Gaming - In General
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December 21, 2009, 2:07 pm

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The many ways to intelligence


How does a given species become intelligent? Why does one turn from somewhat smart to actually sentient, and another doesn't? What is the magic formula, if there is one?

This is a collection of theories and factors, that may have some positive effect on the evolution of an intelligent species. For the real thing, it is most probably more than one factor, and it's hard to say which one is the "real one". Some are serious, some are very theoretical, some are completely imaginary (or silly). Let’s see what we come up with.

What is the list useful for? Well, if you are creating another race or civilization, it is always useful to think outside of the box - and this is one such inspiration.


- social existence/living - no guarantee by itself, it is a crucial factor many theories build upon it. It is more than the anonymous existence in an insect swarm or a rat pack (though both can demonstrate a certain cunning in their actions as a group entity). It enables pack hunting and passing on of skills, politics and more complicated personal relationships. Speaking of...

- political existence - or lying, cheating and generally deceiving your fellow beings. Living in a group makes it necessary to read the intentions of others, and even better, to manipulate them. Such feats of thinking reward brain power, which can be used for other purposes, too. (Now think of a civilization, that appreciates this.)

- tools - also a sign of thinking, not a proof. It has been theorized, that extensive tool use and their manufacture account for increasing intelligence with developing manual skills, knowledge of working various materials and the finding of new applications.

- higher being(s) - on the one side, the Creator God(s), on the other side, aliens, some other, already intelligent being(s) made it so that people can think. They may or may not stay around.

- changing environment - often mentioned, large changes force existing lifeforms to adapt. Some lifeforms may be moving into a different territory, permanently or as a part of a periodic migration. Same goes for new predators/competition for the lifeform.

- sex - not as such, if a certain preference for partners lasts for long enough, it will change the species. Some theories hold the more intelligent individuals are more attractive. Others consider our obsession with youthful looks to be important: if the younger/immature looking partners are preferred, it leads to a longer period of maturing. If the species can survive it, this enables the development of larger brains and a longer childhood, that is more inclined to learning.

- radioactivity - the explanation for everything, whether it is exceptional solar flares, or a supernova exploding nearby, higher radioactivity triggers a higher rate of mutations. Some of them happen to be beneficial enough to confer that necessary extra kick.

- blind chance - intelligence just happened. It may not be an elegant explanation, but hey, it can’t be completely rejected.

- distributed thinking power - where an individual is a mere unit, large groups demonstrate the ability to learn and adapt to their surroundings. Larger groups could cross the boundary. This could also apply to colony lifeforms and other nonstandard candidates.

- drugs - through the intake of specific drugs, hormones or other chemicals, the existing neural system is uplifted enough to change its functionality or physiology (the "Harold & Kumar theory of intelligence").

- disease - a sickness, such as cancer, could have an unexpected outcome if the brain/neural system could tolerate its existence. The question of inheritance stays open (leading to odd customs like eating brains of the ‘smart ones’ after death).

- multimorphism - individuals of a given species specialize on various functions (like hunters and those remembering the spoils and prey, or primitive breeders and their protectors). With time could the nascent intellect grow in all the members of the species, there could stay a sharp divide, or they could split into two distinct subtypes. Also note exceptional specimens like queens.

- opposable thumb - a certain anatomical feature turns out to be eminently suitable for other purposes (like tool use), supporting the thinking process and raising the chances of its owners to survive.

- rock'n'roll - primitive humanoids discovered music, the generation of rythms and harmonies leads them towards more complex thinking and coordination of their activities. Who knew?

- telepathy - a species has accidentaly received the gift of reading thoughts. The race to a better interpretation of thought patterns makes them better predators, worse prey, or both. The brain is extra.

What is your theory?

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Comments ( 7 )
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Voted Scrasamax
January 1, 2010, 17:53
Blood Flow to the brain, thinking requires oxygen and fuel to go on, and without a suitable flow of blood to the brain, the level of though is limited. Humans have very large arteries (in comparison with other animals on a body size comparison) that feed blood to the brain. The apes and monkeys considered closest to us in genetic terms have much smaller arteries.
Siren no Orakio
January 2, 2010, 5:59
Some thoughts.

The shift from quadruped to biped - The opposable thumb is a common feature throughout the ape lineages, however, a largely ground based ape rising up off the ground into an upright stance is critical, providing both extended vision range, allowing the shift to a primarily vision based sensory system, and thus our extensive color vision, it allows tool carrying. Once a tool can be kept from place to place, technology can begin. The opposable thumb alone is not enough - thank your choice of deities for this, or polydactyl cats would rule the world, with their double opposable thumbs. There are a LOT of species on Earth with opposable thumbs.

Once tool use has begun to supplant natural weapons and defenses, the grip can afford to become more precise, encouraging further tool use. This brings up the need to develop the ability to both create tools, reason out their usage, and predict the future need for tools. Logic, reason, and mysticism enter the mind at this step - mysticism is a useful 'short cut' in the reasoning process at this time.

Language comes from the need to communicate complex concepts, including tool usage to the progeny and to the pack at large. This is facilitated by the presence of weapons and cooking implements, which remove selection pressures that drive towards strong, muscular mouths. Coordinated activities throughout a pack can cause selection pressures that drive towards language use. The large, coordinated pack will likely outhunt and outfight the small, poorer coordinated packs - Witness our extinction of our cousins, the Neanderthal man. The Neanderthal was stronger and faster than we are. We had better tools and bigger packs. There is no more Neanderthal.

With the pack using tools for extended periods of time, there is now a place for 'ownership' in this proto-beings mind. There is also a much stronger need for the concepts of "I", "Us", and "Them".

With possession, self-and-group identity, language, cause-and-effect, 'Past-Present-Future' conceptualization, and complex tools, the stage for civilization is set. This, however, is still a 'feral' intelligence. To grip the stars, he must begin with the invention of two special tools.

He must first commit what can be argued to be the original eco-sin. He must tame the wild plant and beast, and divest his food source from the natural carrying capacity of his native ecosystem through agriculture. Agriculture permits specialized food producers, allowing others to become specialized tool-makers, warriors, and the distribution of the food and tools becomes trade. Trade leads to gatherings, which leads to cities. Once cities and specialists exist, extremely complex information must be stored and exchanged, leading to the next key invention: Writing. Writing and the complex symbolic thought that it encourages create an explosion of technology.

January 13, 2010, 17:32
Good thoughts.

Thinking around the "there's gotta be agriculture" point, there may be sentient carnivores living mostly from meat, which would logically master herding first. The semi-nomadic herders would first get rid of competing predators, and as their numbers increased, would need more efficient ways to keep animals. By then would follow some agriculture (the plants useful for construction etc. and the few they would eat) which would force some to settle; along with the tool producers. With the majority roaming around and trading a little, the villages and towns placed around key resources would slowly attract more population and improve their animal-keeping technology; division of labor would be strongly rising at the point. Then comes writing and the rest of path, but the civilization could be quite different due to its roots.
January 13, 2010, 17:20
Very relevant indeed!
Voted Moonlake
February 1, 2015, 0:40
Very informative for the purpose described by author
Voted valadaar
July 25, 2016, 8:46
What an excellent discussion!

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Ideas  ( Plots ) | July 5, 2003 | View | UpVote 0xp

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