Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Julie's New-and-Hot (Week 5)

"Builders with little brains"
From Nature (April 12, 2007)

In this article, Tore Slagsvold gives a book review on James Gould and Carol Grant Gould's Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence. The main question of this book is whether or not "intelligence is actually needed to be a good architect and builder." There are several interesting examples that show intelligence is not necessarily needed to be a good builder. For example, a termite can build a structure six meters high. In human size ratio, this structure would be about four kilometers high. On the other hand, while many members of the animal kingodm are good builders, mammals are actually quite poor at building as they use the womb to protect the baby. The authors argue that building activity does not require intelligence as structures can be built using small steps. They then extend this idea to say that even skills that appear to be as complicated as language learning can be broken down into smaller steps.

The authors then go on to talk about aesthetics (seems to be the theme for the week). Humans generally think that we have a special sense for beauty. Turns out that this is also not always the case. Bower birds use colorful objects to make their huts more colorful to attract mates. Slagsvold describes that authors' claim as:
Bower birds are considered to be intelligent, suggesting that recursive cycles of selection for a single set of cognitive building abilities and aesthetic refinements are part of the same sort of positive-feedback loop that may have led to the evolution of the human mind.
Interesting... The article ends with the following question:
Could it be that our own building activity is driven not only by the need to shelter from the storm, but also by the desire for power and mate attraction?


chickenpox said...

Hmmm, interesting post, since the notions of beauty and ability to build are often seen as evidence for "intelligent design". I think that we have placed beauty on a bit too much of a spiritual pedestal to acknowledge that this may in fact be the result of many years of evolution.

chickenpox said...

That was me - Josh.