Original sin, and its consequences

From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Sun Apr 15 2001 - 12:24:23 MDT

In a recent e-mail to a friend, I remarked:

> Another thing that crosses my mind from time to time...
> is... the **peculiarity** of the human prejudice that
> intelligence is desirable and important [*]. Sure, I can
> appreciate Kurzweil's curves of exponentially-increasing
> complexity, and all that -- life on the edge of the
> envelope -- but look at all the greenery still lying about,
> grooving on Our Mr. Sun, without benefit of nervous systems
> at all, thank you very much! Only heterotrophs -- the
> organisms that **cheated** by eating other organisms instead
> of soaking up the sun like good citizens (how's **that** for
> a definition of original sin!) needed nervous systems, to get
> away from other heterotrophs.
> And **carnivores** -- the heterotrophs that prey on other
> heterotrophs, instead of just gobbling up the autotrophs, are
> the smartest (and most admired) of all [**]. I had a chance
> to herd cows back in the '70's, and they're as dumb as posts!
> Get them all lined up on the beaten path, like boxcars on a
> rail siding, and they're controllable, but if they stray off
> this one-dimensional path, you'll spend an hour chasing them.
> They **deserve** to be eaten, damn it! ;-> No, it's the
> fang-bearers, like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Shere Khan, Bagheera,
> and Tony the Tiger that humans are crazy about. Elephants are
> herbivores, and are still supposed to be smart, but I've never
> met an elephant in person, and I'm very skeptical!
> This is the compost that gave rise to the flower of
> intelligence!

McCrone acknowledges this in Chapter 12, "Getting It
Backwards" of _Going Inside_ (pp. 269-271), italics
**...** are mine:

"[C]onsciousness began with nervous systems that adapted
very slowly and which now can adapt very fast... **It was
a simple product of a race between predator and prey**.
To begin with, both sides were slow-witted with limited
sense organs and limited manoeuvrability. This meant they
could get away with a few reflex loops to slam shut a
shell or jet away from danger...

But steadily the pace quickened. To keep making the right
decisions, animals had to get more meaning out of each

What defines consciousness in this most basic sense is the
ability of the brain to wrap itself around the moment. The
evolutionary trend has been towards a more fluid, more
precisely adjusted response to each instant...

It was a steady progression as new levels of plasticity
were added... [A]s one layer was built atop another,
timescales kept shortening and the adapting also became
more global, until eventually the whole brain could
leap from one viewpoint to another in under a second.
One instant it might be wrapped around the thought of
smacking away an oncoming cricket ball, the next it could
be smarting at the embarrassment of having swung and
missed. With a convulsive shift, the entire circuitry
of the brain would become aligned to produce a coherent
angle of view back into the latest moment."

Grrr. Arrgh. [Mutant Enemy Productions] ;->

Jim F.

[*] Don't get me wrong! I'm as addicted to speed
and complexity as anyone else on this list.
Ain't it **strange**, though?

[**] I had dinner with some friends recently, who
have two little boys, ages 4 and 6 (very **bright**
little boys -- their mother is a mathematician and
their father is a computer security expert, and
they're already on the computer). Before going to
bed, the boys were given single-serving yogurts in
little plastic cups with animals on them. The
six-year-old got a cup with a picture of a killer whale
on it, whereupon his little brother burst into tears.
When mommy offered to change his yogurt, the four-year-old
insisted through his tears that he needed a yogurt
with a **fierce** animal on it, to maintain parity
with his brother.


I'm certainly not the only one who's noticed the oddness
of the human mania for intelligence. There was, for example,
that wicked, wicked 1982 story by Bruce Sterling called
"Swarm" (it's one of the Shaper/Mechanist cycle,
included in the 1990 collection _Crystal Express_).


The story concerns human contact with a mysterious,
seemingly non-sentient galactic hive organism called
the Swarm, comprised of castes of individual organisms
who are devolved descendants of ancient intelligent
races throughout the galaxy. The surprise ending of the
story reveals that the swarm only wakens into intelligence
when it senses threat from outside interference (which
is not necessarily contact itself, but rather any sign
that the Swarm's placid existence is about to be co-opted
to serve the contacting race's own purposes).

"'What are you?'

'I am the Swarm. That is, I am one of its castes. I am
a tool, an adaptation; my specialty is intelligence.
I am not often needed...

Your companion's memories tell me that this is one of
those uncomfortable periods when galactic intelligence
is rife. Intelligence is a great bother. It makes
all kinds of trouble for us...

You are a young race and lay great stock by your own
cleverness,' Swarm said, 'As usual, you fail to see
that intelligence is not a survival trait...

This urge to expand, to explore, to develop, is just
what will make you extinct. You naively suppose that you
can continue to feed your curiosity indefinitely. It
is an old story, pursued by countless races before you...

In a thousand years you will not even be a memory.
Your race will go the same way as a thousand others.'

'And what way is that?'

'I do not know... They have passed beyond my ken.
They have all discovered something, learned something,
that has caused them to transcend my understanding. It
may be that they even transcend **being**. At any rate,
I cannot sense their presence anywhere. They seem to
do nothing, they seem to interfere in nothing; for all
intents and purposes, they seem to be dead. Vanished.
They may have become gods, or ghosts. In either case,
I have no wish to join them...

Intelligence is very much a two-edged sword... It is
useful only up to a point. It interferes with the business
of living. Life, and intelligence, do not mix very well.
They are not at all closely related, as you seem to assume.

'But you... are a rational being--'

'I am a tool, as I said... When you began your pheromonal
experiments, the chemical imbalance became apparent to the
Queen. It triggered certain genetic patterns within her
body, and I was reborn. Chemical sabotage is a problem
that can best be dealt with by intelligence... Within
three days I was fully conscious. Within five days I had
deciphered these markings on my body. They are the
genetically encoded history of my race ... within five days
and two hours I recognized the problem at hand and knew what
to do. I am now doing it. I am six days old...

We have not killed any of the fifteen other races we have
taken for defensive study. It has not been necessary.
Consider that small scavenger floating by your head...
Five hundred million years ago its ancestors made the galaxy

We are doing you a favor, in all truth. In a thousand
years your descendants here will be the only remnants of
the human race. We are generous with our immortality;
we will take it upon ourselves to preserve you...'"

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:46 MDT