Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
The only thing I would like to ask you is why evolution has the to select the minimum intelligence required to survive in any niche.

That's mostly evidential. Most animals aren't smart. The dinosaurs don't seem to have been particularly smart, and they had a long time and a free run to develop intelligence in what should have been ideal conditions.

Admittedly we only have negative evidence - it's possible some of them developed space flight, left the planet, and happened not to leave a fossil record of that. But since there's no record of that happening we have to assume that they spent 160 million years charging around and eating other rather brainlessly. (In comparison we've been around for a million or so in our current physical form and a couple of thousand in our current socialised form.)

So big brains are still an extra leg, and one that hasn't yet been proved to have long term survival value. And since we know that adaptations tend to devolve unless there's selection pressure to keep them - e.g. cave dwelling animals tend to lose their eyes, because eyes are expensive too - it's reasonable to assume that brains are evolved to match the bare minimum required by selection pressure +/- some random amount of genetic and socialised variation.

In fact what's unique about humans is that we have evolved beyond single brains to collective problem solving and collective memory - in effect most brain power is no longer individual.

In the short term this has been a fantastically successful development. But maintaining it is even more energy intensive, to the extent that we're now edging up against the energy budget of the entire eco-system.

My point is really that this is an inevitable barrier for any evolving species. The bare minimum of evolved brain power will always be too small to get over the barrier, and what makes success likely - or not - is pure luck and random variation.

There have been plenty of cultures that reached a similar barrier on a smaller more local scale, and didn't make it. There's no reason to assume that we will either. I'd guess most species and cultures don't, and only a lucky few make it through.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 05:16:19 PM EST
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