Re: Technology, evolution, intelligence -Reply

Matthew S. Tomaso (tomaso@UTXVMS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 15:13:23 -0600

on 07:41 AM 2/7/95, James Barnes wrote:

>Mea culpa, as well. If I had chosen my words more carefully rather
>than with sarcasm...
>However, I would like to address a few points.
>1) Yes, social insects, some mammals, etc. exhibit communication and
>cooperation. In the case of insects and lower mammals this is innate
>and not a product of learning.

Well, I disagree. Behavioral studies have not, in my view demonstrated, but
rather assumed this to be true. Typically, it is argued that humans have a
greater capacity to be flexible in adaptive behavior and, therefore, human
behavior must be qualitatively different ('learned' as opposed to
'instinctual') from animal behavior. While I certainly would not argue that
human behavior is 'built in', I would question the utility and validity of a
conceptualization of instinct whioh necessarily opposes it to 'learned
behavior'. What is the point? It seems to me a species-centric move.

>In the case of lions, dogs, etc. their
>repertoire is fairly limited. I also would point out that a great many
>animals besides humans use tools. However, I do think you've hit upon
>a very important point: How far removed are human behavioural
>repertoires from other social animals? Are these old repertoires in new
>settings? I would think so. But, that doesn't address the importance of
>a refined ability to perceive and interpret environmental cues and
>developing a course of action based on those interpretations.

Only a non-human animal could hold up my end of the argument at this point,
but unfortunately, I haven't been that successful teaching my dog to speak
about anything she doesn't need. I am not sure that we can necessarily
state that humans have a higher level of communication with their
environment or 'environmental cues'. In fact, this seems rather
counter-intuiitive since our senses, except our vision of course, are
relatively poorly tuned and since we seem, at present, to require a
bludgeoning about the head and the ears when our environment wants to tell
us something.

>2) Yes, artiodactyls do a fine job of escaping predators. They have a
>specialized morphological feature called a hoof. It permits them to run
>fast. Humans lack hooves. They also lack claws and their canines are
>not that intimidating. Humans avoid predation through social cooperation
>("you sleep, I watch") and, of course, technology.

Good point. However, have you ever considered the idea that you could
interpret the defensive behavior of pack animals or bees as 'just as
intelligent'. A lot of animals avoid predation through cooperation. What
about Musk-ox? Now it would be a real stretch to call these animals
intelligent in the way that humans supposedly are. (Please note that I am
just using my bad attitude to try to make amusing a serious point. I think
that we have serious problems of anthrocentrism in discussing the
intelligence of other animals)

>3) The agricultural and industrial revolutions have already been
>addressed. These events occurred long after the evolutionary changes
>we are referring to. They were made possible by the evolution of
>intelligence, not vice versa.

"made possible" is a problem for me here. What was so intelligent about
the collective decisions, relations or forces that lead to these events?
This sounds like capitalist ideology to me. Are those that did not
participate stupid? If you simply mean that complex social organization
requires pre-existing complex intellect, I would counter that the complexity
of intellect is rather more like the desparate attempts we have made to
justify these events through ideological constructions

>Finally, as far as seeking a prime mover, I don't believe I suggested
>anything of the kind. In addressing the particulars of another's argument
>there is the danger of over-emphasizing one aspect of your own.


>Evolution is the product of a suite of traits and behaviours producing
>differential reproduction. Tool-using is simply one of them as is social
>organization, etc. However, I find the latter more interesting.

Certainly, human social organization is a product of evolution, but, in my
opinion, not of the biological kind.

>I do agree with Mr. Tomaso that before talking about intelligence you
>need to define it.

And Mr. Barnes has made some decent progress in that regard in an earlier
post. (which I may or may not respond to)

>Jim Barnes


Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin