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Evolution of abstract thought

Discussion of everything related to the Theory of Evolution.

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Evolution of abstract thought

Postby sharanbngr » Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:05 pm

Abstract thought, more accurately abstract mathematics is a recent achievement in human history(starting with perhaps the elements of Euclid). However our brains are reasonably equipped to deal with this.However I don't see how this would have been of any use to our hunter gather ancestors(may be around 10, 000 bc), so why did it evolve?
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Postby Luxorien » Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:57 am

Not everything that evolves has to be useful; it just has to not be harmful.

That said, abstract thought is useful to hunters because it improves communication and strategy. Intelligence is probably the only adaptation is beneficial to almost any organism at any time, because its problem-solving power can be applied to whatever environmental problem that species is currently facing.
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Postby animartco » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:03 am

I'd like to reply to both poster and commenter here. Firstly, how do you define abstract thought? And is it a purely human adaptation? After all bees and termites make pretty sophisticated mathematically perfect constructions.
secondly, I don't think it is true that adaptations don't have to be useful, just not bad. There is some evidence that any adaptation not found to be useful, pretty soon disappears.
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Postby Darby » Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:00 am

There's a monkey in the tree - you can reach it with a rock, but you can't throw the rock in a perfectly straight line, and this rock is a different weight than the last one you used. How do you figure out how to chuck it?

Abstract thought isn't just equations.
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Re:

Postby Luxorien » Fri Mar 09, 2012 10:14 am

animartco wrote:I'd like to reply to both poster and commenter here. Firstly, how do you define abstract thought? And is it a purely human adaptation? After all bees and termites make pretty sophisticated mathematically perfect constructions.
secondly, I don't think it is true that adaptations don't have to be useful, just not bad. There is some evidence that any adaptation not found to be useful, pretty soon disappears.


I took the original poster to mean the advanced cognitive ability that led to Euclidean geometry, particle physics, and me squeaking through AP Calc with a cool 71 average.

When a non-useful adaptation disappears, it is usually because the adaptation is waste of energy, which makes the adaptation harmful rather than neutral. There is also the possibility that a useless adaptation could get genetic drifted in the face and disappear that way. It's just that natural selection doesn't care if you are perfect; it cares if you are good enough. As long as you survive to reproduce, your genes get passed on. Maybe you don't have as many kids as your superhero neighbor, but your lineage nevertheless continues.

Although I suppose using adaptation here is kind of inaccurate, since an adaptation is, by definition, something that helps an organism survive.

I think Darby makes an excellent point, though. Animal brains do some pretty complex stuff without really thinking about it.
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