[extropy-chat] Animals

Robert J. Bradbury bradbury at aeiveos.com
Thu Feb 12 13:54:12 UTC 2004

On Thu, 12 Feb 2004, Avatar Polymorph wrote:

> Humans are not "actively selecting" for intelligence in dogs and cats, not
> even in sheepdogs.

Ca-ca.  Go to any dog show and watch the performance of the animals --
I doubt you would be able to claim we are not selecting for intelligence.

> Otherwise some very smart cats and dogs would have come into existence some
> time ago.

Given the above I would argue that "intelligent" cats and dogs do exist.
Now how smart is obviously on a somewhat sliding scale and we could get
into long discussions with respect to whether intelligence is a dominant
or recessive trait -- given that it will likely turn out to be based on
dozens of genes.  (For example I think I could clearly make the case where
intelligence diminishes ones survival capability and thus ones survival in
the gene pool.)  So intelligence in some cases is not a selected for trait.
In contrast a specific behavior (e.g. with sheep dogs) might be a very
selected for trait.

> Intelligence selection for dogs would also relate to increasing their
> vocabulary and social signalling.

Well dogs obviously have both of these skills (at least in the wild, e.g.
wolves) and they are obviously expressed.  You need to make a case that
an improvement of their in-the-wild capabilities would enhance their survival.
I would present a case that the capabilities that they have in the wild
are perfectly adapted to their environment.

Nature, in general, does *not* overengineer organisms.

> Active selection would have produced results even in one or two
> centuries. (Say 500 cat generations = 250 years?)

You have to make the case that additional vocabulary or social signalling would
increase their probability of survival.  I don't see that.  I'm not saying
that it doesn't make sense -- but that the marginal benefits may not
justify the marginal costs.  I believe we have already had cases in transgenic
mice where improving the animals memory may significantly reduce what we might
refer to as "sanity".  So intelligence (as adapted to its environment) may
be a relatively fragile concept.  [Anyone more familiar with the literature
should feel free to correct this.]

I'll defer further comments -- this is a complex subject worthy
of long term discussion.


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