Intellegence of other species.

  1. So humans have not been around the longest, obviously, but why are were we able to create civilization? Why couldn't another animal, like turtles for example, evolve to create schools, written language, tools, etc? What makes us special?
  2. jcsd
  3. phinds

    phinds 8,129
    Gold Member

    Who says they couldn't? I don't think it was a foregone conclusion many millions of years ago that small mammals would evolve to have the highest brainpower of any species on the planet.

    The point is, they didn't and we did. If they had been the ones they would probably be asking "Hm ... wonder why those little rats didn't evolve to be smarter?".

    As I understand it, it was a fairly unique combination of physiology and survival pressures and adaptations, but it hardly seems reasonable to say that other animals "couldn't"
  4. Ok. Instead of saying why couldn't they, Why haven't they? Most animals have had more time to evolve.
  5. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    The lack of opposable thumbs. They fall on their backs and can't get up. They don't have the ability to talk. They can't write. These are just some of the things that allowed humans to create civilization.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  6. Most animals make sounds though. Wouldn't that be considered talking? That's what we do.
    Why haven't they learned to write? Humans couldn't have just popped up and started writing.
  7. symbolipoint

    symbolipoint 3,045
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Not sure the question is serious. Humans have language in a way beyond what most(?) other animals have. Communication is extremely useful in humans developing a civilization. Also legs specialized for locomotion while arms with hands capable of tool building.

    Now, imagine if Mr. Ed had a couple of hands with fingers and opposible thumbs!
  8. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    The fact that other species that were around longer didn't evolve intelligence and civilization implies to me that there are many special things about primates that together made it possible.

    I find it tough to make large jumps backward when doing the comparisons, but step by step, up the tree can be easier:

    People and other primates are so similar it seems to me the evolution of advanced intelligence would be inevitable. Walking upright is a small difference for some, with many seeming to be in transition. Walking upright is key though because it makes carrying tools much easier.

    So that implies a difference between primates and other land mammals, in that most other mammals are exclusively 4-legged walkers. They still display complex social interaction and rudimentary use of language.

    Mammals versus other vertebrates? Other chordates? The different classes have vastly different features. Things like the opposable thumbs (and limbs themselves!). One thing not mentioned though is being warm blooded (or, more correctly, temperature regulated). Being warm blooded enables higher metabolic rates, for a more active lifestyle and, more importantly here: a larger brain.
  9. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    True, but that's an incomplete thought and I think implies a wider disparity than need exist. Developments aren't necessarily linear and small changes might result in crossing thresholds that enable larger growth.

    Several other species of primates have been taught dozens of words and have demonstrated the ability to use grammar (streams of communication requiring multiple words in a predictable structure).

    One little missing piece - useless vocal cords - results in the lack of an easy evolutionary pathway toward a vast language and all the doors it unlocks.

    Most of this is discussed here:
  10. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Working backwards:
    1. Expressed language comes first.
    2. Talking requires complex/nuanced sounds to enable a large vocabulary, which may not be possible without fine control of vocal cords, tongue and mouth. That's why apes are taught sign language.

    Fascinating topic.
  11. From not mentioned ideas, that I read about:
    - brain prepared to operate in 3D;
    - well connected brain, with high amount of redundancy, wonderful for... chasing prey to death for many kilometres.

    I also personally doubt, that aquatic environment is convenient for starting environment, because tools and food should have annoying tendency to rot. So presumably starting at land (or at least at shore is required).
  12. Note that all organisms are not trying to gradually evolve towards the epitome of aggrandizement which is us. It is not a path from primitive to advanced that everyone is following and there is no ultimate goal which apparently many believe, we are close to achieving (evolutionariliy speaking). And hence it would be wrong to think, that given enough time to evolve, an organism would develop into something resembling us humans in intelligence and technological advancement. The path we have have chosen is just one of the countless other ways in which an organism could evolve.
  13. No more so than any moist environment on land.

    All technologies requiring fire would be impossible in an aquatic environment. I think the absence of fire that would be a big impediment toward civilization.

    There are aquatic animals that use tools and communicate very well. However, one technology they could never master is fire. So far as I know, humans are the only animal species that has mastered fire. Maybe another family of terrestrial animals could have mastered fire. However, no aquatic species could do so. Maybe that stopped some of the more intelligent aquatic animals from developing a civilization.

    Cephalopods have tentacles that are better than hands with thumbs. Many of them use tools. Many of them communicate by a variety of visual modalities (color, polarization, gestures, shape changes). They are the most intelligent of invertebrates. However, there is no way they could have mastered fire.

    Cetaceans are famous for having high levels of intelligence. They don't have "hands", but sometimes manage to use tools. They have highly complex social systems. They communicate orally as well as gestures. However, they could never master fire.

    I can see another species developing a hunter-gatherer level of technology. Maybe they could master agriculture and husbandry. However, I have often wondered what if any civilization would look like without fire. I think the use of fire may have prodded the last few steps in the evolution of human intelligence.

    A civilization that didn't have fire couldn't explore outer space. Or could it? I often wonder about that when I read or see science fiction stories about an aquatic civilization.
  14. On what taxonomic level? High level taxons tend to last longer than longer than low level taxons.

    Very general statements about time have to specify the levels of taxonomy that are being compared.

    Homo genus evolved less than a million years ago (MYA). The Tyranosaurus genus lasted about 40 MY. Tyranosaurs had more time to evolved than Homo.

    The primate order evolved in the late Creteceous less than 80 MYA. The cetecea order (whales) evolved during the Eocene only 45 MYA. So primates had more time to evolve intelligence than cetecea.

    "True birds" (i.e., flying theropods) evolved in the late Jurassic about 100 MYA. So the birds had more time to evolve than primates. Mammals evolved about 200 MYA. Therefore, true birds had less time to evolve than mammals as a class. However, the dinosaur class is older than the mammals.

    All of the animal kingdom evolved from a common ancestor about 700 MYA. So on the kingdom level, all animals had the same time to evolve.

    Your question shouldn't be stated in terms of chronological time. The real question is whether intelligence and civilization could have developed in another clade that is far removed from any clade humans are part of.

    1) Could behavior analogous to human intelligence or a civilization recognizably similar to any human civilizations evolve from another class of animals?

    2) Could an animal in the cephalopod class have developed human-style intelligence and culture?

    3) Could an animal in the cetecean order develop human-style intelligence and civilization?

    4) Could a theropod dinosaur have developed human-style intelligence and civilization?

    5) Could an arthropod have developed human-style intelligence and civilization.

    My conjecture is "yes" to all of the above. However, my reasons would vary quite a bit with the taxonic level. I would have to speculate on a historical sequence for each of the contingencies above.

    Like, how would a cephalopod have developed fire?
  15. jim mcnamara

    jim mcnamara 1,470
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    This is a forward reference:

    Stephan H (1972) "Evolution of primate brains: a comparative anatomical investigation." In: The Functional and Evolutionary Biology of Primates, ed. Tuttle R; Aldine Atherton, Chicago, pp. 155-174

    Encephalization quotient (EQ) is a measure of brain size relative to what would be expected for an animal of a given mass. Hippos and mice are way down on the scale, Humans and dolphins top the scale. How it is calculated has been "refined" over time.
    Whether for better or worse I don't know.

    EQ has been used as a way to reference human to non-human intelligence in a loose way. Stephan (above) notes that some of our ancestors in the genus Homo were on an EQ par with some dolphin species.

    At any rate, humans are now out in front the pack in terms of EQ. But it also means that some other species deserve a nod for intelligence.

    Easy Reference:

    And as animal behviorists will gladly tell us, reference above, birds have meaning in their calls. Woodland species have a species-specific warning call. When the warning call is made, all of that species go on alert or take to wing. It is now known that birds of other species also know the warning calls of their neighboring species and respond as if they heard their own warning call. See the video for details.

    All that said, I am not sure what the OP is on about. Birds and especially mammals can do lots of things, and we as humans are capable of an extension of those behaviors.

    Think more of a continuum.
  16. I think also about two more obstacles:
    -in aquatic environment, you can not preserve any food by drying it (you can do that without fire)
    -you can't mix some liquids in primitive containers

    I wouldn't rule out cephalopods as class that would be unable to build its civilization. I know about flexible arms and quite big brains. However, they would have to first evolve to be able to live in at least coastal areas. (though that could be an interesting idea - stores food at shore or small islands, while engages in animal husbandry at sea)
  17. Many cephalopods do live in coastal regions. I saw a special on Animal Planet about a species of octopus that lives off the coast of Italy. There is nothing a cephalopod physiology that prevents it from living off the coast.

    All known cephalopod species live in salt water. I have wondered why that is true. Theoretically, a fresh water cephalopod could have evolved.
  18. It occurs to me that there are some other features that could enable cephalopods to develop a technological civilization.

    Some of them are mobile out of water for short periods of time. For instance, octopi in aquarium have been known to crawl out of their tanks to a near by tank to eat the fish there. Then, they crawled back to their own tank. So hypothetically a land roving cephalopod could evolve.

    Without fire, it would be hard for them to do chemistry. However, maybe not impossible.

    There are regions where the salinity varies. For example, estuaries have salt water on the bottom and salt water on top. A cephalopod could experiment with mixing salt water and fresh water.

    Many organic liquids are insoluble in water. Further, the body fluids in organisms are not homogeneous. The cephalopod itself can produce ink and waster products. Cephalopods could in principle do experiments mixing these liquids.

    For instance, suppose cephalopods lived near a leaking petroleum source. They could try mixing different petroleum products together. Bile contains a natural detergent. Stomachs have acid. They could try mixing bile with petroleum to make colloidal solutions. Maybe squirt a little of its own ink into the mix.

    They could experiment with petroleum as a food preservative. Make poison darts out of the spines of venomous fish. Mix minerals for pigments. There is some material science that an intelligent cephalopod could do. However, it would be severely limited at first.

    These seem unlikely. However, it would equally seem unlikely that an ape could take a burn stick and use it as a tool. Maybe the unlikelihood of such events was what prevented intelligent civilizations from developing among primates.

    Which brings us back to the original topic. Maybe the reason it took 200 KY for Homo to develop civilization is the unlikelihood of the series of events needed for it to happen. Maybe it was just a matter of contingency, like Gould hypothesized.
  19. So there is still the possibility that cephalpods could potentially become as intelligent as humans?
  20. Another way to think of it is that our definition of intelligence is based on our own. In that light every other species are unintelligent of course, since we're judging them by human merits. But there's a number of things that animals do way better than us! For example, pigeons solve Monty Hall problem better than humans. Also, dolphins seem to be talking to each other with stereo images, which is a bit like their own underwater internet.

    Besides, we all know that mankind is only third on Earth as far as intelligence goes:)
  21. Womankind and who else?
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