Social Question

ETpro's avatar

Have humans evolved to believe in God?

Asked by ETpro (34550points) February 5th, 2011

The Atlantic Wire actually asked this question in this article using my question as part of its headline. Please read the brief article before answering, as it supplies this question’s details.

What do you think about the article. Did evolution design us to believe in God, or did God design us to believe in evolution?

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67 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

Whatever the case, now we’re evolving out of it.

And strictly speaking, evolution could only make us prone to believing in God. It couldn’t make us theists.

coffeenut's avatar

I think that article is severely flawed….and NO we were not designed to believe in god

JLeslie's avatar

I would not say evolved. There is, from what I understand, scientific research that shows there is a God center in our brains. A place that lights up on PET scans when people pray, and I would guess when they meditate also. I guess my God center is not very exercised or developed? I think maybe the definition of God is evolving more than humans themselves regarding this topic.

lemming's avatar

I believe in God. I think maybe we did evolve to believe in God, maybe the ones who believed reproduced more, instead of crying shouting ‘but what’s the point??!!’ However I think it has more to do with the human condition. We need security for ourselves and our children, in what would otherwise be a cold, lonely universe.

jerv's avatar

I think we have to define “God” before we can answer this. I do believe that humanity has a natural predisposition to rationalize things and have a hard time dealing with things that nobody understands; hard to the point where we are prone to invent omniscient beings that understand everything just so that we can sleep easier at night secure in the knowledge that at least someone knows what is going on here.
Granted, the role of God is being eroded by those who understand technology. A couple of centuries ago, if you told someone you had a handheld device that could pull information out of the air and display it on a color screen, they would think you were either crazy or a witch. Only God could make such a thing.
A decade ago, they would’ve poo-pooed the idea based on power requirements and been skeptical about the size as we were still using a 130-micron process for our CPUs. Only a wizard could make such a thing. The battery in my laptop has far more power and endurance than the huge pack in my old R/C car from a few years ago, so a small battery lasting all day would’ve been seen as magic.
A week ago, they would’ve not only accepted your claim, but tried to one-up you with their smartphone.

@JLeslie I thought it was the socail centers of our brains that lit up when we prayed.

@lemming There is a grain of truth there, but bear in mind that (at least in our culture) cold and lonely seems to be the norm.

coffeenut's avatar

@lemming you forgot the “you believe in my GOD and follow the rules or we will kill you….in some of the worst ways…” motivation factor…

crisw's avatar

I think that we have evolved to be sensitive to cause and effect. That’s important for a social species, as well as a species that exploits an always-changing environment. We’ve also evolved to have very long childhoods, in which we have a propensity to believe what leader figures tell us. That was important to survive childhood. I think both tendencies have led to religious belief systems evolving. First they explained lightning and thunder and things that went bump in the night- then they grew.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We have evolved to ask the questions “Why” and “How?”

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv If I remember correctly some argue there is not one single spot, but areas work together in the brain causing a spiritual experience. I think it is still not competely understood like a lot of neuroscience. Now that I think about it, I cannot remember if the “God” areas were more active or less during a spiritual experience? I remember there were some conclusions drawn once from a study of people with brain tumors, and when part of the brain was removed spirituality went up. They theorized it had to do with the balance between the front of the brain and the back, something like that? I apologize for not having a clear memory of the study. I remember wondering when I read about it if possibly the cause of the increased spirituality might actually have to do with worrying about brain surgery and life, and possibly not be caused by the physical removal of that part of the brain?

thorninmud's avatar

My understanding is similar to that in the article, but I’d put it differently. I’d say instead that we evolved to believe in ourselves and our powers of reason. The cerebral structures that led to that development overlaid, but didn’t replace, the older structures which continued to operate on unconscious, emotional and intuitive levels.

Before having a conscious representation of ourselves as rational agents, we would have had no use for a “God” concept, nor the neural hardware for it. Once this self-conscious sphere of experience blossomed, we then felt a need to account for the fact that we also had another level of experience that was non-conceptual, non-verbal, intuitive, yet powerfully compelling.

Because we identify so strongly with our conscious, rational process, and because this older layer of consciousness operates in ways that are foreign and inscrutable to the intellect, humans have come to externalize this obscure level of consciousness as a mysterious “other”. That has been spun into various ideas of a god whose ways we cannot know, but with whom we can have an emotional and intuitive connection.

roundsquare's avatar

Obviously haven’t read the whole book, but it doesn’t seem like this theory can really show definitively that this is why people believe in god. All it can show is that, as humans, we are prone to believing in god weather or not god exists.

Is this really a new theory? I swear people have been talking about this for ages.

Mariah's avatar

I’ve read a very similar theory that says that people have evolved to see intentions where they don’t necessarily exist because to do the opposite is more dangerous.

Imagine you’re standing outside alone and a bush rustles. You can interpret the rustling as a living creature, possibly with malicious intentions, moving about in the bush, or you can interpret it as harmless wind. If you interpret it in the first way and you’re wrong, what have you lost? Nothing really; you’ve just spent some time being needlessly paranoid. If you interpret it in the second way and you’re wrong, you’re liable to get attacked and be unprepared.

In this way, seeing intentions where there aren’t necessarily any can be a survival tool, and this may be why we see many things in the universe as being the result of a conscious effort even if they are not.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lemming I’m an atheist, but I’ve never had to cry or shout “what’s the point?” I sincerely doubt that early humans, who had much less time for philosophical reflection, would have had any such existential crisis either.

lemming's avatar

@SavoirFaire isn’t the whole point about sisyphus (your avatar), is that what he had to do was pointless?

iamthemob's avatar

@lemming – being given a task that is pointless is a punishment.

Being given a task without knowing the point is a struggle.

lemming's avatar

@iamthemob and sisyphus lived in a Godless universe where he was given this same meaningless task to do, representing the struggle of man in a Godless universe. It was pointless.

iamthemob's avatar

@lemming – I believe that Sisyphus was given his task from the gods. I like to think of it as punishment for thinking that the actual meaning that gods wanted us to derive or desire of the gods could be understood, as a certainty, by man. Note that he was punished because he decided what it was that the gods actually wanted.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lemming Sisyphus is a character out of Greek mythology. I’d hardly call that world “godless.” Sisyphus was too clever by half and was punished by the gods for outwitting them. The point was to try and break him by making his afterlife meaningless.

Camus, however, has very interesting things to say about this in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. Here is how he concludes one chapter:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

My avatar is a reference to the Sisyphus of Camus—an existential hero if there ever was one.

lemming's avatar

I am only familiar with Camus’ Sisyphus.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Then I don’t understand how you made such a mistake.

iamthemob's avatar

Refusing to believe that something is pointless negates any absolute truth revealing either that it is pointless or it is not.

ninjacolin's avatar

Evolution made us capable of believing things that are both true and untrue including the concept of a God.

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut Would you expound on the flaws you saw. That sort of discussion is just what I hoped for in asking this question.

@JLeslie Here’s one MRI study.

@thorninmud That’s a fascinating thought. It rings true to me.

@roundsquare I didn’t read the author as trying to claim a proof of anything regarding God. This seems to me focused on how the human mind works.

@Mariah There is certainly sound logic in that. Maybe both authors have put forward a piece of the puzzle.

@SavoirFaire I’m with you and Camus’ Sisyphus. Atheist here and I find plenty of purpose in life.

@iamthemob Isn’t it interesting. As soon as Sisyphus refused to believe the Gods’ claims that his task was pointless, he became right, and their “punishment” was rendered pointless.

@ninjacolin Amen to that.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro So that study is saying what @jerv said, it is basically the same as social interaction. Which kind of makes sense since so much of religion is the social part. I need to look for the study I am thinking about.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie Good luck in the search. Please post a link or citation if you find it.

JLeslie's avatar

I found this and this I could not find the article I had read a long time ago. I thought it was in Psychology today, but it did not come up. This newer informatio seems to conflict a little with what I read years ago. Interesting.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie Thanks for looking for it, and for the two links you were able to find.

I would tend to favor the most recent work, as imaging technology has made some major strides over the past several years. We can see “thought processes” at a level of detail that wasn’t possible even a few years back/.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro I would think it also has to do with what the person conducting the study is asking. It would be interesting for them to repeat exactly the same studies with newer technology and see if they get different results. Plus, all of these studies seem to be very small groups of people, and they are only looking at specific groups in the two I linked; nuns, and people with brain tumors. What would be very interesting is to take 1,000 people as questions, watch the scan light up and be able to guess from the scans with accuracy who believes in God and who doesn’t.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro The “points” that article was trying to make are bad and the “examples” that were used to prove those points are just worse….

Starting off by making “Absolute Statements” about how humans brains work followed by absurd examples heavily biased by personal opinions and using a industry so wide spread and varied that it contradicts itself to prove the claim…. Not taking into account any other brain functions or the scale each “human” use them…

Also not using any example of a universal “unknown” idea/object…

It’s like me saying I was going to explain to you how water freezes…...then showing you a picture of a Duck…

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie Experimental design is a huge factor in the exploration of the human mind. As the Carmelite Nuns warned the experimenters in one of your cited articles, God doesn’t appear on commend. We have to recognize that the way we envision God as a being outside of and above our dimension puts God outside the reach of measurement tools confined to our dimension. Here’s another article on imaging updates showing how some of our oldest imaging technology is gaining new power by being integrated with computers and used in real-time 3D imaging.

@coffeenut I wonder if the subject matter just flies against your belief system. I don’t see the article as offering sweeping statements, but ideas and possibilities. The example of the analysis of the rustling bush makes perfect sense to me as to why we react strongly to the unexpected. The main examples, “Humans Extend ‘Theory of Mind’ to Inhuman Objects” and “We Even Get Angry at Our Cars” both seem solid in their logic. You could certainly dispute the conclusion in “How This Leads to God” but I don’t see the claim that it’s completely disconnected from the evidence provided in the examples.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro If God is outside/above us in such a way that He cannot be measured or even cast a shadow of some sort in our “lower” dimension then how can He exist, at least in amy form that we really know anything about?
Sure, we may not be able to see God directly, but if thinking about Him has no effect on our brains (what I meant by “cast a shadow”) then simple logic dictates that He is more non-existent than unicorns and pixies.

That makes me wonder if our evolution towards belief is actually diminishing our capacity for logic and impartiality. Scientific progress has slowed considerably, at least when it comes to stuff that is revolutionary rather than evolutionary. The average person is more likely to go off half-cocked without even thinking about thinking. People appear to be losing the ability to even understand simple cause-and-effect relationships, like eating five Big Macs for lunch will make you fat.

We may have evolved to believe, but I think we have evolved beyond thinking :/

ETpro's avatar

@jerv As an agnostic, I doubt I am the best defender of the God theory. Nonetheless, I will have a stab at the issues you raise. First, nobody said thinking about God has no effect on the brain, Thinking about anything has an effect on the brain. What the scientists had hoped to measure was not the effect of thinking about God, but the effect of being in the presence of God, and the nuns disclaimed any power to summon God to appear at their beck and call, even for the sake of science. The fallback was to try to measure the effect of recalling the last time they felt the overwhelming presence of God.

Of course, the whole argument that God exists on a plane above ours is one of the big problems with positing a God. I could just as easily insist that pink unicorns exist, and that one is standing by you right now, but your finite powers are not yet tuned to observe it. Only I, by having opened myself to the level of the pink unicorn through years of meditating while sitting on a single horn, am now able to sense the unicron’s presence. I can make up any ridiculous thing I want, and nobody can prove I am full of baloney or just making it up, because I declare it to exist outside anything you can perceive or measure.

In defense of the possibility of God, I would say that I can easily conceive a God that is outside the physical realm we inhabit, and above it, but that can interact with it at will. Having created the physical realm and all the rules that order it, God could easily move into and out of that realm in stealth mode, influencing only those quantum level events that suited the divine purpose.

Do I believe that. No. But I can’t rule it out.

As to the evolutionary track, I think mass culture, TV, the Internet, 24/7 infotainment on demand and consumerism have more to do with the trends you note than does evolution.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro First off, that is why I myself am an Agnostic; God is one of those things that can be neither proven nor disproven, but I am pretty sure that the truth is stranger than us mere mortals can comprehend and thus am skeptical when anybody claims to know something about God. Personally, I would never claim that God doesn’t exist though, if for no reason other than it’s impossible to prove a negative.

As for the other, I guess part of it depends on how we define “evolution” and part of it on nature versus nurture. Given that certain personality traits are hereditary, that only muddies the waters a bit. After a few generations of not using our brains, it seems logical that evolution would take those brains away from future generations.

iamthemob's avatar

I believe you asked about another piece from Bering/the Belief Instinct, and this new bit doesn’t really make me think this is anything more than the suggestion that the theory of mind can tell us a lot about religion and mythologies rather than anything about “god.”

There are just many problems with the way he’s talking about the issue. The problem with attributing anything to evolution in a manner where it is suggested that we’ve “evolved to” be able to do something requires that there be a real benefit to it. The problem with applying this to a cultural, social, psychological discussion is that the social tools that allow us to cooperate on a smaller and personal scale such that small family units of a particular species (us) could band together and be able to quickly tell the good or bad intentions of another close to us provided a benefit reproductively. Looking for the implications of those skills as they’ve developed in a growing and complex culture as this article/author does, there doesn’t seem to be a recognition of how almost universally wrong we are about our motivations, the reasons why other people are doing something, etc.

In fact, we are rarely theorizing but often assuming what the thought processes of others are…and, you know what they say about what happens when you ;-)

I think that the interesting route from applying a theory of mind to the concept of God is showing how impossibly bad we are at applying it to ourselves. The idea of determining what the reasons and motivations of something which may or may not be biological, may or may not be single or many, may or may not be impossibly old, may or may not bend the laws of physics to its will, may or may not perceive time from all points at the same time are is, in this light, simply ridiculous.

My fear is that this all seems to come from a place where the argument is that our concepts of god have provided us some evolutionary benefit. This can only be Social Darwinism, and really shouldn’t be privileged as part of a discussion of evolution.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv Evolution is good at producing things that confer a survival potential but lousy at getting rid of things that do no harm or good. You don’t lose the ability to pass brains on to your offspring simply by not using your own. If such were the case, all people who are wheelchair bound would soon beget legless babies.

Our DNA chains are full of junk DNA that does nothing meaningful but is still around even though its propose has long since been deprecated. Some if it is very ancient. On a macro scale, the appendix, adenoids and tonsils are examples of entire organs that remain around after their purpose is gone. It’s a shame evolution hadn’t removed them, because surgeons had to remove mine to keep the darned things from killing me.

@iamthemob I thought the author dealt rather explicitly with the survival benefit of the behaviors he cited. I certainly did not see it as an argument that our belief in God gave us some evolutionary advantage, but rahter that certain behaviors that did give a survival benefit also predisposed us to find the God theory of creation and rule over human behavior comfortable. I;m sure that a reader intent on taking that away from the essay could do so, but I can’t find the author guilty of putting it there.

iamthemob's avatar


The “God concept as evolutionary benefit” seems more to be the theory behind the book than a specific product of these passages, it’s true.

However, the reason you think he explicitly deals with the survival benefits of what he cited is why I have a problem with his arguments. The author discusses our ability to “conceptualize mental states” in the Slate article but doesn’t really discuss what the evolutionary benefit of that is. The thing is, I can’t really imagine a reproductive benefit or survival benefit to that. An ability to read facial cues, body language, and understand how one’s intentions which are separate and apart from yours can be revealed unintentionally by them does.

I would ask what ability you see being discussed, and exactly what benefit there is from it.

Now…whether we’re predisposed to attempt to determine not only what an individual intends to do but also what the reasons for it, and whether that leads to a predisposition to read intention and reason into natural events again, to me, doesn’t seem to add any benefit considering that we are so wrong at the “reasons” side of things. Whether there was a benefit to believing “god wants x” isn’t about the survival of the individual or the species, but rather a particular culture. In fact, considering that religious warfare has been one of the most destructive forces in history, it would seem that attributing any specific mental state to god has a decisively negative reproductive effect.

PS – I feel like I sound more testy than I intend to. Sorry if that’s the case.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro I don’t know of many bloodlines that were wheelchair bound for many consecutive generations unless they were put there by some other form of genetic defect, so I’m not sure where you were going with that one.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro The idea of the article is great….The article itself…not so much.

I like my personal views to be challanged…. Except the only challenge from that article was to finish it… Using Personal opinion, Fashion, movies, Misunderstood actions to back statements will never work for me.

The reasons given for someone abusing their cars/computers directly insults a course/study I did in school (I’m sure that’s a factor too) But I’m not writing an article so I can be biased.

iamthemob's avatar

@coffeenut – How did it insult the course?

coffeenut's avatar

@iamthemob It insults the ideas the course represents, by using “deep down” to try to make the ridiculous point more valid…

iamthemob's avatar

@coffeenut – I figured – what are the ideas/topic of the course.

coffeenut's avatar

@iamthemob Have you ever have a car/computer break down? How did the incident make you feel?
Have you ever hit your computer/car…..Did you have even one thought that the car/computer decided to act on it’s own….

iamthemob's avatar

@coffeenut – You know that’s not what the article claims though right? It doesn’t state that there’s a common occurrence of people believing or even thinking that there is an actual intent – but simply that they behave toward the inanimate object in a manner that seems to indicate that the object has some intention.

It happens to me and most people I know often. My computer started to break down and I had to stop myself from hitting it – but I did call it a motherfucker.

But that still doesn’t answer the question about the course…

coffeenut's avatar

Yes it does…
“but our emotions and behaviors toward such objects seem to betray our primitive, unconscious thinking: we act as though they’re morally culpable for their actions.

When placing blame on inanimate objects for your troubles you have already accepted the idea of such object being able (no matter how limited) to act on it’s own…

and the course was Cognitive Psychology

iamthemob's avatar

@coffeenut – I’ll say that my undergraduate degree was in psychology as well, with a healthy focus on cognitive neuroscience, so I totally understand where you’re coming from. ;-)

And I feel like we’re seeing the same problem. I actually just read something about this – the discussion seems to assume as a given that this meta-cognitive ability was an evolutionary advantage. The problem, of course, is that we have really only been interacting with each other on a level that would require us to guess at what a person was thinking for maybe 10,000 years or so.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob I have not read the book, so I am in no position to intelligently discuss anything not in the article I linked to and the source piece in Slate. But I can see enormous survival benefits in being able to “conceptualize mental states.”

Consider a bar, or a prehistoric watering hole. We hear the following mental dialog.

“Oh, that chic’s HOT!, but she’s not the least bit interested in me. She’s got her eyes on studly over there, and I’d be wasting my time making a play for her. But now the one over there in the corner, she’s nice too, and she is responsive. Uh-oh, the guy next to her has noticed that too. He’s her man, and he looks like he could crush granite in his grip. I better just go back to the pad/cave alone tonight.”

Now perhaps Jesse Bering didn’t adequately explain the survival benefit of being able to “conceptualize mental states.” Perhaps he needs me to write vignettes like the above to dramatize his concepts in his next book. :-)

And I think my watering hole example should convince you that our interactions together impacted survival and reproduction far before civilization set it. It certainly would go back 100,000 years, likely longer.

@jerv No, can’t say as there are families bound to wheelchairs for many generations except by congenital birth defects, but we got into that line of thought talking about the dumbing down of human thinking due to mass entertainment on demand 24/7. That’s something that is very recent, and I was taking issue with the notion that evolution would rob humans of barin power in a single generation.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Not in a single generation, no. That is strictly a cultural thing. However, over the course of about a dozen generations of constant pressure in a certain direction, things can change slightly through evolution and selective breeding.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv I think noticeable changes take thousands of generations typically. Hopefully, we won’t go that long before we figure out that being stupid is stupid. Hell, even Forrest Gump knew that.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As a result of evolution, we are capable of pondering cosmological issues and considering the existence of things we can not perceive with our senses.

I believe in G_d because I was raised to and it pleases me to do so. I am also a scientist and make no wild claims about what G_d wants us to believe about evolution.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Not really. If it took that long then you are discounting selective breeding as junk science. You can see notable changes far quicker than “thousands of generations” for some traits. Changing gills into lungs or arms into wings would take at least that long, but more minor changes don’t take nearly the same amount of time.
I’m not saying that our grandchildren will be drooling on themselves, but maybe they will be monoglots instead of polylingual, or need a calculator to do complex math, and it’ll only go downhill from there until our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids are drooling idiots.

Still, I hope that we won’t go that long either… but I fear that we will.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – But the problem is that you’re conflating the evolutionarily adaptive ability to read social cues and behavior (which we clearly have, and it’s finely tuned) with the conceptualization of mental states that Bering discusses in the article.

Your example demonstrates an ability not to determine the reasons for what was happening, but rather simply what most likely was happening right then. Bering is discussing the tendency to imagine the motivations for behavior, or the reason for something occurring when there is no reason to think that it’s anything but random.

That is an incredibly different type of cognition – it’s an internal monologue as follows -

“Why would she want to be with a granite crushing guy like that? He probably scares her into staying. She knows that she’d be better off with someone like me, but she’s not going to pay attention because she doesn’t want to get me involved with her drama.”

Of course – she’s thinking:

“I’m getting laid tonight.”

jerv's avatar

@iamthemob Adaptive ability to read social cues… are you saying that I am an evolutionary throwback?

iamthemob's avatar

@jerv – Why would you think that?

jerv's avatar

@iamthemob Lets just say that there are more people like me than there used to be. Check your inbox ;)

iamthemob's avatar

@jerv – Eh, there are more people in general. That’s the more unfortunate part. ;-)

Thank God, in an cause, if there are more people like you. ;-)

jerv's avatar

@iamthemob I was speaking proportionally, not just as an absolute.

iamthemob's avatar

even better.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv No, there is no conflict with selective breeding. It is just that selective breeding simply doesn’t happen in uncontrolled breeding populations. Flaws in gene code replication happen with some frequency, but millions may occur before one comes along that confers a survival benefit. Most do just the opposite. And you need more than just a single change in a DNA sequence to turn a mammalian nose into an elephant trunk, or a human brain into a new species that mimics Beavis & Butthead in intellect. Being stupider would also have to confer a survival benefit for evolution to take us in that direction.

@iamthemob Aha, I see. You are getting heartburn about the meaning of the word, conceptualization. I tend to agree. Poor choice of words. I do thing what he was trying to convey was the meaning I expressed in my imaginary story, but I definitely see how his words don’t really lead there.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – The problem is that I agree that that’s the meaning he’s trying to convey – but, I’m going to reserve judgment now as I’m reading up a bit – The Empathic Civilization – and there’s actually a semi-recent development in the discovery of neuron cells in social animals that fire when the animal observes an action performed by another animal as if the animal was performing the action itself. It’s theorized that these cells may be the biological basis for our ability to empathize. Which may bring the idea of attributing mindsets into a more reasonable evolutionary argument.

I still think there’s a problem in that the author seems to be describing our ability to read social cues (which we are generally good at) to the phenomenon of attributing motivations to others (which we are generally bad at). It seems tenuous at best.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Large morphological changes do require more drastic changes in DNA that minor tweaks, but the truth is that it doesn’t take much to dramatically alter the way the brain works (or doesn’t). Besides, it’s possible that there really is something in the water; some environmental factor that must be accounted for.
You also forget that there doesn’t really need to be a survival benefit; any mutation that does not immediately threaten survival will propagate throughout the species over time. It used to be that the dull-witted didn’t last long, but nowadays survival seems to be determined by finances and luck rather than anything genetic, so humans can have all sorts of defects and still live long enough to pass them on; a luxury no other species has.

iamthemob's avatar

@jerv – That’s not necessarily true – very small changes in DNA can result in large morphological changes. The vast different in dog size is attributable to a single gene. Dogs do, arguably, have particularly “slippery” DNA – but it’s a great example for many who question how “sudden” evolutionary leaps can be possible.

The “something in the water” reference is profoundly on point – viral DNA transfer allows for a great deal of environmental influence on our genetic structures – even inter-species transfers.

jerv's avatar

@iamthemob I think it would take more than a single gene to make a dog grow wings or gills. Mere size is, in this context, a minor morphological change.

iamthemob's avatar

@jerv – Check out this web portal – there is some interesting information on the genetic basis for evolutionary changes.

The issue may be that we’re not really defining “major” or “drastic” change. There is a lot of DNA that doesn’t appear to have functionality, coding and noncoding portions of it, etc. – so we’re not being clear about what we mean by small changes in DNA/changes to single genes/etc.

jerv's avatar

Regardless, it doesn’t take much to affect brain function. Even minor changes in structure or chemistry can have drastic effects on function. Some people have more or less sensory acuity based on how their brains interpret what their eyes and ears take in. Animals generally use more of their brains for processing sensory information than we do, so they have less brain left over for higher thought.
Some people have better or worse connections between certain parts of the brain, affecting things like motor control, communications, logic, multi-tasking ability, etcetera.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv What do you base the assertion upon. The human brain is by fat the most complex organ in the human body or in any living animal. It has literally hundreds of trillions of neural connections. Many are mapped into self teaching neural networks with built-in self referentiality for feedback correction. Today, we cannot come close to replicating such neural nets in the most complex supercomputers. I would think that evolution of major new functions and structures in the human brain would be ponderously slow, not happening at the drop of a hat.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro There are already many different types of brains, and not all of them are good for high-order thinking. Guess which group reproduces more, at least in terms of children per couple?
If you were talking about something like evolving telepathic ability,i would agree with you. However,i am talking more about a species-wide drift in favor of enhancing a trait we already possess.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv You have a point there. Any solutions?

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