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The leading theory behind the anomaly that is human intelligence is that humans had the greatest diversity in selective pressures over the course of our evolutionary history which allowed only the most intelligent to propagate their genes. Variety in selective pressures can be seen as correlative in other species as well: aquatic mammals, such as whales and dolphins, which evolved from the ocean to the land and back to the ocean are incredibly intelligent compared to the species of fish which didn't have such a diverse environmental history. Octopus have an evolutionary history of being around tidal pools which also explain their higher-than-average intelligence. Crows are self-explanatory.

But my question is about the consequences of this theory, not the theory itself. One consequence is that it implies that some environment history is shared between all species and their respective evolutionary lineages. Such environments are more general since they must encompass all species, all selective pressure events, all animal observations of the world, etc. One example of such an environment is existence itself. Every species encompasses existence and thus there had never been a differentiation between those who understand existence and those who don't to allow for an understanding of existence to develop via evolutionary selection. The only selective pressures humans have faced have been locally environmental ones thus we can deduce that human understanding of existence can be no better than an ant's! There was never a selection process between organisms which understand existence, and organisms that don't.

This sounds pessimistic, since it implies humans are tied to their finite selective history and therefore are finite in intelligence, but it's actually optimistic since all we need do is expand our selective diversity until more and more general environments select for understanding organisms.

To rephrase: since humans are subject to some of the same certain selective pressures as ants are, does this mean humans have no edge over ants in some aspects?

  • Humans operate with greater amounts of energy than ants in overall. But how do you decide the intelligence. The understanding of reality? Well, it helps in operating the energy. And we are better in that than ants. – rus9384 Jan 13 at 16:24
  • Well, humans and ants diverge somewhere back at yeast. So we probably all share that same level of understanding of existence. Yeast may know existence as well as fish know water. How well do fish know water? Do they know it better, or less well than we do? Consciously, surely less well. But genetic intelligence is sub-conscious. – jobermark Jan 13 at 17:34
  • It's not a good model. How does it account for red colobus monkeys vs chimpanzees which prey on them, their relatives in the same environment? African grey parrots vs their relatives in the same niche? Humans are thought to gave developed their brains mainly to navigate socialising - where it becomes tautological. Your model of 'understanding of existence' is flawed. Consider the mirror test, which ants don't pass. My thoughts on evolution & philosophy are detailed here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/59456/… – CriglCragl Jan 13 at 18:19
  • Did human ancestry select for intelligence because of varied environments, or did our ancestors disperse more widely due to higher intelligence? Your premise is highly speculative... At any rate humans have acquired greater adaptability and show therefore have an advantage, but that doesn't rule out particular environmental circumstance that would favour ants. – christo183 Jan 13 at 18:47
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    Would you have a reference for the leading theory you mentioned at the beginning? This would help provide context for the question and perhaps aid in the answer. Welcome to Philosophy! – Frank Hubeny Jan 13 at 19:31
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To rephrase: since humans are subject to some of the same certain selective pressures as ants are, does this mean humans have no edge over ants in some aspects?

Of course, humans have no edge over ants in some aspects, and ants are superior to humans in many aspects. For example, for physical abilities: their ability to smell and their ability to lift things much heavier than their body weights; and for mental abilities: the ability of their hive mind to protect their colony concertedly and to sacrifice their lives altruistically.

The leading theory behind the anomaly that is human intelligence is that humans had the greatest diversity in selective pressures over the course of our evolutionary history which allowed only the most intelligent to propagate their genes.

I don’t know what that leading theory is, but I think the statement that humans had the greatest diversity in selective pressures over the course of our evolutionary history is debatable.

The earth is not a monotonous place, but a greatly heterogeneous place with innumerable numbers of diverse ecological niches – from a swamp to a usual land to a dry desert, from a warm tropical area to a temperate area to a deep-freeze polar area, from a shallow sun-lit sea bed to an utterly dark deep sea floor to the thydrothermal vent area, etc. For species to survive in a certain niche, they have to adapt to the selective evolutionary pressure of that niche. But, because ecological niches are diverse, the selective pressure in different niches are different. Some may demand biochemical adaptation (e.g., to utilize solar energy, to utilize sulfur, or to live without oxygen), some may demand anatomical adaptation (e.g., wings to fly, gills to breath in the water, antennae to sense vibration or chemicals), some may demand special sensations (e.g., to see in UV spectrum, to sense magnetic field, or to use echolocation) some may demand reproductive adaptation (e.g. to reproduce rapidly or in large numbers in case of species at the bottom of the food chain, to reproduce not too many in case of species at the top of the food chain), etc.

On the Savannah plane about half a million years ago (so the story goes), bipedal species were struggling for survival. Some developed brute strength as an edge for their survival, some developed agility or arboreal abiity as an edge for their survival, but some developed intelligence as an edge for their survival. Some were lost in the competition (eg. the Neanderthal, Homo erectus, and Homo habilis), some persist till today (e.g., us – Homo sapiens, Chimpanzee, and Orangutan). Although they were competing with many other species, their main competitors were species that required similar ecological niches, that is the Homo and related genus. They were not competing directly with species that required different niches, such as ants, other insects, birds, fish, etc. That’s why some of the Homo lineage were lost from the rise of Homo sapiens, while ants, insects, birds, fish were not.

And it doesn’t seem that humans had the greatest diversity in selective pressures over the course of our evolutionary history than other species. We just had our specific problems and faced certain specific pressure, while other species had their specific problems and faced other certain specific pressure. Each adapted and evolved in its own way. Those that succeed persist. Also, although intelligence can give us edges to increase our survival, there is no evidence that understanding the existence of ourselves does help increase our survival. For now, it may be just a by-product of the versatile intelligence that we have developed.

  • "Also, although intelligence can give us edges to increase our survival, there is no evidence that understanding the existence of ourselves does help increase our survival." That's exactly my question: genetic propagation has depended on a wide variety of factors, thus it makes sense that those factors would be conquered, but factors that have not discriminated between animals would still not be conquered. Also, I'm speaking about behavioral selection here, not biochemical selection. – Hierarchist Jan 14 at 14:35
  • @Hierarchist For now, the ability to understand the existence of ourselves, like the abilities to play chess, to compose grand concerto, to create marvelous art, etc., may be just a by-product of the versatile intelligence that we have developed. But, in the future, there might be a selective pressure occurring that favors species that have this ability. When that time comes, this ability will become a discriminating trait. – user287279 Jan 14 at 17:01

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