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Ltryptophan's avatar

Do you think reason is a result of repetitive failures of our species?

Asked by Ltryptophan (12091points) March 18th, 2010

Other animals like sharks seem to have developed a way to survive that relies on being the best hunter, or still others the best collector of plant nutrients. We seem to have developed intelligence which is like a swiss army knife. Is this because we started out bad at everything?? Why reason?

Could a series of failures have led us to who we are?

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17 Answers

CMaz's avatar

That pretty much says it. An accident that worked.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@Ltryptophan We have reason for a few reasons… heh The version of our proto-species that survived, figured out that hunting animals that sleep during the day is easier during the day. So we needed more surface area on our heads to disperse the added heat of being in the sun all day. That added surface area allowed for a much large brain, which the organ happily filled (unlike many animals with large skulls that still have lots of bone armor, to clarify.) We then had the luck of being able to eat a lot of fatty acid rich animals and plants and other “brain food” which branched us into a whole new breed of humans that had a distinct advantage for survival, which was the beginning of reason.

Snarp's avatar

If they were failures, we wouldn’t be here.

Dog's avatar

How can we learn without failure?
Failure is the best learning tool there is.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Sort of. It’s kind of a fallback mechanism: When all else fails, THINK!

lilikoi's avatar

In Henry Petroski’s The Evolution of Useful Things, the point he hammers down again and again across chapters of interesting examples is that humans invent things by noticing a failure in a previous version and finding a way to correct it – that failures, more than any other force including creativity, drive innovation and progress. I agree with him. If this is how we approach design, and we are a design of nature, why can’t nature follow the same logic? Indeed, it seems that is how evolution works. It is the failure of bacteria to survive in the presence of antibiotics that perhaps causes them to develop an immunity to them, for example.

Another real interesting book (that I’m reading now) about evolution is Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene.

wundayatta's avatar

Failure and success are purely arbitrary judgments. What does it matter how we judge the evolutionary process that ended up with humanity? Does calling it a failure mean we should seek out failure? Does calling it a success mean we should seek out adaptive opportunities?

This is so much bigger than our lives. Change happens over millenniums. Failure is just a label, and a pretty silly one, too. It depends on social norms that constantly change, anyway. So no. I don’t think reason is a result of repetitive failures. I think reason is the result of a much more nuanced history—one where we must employ both reductionism and complexity theory to understand.

josie's avatar

In the development of species, timing is everything. When the dinosaurs went away, the mammals got a chance and went for it. They tend to be curious creatures by nature, and the ability think expanded with language. Reasoning is nothing more than non contradictory identification-the insight that something cannot be what it is and what it is not at the same time. This gives us the ability to distinguish success from failure and avoid repeating the same mistake twice. So in fact I would argue that the species has survived because it attempts to avoid repeating mistakes not as a result of committing mistakes. Plus I am not sure what you mean by failure. Homo sapiens is still here. I won’t entertain notions of failure until we are all gone.

lilikoi's avatar


Failure doesn’t have to be an absolute term – a failure can be a simple shortcoming.

If you do not make a mistake, how do you know to avoid it? They go hand in hand, not independently.

serena933's avatar

A lot of people have already touched on the scientific/evolutionary answer. Of the ten or so human-like species that once existed (called hominids), we are all descended from a small group of human beings (from Africa) who were the only ones to survive a major climate change 50–100,000 years ago. The reason they survived was most likely because they were the smartest. They were able to reason better than all the proto-humans that died out during that time. Think of Neanderthal man, another homo-species. While we did once share a common ancestor, we are not descended from this species of hominid, why did our species survive but theirs did not? Some people think we were (and are now) the most creative, most adaptable, and smartest on the planet. Other species of animal besides humans have shown “reasoning” types of intelligence as well. Traits are always inherited because they have previously had the best outcome for the species survival/reproduction. Now what we do with that ability and true gift of reason is really up to us! :)

aprilsimnel's avatar

We’re getting so much better all the time.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@aprilsimnel don’t forget to use multiple tildes ’~~~’ to indicate extreme sarcasm there.

mattbrowne's avatar

How many of your 20000 ancestors failed to live past the age of 10?

Ltryptophan's avatar

@MattBrowne presumably none, or very very few, considering sexual maturity.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ltryptophan – You’re a descendant of successful ancestors and species, even the nocturnal ones hiding from the dinosaurs.

MaryW's avatar

Reasoning is a result of repetitive failures and successes of our species. Having hands with thumbs has helped us to have more experience. Having a larger brain helps.
Repetative failures show our lack of actually thinking about history and cause and effect.

kritiper's avatar

No. It is the result of the realization that the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West.

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