Monday, June 19, 2006

How Intelligent Are Humans?

I proposed the following model:

On the one hand, a species, if it is beastly enough, will follow simple natural laws. In case of crisis, the species will usually strive directly for survival, and in most cases it will survive.

On the other hand, as sophistication of the species grows, it will start turning away from the natural rules. An intelligent enough species will have enough predictive machinary with it so that it will be able to predict way before a crisis strikes. Therefore it will be prepared for a larger and larger set of crises. Its survival will be longer.

However, there's this gap between these two varieties. A species may be just intelligent enough to be able to defy natural rulings, but may not be intelligent enough to avoid the following:
  • By deviating from the natural rules, it brings on itself crises which grow at a rate faster than its ability to counter them. Finally the species gets annihilated by some demon of its own creation. For example, global warming and other environmental damages caused due to human development.
  • By not being able to predict enough and be prepared. Like aliens, natural disasters, epidemics etc.
  • By having intellectual features which aren't present in other less intelligent species, which eventually turn destructive. For instance, anger, hatred, jealousy, etc that men feel goes beyond the usual features of struggle for existence. Man is well capable of meeting death for something he feels his life stands for. If God forbid, it's associated with something very destructive, the species might wipe itself out in a moment of rage.
Next I suggested that perhaps human species lies in this gap. We might be intelligent enough to create technological dazzle, but might be too weak against our own failings like greed, corruption, terrorism, widespread poverty. Is it possible that there might be growing incipient cracks in the social structure which will eventually so alienate a big portion of the species from the other, that the resulting strife proves fatal to the species. I felt that this musing is more serious than those of science fiction writer. There does seem to be signs that we organisms may just decide to cease to exist when perhaps a simpler organism would try its best to live on and leave back one more generation to prevent extinction. Humans are capable of hating so much that they may decide to finish everything including themselves.

It was a very long discussion. Piyush and Shipra nicely contradicted me on this point. From what I got from their arguments, it's never the case that anybody turns completely suicidal. There's something that one tries to protect even while laying down one's own life. The species is the last thing that everybody would agree to sacrifice. In fact, if everything goes, even humans will behave exactly like other beasts and try their best to protect their progeny.

One interesting insight that Piyush provided was of backup social systems. No human being is a member of a single community. We all create associations with many groups. If one falls, we still belong to multiple others. Therefore, even if a system which seems to pervade our existence collapses, people will quickly fall back to their backup memberships. People always have people who are like them in some way or another. There's always a reason to cooperate. The society can never be neatly and completely get divided into two. These little communities create such intricate mesh of relations that nothing is a strong enough reason to be able to divide the society. The most stark examples of social divide are the world wars. But they reached nowhere close to collapse the social systems of humans. Humans were far far from becoming extinct as a result of the worst things they have done to themselves.

P and S argued that only external factors -- like alien attacks or natural calamities, or internal -- like epidemics -- provide any possible dangers of extinction to the species. Social elements, man's intellectual shortcomings, which might cause him to degrade his surrounding to the point of his own extinction without coming to know of it while he could do anything about it, aren't possibly ever going to wipe out the human race.

I couldn't disagree. But there wasn't of course, anything conclusively proved. We might still be nurturing germs of our extinction. And the danger that we might face from those germs would be because of the fact that we are unaware of their existence, and they might be breeding in the things we take the greatest pride in : our development, our high standards of living...

If such a metaphorical germ exists, then there's no way to know about it. But of course, then it becomes something like a ghost, or an alien. We can't disprove their existence. But that doesn't prove that it makes sense to be scared of them.

But it's a possibility. We should be wary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On "How Intelligent Are Humans?" Wasn't sure I agreed to this : " For
instance, anger, hatred, jealousy, etc that men feel goes beyond the usual
features of struggle for existence." I feel all our faculties can contribute
to the struggle for existence, based on the purpose we orchestrate them for.
Jealousy stems from overt competition, which could be detrimental in the
long run. But competition in itself is the basis for evolution, and unless
we were endowed with that faculty, we could as well have perished. Even
anger and hatred could be put to good use, as long as one's life is
concentrically oriented around the fulfilment of a living Ideal, a
flesh-and-blood epitome of being and becoming.