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It's not really a selfishness vs altruism issue, more about the cost of intelligence required for long-term planning vs the tendency for evolution to select the minimum intelligence required to survive in any niche.

Intelligence is expensive - running a big brain takes a lot of energy - and it only propagates when there's obvious selection pressure for it. In all of the billion years we've seen of evolution, intelligence has only evolved to what might be considered a reasonable level exactly once. And so far, only for a short time. (The jury is still out on how long that time will be.)

So my suggestion is that because strategic intelligence is always close to the minimum level needed to deal with immediate challenges and survival issues - because otherwise the energy costs outweigh the immediate benefits - the likelihood of any species evolving the cognitive capacity to deal with wide-scale issues is much smaller than it's usually assumed to be.

I'm assuming we're talking about species that are competing in their niches - 'competing' really meaning 'apapting to selection pressure' and not necessarily 'beaten each other over the head with antlers and rocks.' In fact I think of cooperation very much a competitive strategy in the widest sense.

I'm also assuming that this is happening in an environment which requires some effort for resource management and extraction. (You can imagine a planet-wide non-competitive colony organism which lives off photosynthesis - and if such a thing exists anywhere, obviously this suggestion won't apply.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2007 at 09:10:32 AM EST

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