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The Eternal Debate


sethoflagos
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48 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Regarding the cuckoos, all I meant was that, compared to crows, they're pretty dumb, but yet they have this apparently devious behaviour that allows them to 'outsmart' crows. I find that pretty amazing, and wonder whether they know what they're doing and why, or following a long-established instinct. 

Very hard to say. But take the honeyguides. They have a very complex interaction with humans (including mutual recognition of each others calls), that is thought to have developed over the last 1.9 million years. ie they were coevolving with our H. erectus ancestors.

They're neither cuculids nor corvids (more closely related to the woodpeckers), but they are brood parasites.

You know tyrant flycatchers and how to spell 'humour'. Canadian?

49 minutes ago, iNow said:

When submarines move through the water, they use sound waves to detect their surroundings and gain information about their environment. They pulse out a sonar “ping” and listen for what comes back. I presume the various specie out there in Nigeria and elsewhere may be largely doing the same. 

Entirely credible. Or maybe they're just saying '*** off this is our swamp'.

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1 hour ago, sethoflagos said:

Canadian?

One of several. Why do you assume Canadian? (I don't know any tyrant flycathers well enough to drink with) Do Brits not spell their own language properly anymore?

1 hour ago, sethoflagos said:

Or maybe they're just saying '*** off this is our swamp'.

I'd far prefer to think: "Your turn!"

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

I don't know any tyrant flycathers well enough to drink with

Phoebes are among the tyrant flycatcher family

1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

Do Brits not spell their own language properly anymore?

Tyrants are unknown outside the western hemisphere. (I hope @MigL doesn't misread this as another attempt at 'humor'). Hence you're unlikely to be a Brit.

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One of the main factors in the variety of frog calls is species identification. A frog has a tiny brain, and they often mate at night, so they don't just need to find each other, they need to make sure that they are mating with their own species. The calls are the main way they do that in the dark. If you are a frog, and mate with another species, you are wasting your chance to do what you were born for, to continue your line. And in the dark, without the calls, one frog looks much like another. 

If the calls of two species are too similar to each other, it's likely that both species will suffer lower mating success, so there is constant evolutionary pressure for the calls to be different. And the more different, the better. 

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5 hours ago, sethoflagos said:

tyrants are unknown outside the western hemisphere...Hence you're unlikely to be a Brit.

Good, but not foolproof detective work; just as well I can't be convicted on this evidence. I read about the phoebe - not sure I've ever seen one on the wing - in a Barbara Kingsolver novel, which has been translated into 20 languages. I read it in English, thought it a pretty name and didn't associate it with tyrants in any way; it seems an unassuming little insectivore. I do know the eastern kingbird, which also doesn't seem to me particularly regal. 

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20 hours ago, sethoflagos said:

A while ago I was watching one perched on an elevated cable being mobbed by a multispecies group of smaller birds. It's primary response (before eventually flying off) was to mimic (very well!) the call of our local kestrel. 

There's quite a lot going on here. 

There are quite a few polyglots among birds. I'd put cuckoos, corvids and parrots among the most intelligent[?]

We should never forget they're the clever dinosaurs who didn't get extinct. I wonder if every time there's a big extinction on Earth, that creates a sieve for intelligence/resourcefulness more than anything other adaptive feature.

Last autumn I was with a friend on a biking outing. During a stop, he produced a bird-sing app and played the Eurasian-wren territorial signal. Sure enough, a male Eurasian wren came out of the bush and he looked quite disgruntled. It was wren territory, sure, but there was none in sight before.

I've watched videos of naturalists playing the alarm signal of some species. In a matter of seconds you see the bird unmistakably displaying sentry behaviour.

Edited by joigus
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9 minutes ago, joigus said:

We should never forget they're the clever dinosaurs who didn't get extint. I wonder if every time there's a big extinction on Earth, that creates a sieve for intelligence/resourcefulness more than anything other adaptive feature.

All hardship does that, as does all major change. But extinctions create a lot of unoccupied territory and ecological niches, where species that had previously been prey or adjuncts to more dominant predators have a chance to develop their potential. Just think of the scope for rats and cockroaches when we're out of the way! 

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8 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

All hardship does that, as does all major change. But extinctions create a lot of unoccupied territory and ecological niches, where species that had previously been prey or adjuncts to more dominant predators have a chance to develop their potential. Just think of the scope for rats and cockroaches when we're out of the way! 

I wonder if we've been looking at intelligence the wrong way (one species vs others), and it's really a (homological?) feature that will be favoured once a certain threshold (of basic "lower-level" (immune system, and similar more "mechanical" aspects) has been conquered from an evolutionary point of view.

Does that make sense?

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21 minutes ago, joigus said:

I wonder if we've been looking at intelligence the wrong way (one species vs others), and it's really a (homological?) feature that will be favoured once a certain threshold (of basic "lower-level" (immune system, and similar more "mechanical" aspects) has been conquered from an evolutionary point of view.

Does that make sense?

I'm not sure I understand it.

We [humans] surely have been looking at intelligence the wrong way, i.e. from an anthropocentric perspective, which starts with the assumption that we're the smartest thing in the universe, except maybe our gods, and sometimes we outsmart even them.  Lately, though, we've become a little more objective and open-minded, so that we measure the intelligence of other species not just by how well do on human tests compared to humans, but to how well they solve problems in their own environment.

Intelligence isn't necessary to survival at all, except in the solving of problems like:

How do I find my usual food? Okay, if my usual food is unavailable, what else can I eat?

This smells like food, but it's too hard to bite. How do I open it?

How can I get to my spawning place? Okay, if this route is blocked, how do I get around the obstacle?  

If my nesting tree has been replaced by building can I nest in that? Is it safe? Where to build? 

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

Intelligence isn't necessary to survival at all, except in the solving of problems like: [...]

(My emphasis.)

Not a sine qua non, but certainly gives you an advantage.

If I chase after an animal repeatedly, there comes a time when it gets exhausted and I can chase it more easily. I don't need to be that fast.

It's the seeds that give rise to a plant. If I carry them with me, I can make them grow somewhere else.

If the animal thinks I'm a plant, it won't notice me (theory of mind)

When the stars come back to this position again, I should expect rain...

Etc.

Ideas of cause and effect, mind, etc. seem to me to have been quite useful when it comes to improving reproductive chances. Survival is in the equation only because it increases those chances.

The engine of evolution is advantage. You only need to be more efficient at producing offspring that's more efficient at producing offspring than the next fellow. Evolution is not really so much about survival.

Sometimes, it can be very helpful to the species to consider own sacrifice.

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15 minutes ago, joigus said:

Not a sine qua non, but certainly gives you an advantage.

Sure, but this presupposes competition. Algae don't need to be very smart to be essential to all other life.

15 minutes ago, joigus said:

If I chase after an animal repeatedly, there comes a time when it gets exhausted and I can chase it more easily.

Exactly. Competition poses problems.

Problem: How to get my food? Solutions: speed, power, stamina, stealth, cunning. The last is the most cost-effective: he wins. Mostly, not always. The other traits are very useful and may be more applicable in some instances.

OTOH, when the niches are full and the only competition in which you have the chance of an advantage is against your own kind, that can be self-defeating, self-destructive. Under those conditions, your better bet - and most certainly the better bet of your offspring - is in co-operation. That's where intelligence takes central importance. It enables you to communicate, share information, pool resources, co-ordinate effort and pass your experience forward to the next generation.

The trick of intelligence is in deciding which to do when.   

 

 

Edited by Peterkin
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3 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Sure, but this presupposes competition. Algae don't need to be very smart to be essential to all other life.

Exactly. Competition poses problems.

Problem: How to get my food? Solutions: speed, power, stamina, stealth, cunning. The last is the most cost-effective: he wins. Mostly, not always. The other traits are very useful and may be more applicable in some instances.

OTOH, when the niches are full and the only competition in which you have the chance of an advantage is against your own kind, that can be self-defeating, self-destructive. Under those conditions, your better bet - and most certainly the better bet of your offspring - is in co-operation. That's where intelligence takes central importance. It enables you to communicate, share information, pool resources, co-ordinate effort and pass your experience forward to the next generation.

The trick of intelligence is in deciding which to do when.   

 

 

Yes. But speed, power, stamina, and other adaptations more "mechanical" require optimization of the organism with respect to environmental conditions in a more simplistic way than intelligence. Thus, they need environmental conditions to be varying relatively slowly as compared to speeds of molecular evolution (mutations.)

The evolutionary bonus about intelligence is that it gives you a fighting chance to win the game even when environmental conditions are changing very rapidly. You can avoid your disadvantage if you are able to predict it somehow. That's where big extinctions would raise intelligence above any other adaptive advantage. It is in that sense that I say that maybe increase in intelligence has been favoured along different lines of evolution (more an homology inter-species than a wonderful supercalifragilisticexpialidocious property of humans.)

If that were true, dolphins and sharks, humans and gorillas, koalas and mice of today, all of them, would be in some sense more intelligent on average than the species that occupied the corresponding environments in, say, the Jurassic.

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27 minutes ago, joigus said:

The evolutionary bonus about intelligence is that it gives you a fighting chance to win the game even when environmental conditions are changing very rapidly.

Pray on that!!

28 minutes ago, joigus said:

If that were true, dolphins and sharks, humans and gorillas, koalas and mice of today, all of them, would be in some sense more intelligent on average than the species that occupied the corresponding environments in, say, the Jurassic.

Why not? Comparative studies are pretty thin on the ground. The only thing we're sure of is that the Really Big Winner of the Intelligence Wars is wiping out itself along with all other life because it got too smart too fast.  

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2 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Pray on that!!

I'm constitutionally incapable of praying. But if I were to bet on what stands a better chance of successfully tackling the effects of rapid changes in the environment, intelligence or..., say, something like a thicker skin, more efficient thermoregulation etc, my money is on intelligence. Collaborative human intelligence to be more precise. 

Honestly, it feels like I'm stating the obvious here.

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7 hours ago, joigus said:

There are quite a few polyglots among birds. I'd put cuckoos, corvids and parrots among the most intelligent[?]

We should never forget they're the clever dinosaurs who didn't get extinct. I wonder if every time there's a big extinction on Earth, that creates a sieve for intelligence/resourcefulness more than anything other adaptive feature.

As regards the K-Pg extinction event, the primary sieve for survival seems to be whether or not a bird posessed teeth. Toothed birds (Enantiornithines & Hesperornithines) which were dominant in the Cretaceous were all wiped out while just a few beaked taxa survived. But this is an interesting read:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-birds-survived-and-dinosaurs-went-extinct-after-asteroid-hit-earth-180975801 

So having both a beak and a more developed brain seem to be linked. 

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2 hours ago, joigus said:

Collaborative human intelligence to be more precise. Honestly, it feels like I'm stating the obvious here.

You would think. And yet, previously, you stated: 

 

5 hours ago, joigus said:

You can avoid your disadvantage if you are able to predict it somehow.

Quote

In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. In 1938, Guy Callendar connected carbon dioxide increases in Earth's atmosphere to global warming.https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Lots of warning, lots of clever-boots, lots of available technology - no decisive action.

The huge down-side of competitive, rather than collaborative intelligence is that it overwhelmingly favours short-term individual and familial advantage over long-term group and species survival.  That's why the ants will inherit the earth. Plus, they're meek.

1 hour ago, sethoflagos said:

So having both a beak and a more developed brain seem to be linked. 

Thanks for that interesting read!

Edited by Peterkin
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11 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Lots of warning, lots of clever-boots, lots of available technology - no decisive action.

The huge down-side of competitive, rather than collaborative intelligence is that it overwhelmingly favours short-term individual and familial advantage over long-term group and species survival.  That's why the ants will inherit the earth. Plus, they're meek.

So the meek shall inherit the Earth? Where have I read that before? ;)

I see lots of forks on the road where we could lose our wits, but I prefer to be optimistic. Common sense can be whipped into, hammered into people's minds. Or perhaps you can kill them softly with your song. Human intelligence gives you at least a capacity to change behaviour or attitude based on intelligence and --let's not forget-- human emotion and empathy. Maybe it's the whistle-blowers that need to change their discourse so that the message is finally brought home. I'm not suggesting they (we) should; I'm just saying it's a possibility that non-intelligence doesn't afford you.

Somehow, I don't see that coming from the ants.

12 hours ago, sethoflagos said:

As regards the K-Pg extinction event, the primary sieve for survival seems to be whether or not a bird posessed teeth. Toothed birds (Enantiornithines & Hesperornithines) which were dominant in the Cretaceous were all wiped out while just a few beaked taxa survived. But this is an interesting read:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-birds-survived-and-dinosaurs-went-extinct-after-asteroid-hit-earth-180975801 

So having both a beak and a more developed brain seem to be linked. 

Very interesting. The only argument I'm missing here is the possibility of a spandrel: An evolutionary change that could apparently (or actually) be pointless, because it's just accidental, or perhaps associated with a re-location of traits in which it's just making room for another (crucial) trait.

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2 hours ago, joigus said:

I see lots of forks on the road where we could lose our wits, but I prefer to be optimistic.

If it feels good, why not?

2 hours ago, joigus said:

Maybe it's the whistle-blowers that need to change their discourse

They have, six or seven times in the course of a century, during which all the world's informed experts and amateurs understood the danger, understood its causes, understood what remedial measures needed to be taken, and all the world's political and religious leaders had informed advice. They talked about it.... and... opted for short-term personal advantage. I suppose we could try to put a new spin on why it happened, the way they did after each of the wars, a different narrative in each participating nation, but the dogs and robots won't be interested.

Thing about intelligence is: It's so much better at creating messes than at preventing them.

Edited by Peterkin
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3 hours ago, joigus said:

Very interesting. The only argument I'm missing here is the possibility of a spandrel: An evolutionary change that could apparently (or actually) be pointless, because it's just accidental, or perhaps associated with a re-location of traits in which it's just making room for another (crucial) trait.

We know from our own example that by shrinking the strong, robust mandibles of our ancestors, we no longer needed such sturdy muscle attachments for them allowing us to shed our supraoccipital crests which in turn allowed us to expand our brain cases.

Perhaps the switch from toothed mandibles to beaks allowed a similar shuffling around of soft tissues for modern birds.

I found this paper illuminating: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abg7099

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6 minutes ago, sethoflagos said:

We know from our own example that by shrinking the strong, robust mandibles of our ancestors, we no longer needed such sturdy muscle attachments for them allowing us to shed our supraoccipital crests which in turn allowed us to expand our brain cases.

I've never heard that. Do you have a link? I've always read that the crest reflects the diet. A pronounced saggital crest goes with enlarged grinding molars and thick enamel. It enables forceful grinding of lower quality food. I've never read anywhere of a link to brain size. In fact, the robust australopithicenes had enlarged brains, just like their more gracile cousins. 

In modern apes, the gorilla has a much more pronounced crest than chimps, and it reflects the different diets of the two, and not any pronounced difference in intelligence. 

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44 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I've never heard that. Do you have a link? I've always read that the crest reflects the diet. A pronounced saggital crest goes with enlarged grinding molars and thick enamel. It enables forceful grinding of lower quality food. I've never read anywhere of a link to brain size. In fact, the robust australopithicenes had enlarged brains, just like their more gracile cousins. 

In modern apes, the gorilla has a much more pronounced crest than chimps, and it reflects the different diets of the two, and not any pronounced difference in intelligence. 

Try https://www.science.org/content/article/weak-jaw-big-brain

 

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11 minutes ago, sethoflagos said:

That holds no surprises. It's a speculative hypothesis by a gastro-intestinal surgeon, not an evolutionist.

The comment at the bottom, by professor Holloway, physical anthropologist with Columbia University who has specialised in the evolution of brains, puts it in it's rightful place.   "To suggest that the brain is constrained by chewing muscles is just rubbish," asserts Ralph Holloway, a physical anthropologist at Columbia University."

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56 minutes ago, mistermack said:

That holds no surprises. It's a speculative hypothesis by a gastro-intestinal surgeon, not an evolutionist.

The comment at the bottom, by professor Holloway, physical anthropologist with Columbia University who has specialised in the evolution of brains, puts it in it's rightful place.   "To suggest that the brain is constrained by chewing muscles is just rubbish," asserts Ralph Holloway, a physical anthropologist at Columbia University."

Sometimes emotions run high, don't they?

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8 hours ago, Peterkin said:

If it feels good, why not?

It's not about feeling good, as I made clear in the following lines you didn't quote. I explained why I have reasons for optimism. 

I don't wish this debate to be eternal though...

You strike me as overly pessimistic. Enjoy the songs of birds while we share the planet with them. Not even cocroaches will last forever. ;) 

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