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Jurassic Intelligence (and time-scale for evolution)
Fwded by Terry W. Colvin <email@example.com>
______________________________ Forward Header __________________________________
Subject: Jurassic Intelligence (and time-scale for evolution)
Author: SKEPTIC Discussion Group <SKEPTIC@JHUVM.HCF.JHU.EDU> at smtp
Date: 11/5/1995 9:56 PM
>>Almost all of our evolution-time was spent getting to a point from which >>we
took off, tried various complex patterns such as fish, octopi, birds,
>>dinosaurs, mammals...and we achieved intelligence, and radios, quite quickly
>>in stellar-age terms. I don't think Diamond's chapter is really on-target:
>>the evolutionary precursors of radios (or other complex technology) are
>>indeed indicated by Jurassic fossils, we call them "brains" and "eyes" and
>>stuff like that.....
Terry W. Colvin <firstname.lastname@example.org> forwards responses..
>I happen to be in the group that doesn't believe that evolution is
>progressing toward anything specific (including complex vertebrates
>with intelligence). Rather we happen to be at the tip of of one the
>branches of the "Bush of Life" (Gould's metaphor?). ...
I like the metaphor, and don't intend to dispute it. The Bush as a whole
grows in all directions; so looked at from any particular direction, it is
going thataway...at a rate which depends on available econiches and on
available genetic variability. For instance, some branches are probably
right now evolving in the direction of lesser intelligence, because a
brain is a metabolically expensive sort of object in many ways. Just look
at the National Committee of whichever party you're against...either of
them if you're not a US ciizen. Still, the Bush (no, not George) tends to
grow eye-bearing branches, legged branches, winged branches, and brainy
branches. Eye-bearing branches naturally come from branches with
light-sensitive patches, and this takes both time and chance. Brains tend
to take even more time and more chances.
Gould suggests that if we could rerun the tape, starting This Wonderful
Life over again 570 million years or so back, we might not get organisms
of our basic body plans at all, and I'd agree...provisionally, waiting
somewhat for a characterization of what's meant by basic body plans. I
hereby expect that fins and legs and bilateral symmetry would appear, that
wings and eyes would appear; mammals might not. Would there be brainless
organisms? Yes, of course. Would there be organisms with brains? Well, ask
yourself where the development of the nervous system would stop.
It's easy to think that `the dinosaurs failed' to evolve (technical?)
intelligence despite `spending longer' than we've spent, but I don't think
of it as dinosaurs v. mammals at all. The brainy-predator (and herbivore,
and especially omnivore) niches have been occupied by many many species
of active, competitive, cooperative critters for a couple of hundred
million years now, trying out different combinations. The primary result
from our point of view, or I think from the point of view of ETs wanting
to phone home and gossip is us...but I don't think the ETs would see the
situation as fundamentally different if a technical civilization had arisen
among the first few tries, i.e. among dinosaurs. Nor would they see it as
different if that civilization failed to arise among primates, and came
along a hundred million years later among giant moas. (Look Ma, no hands!
might seem a little different.) The only real difference would be if that
technical civilization failed to arise at all. If it did arise, I think
radios are an extremely likely outcome. Pearl Jam, I admit, is not.
>.................................... I don't believe that time is a
>major factor in the evolution of characters such as 'intelligence',
>maybe chance has more to do with it. If time had anything to do with
>it, why are bacteria not super-intelligent? After all they have had a lot
>longer to evolve this character. ...
Is this what you meant to say? Some bacteria have indeed evolved
intelligence; they did it by becoming multicellular organisms with complex
senses and interactions and brains...specifically, by becoming us. Other
bacteria have evolved in other directions, and of course bacterial lines
structurally similar (I presume) to the originals are still around. Maybe
they're doing better than their cousins (us) who diverged, in some ways.
Tom meiosis-here-i-come Myers email@example.com