November 12, 2005

An "Intelligent Design" Theory

No, not that Intelligent Design "theory". Well, this isn't really technically a theory either, except in the loosest Aristotlesque sense of the word -- learning by thinking. This is a hypothesis based on observed phenomena.

For the purpose of this thesis I will use the following broad definition:

intelligence [in 'tel i jents] n. The ability of a living organism to sense and adapt to it's environment and/or to better it's experience of it's environment.

So, here's my hypothesis: Evolution is driven, at least in part, by the intelligence of organisms themselves, rather than exclusively by random mutations. This has nothing to do with consciousness, but with unconscious awareness of what would improve the species' quality of life. (And this goes for plants as well as animals.)

Exhibit A: Haircuts
Humans like to play with their hair; to cut it, braid it, shave it, grow it, tie things into it, etc. If someone cuts their hair, or shaves a symbolic pattern in it, and then decides that they want to change it, it's okay; it's grow back. Not only that, it'll keep growing and growing until they have to either cut it or, maybe, trip over it.

My hypothesis, then, is that we don't play with our hair because -- unlike the hair of other animals -- it grows and grows, but that our hair grows and grows because we like to play with it.
A dog's coat will grow back if it is shaved down for the summer months, but it will grow only to certain utilitarian length. Our hair will grow to well beyond any useful length not by accident, but because we, throughout our cultures' histories, have always needed it to.

Exhibit B: Claws on squirrels
There's no reason for a ground dwelling herbivore like, say, a deer, to have claws that are capable of getting it up a tree. A squirrel didn't grow sharp claws and then realize that it could climb a tree with them. That would mean waiting around for a random mutation that isn't likely to happen.

I mean, horeshoe crabs have remained unchanged for millions and millions of years not because their genes are somehow not given to mutation, but because they never had a reason to change. Squirrels, therefore, developed claws because they wanted to climb trees. The evolution was done on purpose, not by accident.

Exhibit C: Blubber
Whales don't swim in cold waters because they've accidentally been given a thick layer of blubber; they have a thick layer of blubber because they swim in cold waters. Just as a guitar player will develop callouses on his or her fingertips to keep them from getting raw and painful from playing, our species' adapt to their surroundings with remarkable ease and speed.

Exhiit D: Sunflowers
When a sunflower turns to face the sun it isn't, of course, thinking about what it's doing. But, in a way, the plant as a whole does "know" what's good for it. While a botanist could explain exactly what is happening at the cellular level to produce this phenomenon, the fact of the matter is that this ability to follow the sun is not the product of an incredibly beneficial accident or a biological failure a long time ago when it's DNA was copying itself. It's the result of the intelligence of the organism, as a whole, to recognize a way to make the most of it's given circumstance.

Exhibit E: Flight
Flight has been developed only four times in the 500 million year history of animal life on land; insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats. First, an animal might learn to parachute; to stretch it's own surface area in order to create drag and slow down it's fall. Why? Because it wants to.

Then the parachuting animal might develop the ability to glide; to fall at a shallow angle over a longer distance. Then one of those gliding creatures decided to get more distance by flapping it's "wings" and voila, a flying animal is born self-made! Waiting for nature to accidentally provide a gliding animal with proper wings would be nerve wracking. So, instead, the nerves wrack their nature and soon it's one animal, two wings, no waiting!

In tel i jent de zine; not random, accidental, curiously coincidental mutation. Our bodies, as a unit and given all of the information supplied through our five senses, can willfully adapt to new conditions and, yes, at the cellular/genomal level, new ideas.

Well, it makes sense to me, anyway.

Posted by Tuning Spork at November 12, 2005 07:14 PM | TrackBack

Did chickens decide they needed to lay eggs, or did eggs decide they needed to produce chickens.

1. People play with their hair because it is there. I don't think hair playing is some sort of species imperative. if it were, bald guys would probably all be psychotic.

2. Squirrels or whatever their ancestors were developed claws overtime because the ones that could climb the trees rather than waiting around for food to fall to the ground had a much higher survival rate. Plus being able to escape whatever was roaming the ground eating proto-squirrels.

3. Whales that didn't have a nice layer of blubber didn't survive because all of the good food was in the colder water. That's probably where all the hot whale babes were too.

and so on.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at November 12, 2005 09:49 PM

Aw, c'mon, Steve. The history of life is all about life finding an even more crazier way to survive. Isn't that phenomenon worth our attention...?

Posted by: Tuning Spork at November 12, 2005 11:23 PM

It is definitely worth our attention. It's even worthy of a lively debate about which is the cause and which is the effect!

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at November 13, 2005 09:31 PM

My contention is that the effect is, in a lot of cases, the cause. Or, to put it less zenly [word?]: Life evolves and adapts because that is what life does as a matter of course; not just by accident.

A proto-squirrel will try to climb a tree and, eventually, the neccessary claws develop and we have a squirrel. It's a super-sized case of "Use it or lose it" that's maybe best described as "Need it and breed it".

Life is nothing if not creative!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at November 13, 2005 11:26 PM
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