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tjackson2112

Given time, Intelligence is Inevitable

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Hi.  I've long had a personal theory on evolution that, given time, it is inevitable that evolution builds larger brains and higher levels of intelligence, perhaps to some limiting factor beyond which there is perhaps some increasing cost in terms of fitness that ultimately levels out that progression, which we as a species probably haven't reached yet.  It does so, because a bit more brains have a net survival benefit to many species that, for example, a longer beak to exploit a (relatively) new resource recently appearing within an ever changing environment does not have in the long run, a resource that will soon be gone again.  Yes, examples of static species (like sharks) are often cited.  But I think those can be explained by the supposition that a shark is not a social animal and has everything it needs to exploit the more or less static food resources available to it such that a bit more brains isn't going to afford it an appreciably greater survival benefit, so the progression toward bigger brain is balanced by the greater fitness cost in building the bigger shark brain, leading to a local optima that is somewhat difficult for the shark to get past over the eons.  Much more so than a social land animal like ourselves and our forebears and other social species.  Does anyone have some ideas on that subject?

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I should have added that by the time a species possibly reaches a point at which even larger brains are increasingly less of a survival benefit, that species is probably well within the realm of understanding their own brains on an intellectual level and well within the realm of designing their brains too, so I guess that conjectured point of diminishing returns is actually more open-ended than it might seem and Darwin factor by then insignificant.

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8 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Hi.  I've long had a personal theory on evolution that, given time, it is inevitable that evolution builds larger brains and higher levels of intelligence, perhaps to some limiting factor beyond which there is perhaps some increasing cost in terms of fitness that ultimately levels out that progression, which we as a species probably haven't reached yet.

Why would you work on that instead of studying mainstream evolution? You could have saved that "long" time and made better use of it.

No offense, but bigger brains isn't a goal of the process. More brains is NOT necessarily a net survival benefit for many species. Birds, for instance, don't need them, and if they had a bigger brain they might not be able to fly. How would that effect their survival favorably? Would they be smart enough now to figure out how to survive while grounded?

Intelligence is far from inevitable. You might be able to argue that humans are on a course for even higher intelligence, but brains are limited wrt how much they'll be able to help. At a certain point, too big a head doesn't survive birth. 

Intelligence helps humans in large part because of many other factors evolution has favored in us. Our intelligence is enhanced by having thumbs that oppose our fingers, allowing us to make and use tools, which gave us agriculture, which gave us time to make more tools, and learn to communicate and cooperate. It's a cascade effect, something you aren't going to get just by giving another species a bigger brain.

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8 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Hi.  I've long had a personal theory on evolution that, given time, it is inevitable that evolution builds larger brains and higher levels of intelligence, perhaps to some limiting factor beyond which there is perhaps some increasing cost in terms of fitness that ultimately levels out that progression, which we as a species probably haven't reached yet.  It does so, because a bit more brains have a net survival benefit to many species that, for example, a longer beak to exploit a (relatively) new resource recently appearing within an ever changing environment does not have in the long run, a resource that will soon be gone again.  Yes, examples of static species (like sharks) are often cited.  But I think those can be explained by the supposition that a shark is not a social animal and has everything it needs to exploit the more or less static food resources available to it such that a bit more brains isn't going to afford it an appreciably greater survival benefit, so the progression toward bigger brain is balanced by the greater fitness cost in building the bigger shark brain, leading to a local optima that is somewhat difficult for the shark to get past over the eons.  Much more so than a social land animal like ourselves and our forebears and other social species.  Does anyone have some ideas on that subject?

So bigger brains are inevitable, except when they aren't? That really doesn't sound like it's a falsifiable hypothesis.

Quote

It does so, because a bit more brains have a net survival benefit to many species that, for example, a longer beak to exploit a (relatively) new resource recently appearing within an ever changing environment does not have in the long run, a resource that will soon be gone again

I'm sorry, exploiting resources does not have a survival benefit? But increasing metabolic costs with no immediate payoff does have a survival benefit?

How does that feedback work?

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Hi Phi,

I'd say that bigger brains IS a goal of the process.  My point is really just that brain has a general long-term applicability to survival that opposable thumbs or longer beaks or wings that fly aren't necessarily going to have in the long run.  A slightly larger brain might outweigh vagina diameter in terms of survival benefit such that the vagina would have to give way a bit to accommodate that bigger brain and could probably do so.  As far as birds go, we know that some make rudimentary use of tools.  There's more potential benefit right there.  Body size and design even of birds could always accomodate, if the net benefit made sense.  And birds could always come back down to the ground like ostriches and penguins.  There is nothing in a Darwinian sense that says they HAVE to fly, if being more intelligent made more survival sense.

Speaking of human development, seems to me brains developed hand in hand with tool use, agriculture, and mainly social developement including everything from the brain's ability to understand spoken language to reading the nuances of facial expression.

As far as spending a 'long' time on the subject, my profession has or had nothing to do with biology.  I brought up the subject merely out of personal curiosity.  All kinds of 

Hi Swansont.  I think you're taking my point too far out of context.  Whether a shark occupies a local optimum that is difficult to get out of in order to reach an even greater point of optimum is my point.  On your second comment, a flower that a longer beak can exploit will soon be obsolete in an ever changing environment, whereas brains in a sense is much more enduring and eternal in the genome.  And who says there's no immediate payoff?  I admit that I'm no expert on biology, so you... titans of the subject have me at a bit of a disadvantage.  Please excuse my presumption.

Edited by tjackson2112

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2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

I'd say that bigger brains IS a goal of the process.  My point is really just that brain has a general long-term applicability to survival that opposable thumbs or longer beaks or wings that fly aren't necessarily going to have in the long run.

You'd be wrong. Evolution doesn't have a goal at all. It's just increases in allele frequency within a population over time. What benefits could a bird have with a slightly bigger brain if it could no longer fly? I think you're placing far too much importance on intelligence, probably because you're so smart you can't imagine it wouldn't help any other species.

Birds are extremely specialized. I don't think you appreciate the sacrifices they've made in evolutionary terms so they can fill their niches. Barely any bone density, only enough muscles for flight, they even use physics and gravity instead of muscles to swallow food and water, all to make them lighter for flight. And they rule the skies!

Bigger brains and higher intelligence are great for humans mostly because of all the other things I've already mentioned. But our big brains don't help us much against a shark if you toss us into the deep ocean. And it wouldn't help the shark out to be a little smarter either, no matter how non-intuitive it seems. Higher intelligence comes at a cost (remember?), and sharks have been much more successful in their environment for a much longer time than humans. Giving up anything they have now in exchange for bigger brains could hamper them as much as it would birds.

Why look at anything about evolution in "a Darwinian sense"? The process is fact, and the theory has advanced a great deal in all that time. It's like talking about modern orbital mechanics "in a Copernican sense". 

Intelligence, and higher levels of it, don't translate across the board to benefits for other species. They need to be able to act on this higher thought. It even plagues humans some times, when our smarts get ahead of our other capabilities. Lots of wonderful ideas were conceived but not possible until solid-state technology made them viable. Even further back, the steam engine was invented long before we had the practical mechanics to derive work from it. 

2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Speaking of human development, seems to me brains developed hand in hand with tool use, agriculture, and mainly social developement including everything from the brain's ability to understand spoken language to reading the nuances of facial expression.

It started probably with being able to cook meat using fire. We had better protein that lasted longer, our guts reduced since they didn't have to process raw meat, we started walking upright which freed our opposable-thumbed hands for tool use and exploration, and the whole time these were developing simultaneously, we were improving our communications skills, which bolstered our cooperation skills, and put us on the road to top-tier predator status.

Things changed for us most drastically when we realized we didn't have to gather food as we roamed if we stayed and planted seeds. Agriculture and animal husbandry gave more humans the luxury to do things other than hunt, and increased our nutrition (and our intelligence) enormously. 

So it really doesn't work the way you think. How do those other species acquire their bigger brains? Without all the elements to drive selection of the traits involved in higher intelligence, it's not going to happen, especially if the species in question is already pretty successful in their environment.

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2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

I'd say that bigger brains IS a goal of the process.  My point is really just that brain has a general long-term applicability to survival that opposable thumbs or longer beaks or wings that fly aren't necessarily going to have in the long run.

There are quite a few organisms that have lost functionality during evolution. That includes brains (and even all neurons). Sea squirts even "eat" their own brains when they mature from the larval form.

So bigger brains are not universally better than other things.

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Great thread, with some really accurate Interesting, intelligent responses!

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8 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

On your second comment, a flower that a longer beak can exploit will soon be obsolete in an ever changing environment, whereas brains in a sense is much more enduring and eternal in the genome.

Why? You realize the flower is evolving too, along with the bird and it's beak, right? If the flower gains the benefits from specializing for the bird with the longer beak, it becomes more successful too. The environment is ever changing because of the process, and all life within it is finding their own "optimums", and being smarter is not only NOT inevitable, it's not even necessary for most species.

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Good point, Phi.  And here's another anachronistic over-similification borrowing terms from the ancient past.  Branches on the tree may extend this way and that, but the direction of the tree is always up.  Can you tell me of a specific symbiotic relationship like that of the beak and flower that has lasted as long as the progression of the evolving brain through the eons of evolutionary history?  Being a little smarter almost invariably does have a little benefit, though perhaps too little to benefit the quite stable shark species appreciably.  And the environment is changing both because life changes the environment AND because of other factors having nothing whatsoever to do with life, which can and do radically alter delicate symbiotic relationships, perhaps putting an end to both the bird and the flower here and there.  Of course I am aware the flower is evolving too.  And true, you support my point with the shark example - smarter is not inevitable in some or many cases, but far from all.

And when I said 'goal', I was using shorthand of course, just as a 'goal' of human evolution is to find the fittest female(s) to mate with and the fittest male to hopefully stay around and protect, defend and help provide for both the childbearer and the offspring, at least during the current round of baby-making.  And a long-term 'goal' is that chicks stay in a general way beautiful to our male eyes (a visual measure of their fitness in terms of facial balance and other beauty characteristics relating to fitness, which we males have counter=evolved to be attracted to in that way of sexual symbiosis - there are all kinds of ways to look unfit, relatively few to look optimally fit).

And the sea squirt a rarity indeed.

Whales once occupied the land, then went back into the sea, exploiting very different food resources after the transition.  But unless I'm mistaken,  I believe their brains increased in size all the while.

Edited by tjackson2112

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50 minutes ago, tjackson2112 said:

Branches on the tree may extend this way and that, but the direction of the tree is always up.

"Up", in this case, being symbolic for spreading successful traits to future generations, yes? Because the direction of the tree has no correlation to intelligence or the selection for its many components.

2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Can you tell me of a specific symbiotic relationship like that of the beak and flower that has lasted as long as the progression of the evolving brain through the eons of evolutionary history?

"Brain" in general? Vertebrate brain? Primate brain? Human brain? And why compare a relationship between two species to the evolution of the brain? I'm not sure what your point is here. 

2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Being a little smarter almost invariably does have a little benefit, though perhaps too little to benefit the quite stable shark species appreciably.

Your species gets whatever superiority it has based on being smarter, so of course you think a little more intelligence would benefit every species. You have a cognitive bias towards cognition.

2 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

And when I said 'goal', I was using shorthand of course, just as a 'goal' of human evolution is to find the fittest female(s) to mate with and the fittest male to hopefully stay around and protect, defend and help provide for both the childbearer and the offspring, at least during the current round of baby-making.  And a long-term 'goal' is that chicks stay in a general way beautiful to our male eyes (a visual measure of their fitness in terms of facial balance and other beauty characteristics relating to fitness, which we males have counter=evolved to be attracted to in that way of sexual symbiosis - there are all kinds of ways to look unfit, relatively few to look optimally fit).

Why do I get the feeling you're speaking in "the Darwinian sense" when you mention "fittest"? And how does the above support your "intelligence is inevitable" argument? In today's society, an intelligent woman doesn't necessarily need a man to stick around once they've passed their genes along to the next generation .

 

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"Up in this case... "  Yes.  Of course.  Nowadays a woman doesn't need a man at all, except to provide sperm, which can come from a refrigerator.  It's called a metaphor, a metaphor for the point I've been making.  The rapidly evolving plastic (that means ability to adapt in this context and not literally polypropylene, Phi) brain and all the blossoming human power stemming directly from its incredible general applicability and versatility have mastered the survival game, and artificial selection is by now in serious competition with natural selection and the entire evolutionary paradigm shifting and a woman now has many options of course, other adaptations being dwarfed by its versatility and general applicability in so many realms, both currently and in the ancient past.  But she didn't have so many options through the bulk of pre-human evolution, since nature started down the path towards endowing the human female with less muscle, speed, aggression, etc,  and a bit more fat, more nurturing instincts, intuitive and argumentative skills and other characteristics complementing her role as default child bearer, feeder, rearer and ultimate mate selector, many of them functions of the plasticity of the rapidly evolving brain.

Brain in general of course from the first primitive ganglia all the way up to the advanced human brain.

Why compare?  You've forgotten my original point.

 

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On 6/30/2019 at 7:21 AM, tjackson2112 said:

Hi.  I've long had a personal theory on evolution that, given time, it is inevitable that evolution builds larger brains and higher levels of intelligence, perhaps to some limiting factor beyond which there is perhaps some increasing cost in terms of fitness that ultimately levels out that progression, which we as a species probably haven't reached yet.  It does so, because a bit more brains have a net survival benefit to many species that, for example, a longer beak to exploit a (relatively) new resource recently appearing within an ever changing environment does not have in the long run, a resource that will soon be gone again.  Yes, examples of static species (like sharks) are often cited.  But I think those can be explained by the supposition that a shark is not a social animal and has everything it needs to exploit the more or less static food resources available to it such that a bit more brains isn't going to afford it an appreciably greater survival benefit, so the progression toward bigger brain is balanced by the greater fitness cost in building the bigger shark brain, leading to a local optima that is somewhat difficult for the shark to get past over the eons.  Much more so than a social land animal like ourselves and our forebears and other social species.  Does anyone have some ideas on that subject?

I appreciate the general idea, but I would also question the physical size of the brain in relation to intelligence.  If you use the analogy of a computer chip, computer chips have become exponentially smaller through their development cycle and yet they have become exponentially more powerful, such that computer chips in the future will be invisible to the naked eye.  So physical size and computing power aren't intrinsically linked.  I think the same could be said for brains - it's highly possible that other animals are equally as intelligent as humans (in terms of perception and cognition) with a much smaller physical brain.  Some birds, for example, can percieve the Earth's magnetic field (https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13811-birds-can-see-the-earths-magnetic-field/).  Other animals have sensory abilities that far surpass those of human beings.  Are they less intelligent?  I don't think so.  I think probably the main difference that separates humans from other animals is the ability to store memories and create technology, which is a major hallmark of what we consider to be "intelligence".

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13 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

And when I said 'goal', I was using shorthand of course, just as a 'goal' of human evolution is to find the fittest female(s) to mate with and the fittest male to hopefully stay around and protect, defend and help provide for both the childbearer and the offspring, at least during the current round of baby-making.  And a long-term 'goal' is that chicks stay in a general way beautiful to our male eyes (a visual measure of their fitness in terms of facial balance and other beauty characteristics relating to fitness, which we males have counter=evolved to be attracted to in that way of sexual symbiosis - there are all kinds of ways to look unfit, relatively few to look optimally fit).

And the sea squirt a rarity indeed.

Whales once occupied the land, then went back into the sea, exploiting very different food resources after the transition.  But unless I'm mistaken,  I believe their brains increased in size all the while.

If you talk about goals in evolution you're putting the cart before the horse. It's like saying that if you throw a stone off a cliff it's goal is to reach the ground . If there is a goal, it is for an individual to pass on its genes. Any evolution that takes place is simply an 'unintended' consequence.

And you're picking on some very convenient examples to support your idea. You'd need to research a genuinely inclusive sample of all life forms to support your claim. You ought to look at all living things in producing this sample, and if biomass is a measure of success then plants are by far and away the most successful group:

https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506

And they seem to do pretty well without brains.

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One way to test the theory would be to take a number of the ancestors on different branches of the tree closer to the trunk and compare their brain sizes to their more modern descendants and see if there were any general increase in average brain size, including branches not leading to humans.  Has that sort of research been done?  That might help determine what environmental and concurrent adaptive variables (like opposable thumbs or whatever) lead to greater selection pressure for increasing brain size.  Of course, as was noted, for many bird species to see greater brain size would involve a large cost in other factors necessary for flight.  In the whale example, that constraint would be much reduced.

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4 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

One way to test the theory would be to take a number of the ancestors on different branches of the tree closer to the trunk and compare their brain sizes to their more modern descendants and see if there were any general increase in average brain size, including branches not leading to humans.  Has that sort of research been done? 

Sure. Archeologists have been tracking fossil records on many species. There's nothing to suggest brains are getting bigger. There's nothing that correlates brain size and intelligence. Some rodents have bigger brains than monkeys, but the monkeys are smarter. Cows have bigger brains than any monkey. 

Between humans, brain size doesn't correlate to intelligence. Albert Einstein had an average sized brain. 

4 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

Of course, as was noted, for many bird species to see greater brain size would involve a large cost in other factors necessary for flight.  In the whale example, that constraint would be much reduced.

Whales and elephants have much bigger brains than humans, even when you consider scale. Again, it's not just the brains that determine what humans think of as intelligence. A whale has very few components for increasing their intelligence with a broad array of experiences, the way humans can manipulate with their hands and tools and the ability to travel across most mediums. A whale has no way to exploit more intelligence. Humans pioneer our own intelligence, using our unique combination of abilities, giving us shared cooperative experiences that we communicate through elaborate processes. We are so much more than a species that got a little smarter.

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20 hours ago, delboy said:

If there is a goal, it is for an individual to pass on its genes. Any evolution that takes place is simply an 'unintended' consequence.

The drive to reproduce is one kind of evolutionary goal, and reproduction is a foundational goal linked to biology, but it is by no means the end all, be all of evolution.  What's interesting is that evolution is replete with such a vast array of goal directed behavior, much of it divorced from reproduction, especially in our own species.  A human being who is deeply interested in producing music, for example, because that person loves music - such a person doesn't play music to pass on his / her genes.  Yes, some musicians play music for popularity (to make themselves more attractive socially), but many don't.  Many play music for the intrinsic enjoyment of the art; such people are highly motivated and inspired in their day to day existence.  The same goes for numerous other iterations of intelligent action, whatever they may be.  So is all goal directed, creative behavior linked to the drive to reproduce?  I think that is too simplistic of an argument.

Edited by Alex_Krycek

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7 hours ago, tjackson2112 said:

One way to test the theory would be to take a number of the ancestors on different branches of the tree closer to the trunk and compare their brain sizes to their more modern descendants and see if there were any general increase in average brain size, including branches not leading to humans.  Has that sort of research been done? 

Neanderthals had larger brains on the average than modern man. 

Edited by Bufofrog

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This thread seems to have overlooked the corvids, which could be argued, demonstrate the OP. Intelligence given enough time will occupy a broad spectrum of food gathering capabilities. 

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Intelligence and knowledge are a bit different. Placing your knowledge in a public sphere without being intelligent about it could be smart or stupid. For example, say you pissed your trousers when you were seven: if you were writing a book about child psychology maybe it would be quite smart to open a discussion but if you were writing a rap and threw down some jaunty lyrics to conceal your unexplored psychological issues regarding childhood then it might be considered smart, rolling in that swimming pool of bills, until other people caught your drift and were eventually a bit disgusted and weirded out. Then everyone would find it funny, possibly even cool again, and you might even make some more money but now have to live with how awkward it is that you also went on an MTV interview and confirmed it was about pissing yourself as a kid.

I think that intelligence is a lot about how well adjusted you are, which is also about how you express emotion and in which context. Beating yourself up over mistakes is sometimes smart: the more you learn about yourself the more and less like your younger self you are. Pushing yourself away from aspects you don't like might help you avoid what you don't like about yourself, in tern, allowing you to believe others like you more because you like you more. More happiness, more fulfilment, is this not what a smarter human being would want? But it can also be damaging to your health if you still don't like yourself, so its a case of weighing up pros and cons which can only be inspected after the fact and therefore somewhat a moot point. 

The case can also be made that the more you discover about the atrocities against you fellow human beings the less happy you are, but may help you put things in context or strive to do better. Less happiness, more meaningful, more happiness, and isn't being a useful, positive influence on the world what a smart human being would do? It might increase the likelihood of surviving amongst peers who recognise the value of intelligent action. Then again the less intelligent may survive for decisive action or strong gut feeling (or, though worse, appearance: see Nazis). Foolish, cruel human beings may want to justify their own actions by idolising another foolish, cruel human being.

In regards to task repetition, it's what Einstein said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Baby's learn where their mouth is for food by themselves (this is a task which is alternated as the baby gets further from their ears) but a hand guiding their hand to their mouth might help activate muscle memory and co-ordination.

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19 hours ago, Alex_Krycek said:

The drive to reproduce is one kind of evolutionary goal

A goal is something in the future to strive towards. If we're using that definition of goal, then it can never be applied to evolution. A strong drive to reproduce is something that will be selected for and therefore evolution will bring it into being. But there was never any goal to end up this way, it just happened due to the chance happening of mutations and their subsequent selection.

So it's more accurate to say that the drive to reproduce is a product of evolution, not a goal.

 

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10 hours ago, delboy said:

But there was never any goal to end up this way, it just happened due to the chance happening of mutations and their subsequent selection.

So it's more accurate to say that the drive to reproduce is a product of evolution, not a goal.

This question falls into the realm of philosophy of science, hence your statement is more of a worldview; not an objective fact.  The idea that all life occurs by the "chance happening of mutations and their subsequent selection", and the idea that there is no inherent goal is an assumption based on that worldview (mechanistic materialism).  I tend to disagree with this perspective.

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15 minutes ago, Alex_Krycek said:

This question falls into the realm of philosophy of science, hence your statement is more of a worldview; not an objective fact.  The idea that all life occurs by the "chance happening of mutations and their subsequent selection", and the idea that there is no inherent goal is an assumption based on that worldview (mechanistic materialism).  I tend to disagree with this perspective.

Whose goal do you believe it to be?

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10 hours ago, zapatos said:

Whose goal do you believe it to be?

I don't think it's a question of "who".  Personification of evolutionary processes is an inadequate lens to use (terminology that should be relegated to theism).  Goal directed behavior (on various levels) is probably just an intrinsic part of an evolutionary universe.  On the other hand, the idea that passing on one's genes is the ultimate purpose of evolution isn't supported by the evidence.  It's an assumption.

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2 minutes ago, Alex_Krycek said:

I don't think it's a question of "who".  Personification of evolutionary processes is an inadequate lens to use (terminology that should be relegated to theism).  Goal directed behavior (on various levels) is probably just an intrinsic part of an evolutionary universe.  On the other hand, the idea that passing on one's genes is the ultimate purpose of evolution isn't supported by the evidence.  It's an assumption.

Not an assumption of the theory, evolution has no purpose or goal, it just happens much like the evolution of the planet.

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