Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Perception, Intelligence and Evolution

  1. May 3, 2012 #1
    At what point does perception enter the process of evolution. Are all the mechanisms of evolution 'blind'? In other words, it seems that a tremendous power is ignored - an organism can perceive their environment so why doesn't evolution capitalize on this instead of relying on random mutations etc.

    It also seems (at least to me) that there is a neglect for intelligent (forgive the word) activity in evolution. Symbolic thought is the most gross form, but every life form has some form of organized responses which have the potential of playing a role in evolution. I also don't think it is a fallacy to say that since intelligence (leaving the word ill defined) is an activity of the products of evolution (namely, us), then it must be operative in the overall process/movement of evolution. Breaking the process up into discreet units (organisms, species) hides this obvious fact.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2012 #2

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Mutations are random but these give rise to non-random phenotypic traits which grant non-random selective advantages/disadvantages based on the environment.
    I can't tell what you are trying to ask here.
    Just because organisms display intelligence does not mean evolution is intelligent. Evolution is a process, nothing more.
     
  4. May 4, 2012 #3
    Ryan,

    I think the second part of his post that you quoted is similar to the third. I believe it was just an initial question of why our perception can't guide our evolution.

    In that regard, procisionart, you're thinking from sort of a Lamarckian perspective. We've come to discover epigenetics, where the environment can influence gene expression (although not by changing the actual genetic code). What you're proposing would require an enormously complex system. Even synthetically, we can't say "I want this trait in E. coli" and make a custom protein from a custom gene sequence. That would require full knowledge of protein folding and interaction to determine what sequence would result in the functionality we want from the protein, which may be decades off, based on current computational methods.
     
  5. May 4, 2012 #4
    Thanks for the reply.

    Well stated. ok.

    Essentially, just the first question restated. There is a potential for more rapid adaptation if "non-random selective advantages/disadvantages" are exploited. Perhaps a computing analogy (i'm not a CS major so please forgive) is applicable. That higher levels of language are built on machine language which is restricted to only a few basic rules.

    My view is that your stated view, although nearly universal, is not logically consistent. Intelligence, whatever its meaning, is also a process/movement of the same physical components as those exploited by evolution. Why is there a break in treating one process (evolution) as fundamentally distinct from another process (intelligence activity of the brain)? The only difference I see is in scope in space and time.

    The following is pushing even further, perhaps too far into speculation - I suspect that the process of evolution, with a massive toolset of perception and intelligence can implicitly (non-consciously) perceive/apprehend the fitness landscape more directly, essentially making it significantly more efficient at adaptation. Once these higher order "powers" are emergent and in place I think it is probably that evolution would exploit them.
     
  6. May 4, 2012 #5
    wiki'd "Lamarckian" and I would say this probably applies - some form of soft inheritance.

    I guess my intuition tells me that if an organism has the ability to "see" its environment then why would evolution not take advantage of this, for example with camouflage. What would it make iterative changes across the spectrum?

    Ok so in this case the ability to adapt would gain flexibility over time based on previous adaptations, but would not be able to go beyond them.

    Not sure how to proceed...
     
  7. May 4, 2012 #6

    bobze

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Can you clarify your question? How does evolution not account for our sense? Think about the first organisms with eye spots--Which allowed them, like some present day protists, to find and stay in light. Are you saying that selection hasn't acted on our abilities to perceive?
     
  8. May 4, 2012 #7
    Of course from a survival and selection standpoint evolution relies on senses. To clarify what I intend to ask... using a made up scenario: say a blue month gets introduced to a city. The generations that progressively become more gray and match the buildings don't get eating by birds. As I understand it (limited as my understanding is), the progression to gray does not utilize the moths eyes to see the surrounding environmental color, thus expediting the change in only a few generations. This is what i mean by 'blind' both in the literal and metaphorical sense.

    I realize I am reaching, but I am more surprised that evolution wouldn't take advantage of this.
     
  9. May 4, 2012 #8

    bobze

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    How would evolution "take advantage of this"? Think about your example for a moment. Adaptations are traits that are favored by selection. In the case of the moth, are the blue moths choosing to get eaten more often than those more gray in color?

    The moth has no input into its survival so to say. The predators of the moths are "selecting" for a trait, gray color in this case. The moth itself has nothing to do with it.
     
  10. May 4, 2012 #9
    "How would evolution "take advantage of this"? Think about your example for a moment. Adaptations are traits that are favored by selection. In the case of the moth, are the blue moths choosing to get eaten more often than those more gray in color? "

    Its not quite that bad:) I am saying that if I were to program a moth I would give it the ability leverage its learning and sense data to influence its own program for subsequent generations. I am sure if this was a dominant mechanism things would go bad quickly, but it would still be a useful asset. I guess it is a kind of top down organizationing based on a kind of long-term learning that I am proposing. Perhaps a programming challenge would demonstrate its advantage or disadvantage.
     
  11. May 5, 2012 #10
    Of course the hypothetical ability to identify traits that would increase survivability and modify phenotypes to achieve that would be advantageous. As I said before, however, that would require the ability to A. reason through what phenotypic changes would be beneficial, B. know what proteins or enzymatic products would result in that phenotype, C. reverse engineer that protein to determine the AA sequence, and D. synthesize a customized gene to make that protein.

    That's an logistical nightmare teetering on impossible. You can't know what a protein will do without knowing the ins and outs of its structure and we currently have no complete way of figuring out how a protein folds based on its AA sequence, let alone doing that in reverse, which your proposition would require.
     
  12. May 5, 2012 #11

    Chronos

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Organisms more perceptive to the hazards of their environment will tend to survive longer, hence, tend to bear more offspring.
     
  13. May 5, 2012 #12
    Haha, you can't get away with it just by saying that. You need to specify what exactly you have in mind when you think of intelligence for others to respond appropriately.


    Of course in principle, the senses provide highly valuable information from an evolutionary perspective. But there also has to exist a mechanism by which this information can be transferred and implanted into the genome in order to gain an advantage. And aroc91's post brilliantly explains why such a mechanism doesn't exist yet and why there is little chance of it happening in the future
     
  14. May 9, 2012 #13
    Evolution 'happens'. Evolution does not have 'purpose'.
    Humans evolved to gain intelligence and humans use intelligence to overcome environmental changes to survive, but that does not stop evolution in humans.
     
  15. May 9, 2012 #14

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I answered this question in another thread by the same poster.

    My conclusion was that DNA is meant to be stable (not affected by environment) so it doesn't receiver information about the organism's precepts.

    This is the central dogma of biology, that DNA is only the source of a 1-way information highway, and never the sink.
     
  16. May 9, 2012 #15

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    With the caveat of inherited epigenetics.
     
  17. May 9, 2012 #16

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Yeah, but epigenetics doesn't actually go back and change the DNA does it? It just changes instructional regimes in between for transcription, I thought.
     
  18. May 9, 2012 #17

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes that that's correct it doesn't change DNA sequence but does alter transcriptional behaviour that can result in quite significant phenotypic changes. Regardless though it strays from the OP's point as it is still an unintelligent process.
     
  19. May 9, 2012 #18

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Yes, I agree, organisms can't directly influence epigenetic outcome in response to perceptions and of course the personification of evolution is just a case of anthropomorphism, which lacks objectivity.
     
  20. May 13, 2012 #19

    There is no firm line between reactions and intelligence. Reactions are important. As far as anyone knows they are inherited. Reactions that involve memory are more sophisticated. Then there are goals, and having as a goal something that has never existed before.

    Eventually the organisms become intelligent enough to be aware of the process of evolution and take advantage of it. Natural selection falls away and then artificial selection rules. Farmers breeding pigs and corn are a good example. This has been going on for millenia. They didn't need Darwin to do that.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Perception, Intelligence and Evolution
  1. Perception of Colour (Replies: 16)

  2. Intelligent life (Replies: 22)

  3. Dino's and intelligence (Replies: 18)

Loading...