine ripens. From there it was all downhill to international conglomerates. Meanwhile Contestant #3 has been observing the sky, since we all need to know when it's likely to rain, and since his knowledge is urgent to us, we've been providing him with hides, wine, and so on to keep him watching instead of out providing for himself.
The ability to create abstract concepts seems to come fairly early in a child's cognitive development. Some students of animal behavior suggest that some of the "higher" animals can abstract at some level. Once you've gotten this ability, it's all downhill to SDMB Great Debates and the lesser pinnacles of human achievement.
09-24-1999, 11:34 AM
Tom posted just as I was posting. God, Tom, don't bring altricial infants into this just yet!! :D
09-24-1999, 02:14 PM
It takes a lot of brainpower to survive as a bipedial ape in a world full of wolves, buffalo, and glaciers.
I am reserving the right to put this statement in my .sig file.
09-24-1999, 04:09 PM
The art, philosophy, etc. come from underutilized, relatively high intelligence with spare time to spend; as DrFidelius points out, we needed lots of intelligence and lots of time to survive under previous conditions, but once culture advanced sufficiently to remove some of those pressures, we had "extra" of both.
But why develop "more" intelligence in the first place? Selective pressure (or: Law of the Jungle) - the smarter survived better than the dumber, and eventually the survivors were all smarter.
Why not stay where we (or our ancestors) were, and where we were already well-adapted? Well, actually, different groups "tried out" each strategy. The ones who stayed, remain chimps - or their descendants BECAME chimps. The ones who left and were pressured by the competition to develop, became us.
Why, if we have "extra" intelligence, don't we get dumber now? There'd be no advantage to it (or, we would if there was an advantage to it). It takes a certain intelligence to learn the hard-fought lessons of the past (read: retain and pass on culture); we need to be smart, it's just that we don't need that intelligence every waking moment (but woe to those who don't make it over the bar). Further, while the wolves no longer pressure us to get smarter, our brethren do. You "want" to get dumber? Fine - and the world will likely belong to MY descendants (or to someone even smarter than me).
Ah, now we get to the real question: if smarter is better, why don't all the animals develop more intelligence? Now THAT could be complicated.
1) As Tomndebb pointed out, many changes must take place, slowly, over time. You can't bear a baby with a double-size head, even if such a drastic mutation was possible, and expect to survive. 2) Smarter isn't NECESSARILY better; it just was for us. For some animals, smaller/larger/faster/slower/better camouflaged/meaner/more cooperative/more prolific is better. You can't have it all. Sure, smarter looks better NOW; but ask the cockroaches after the next World War... 3) Even if an adaptation looks better in theory, and the mutations are occurring in that direction, there's still that darn selective pressure... In pre-human history, ONE of the major changes we had to go through was becoming omnivorous - really omnivorous, not just the occasional bug snack. At one point we ate nuts and fruits and berries, and spent every waking hour finding them. The brain is an EXPENSIVE organ - it needs lots of nourishment, and it can't go very long without it. In them times, we simply didn't have the calories to support a bigger brain, so it wasn't possible - and that still applies to most (all?) animals now. Once we figured out how to get - and digest - a fairly constant, fatty meat diet, then the calories became available, and the bigger-brain changes became supportable.
Second-lastly, don't forget the issues of - for lack of a better word - perspective, and of apparent (but false) significance. "We" are smarter/more widespread/more numerous largely through luck and through competition over time - and because we were born as we are. If you were a lion, would you be asking (if you could), "Why are my fangs and claws bigger?" If a cheetah, "Why am I faster? It sure is strange that everything is slower than me - speed is such an important thing, how come the other animals don't have it? ESPECIALLY those two-legged things with the pointy sticks." I doubt it. It's kind of similar to asking, "Why was I born in the USofA, the monetarily richest nation on Earth?" Answer: NOT because God chose you or me to have an easier life than others - but because SOMEONE had to be born here, and it's natural for WHOMEVER it was to then ask why, and to suspect that it wasn't an accident. But it was. Why did I marry the person who is my wife? Isn't it a huge coincidence that we met? From one perspective, yes, sure. From another, from the perspective of process, not at all. I was likely to marry SOMEONE, and just about anyone I could have married would have been someone I met without expecting it. Coincidence? No. Normal human process. NO MATTER WHOM I MARRIED, I would likely ask, "Why her? How was it that we could meet?" And if EVERYONE falls into that category, then there's nothing unusual about, however much it might seem so in our daily, cause-and-effect world.
Why are humans smarter? 'Cause we are, for all the reasons given plus a lot more besides. If we weren't, or if you weren't human, you couldn't ask the question - but that wouldn't mean you were "supposed to be" something else. You - or we - just would be what we are.
And lastly, though this isn't exactly what your question was: don't be so sure ALL other animals are all that much less intelligent than us now. There are a number of species who may well, on the whole, be as smart if not smarter than the stupidest among us. The average human is more intelligent than we have so far been able to PERCEIVE among other animals - but our definition of intelligence, and our ability to better understand others, is evolving.
09-24-1999, 04:49 PM
Now now, wolves' reputation for preying on humans is largely undeserved.
Not that I'd let my daughter marry one, you understand.
09-25-1999, 12:43 AM
Let's see, about six million years of plains-dwelling chimps with long legs. Selective pressure enhances in-group communication skills. Eventually some of these chimps got good enough at communicating and flexible enough at dealing with different situations that they left Africa, killed all their near relatives, and infested every continent they could reach. Some groups found out that if they encourage the plants they liked to eat they wouldn't have to keep wandering around to find enough food. Once they settled in, they found that the brains they had developed to take care of problem like how to steal carrion from jackals and what plants have edible parts at what time of year were over-engineered for sitting still and watching barley grow. Boredom led them to tell stories about the things they saw and dreamed, and eventually they had enough stories to be called a culture.
It takes a lot of brainpower to survive as a bipedial ape in a world full of wolves, buffalo, and glaciers. That brainpower was available for other things once the apes figured out how to cheat and live an easy life.
09-28-1999, 06:50 PM
Yeah, chalk that one down to my thoughtless usage of an old canard (you know, like "wolves at the door").
My understanding is that, in North America at least, wolves' reputation for preying on humans is entirely UNdeserved. I have heard in a number of contexts that there has *never* been a recorded instance of a healthy, non-cornered wolf attacking humans in North America. Or is that inaccurate?
09-28-1999, 07:18 PM
Well, that was the impression I got from reading Never Cry Wolf, anyway.
On the subject of the main OP topic, though, Dr. Fidelius wrote:
Eventually some of these chimps got good enough at communicating and flexible enough at dealing with different situations that they left Africa, killed all their near relatives, and infested every continent they could reach.
Only problem with this model is that humans radiated out of Africa at least twice. And the products of that earlier emigration -- Java Man, Peking Man, Neanderthal, etc. (I hope I'm not mixing epochs here) -- all died out or were absorbed by the later emigration some 30-40 thousand years ago.
All that's left of genus Homo today are the descendants of Cro-Magnon, who stayed in Africa for over 100,000 years longer than their cousins.
Visit the Internet Stellar Database at www.stellar-database.com (http://www.stellar-database.com)
09-29-1999, 05:44 AM
Tracer...agreed. IF you subscribe to the "Out of Africa" school of paleoanthropologists. There is strong support among theorists, with evidence being accrued, primarily by Alan Thorne of Australia, for the "Multiregional" school, where H. sapiens sapiens evolved several times (current WAG: three) from close relatives (H. sapiens heidelbergensis or near relative) with admixture of gene pools.
The point is still valid that H. erectus was all over the Old World, and apparently having an impact on the fauna. There were numerous extinctions in the period 300,000-100,000 B.P. Avoiding a post hoc fallacy, it still strains coincidence to suggest that the spread of hominids was not related.)
09-29-1999, 03:50 PM
CK, yourcomment reminds me of the bit from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where we thought we were superior to the dolphins because we'd invented the wheel, New York, wars, and the like; meanwhile, the dolphins thought they were superior to us, for precisely the same reasons.
On another note, there's been some mention in this thread about the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmer/city-dwellers. On this subject, I recommend Jared Diamond's excellent book, Guns, Germs, and Steel .
09-29-1999, 04:14 PM
The early humans and pre-humans not only had capacity for intelligence, but they also had the opposable thumb, and thus the ability to make and use tools. IMHO, it was that combination that gave us the edge.
I couldn't agree more. Tell me, when was the last time you saw a dolphin hitchhiking?
09-30-1999, 12:25 AM
How come other animals never evolved this level of intelligence?
Yes, I know dolphins recognize sounds and gorillas know sign language and dogs salivate to bells... but nothing realistically close to humans.
"It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument" - William McAdoo
09-30-1999, 12:32 AM
How come other animals never evolved the flight abilities of a falcon?
How come other animals never evolved the breath-holding ability of a whale?
How come other animals never evolved the fecundity of an aphid?
How come other animals never evolved the length of a giraffe's neck?
How come other animals never evolved the flexible lip of an elephant?
How come other animals never evolved the toxins of pufferfish?
Every organism has something that it does well enough to survive. Some creatures have exaggerated one talent so far that they stand out from the field. Just because a trick works for one lineage does not put an obligation on any other lineage to copy that trick.
C K Dexter Haven
09-30-1999, 12:38 AM
The development of intelligence alone in a species would probably NOT be sufficient as a survival trait. The early humans and pre-humans not only had capacity for intelligence, but they also had the opposable thumb, and thus the ability to make and use tools. IMHO, it was that combination that gave us the edge.
A super-intelligent dolphin is still stuck with an inability to make tools or to adapt the environment (hard to make fire underwater.) Yes, they could develop language and communication and group-fighting/hunting techniques that would be a significant advantage. But without tool-making for agriculuture, weapons, clothes, and similar, they can't rise above their environment.
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