A Conjecture: Intelligent technological life requires a skeleton

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 6 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #50514

    Unseen
    Participant

    While our science fiction writers write about alien intelligences in many different physical forms, I believe that having a skeleton is a necessary condition of any intelligent life form.

    Here on Earth, we, the single most intelligent life form, have a skeleton. All of the most intelligent creatures on the planet also have one, with one glaring exception, the octopus.

    Like humans, many of the higher mammals can solve problems, sometimes involving using tools, and in rare cases (the corvids come to mind) also involving thinking ahead several steps, doing several different things leading up to the achievement of a goal. The corvids (crows, ravens, magpies, etc.) come to mind.

    The octopus is proving to have a surprising degree of intelligence as well as problem solving abilities, but its lack of a skeleton limits what it can do with this intelligence. It can’t develop a high technology because its environment limits it in that regard. Why? Many experiments require heat or even an open flame. Electricity requires an environment that is a poor conductor, like our own atmosphere here on Earth. By contrast, water is a good conductor.

    But skeletons themselves involve some serious limiting factors. The main one is that the skeleton must be an internal skeleton. While external skeletons have some obvious advantages, they impose a size limit. The largest exoskeletal creature on land is the 9 lb. coconut crab. The largest aquatic crab is the Japanese spider crag, which can weigh as much as 40 lb. Neither is noteworthy for their intelligence.

    Humans seem to be in a good size range for conducting experiments. The objects required to conduct experiments and build devices of all sizes are well within our abilities. We can build microcircuits, particle accelerators, and space stations.

    It’s hard to even imagine a creature without an internal skeleton and living in an atmosphere similar to our own developing a high technology.

    Thus, while it may be unlikely, it’s entirely possible that we humans are the only intelligent life that ever existed or will ever exist in the universe. Though, of course, that, too, is a conjecture awaiting conclusive evidence this way or that.

    Your thoughts?

    #50529


    Participant

    It’s hard to even imagine a creature without an internal skeleton and living in an atmosphere similar to our own developing a high technology.

    Our development of science and technology is biased toward the fact that we developed it. Looking at us as a natural species, most of what we developed and discovered was impractical or impossible even mere millennia ago. I mean, look at the extents we go to to secure and refine various metals including deep sea mining.

    While it’s unlikely cephalopods, as an example, would develop the same tools as us, as long as they have an environment to study and resources at their disposal, the means of discovering what’s around them and developing and refining tools still exists. They would have access to different materials and different energy and heat sources (e.g. ocean current and hydrothermal vents). Eventually, they would have the means of conducting experiments on land the same way we do in water. You’d have to keep in mind that their technological needs might also vary from ours by quite a significant margin.

    #50530


    Participant

    Looking at us as a natural species

    Huh, that’s not what I meant to write. The thought in my brain at the time was if you looked at humanity prior to the use of more refined tools, you might think it it impossible or at least improbably we developed the level of science and technology we did. In order to do what we do and discover what we have, it’s required so many technological adaptations, many of which are grossly inefficient uses of resources from a survival standpoint. We have frequently studied matters by using absurd tools and sending people into places and situations violently hostile to our existence (at times resulting in fatalities).

    Point being, our innate physical characteristics may have had some impact on steering us down this path of neurological development and tool usage, but for centuries technological adaptation has been the name of the game.

    #50531

    _Robert_
    Participant

    We overrate intelligence when it comes to survival. The jury is still out, a million years isn’t shit and it is probably an evolutionary mistake. Sure, looks like that right now.

    #50532

    Unseen
    Participant

    @ Autumn

    Many science historians believe that it was one crucial discovery that started the drift toward high technology: Learning how to control fire. How to make it, take it with us, and use it. And we had a major impetus to making that discovery. Namely, as mammals we needed to stay warm.

    Now, remember, I was only making a conjecture. Offering a theory. I was not submitting the need for a skeleton as an undeniable fact. Or if it seems I did, it was offered as the starting point for a discussion.

    Still, I think you have to admit at least this much: Having a skeleton along with living in an atmosphere conducive to combustion are huge advantages.

    Think of all the tools we invented along the way because we needed them. One example: lenses. Even if an octopus could observe a human making a lens, why would it want to make one? Why would it even wonder if there is anything beyond the shimmering Sun and Moon it sees through the surface? How much could it learn about them without making a telescope?

    #50533

    Unseen
    Participant

    We overrate intelligence when it comes to survival. The jury is still out, a million years isn’t shit and it is probably an evolutionary mistake. Sure, looks like that right now.

    It almost seems like having intelligence is a burden and a threat to a species’ survival. Bacteria, cockroaches, dragonflies, and mosquitos have been around a lot longer than the more intelligent creatures in the world. Bacteria, who persist as far into the Earth as we can drill, would survive even if we managed to kill off all living things on the surface, which is something we seem to be working toward.

    #50534


    Participant

    And we had a major impetus to making that discovery. Namely, as mammals we needed to stay warm.

    I will agree only that some impetus is needed. There are plenty of tool users in the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees prepare sticks to fish termites out of their mounds. The method for doing this is taught amongst themselves. But if the means of doing this are adequate for their needs there may be no pressure for them to adopt more complex behaviours (e.g. making more sophisticated tools or cultivating termites).

    This is one facet of human behaviour that is a bit difficult to explain.

    Having a skeleton along with living in an atmosphere conducive to combustion are huge advantages.

    Not really. Again, our path of discovery was geared to the environment we came up in, and our technological adaptations were geared toward our particular needs and wants. While cephalopods might not take the same path, different avenues are open. They still exist in an environment with resources that can be refined for tools and materials. They still exist in an environment with energy systems and physics that can be harnessed for work.

    Even if an octopus could observe a human making a lens, why would it want to make one?

    Even if a human from two hundred thousand years ago could observe a contemporary human making a lens most if not all of the applications of the tool would be lost on it. The incentive to prioritize making lenses over survival would almost certainly be low. It’s technology we developed much later (perhaps only a few millennia ago) in our technological evolution. A more advanced cephalopod race would eventually have uses for lenses, most likely, but prior to that—as with humans—there would be a whole host of other discoveries.

    #50535

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    But if the means of doing this are adequate for their needs there may be no pressure for them to adopt more complex behaviours (e.g. making more sophisticated tools or cultivating termites). This is one facet of human behaviour that is a bit difficult to explain.

    I think that what is adequate for their needs is the level of technology for the easy foraging niche they live in.  Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, etc., don’t need sophisticated technology to do what they need to do to survive adequately.  It does not require much tool use to pick fruit off trees, pick up termites on a stick, or hunt monkeys.

    Humans live in a risky foraging niche, and this explains a lot about their behaviour, from pair-bonding to sharing to cooperation to the requirement for sophisticated technology.

    #50536


    Participant

    I think that what is adequate for their needs is the level of technology for the easy foraging niche they live in. Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, etc., don’t need sophisticated technology to do what they need to do to survive adequately. It does not require much tool use to pick fruit off trees, pick up termites on a stick, or hunt monkeys. Humans live in a risky foraging niche, and this explains a lot about their behaviour, from pair-bonding to sharing to cooperation to the requirement for sophisticated technology.

    That’s where my thought process started as well, but we didn’t start out that way necessarily. One of the oddities of human intelligence is that our brains do come at a cost. That cost has to balance out with the behavioural advantages it allows. Our migratory patterns are also interesting. In a relatively short time travelled well beyond the niche in which we adapted to survive. When we look at octopuses, there are far more extant species than ever existed in humans, and some individual species are highly adapted to live in extreme environments which must have taken staggering amounts of time to manage.

     

    #50537

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator
    Yikes, this topic will be challenging, trying to stay short and concise. As I often do, I’ll try to zoom out for wider perspective.

    While our science fiction writers write about alien intelligences in many different physical forms, I believe that having a skeleton is a necessary condition of any intelligent life form. Here on Earth, we, the single most intelligent life form, have a skeleton. All of the most intelligent creatures on the planet also have one, with one glaring exception, the octopus.

    That hypothesis might not be far off, even if you’re thinking about possible intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Notably, internal skeletons on dry land enable fast and far transit, visual advantage through the air in distance and range-finding when eyes are higher above the ground (e.g. for predation). Making fire was just one of the technologies related to staying warm and adding more digestible meat to the diet.

    Add to that making tools, e.g. to capture prey for food and fur to stay warm, and later for agriculture. Add bigger brains for faster and more complex communication among the species, planning trips, inventing containers to carry water, food, and items for surviving longer distance travels. Advancing group cooperation and specialization of roles, and learning skills from each other. NOW we’re talking about cultural evolution, above and beyond what nature endowed us with via genetic evolution. Two types of evolution, adapting in parallel, having not just additional advantages when added to each other, but multiplicative advantages, accelerating each other’s kind of rate of evolution.

    Hence outcompeting all other similar species, with unprecedented speed and efficiency. Once we became kings of our hills, any competition coming close got shut down, usurping even mother nature’s billions of years of genetic processes. That’s why I insist that genetic evolution be a completely different topic for us from cultural evolution. But without discounting how those separate but parallel, genetic and cultural evolutions multiplied each other’s increasing ability to evolve, as a species.

    Privately, I invented and used the term “preternatural” to describe the processes of selection, fitness, adaptation, and so on wrt humanity, at least fifteen years ago, and considered it as a concept perhaps thirty years ago. While I wish I could remember if a similar concept was voiced in The Ascent of Man book, and TV series? (ChatGPT v4 says it doesn’t delve into that.) I’d appreciate anyone pointing out similar terminology (or concept of parallel-multiplicative evolution) used as a pivotal concept elsewhere. As I welcome any arguments against it!

    And as I always say, our evolution as a species has been “for better and for worse”. It alludes to the positive vs negative character of our parallel forms of evolution, with sufficient ambiguity, and with room for judgements or objectivity.

    Going back further into genetic origins, I’d list backbones, e.g. in vertebrae as most notable genetic invention of mother nature. I think that it’s also notable how many physiological problems we deal with in our backbones, and IMO probably caused by our unnaturally rapid (and therefore less naturally/genetically optimized) evolution becoming an upright, bipedal species.

    Humans seem to be in a good size range for conducting experiments. The objects required to conduct experiments and build devices of all sizes are well within our abilities. We can build microcircuits, particle accelerators, and space stations. It’s hard to even imagine a creature without an internal skeleton and living in an atmosphere similar to our own developing a high technology.

    I like those generalizations, and hadn’t thought of them before. Truth!

    Eventually, they would have the means of conducting experiments on land the same way we do in water. You’d have to keep in mind that their technological needs might also vary from ours by quite a significant margin.

    I agree, assuming no land animals already exist to compete against.

    We overrate intelligence when it comes to survival. The jury is still out, a million years isn’t shit and it is probably an evolutionary mistake. Sure, looks like that right now.

    I agree. But on the plus side, a new book is out entitled “42”!

    It almost seems like having intelligence is a burden and a threat to a species’ survival.

    We’re certainly exceptional at imagining, inventing, and implementing religions as a means of control, and while trying to explain things we can’t yet understand.

    The incentive to prioritize making lenses over survival would almost certainly be low.

    At some points in our rapid cultural evolution, we found “spare time” to work on things that didn’t negatively impact our success in daily survival. Clay Shirky invented a term, “cognitive surplus”, regarding what we choose to do with our spare time.

    Humans live in a risky foraging niche, and this explains a lot about their behaviour, from pair-bonding to sharing to cooperation to the requirement for sophisticated technology.

    Noting how we are so physically, mentally, and culturally different from other primates, I would guess that just competing with each other as one species, but consisting (say) of bands and tribes, was enough to reward those of us who competed physically, mentally, and culturally for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. By “reward us”, I mean allow us to keep adapting quickly in many ways that are not just complementing each other, but outcompeting other contemporaneous humans and hear-humans.

    Using another analogy, I would compare our combined and complementary types of rapid evolution as having continuous “critical mass”, i.e. not just for one explosion of competition and fitness, but for ongoing explosions, even up to modern times… well, recently sans any big genetic evolution, recently.

    Next, AI may inherit our culture and other creations, slowly and without skeletons, at first. Perhaps proxy skeletons? 😉

    #50538

    Unseen
    Participant

    Wow, did I come up with a topic for discussion or what? There is way to much going on in the way of points being made for me to respond to more than just a few.

    Autumn:

    I will agree only that some impetus is needed. There are plenty of tool users in the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees prepare sticks to fish termites out of their mounds. The method for doing this is taught amongst themselves. But if the means of doing this are adequate for their needs there may be no pressure for them to adopt more complex behaviours (e.g. making more sophisticated tools or cultivating termites).

    My thoughts:

    Does an octopus (or would one at our degree of intelligence) speculate about what’s out there beyond the surface of the water.

    I still think that since so much of our earliest development of the laws of physics came from experiments involving heat and/or open flame, developing the laws of physics would most likely be unable to ever happen.

    Autumn:

    Again, our path of discovery was geared to the environment we came up in, and our technological adaptations were geared toward our particular needs and wants. While cephalopods might not take the same path, different avenues are open. They still exist in an environment with resources that can be refined for tools and materials. They still exist in an environment with energy systems and physics that can be harnessed for work.

    My thoughts:

    We, early on, learned not just how important heat was and how fire gave us heat, but we learned to control it as well, and now controlling heat is something we do very well because we live in an atmosphere that allows us to control combustion. I think the whole notion of combustion might be lost on underwater creatures.

    Understanding and controlling electricity under water just boggles the mind. There can be no high technology without mastering electricity.

     

    #50544

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    Does an octopus (or would one at our degree of intelligence) speculate about what’s out there beyond the surface of the water.

    The do sometimes explore the shore. Especially in tidepool areas.

     

    #50545

    Unseen
    Participant

    But if the means of doing this are adequate for their needs there may be no pressure for them to adopt more complex behaviours (e.g. making more sophisticated tools or cultivating termites). This is one facet of human behaviour that is a bit difficult to explain.

    I think that what is adequate for their needs is the level of technology for the easy foraging niche they live in. Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, etc., don’t need sophisticated technology to do what they need to do to survive adequately. It does not require much tool use to pick fruit off trees, pick up termites on a stick, or hunt monkeys.

    Going beyond just what one needs to get by distinguishes us from creatures who simply want to get that fruit or catch that rabbit to satisfy the need for sustenance. Humans ponder. I don’t think that when a cat is on our desk bothering us while we type or a dog is at our feet while we are reading is pondering very much at all. This is why we say they “live in the present.” Even a squirrel maintaining an cache of acorns is doing so without thinking “In a few months I’ll be happy I’m doing this.” Salmon in their return to their birth pool aren’t thinking, “I gotta get back to where I was born.” It’s instinct. All that matters to them is what’s going on in the here and now.

    Chimps, dolphins, and octopuses don’t seem to wonder if there’s anything out there beyond the Sun and Moon much less whether there’s an actual infinity or if math was invented or discovered. I think we can rule out philosophy or more than the most rudimentary math (a chimp probably realizes that two bananas is better than only one. It certainly knows that one is far better than zero bananas! LOL).

    #50546

    Unseen
    Participant

    Does an octopus (or would one at our degree of intelligence) speculate about what’s out there beyond the surface of the water.

    The do sometimes explore the shore. Especially in tidepool areas.

    I wasn’t referring to just at the surface but the planets, stars, galaxies…the universe.

    #51671

    unapologetic
    Participant

    Dolphins never developed a technical civilization because they spend their whole day SURFING.
    You wouldn’t either.
    Seriously, octopi probably have an easier life than us. We spend all our time fighting. Each other, our environment, the blogosphere. We invent reasons to fight along with the tools to do it. Does any other critter on the planet NEED civilization? I think not. I don’t think a skeleton is the deciding factor.

    I have seen a good argument that octopi are extraterrestrials. Suckers, intelligence, skin that changes color and texture at will. (shudder) Not of this earth.

    I can’t remember or site the source, but I have heard that one advantage humans have is the desire to teach, and accumulate knowledge over generations. Apes were taught sign language, and when returned to non-signing populations, the use of sign died out. They wouldn’t teach others. Not even their offspring. When they learned the trick of opening a puzzle-box of food, they might share the food, but would not teach even their offspring. Even when there was plenty of food in the box to share. Onlookers sometimes learned the trick, but would not teach anyone either. Suggesting humans are unique in passing on knowledge and civilizations.
    I apologize for not remembering the source.

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