Michio Kaku on the Evolution of Intelligence


Some people think that intelligence is the
crowning achievement of evolution. Well if that’s true there should be more intelligent
creatures on the planet Earth. But to the best of our knowledge we’re the only ones.
The dinosaurs were on the Earth for roughly 200 million years and to the best of our knowledge
not a single dinosaur became intelligent. We humans, modern humans, had been on the
Earth for roughly a hundred thousand years. Only a tiny fraction of the 4.5 billion years
that the Earth has been around. So you come to the rather astounding conclusion that intelligence
is not really necessary. That Mother Nature has done perfectly well with non-intelligent
creatures for millions of years and that we as intelligent creatures are the new kid on
the block. And so then you begin to wonder how did we
become intelligent? What separated us from the animals? Well there are basically three
ingredients — at least three that help to propel us to become intelligent. One is the
opposable thumb. You need a tentacle, a claw, an opposable thumb in order to manipulate
the environment. So that’s one of the ingredients of intelligence — to be able to change the
world around you. Second is eyesight. But the eyesight of a
predator. We have eyes to the front of our face, not to the side of our face and why?
Animals with eyes to the front of their face are predators — lions, tigers and foxes.
Animals with eyes to the side of their face are prey and they are not as intelligent — like
a rabbit. We say dumb bunny and smart as a fox. And there’s a reason for that. Because
the fox is a predator. It has to learn how to ambush. It has to learn how to have stealth,
camouflage. It has to psych out the enemy and anticipate the motion of the enemy that
is its prey. If you’re a dumb bunny all you have to do is run. And the third basic ingredient
is language because you have to be able to communicate your knowledge to the next generation. And to the best of our knowledge animals do
not communicate knowledge to their offspring other than by simply communicating certain
primitive motions. There’s no book. There’s no language. There’s no culture by which animals
can communicate their knowledge to the next generation. And so we think that’s how the
brain evolved. We have an opposable thumb, we have a language of maybe five to ten thousand
words. And we have eyesight that is stereo eyesight — the eyesight of a predator. And
predators seem to be smarter than prey. Then you ask another question. How many animals
on the Earth satisfy these three basic ingredients. And then you come to the astounding conclusion
— the answer is almost none. So perhaps there’s a reason why we became intelligent and the
other animals did not. They did not have the basic ingredients that would one day propel
us to become intelligent. Then the next question asked in Planet of
the Apes and asked in any number of science fiction movies is can you accentuate intelligence.
Can you take an ape and make the ape intelligent. Well, believe it or not the answer could be
yes. We are 98.5 percent genetically equivalent to a chimpanzee. Only a handful of genes separate
us from the chimps and yet we live twice as long and we have thousands of words in our
vocabulary. Chimps can have maybe just a few hundred. And we’ve isolated many of those
genes that separate us from the chimpanzees. For example the ASP gene governs the size
of the crane, cranial capacity so that by monkeying with just one gene you can literally
double the size of the brain case and the brain itself. And so in the future — not today but in the
future we may use gene therapy to begin the process of making perhaps a chimpanzee intelligent.
We know the genes that’ll increase the size of the brain. We’ve isolated now the genes
that give you manual dexterity by which you can make tools. We have found the genes which
give you the ability to articulate thousands of words. And so it may be possible to tinker
with the genome of a chimpanzee so that they have a larger brain case, they have better
manual dexterity and they have the ability to articulate a larger vocabulary. But then
what do you get? You get a primate that looks very similar to a human. And so my personal
attitude is why bother. We already have humans, just look outside the door. So why bother to manipulate a chimpanzee because
as you make a chimpanzee more and more intelligent it becomes more and more humanlike with a
vocabulary, with vocal chords, with manual dexterity, with a larger brain case and a
spine to support a larger brain case. That’s called a human.

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