Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evolution of the Intelligence Sweet Spot



I remember reading, during what must have been middle school, about what the world might look like today if the massive extinction event that occurred 65 million years ago and killed most of the dinosaurs had never happened. There seemed to be a trend in therapod evolution that selected for smaller size, bipedalism and increased intelligence. Some scientists hypothesized that, if not for the mass extinction, a sentient, humanoid species not unlike ourselves may have evolved. [This hypothesis was hijacked and explored by the 'live action thrill ride' Super Mario Brothers the Movie)

Since then, I've always wondered if there's something to the idea that advanced intelligence may be inseparable from a certain range of preconditions, such as size, metabolism (therapods were warm blooded with 4 valved hearts!) and strangely, even bipedalism. I mean, I often scoff at the depictions of aliens in movies and television as so similarly human in form and function, but maybe there's an evolutionary sweet spot, a goldilocks zone, for intelligence. Certainly Bonobos and chimps conform to these conditions, but they are our cousins so maybe they are not worth considering. Dolphins don't quite fit the mold, although we share a few important similarities. Octopuses are another famously smart species, and they too share some striking similarities.

Anyway, I don't want to get all humanoid-supremacist. But I thought this possible trend might be something worth considering (and perhaps it's more obvious or over-generalized than I realize.)


5 comments:

Will D. Mckay said...

LOL awesome.

SuiginChou said...

I bet lots of boys have wondered whether intelligent life would have grown out of the dinosaurs -- or indeed if it may have even been present already. I have often wondered about the archaeological footprints we leave behind, and how people in modern times try to decipher how people in ancient times lived based on the evidence. For example, tales of an Atlantian high society are fascinating and not without some archaeologic backing, e.g. the late 20th century discovery in ruins outside of Baghdad that one Mesopotamian city's houses all contained gold plates in the walls that, when a current was passed to them, caused a phosphoretic glow inside the room. (This, despite the understanding that electricity was not discovered, let alone harnessed, until the 19th century!)

I often wonder if our perception of the dinosaurs as fierce crocodilian beasts is wrong and if, perhaps, they had those bodies but their minds were far more intelligent. True, the hard cold fossil evidence suggests that best the dinosaurs would have had to have been barbarians (else evolutionary forces would not have been in place to maintain the sharp teeth, claws, armor plating, horns, etc), but that's not to say that they might not have been as intelligent as gorillas and chimpanzees ... and who knows? Perhaps smarter still.

que rediculo! said...

Do you scoff often?

Jay said...

I'm a scoffing machine.

SuiginChou said...

I forgot to mention, when I was younger I used to scoff at the humanesque aliens in Star Trek and Star Wars, but as I got older (mid-teens) I began to scoff at the greater crime of how so many aliens were depicted as being capable of producing viable offspring with humans, even offspring that can successfully produce offspring of their own, despite the fact that H. sapiens can't accomplish the same feat with its most closely-related cousins.

Long story short, if a horny beastialist in Africa can't make half-human half-ape babies with the lowland gorillas, I don't see how characters like Worf and Spock can make any sense whatsoever.