Considering that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, consciousness and intelligence are relatively new phenomena in the universe. The seeds of these phenomena were planted when life first arose, some 3.5 billion years ago. Life introduced animate beings into a universe that had previously had only inanimate objects.

Life also introduced motility to the universe. Motility is the ability to move in a self-directed way. Motility is probably the root cause of consciousness because without motility there would be no impetus to think. The reason is that motility enabled early lifeforms to move away from danger: the impetus was to survive – to avoid being eaten. In return, many predatory organisms were forced to pursue their meals or go hungry. This led to evolutionary refinements of sense organs and nervous systems to detect predators or prey and escape or pursue them. These rudimentary nervous systems eventually evolved into brains that could execute or anticipate evasive strategies.

There is little doubt that consciousness is shared by many animals. However, self-consciousness and intelligence is a different matter. There's evidence that some apes and other mammals have a primitive form of intelligence but none of them come close to the mental abilities of humans.

If there is a God, then the single greatest endowment he gave to us is our intelligence. Science is the pinnacle of human intelligence and makes the greatest, most disciplined, use of our special endowment. If there is a God, surely he would be pleased at our achievements (if not concerned about our direction).

Science is not a replacement for religion. It does not claim to have the truth or all the answers. It demands skepticism -- NOT faith. The history of science is a history of paradigm shifts: Euclidean, Newtonian, Darwinian, relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, multiverses, etc. Our quest for understanding seems to step up from one plateau to the next. And when our understanding takes these steps, those who professed certainty (i.e. faith) in the prior paradigm find themselves extremely embarrassed.

Today, there are materialists who believe everything can be explained by their smallest components. Many of these physical reductionists are so focused on the minutiae, that the big picture escapes them. The fact is; not everything can be explained by their most basic components. Many times, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. That's the nature of "emergent properties" found in "complex systems". Consciousness and intelligence are emergent properties of life that defy physical reductionists. I believe it is emergent properties of complex systems that foreshadow the next paradigm shift.

I hope we will (perhaps soon) have an explanation for life, consciousness, intelligence and free will. I suspect that there's much more to the universe than is currently realized or conjectured by our science.

This short essay is a synopsis: not a treatise. It is intentionally simplified and brief. My intention is to flesh out more details as your responses warrant (or not).

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Amer,

Which species, other than homo sapiens, has anything more than rudimentary intelligence?
Very possibly the cetaceans, but operant in a radically different way than humans. First of all the respective environments are different (if you want to know the animal, study its environment). Water is several orders of magnitude more viscous than air, where we live. So obstructive limbs are counterproductive in water, so the cetaceans lost both hind limbs, converted the front ones into streamlined flippers, and expanded and flatted the coccyx into a flap-tail. Visibility in water is more variable than on land, plus sound travels faster and farther in water than in air. So while cetaceans can still see, they have by and large taken command of the oceans by sound. But the most compelling explanation for their superior intelligence is the number of radical evolutionary hurdles they went through and not only prevail but also end up with the biggest brains on the planet. First, cetaceans are descended from terrestrial quadrupeds, and all quadrupeds, like all vertebrates, are descended from proto-mammals closely related to reptiles and, before that, amphibians, a line itself descended from fish-like creatures. Most mammals stayed on land and refined their biological tools of survival. The cetaceans went back to the water. They have more evolutionary stories to tell, and really good stories take great smarts. If we can decipher their songs then perhaps we can begin to explain to them in whale songs why we kill them when all they really like to do with humans is play.
Hi Emmanuel,

Yes, the evolutionary history of cetaceans is fascinating.

According to Wikipedia:
When comparing different species the ratio of brain weight to body weight does present a correlation with intelligence, though the actual brain weight has little or no effect. For example, the ratio of brain weight to body weight for fish is 1:5000; for reptiles it is about 1:1500; for birds, 1:220; for most mammals, 1:180, and for humans, 1:50. However, within the human species, modern studies using MRI have shown that brain size shows substantial and consistent correlation with IQ among adults of the same sex.
It appears that the number and complexity of neuronal connections in the brain matter a lot more than brain size. Wikipedia also had this to say:
The brain is a metabolically expensive organ, and consumes about 25% of the body's metabolic energy. Because of this fact, although larger brains are associated with higher intelligence, smaller brains might be advantageous from an evolutionary point of view if they are equal in intelligence to larger brains.
It would be wonderful to be able to communicate with dolphins and whales. Wouldn't that be amazing? I'm not sure if we really know how smart they are. It would be sad if they were super-intelligent but had no way use that intelligence. It occurs to me that if they were as intelligent as us, they would have developed an extensive language that would permit them to converse on topics ranging from the weather to philosophy. I know they do communicate with each other but I doubt they're discussing advanced subjects.
Good grief, why would a dolphin waste it's time with philosophy? There a things to investigate and fish to chase and boats to laugh at! Information about where the boats and the fish are is more than enough info :D

I would be VERY wary of anything that claimed to find a simple correlation between ANYTHING and IQ. IQ is a very badly defined, badly explained and badly researched principle. In short, based on what I know about IQ - I do not believe the statement
"However, within the human species, modern studies using MRI have shown that brain size shows substantial and consistent correlation with IQ among adults of the same sex" could be valid, and definately not meaningful.
OK, I'm all up for a debate, but I don't see a cohesive point here to debate?
Hi Mel,

How about the central tenet: motility as the root cause of consciousness and intelligence? Perhaps you see some other origin? This is the Origins group, after all. Alternatively, there's the question of whether or not physical reductionism is all it's crack up to be. I believe it's short-sighted and too narrowly focused.
I'm gonna agree with the mobility being part of it. In some branches of evolution, motility seems to have resulted in concentrating the sensory organs into the front end. These branches have led to intelligence as we understand it. But MANY more species have coped just as well without it, so I'm not sure it's such a big deal.

It seems that chimps can make-believe (impossible to test, but anecdotal stories out of the Yerkses Language Center suggest it) and can beat 3 year olds at English Comprehension. They seem to show empathy. They will suggest nasty things should happen to people they don't like, and try to help people they do. They also recognise themselves in a mirror. So I'm saying chimps have MORE than rudimentary intelligence.

Bah, too late for coherency.
Dolphins also recognize themselves in mirrors and appear to have a sophisticated communication system.
I like to believe my beagles can recognize themselves in mirrors, but they can't. However, they have an incredible communication system. From their bays to their yips, they all mean specific things that they get, but I can only intuit.

I never realized just how much information they were passing along until we went trailing rabbits. One would take lead, the other would follow at an angle, and they would make specific calls to each other, sending each other in different directions and at different angles. They never catch and kill a rabbit, they just run it to its warren (they wouldn't know what to do with it if they got it). But there's no doubt that they're communicating some complex information across open ground when they're on the trail.

I recently heard of an Israeli company that's "translated" what many dog calls are, and created mobile phone software to interpret certain barks and send off the appropriate phone call. It's for people with chronic conditions who may become incapacitated, need help, that sort of thing.
Hi gavagai,

The dogs I've had do seem to sense emotions pretty well. I've never been hunting, with or without dogs, so I wouldn't know about doggie teamwork via vocal communications. It doesn't seem too far fetched . . . dogs are social animals.
Hi Carver,

I've heard others assert that dolphins are the most intelligent animal, other than humans. Now you've got me wondering if whale brains are larger than dolphin brains.
Whale brains are probably bigger than dolphin brains, but they've also got a lot more animal to run!


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