How Evolution Hacked-its-way to Intelligence

Hand-Wavey, but interesting.

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I only got as far as this: This is intelligence in action: the ability to reach a particular goal or solve a problem by undertaking new steps in the face of changing circumstances.

That may be a definition of intelligence, but I fail to see that an embryo has any particular goals or solves any problems. What happens to is what happens, and if it remains viable it will develop further. If it doesn’t remain viable, it is gone. That is all, really.

From the paper

But how did intelligence emerge in biology? The question has preoccupied scientists since Charles Darwin, but it remains unanswered. The processes of intelligence are so intricate, so multilayered and baroque, no wonder some people might be tempted by stories about a top-down Creator. But we know evolution must have been able to come up with intelligence on its own, from the bottom up.

The simple to complex model is what needs to be demonstrated to make thousands of papers like this get beyond what you call “hand waving”.


Not wanting to speak for either of you, but I think you mean Consciousness rather than intelligence. A simple AND-gate might be a minimal definition of intelligence as this article presents it. A Dynamic System would be a far more complex sort of intelligence, but no one would claim that either are conscious.

This article is more hand-wavy than most, clearly intended for a non-technical audience. The authors appear to be well qualified to offer an opinion on the question.

One of the authors (Levin) has an interesting comment on a related article:

The other author is interesting too:

That complex intelligence can arise from something more simple is demonstrated every time a fertilized ovum develops into a thinking person (or a whale, dog, chimp. octopus, etc).

That a lifecycle involving development of complex intelligence can evolve is harder to demonstrate, but all the evidence suggests it did, and the range of lifecycles in extant lifeforms cover much more than developing intelligence.

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I found out yesterday that pearlfish spend much of their time inside sea-cucumber recta. At times like this I understand how they may feel about their environment.


It didn’t. It was there from the beginning.

It is an apparent puzzle only because people have misunderstood intelligence. And they continue to misunderstand it.

The tendency is for people to connect intelligence with logic. And the field of AI (artificial intelligence) takes that to an extreme. But intelligence should instead be seen as derived from pragmatism. And pragmatism, under the caption “survival of the fittest” is an inherent part of biology and evolution.

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Intelligence made intelligence is the most hand waving answer possible. Whereas all of nature affirms simple to complex. Essentially everything begins simpler and becomes more complex over time.

Throw something on your frying pan and leave it on and it will become more complex over time.

The geology of the planet became more complex over time(the number of and types of minerals).

The earliest universe contained nothing but a soup of subatomic particles, and these combined and produced more complex phenomena over time, first hydrogen and the light elements in huge gas-clouds, that condenced and became starts, which clustered into galaxies, the stars went supernova and produced heavier elements and we got asteroids, comets, planets, etc. etc.

You yourself grew from a single cell. All of the evidence from the evolutionary history of life affirms simple to complex. The earliest evidence of life is single-celled and stayed like that for the first 2 billion at least. The first multicellular life in the fossil record is sponges, and so on and so forth.

Even things that intelligent designers invent and design and learn begin simple. We learn simple concepts first and add more and more on top. From moving your limbs, to understanding words, to speaking, reading, writing, and mathematics. Learn simple stuff first, more complex things later. Human inventions and designs were much simpler in the past, and became bigger and more elaborate and complex over thousands of generations.

Of all things this is among the most thoroughly demonstrated principles in all of science.

Those aren’t Bill’s words. He’s quoting there, it was obvious because it was coherent.

Hi Rum
This is where you can get simple too complex yet the complexity is the starting point. Minds can arrange parts.

Em, I was simply responding to a straight quote from the article. If they meant consciousness they should have said so.

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No. You grew from a single cell, and that includes your presumed brain. And even the number of connections in your brain grew as you developed and matured. And going back before your own life, you’re just another ape that belong to a species that evolved, and like everything else in the universe you’re just the product of something that became more complex over time.

Only when they have arms attached. And minds evolved and became more complex, like everything else in the universe did.

I’d say some well trained minds can arrange parts (arms still required) but the vast majority are far more adept at breaking things rather than purposeful arrangement - ask any two-year-old. Even the most curious and inventive minds are going to do a lot of trial-and-error trying to figure out how parts ought to go together. Evolution is pretty good at trial and error too.


The information to build a mind and the associated parts was contained in the single cell. We know this because the process is generally reliable and repeatable.

Your assertion that we are apes is an untested hypothesis as far as I can tell.

‘We are apes’ is a classification, not a hypothesis, so there is nothing to test. If you mean ‘we are descended from apes’, that is a hypothesis and there are many tests and they have been presented here over and over again.

The alternative ‘we are separately created’ is also a hypothesis, so how do you propose we test that one? What predictions follow from it?

Then your mind will be blown when you learn we’re also mammals. Amniotes. Tetrapods. Vertebrates. And so on.

In any case, our common ancestry with other apes is tested by consilience of independent phylogenies.
Here’s some of that evidence:

Bill why do we get essentially identical trees of almost 200 primate species from the sequences of 54 different nuclear genes with radically different functions?


Based on your claim all these primates came from essentially the same starting point in history say 50 million years ago. How many mutational changes created this diversity? Do you have a model of how all these changes became fixed in the various populations over 50 million years or 2.5 million generations?

How do you eliminate some separate starting points as an alternative hypothesis? If for arguments sake there were 200 different starting points why wouldn’t we get almost identical trees?

For starters, we can test (and have rejected) the hypothesis of multiple starting points. Anyone interested in ID ought to be testing similar hypotheses searching of any indication of independent origin as more data becomes available. The absence of interest from ID researchers putting their theory to a falsifiable test is telling.

Common ancestry put to the test


We wouldn’t expect any tree structure if the data came from 200 separate starting points. If we analyzed such data we would instead expect a star phylogeny. And there you have it: a test of common descent among primates. The data are incompatible with separate starting points. Do you see why?

What are your starting assumptions that end in a star structure?