Advanced life following a universal handbook

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  • #1
MathJakob
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I was having a discussion with my friend about alien life and we both kinda agreed that for life to be intelligent, it must follow the same path as all intelligent life in the universe. If we say that all life through the universe is Darwinian, then for a species to be intelligent it must have some sort of dexterous functionality, it must have a complex language and it must follow the same path of technological evolution as us.

The reason why I say that is because without hands or some other kind of dexterous functionality, you can't build anything... no matter how smart you are, without hands you can only think. Without a complex language those thoughts and ideas can only remain in the persons head, again without hands you can't even draw them...

And for technology, I think computers and binary are a universal technology. What I mean by that is I think an intelligent species will reach a certain threshold where nothing more can be acheived until the next peice of the puzzle is invented. I think computers are the natural step for any intelligent life, sure they may have completely different forms of computers but nevertheless they would use the same fundamental concepts.

I think it would be extremely unlikely for an intelligent race to go from pen and pad to quantum computers for example, without having to use normal computers first. I doubt they would have gone from cars to rockets without first inventing jets.

While I don't think it would be exactly the same or in the exact same order, I really think that all intelligent life (if any) would follow the same handbook and you can't really progress if you can't unlock the next puzzle.

Assuming we never invented the computer, could we still have advanced? Sending probes into space, creating fighter jets, submarines ect? Of course not... anyway just wanted to ramble about that, what do you guys think?

Please feel free to correct me it I've really got something wrong.
 

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  • #2
zoobyshoe
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There's an unspoken assumption in your thinking, which is that intelligent life must, necessarily, develop technology. In fact, you're pretty much equating intelligence and technology.

In adopting a technological approach we have put ourselves very much in the situation of the old lady who swallowed a fly. Each advance creates new problems that require new solutions. It could be that intelligent life has developed somewhere which realizes the folly of this from the get-go.
 
  • #3
MathJakob
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There's an unspoken assumption in your thinking, which is that intelligent life must, necessarily, develop technology. In fact, you're pretty much equating intelligence and technology.

In adopting a technological approach we have put ourselves very much in the situation of the old lady who swallowed a fly. Each advance creates new problems that require new solutions. It could be that intelligent life has developed somewhere which realizes the folly of this from the get-go.

Could you explain what you mean exactly? My understanding is that without technology, one can't do much but be alive... If a species is intelligent, surely that pretty much guarantees that said species will have a natural desire to create?
 
  • #4
DennisN
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Houston, I think we have a little sample problem here :smile:: we have currently only one place in the Universe where we know there is life. So, I'd say that advanced life following a "universal handbook" would be very speculative.

Also, please beware that we humans are/may be prone to:

and together with the fact that we have only one place in the Universe to study life, I'd say we are very prone to bias when we speculate about alien life.

Furthermore, I consider e.g. apes, dolphins, elephants and crows as very intelligent, and there are more species which display considerable intelligence. Please note that there are animals which have shown the ability to create tools, use tools and solve puzzles. E.g. crows are very interesting; you could have a look at Corvus - Intelligence.
 
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  • #5
zoobyshoe
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Could you explain what you mean exactly?
I'm saying it could happen that there's life somewhere that realizes the future implications of any action before they take that action, and that that realization prompts them to avoid technological solutions. They would, for example, continue to simply walk anywhere they need to go rather than take on the myriad problems of, and infrastructure required for, self-propelled vehicles.
 
  • #6
Drakkith
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I'm saying it could happen that there's life somewhere that realizes the future implications of any action before they take that action, and that that realization prompts them to avoid technological solutions. They would, for example, continue to simply walk anywhere they need to go rather than take on the myriad problems of, and infrastructure required for, self-propelled vehicles.

I disagree. I can't see how any intelligent species would be able to predict such things ahead of time, especially with no prior experience with technology.
 
  • #7
MathJakob
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Houston, I think we have a little sample problem here :smile:: we have currently only one place in the Universe where we know there is life. So, I'd say that advanced life following a "universal handbook" would be very speculative.

Also, please beware that we humans are/may be prone to:

and together with the fact that we have only one place in the Universe to study life, I'd say we are very prone to bias when we speculate about alien life.

Furthermore, I consider e.g. apes, dolphins, elephants and crows as very intelligent, and there are more species which display considerable intelligence. Please note that there are animals which have shown the ability to create tools, use tools and solve puzzles. E.g. crows are very interesting; you could have a look at Corvus - Intelligence.

This really annoys me when people say dolphins, apes, crows ect are intelligent. Compared to other animals yes they may well be intelligent, but still not nearly intelligent enough to be classed as intelligent.

It's like saying that frogs are big animals compared to ants... Well yes they are but they're still small compared to elephants. So there needs to be some kind of accepted boundary on when something is considered intelligent.

Imo once an animal has the ability to "ask questions" or experiement, that is when they become intelligent. I think these shows that portray animals as being smart don't tell you that the animals have been using the equipment or similar equipment for years and have been trained.

If you went out in the street and took a random crow, gave it a puzzle that the other crows in tv programs could solve in seconds, the crow would be baffled and it would likely only solve it through trial and error.

for example.
 
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  • #8
DennisN
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This really annoys me when people say dolphins, apes, crows ect are intelligent. Compared to other animals yes they may well be intelligent, but still not nearly intelligent enough to be classed as intelligent.

Ask yourself if you are prone to anthropocentrism. Because what you say sounds very antropocentric :biggrin:. There are things animals can do, which you can't, and, in a way, intelligence is in the eye of the beholder.
 
  • #9
AlephZero
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I dunno if the OP has yet discovered that some human females are smart enough to know that sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to act dumber than you are. (Maybe some human males do the same, but I haven't met any yet).

So who is supposed to be the judge of whether dolphins (or aliens) are "really" smarter than humans or not?
 
  • #10
Drakkith
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Ask yourself if you are prone to anthropocentrism. Because what you say sounds very antropocentric :biggrin:. There are things animals can do, which you can't, and, in a way, intelligence is in the eye of the beholder.

While there are many different ways of defining intelligence, I can think of none where an animal would beat us out. It is, after all, our primary evolutionary advantage.
 
  • #11
zoobyshoe
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I disagree. I can't see how any intelligent species would be able to predict such things ahead of time, especially with no prior experience with technology.
They would extrapolate from observation. The more critical your parameters the harder they are to maintain.
 
  • #12
MathJakob
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Ask yourself if you are prone to anthropocentrism. Because what you say sounds very antropocentric :biggrin:. There are things animals can do, which you can't, and, in a way, intelligence is in the eye of the beholder.

I had a feeling you were going to go down this route. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Intelligence and ability are not the same thing. Let's take one example of a footballer. The best footballer in the world is skillful, talented, creative prehaps? He is not intelligent, well he might be intelligent aswell but all we know is the he is a great footballer.

Pablo Picasso was creative and imaginative, he was not intelligent... of course he may well have been but we are basing these off what they were known for.

Albert Einstein used his brain to accomplish his goals, and this is the difference between intelligence and ability. Einstein was not skillful, he was creative, imaginative and intelligent.

Would it be correct to say that Usain Bolt is the most intelligent sprinter? What about if I said that J.C Maxwell was the most skillful physicist? These just don't make sense because of what the word intelligence means...
 
  • #13
Drakkith
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They would extrapolate from observation. The more critical your parameters the harder they are to maintain.

Observation of what? There's nothing to observe that has any close relation to technological development or its consequences.
 
  • #14
zoobyshoe
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If you went out in the street and took a random crow, gave it a puzzle that the other crows in tv programs could solve in seconds, the crow would be baffled and it would likely only solve it through trial and error.
If you give a laptop to an Amazonian Indian, he's more likely to start worshiping the desktop image than to set up an e-mail account.
 
  • #15
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If you went out in the street and took a random crow, gave it a puzzle that the other crows in tv programs could solve in seconds, the crow would be baffled and it would likely only solve it through trial and error.
You mean like a human would in the same scenario?
 
  • #16
MathJakob
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You mean like a human would in the same scenario?

A human has the ability to think logically... about the most logical solution. It might take a while and there will be some trial and error of course but a human will be able to anaylse the situation and apply the most logical approach. There is no evidence that any animal can think logically.
 
  • #17
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A human has the ability to think logically... about the most logical solution. It might take a while and there will be some trial and error of course but a human will be able to anaylse the situation and apply the most logical approach. There is no evidence that any animal can think logically.
You don't know my dog.
 
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  • #18
zoobyshoe
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Observation of what? There's nothing to observe that has any close relation to technological development or its consequences.
Observation of Nature. If you walk from A to B everyday you start to wear a path. If you stop doing that, the path gets overgrown. Why not pave the path? OK. Where do you get the flat stones? From the river bank. What's going to happen to the riverbank if you take the flat stones away? It's going to get overgrown. So, while the path is better, you've just made it harder to get to the river. So, now you have to solve the river problem. With foresight you could have been content with the trouble it takes to re-trample the path after periods of disuse.
 
  • #19
DennisN
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I think these shows that portray animals as being smart don't tell you that the animals have been using the equipment or similar equipment for years and have been trained.

Btw, I forgot to say I'm not talking about any silly tv shows :biggrin:. There is a field called biology where animal intelligence is being studied, and our knowledge about animal intelligence is still lacking AFAIK. Probably because we have a history of anthropocentrism, and haven't payed much attention to animal intelligence :smile:.

While there are many different ways of defining intelligence, I can think of none where an animal would beat us out. It is, after all, our primary evolutionary advantage.

I certainly agree with this, Drakkith, when it comes to how we humans define intelligence. But I nevertheless must point out that we should remember that we are prone to anthropocentrism, and this may cloud our judgement when we speculate about alien life. That was the real reason why I pointed it out to MathJakob.

I also think it's good to remember the fact that there are many circumstances where animals beat us in nature; considering e.g. strength, speed, knowledge about the environment. This is of course due to specialization in species; e.g. I would not be so confident in my intelligence if I suddenly met a hungry tiger in the jungle (without me carrying a rifle). Who would? And this is just one example of many.

Anyway, the point I'm really trying to make is that we probably should not extrapolate the history of life on Earth to the Universe too much. Evolution shows there are many ways for species to evolve, and this may also be the case for alien life too (if there is any); so we may be wrong if we think there is only one universal way to become as intelligent as the human species is. Anyway, that's my thoughts.
 
  • #20
MathJakob
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remember that we are prone to anthropocentrism, and this may cloud our judgement when we speculate about alien life. That was the real reason why I pointed it out to MathJakob.

Oh I am quite aware that many many people in the world think humans are the be all and end all of the universe, we are the most powerful and the entire universe was created just for us and all that crap lol. I am not one of these people I promise you, but I do think that any "intelligent" life cannot advance without technology, and I feel that the route they'd take would be similar to ours.
 
  • #21
DennisN
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Oh I am quite aware that many many people in the world think humans are the be all and end all of the universe, we are the most powerful and the entire universe was created just for us and all that crap lol. I am not one of these people I promise you,

That sounds good to me. :approve:

but I do think that any "intelligent" life cannot advance without technology, and I feel that the route they'd take would be similar to ours.

"similar" - I can't argue against that. That may be the case. But I am myself very careful since we only have one planet in our sample selection. :smile:
 
  • #22
Drakkith
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Observation of Nature. If you walk from A to B everyday you start to wear a path. If you stop doing that, the path gets overgrown. Why not pave the path? OK. Where do you get the flat stones? From the river bank. What's going to happen to the riverbank if you take the flat stones away? It's going to get overgrown. So, while the path is better, you've just made it harder to get to the river. So, now you have to solve the river problem. With foresight you could have been content with the trouble it takes to re-trample the path after periods of disuse.

Wow, you're making a huge number of assumptions here.

Why pave a path that they don't use enough to keep from being overgrown? That's a lot of work for little gain.
Will the river bank actually be overgrown if you remove the rocks? Is that even a problem?
If it is, why not use rocks from elsewhere, if available? Especially from somewhere like a rocky field. Go grab the rocks, clear the field a little, no problems.

I think you're ignoring the enormous part that prior experience plays in learning and predicting future events.


I also think it's good to remember the fact that there are many circumstances where animals beat us in nature; considering e.g. strength, speed, knowledge about the environment. This is of course due to specialization in species; e.g. I would not be so confident in my intelligence if I suddenly met a hungry tiger in the jungle (without me carrying a rifle). Who would? And this is just one example of many.

What does this have to do with intelligence overall?

Anyway, the point I'm really trying to make is that we probably should not extrapolate the history of life on Earth to the Universe too much. Evolution shows there are many ways for species to evolve, and this may also be the case for alien life too (if there is any); so we may be wrong if we think there is only one universal way to become as intelligent as the human species is. Anyway, that's my thoughts.

I agree that we shouldn't try to say that X species must have certain features, such as hands or similar appendages, in order to develop intelligence, but I do think that the progression of technology would follow a similar path in similar circumstances. Obviously an aquatic species is going to have significantly less use for the wheel compared to us.
 
  • #23
Office_Shredder
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The problem with this hypothesis is that technology is not some monolithic progression, it's just the accumulation of knowledge in a culture.

Imagine if someone in ancient Greece said "Hey, I think every advanced intellectual species is going to develop technology in the same way we do". Then you look at China,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_and_technology_in_China#Four_Great_Inventions

Gunpowder, paper, printmaking, and the compass. Europe had to be told about gunpowder by the Chinese 1500 years after they discovered it. Same with paper. Printing and the compass likewise took Europe a thousand years longer to discover. It's clear that China did not follow a similar technological progression to Greece


Let's take another example. The metal progression
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Age

There are areas, such as the islands of the South Pacific, the interior of Africa, and parts of North and South America, where peoples have passed directly from the use of stone to the use of iron without the intervention of an age of bronze.

So even human cultures, stuck on the same planet, developed technology at wildly different times in history.
 
  • #24
zoobyshoe
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Wow, you're making a huge number of assumptions here.
No, I'm making stipulations. The point was to answer your question about what they could observe in making decisions about technological solutions. They could observe that continued walking keeps the path clear of growth, which is a convenience. Stipulating that there are periods where they don't use the path long enough for it to become overgrown (which is an inconvenience when they start to reuse it), they might consider paving it with stones, having observed that the growth at the river bank stops where the flat stones have been deposited. But, realizing that moving those stones would just invite overgrowth there, they decide there's no point in robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Why pave a path that they don't use enough to keep from being overgrown? That's a lot of work for little gain.
It's a stipulation. For whatever reason, the path isn't always used, but when it is they would like the convenience of not having to first trample down the overgrowth.
Will the river bank actually be overgrown if you remove the rocks? Is that even a problem?
I'm stipulating they know this is a problem.
If it is, why not use rocks from elsewhere, if available? Especially from somewhere like a rocky field. Go grab the rocks, clear the field a little, no problems.
Every alternate solution has an alternate obstacle. The glacially deposited rocks in the field aren't flat and smooth, like the well tumbled river rocks. If they took this route, they'd have to develop a way of flattening them.
I think you're ignoring the enormous part that prior experience plays in learning and predicting future events.
No. I'm proposing that "intelligence" is the ability to accurately extrapolate a lot of consequence from the least amount of experimentation, by observation alone. Given the stipulation that intelligent life can form elsewhere, I'm saying I don't think it's inevitable they would be a technological life form.
 
  • #25
epenguin
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without hands you can only think. Without a complex language those thoughts and ideas can only remain in the persons head, again without hands you can't even draw them...

Not disagreeing with you basically, I would only modify this to say without hands you can't even think. Without something for the intelligence to direct it would not evolve as it would be useless.
 
  • #26
zoobyshoe
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Not disagreeing with you basically, I would only modify this to say without hands you can't even think. Without something for the intelligence to direct it would not evolve as it would be useless.
What about those people born with no arms who do everything with their feet? I know a guy like this who can play the guitar. I have two arms and can't play the guitar. People like this can milk incredible dexterity out of their legs and feet. I think if cats, for example, had more sophisticated brains they could get much more dexterity out of their legs and claws.
 
  • #27
Drakkith
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No, I'm making stipulations. The point was to answer your question about what they could observe in making decisions about technological solutions. They could observe that continued walking keeps the path clear of growth, which is a convenience. Stipulating that there are periods where they don't use the path long enough for it to become overgrown (which is an inconvenience when they start to reuse it), they might consider paving it with stones, having observed that the growth at the river bank stops where the flat stones have been deposited. But, realizing that moving those stones would just invite overgrowth there, they decide there's no point in robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And I think your entire example is flawed for the reasons I pointed out already. You're using it to say that they could know about the consequences of a technology before they even develop said technology. I think this is nonsense. They'd need to know in advance what effect removing rocks from one area and placing them somewhere else would have. This seems to imply that they have already developed the very technology that you claim they won't, or at least something very similar.


It's a stipulation. For whatever reason, the path isn't always used, but when it is they would like the convenience of not having to first trample down the overgrowth.

I'm stipulating they know this is a problem.

Every alternate solution has an alternate obstacle. The glacially deposited rocks in the field aren't flat and smooth, like the well tumbled river rocks. If they took this route, they'd have to develop a way of flattening them.

You can call them what you wish. The fact remains that you are inventing a scenario to support your position and handwaving away anything that goes against it. Not every problem has solutions with obstacles equal in scope to the original problem.

No. I'm proposing that "intelligence" is the ability to accurately extrapolate a lot of consequence from the least amount of experimentation, by observation alone.

And I propose that if you think a pre-technological intelligent species is going to be able to predict the outcomes of developing a technology, then you're out of your mind. Especially if you think they the'd be able to do this for ALL possible technologies and never develop any at all.

Given the stipulation that intelligent life can form elsewhere, I'm saying I don't think it's inevitable they would be a technological life form.

If we accept that any intelligent species would be the result of natural selection and evolution, I can't see this as a realistic possibility. I won't say it's impossible, but I think it's so improbable that it might as well be.
 
  • #28
Drakkith
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Not disagreeing with you basically, I would only modify this to say without hands you can't even think. Without something for the intelligence to direct it would not evolve as it would be useless.

So arms, legs, tails, or other appendages don't count?
 
  • #29
DennisN
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What does this have to do with intelligence overall?

I was pointing out that we are prone to anthropocentrism, which may cloud our judgement concerning alien life in general.

If I met a hungry tiger in the jungle, it would be of absolutely no use to me to

  • start speaking Latin
  • write a poem
  • paint a picture
  • pick up my calculator and show the tiger how to calculate geometry
  • point to the Sun and say "hey, kitty, that's a G2 star"
  • explain quantum mechanics etc etc.

The only thing that would matter in such a situation - if I am interested in surviving! - is to outsmart the tiger in the competition of survival. And outsmarting a hungry tiger in his/her environment would be very difficult for an inexperienced human without any weapon. And, believe me, the tiger would show considerable intelligence in this situation. Do we have any volunteers for an experiment? :biggrin:

My point is that intelligence is a sort of fuzzy subject, and we should probably take this into consideration if we talk about life in general in the Universe. We judge intelligence in specific contexts, and there are other important factors which we tend to forget like e.g. adaptability to environment (e.g rats are considered very adaptable to the environment). But again, this is just an Earth example.

I agree that we shouldn't try to say that X species must have certain features, such as hands or similar appendages, in order to develop intelligence, but I do think that the progression of technology would follow a similar path in similar circumstances.

"Similar" is ok to me. But we still have only one planet in our sample selection, in a huge Universe that is about 14 billion years old. Compare this with human (written) history which is about 6'000 years old.
 
  • #30
MathJakob
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What about those people born with no arms who do everything with their feet? I know a guy like this who can play the guitar. I have two arms and can't play the guitar. People like this can milk incredible dexterity out of their legs and feet. I think if cats, for example, had more sophisticated brains they could get much more dexterity out of their legs and claws.

If humans were never born without hands, our feet would have evolved to the level of dexterity required for us to live efficiently. Sure your friend can play the guitar, but what use is that if you can't even build the guitar in the first place as your species has no hands and the feets dexterity isn't good enough to craft a guitar.

Also I didn't say that intelligent life would have to have human like hands, I just said they'd need to have some dexterous functionality. A squid on the other hand has a great ability to create, move and life things so they could create many things. Although sewing on a button wouldn't be one of them :P

No seriously though, it doesn't matter what kind of dexterity you have, aslong as it allows you to use tools to build things, you can always adjust the size of the tools to match the size of your limbs.

I just don't think it is possible to have an intelligent life form with the dexterity of a horse... I think part of natural selection is that intelligent life comes with the ability to develop that intelligence.
 
  • #31
Drakkith
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And, believe me, the tiger would show considerable intelligence in this situation.

I don't agree that this situation has anything to do with intelligence overall.

My point is that intelligence is a sort of fuzzy subject, and we should probably take this into consideration if we talk about life in general in the Universe. We judge intelligence in specific contexts, and there are other important factors which we tend to forget like e.g. adaptability to environment (e.g rats are considered very adaptable to the environment). But again, this is just an Earth example.

I think whether or not adaptability is part of intelligence depends on how the rats are adapting. Are they required to use their brains to solve problems associated with the changing enviornment?
 
  • #32
Drakkith
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I just don't think it is possible to have an intelligent life form with the dexterity of a horse... I think part of natural selection is that intelligent life comes with the ability to develop that intelligence.

What about dolphins? They have extremely little dexterity.
While I agree that having appendages with high dexterity would have some sort of effect, don't discount the advantage of being able to communicate and solve ever more complex problems.
 
  • #33
DennisN
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I don't agree that this situation has anything to do with intelligence overall.

No problem, the tiger thing was certainly not an example of overall intelligence. But it was an example that we are prone to anthropocentrism, if we judge intelligence from the view of our comfy armchairs constructed by humans who as a species have a recorded written history of 6 000 years. What I am saying is maybe - maybe - we should not be so certain that there is a universal definition of intelligence which fits the human perspective.

I think whether or not adaptability is part of intelligence depends on how the rats are adapting. Are they required to use their brains to solve problems associated with the changing enviornment?

The rats are just an example of adaptability, and what I was trying to say is that adaptability is an important factor in the evolution of life, at least on Earth. Now, I certainly don't want to speculate in any detail about any alien life - since we only have one planet in our sample selection. But it's not difficult for me to imagine intelligent life having developed in very different ways than on Earth. Evolution and time can obviously make amazing things, judging from our single Earth experience.

We have a 6'000 year old record of written history. We have the theory of evolution. We have only one planet with known life in our sample selection. We are still learning about the Universe. So, in my opinion, it would be wise to be careful what we assume about other life in the Universe. That's all I'm really trying to say. Interesting discussion, by the way :smile:.
 
  • #34
Drakkith
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No problem, the tiger thing was certainly not an example of overall intelligence. But it was an example that we are prone to anthropocentrism, if we judge intelligence from the view of our comfy armchairs constructed by humans who as a species have a recorded written history of 6 000 years. What I am saying is maybe - maybe - we should not be so certain that there is a universal definition of intelligence which fits the human perspective.

Why not? Would you agree that we can observe practically any species and gauge their ability to solve problems, remember complicated routes, communicate, and other things that one usually attributes to intelligence?

If you're defining intelligence to be something other than that, then I'd have to ask if we're even talking about the same concept.

The rats are just an example of adaptability, and what I was trying to say is that adaptability is an important factor in the evolution of life, at least on Earth. Now, I certainly don't want to speculate in any detail about any alien life - since we only have one planet in our sample selection. But it's not difficult for me to imagine intelligent life having developed in very different ways than on Earth. Evolution and time can obviously make amazing things, judging from our single Earth experience.

I agree, I just don't see what that has to do with the thread unless you're talking about how intelligence helps a species adapt.
 
  • #35
Aero51
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I think your ideas are close minded and uncreative. In an "average" ( think: heat bath)thermodynamic system there is over 10^10^20 possible energy states. Dont you think that with the vastness of the universe that life, in the most general sense possible, may obey completely different laws...somewhere? Its also pretty arrogant to assert that all intelligent life can be related to human beings. What is your metric for human intelligence? Any answer besides "other humans" is wrong. This is a problem akin to the incompleteness theorem.

Your statements are only applicable to systems near identical to earth.
 

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