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Brains did not evolve a lot before before humans, that's true. Humans are clearly on a new line. Humanoid lines were near extinction for most of the ~1-5 million years. Most lines did go extinct (most of the fossil evidence can be firmly attributed to sidelines), except actually one. The result was a larger brain, hence it was our main tool of survival in the bottleneck times - we had no other viable option. Herewith, I do not deny the evidence (that Millman mentions below) that the brain grew even larger (for mating games, apparently) when better times arrived. That can be expected from evolution - attraction to new savior attributes can easily persist beyond previous necessity.

Generally, larger brains probably offer exceptional functionality beyond some critical mass - and the need for that kind of functionality should be desperate enough to overwhelm alternatives through all evolution path. In that sense, intelligence is a way too long shot for non-human species. Even for humans, collective intelligence had "overshot" downsides - the escalating ecological crisis is the result of our collective "intelligent" conclusion that greed is very ok, no matter what deep senses say.

But marginal intelligence gains could still be relevant in the Nature. Once weasel-you got genes for slightly bigger brain, you cannot exchange them for more efficient "investment". But you can still manage to survive and reproduce if the brain will help you with a few tricks, though probably less amply than your fellows. Still, that would be enough to keep a line of more philosophical weasels in existence. Smart weasels could have a valuable role within their community. It is hard to say what "minimal level" must be.

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.

The energy overconsumption is obviously not for maintainance of (individual or collective) brains. We just consume more energy because we can.

by das monde on Thu Oct 11th, 2007 at 01:43:27 AM EST
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