Saturday, January 14, 2006

Evolution of Intelligence

I'd read a science fiction story lately that talked about a possible cause for intelligence arising in early humans. The idea is that for thousands of years, humans went around with basically the same brain structure, but not really advancing in intelligence, until suddenly (at least in evolutionary terms), intelligence started advancing. The story talked about one possible cause that, like most science stories, isn't too likely, but undoubtedly there was some mechanism for intelligence to start advancing.

I've also been reading about brain development in infants, since we have a 7 month old daughter. It's been suggested that listening to classical music will help an infant's brain development, by stimulating neural connections and pathways that otherwise wouldn't form. The same could be said for any complex stimulus, such as complex patterns of colors, complex shapes, etc.

It struck me that the evolution of intelligence could have been caused by a sort of cultural bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is when you start out with a relatively simple technique that allows more complex techniques to be developed. So what if, way back in the dawn of prehistory, someone developed a slightly more complex form of music, or art, or mechanics, something just a cut above the natural tools they'd used before then.

Could that have stimulated neural development in their children, such that those children were then able to create something a bit more complex than their parents, and so on down the generations until we have the level of intelligence that we have today? It certainly seems plausible enough.

If that's true, then I have to wonder what the next advancement will be that will stimulate further neural complexity in our children. And will the children be exposed to it early enough to make a difference?

Such are the thoughts you have when you commute an hour to work.

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