(ORDO NEWS) — Imagine highly evolved predatory dinosaurs planting a flag on the moon… If an asteroid flew by, could reptilians have appeared? An evolutionary scientist’s argument about the inevitability of reason.
Is intelligence inevitable?
66 million years ago, an asteroid crashed into the Earth. What followed was an explosion of 10 billion atomic bombs that changed the course of evolution. The sky darkened, plants stopped photosynthesizing.
First the plants died, then the animals that fed on them. The food chain has collapsed. More than 75% of all species have disappeared. When the dust settled, all but a handful of bird ancestors died out.
This cataclysmic event made human evolution possible. The surviving mammals soon flourished, including the small primate ancestors that evolved into us.
Imagine that an asteroid flew by and the dinosaurs survived.
Imagine highly evolved predatory dinosaurs planting a flag on the moon…
Dinosaur scientists discovering the theory of relativity or discussing a hypothetical world in which mammals, unbelievably, have taken over the Earth…
This may sound like bad science fiction, but it raises some deep philosophical questions about evolution. Did humanity appear by chance, or is evolution into intelligent beings inevitable?
Brain, tools, language and large social groups make us the dominant species on the planet. There are 8 billion sapiens living on seven continents. By total weight, there are more people than all wild animals. We have changed half of the Earth’s land mass to feed ourselves.
The starting point affects the entire path
In the 1980s, paleontologist Dale Russell proposed a thought experiment in which a carnivorous dinosaur became an intelligent tool user. This “dinosaur” had a big brain, thumbs, and walked upright.
It’s not impossible, but very unlikely! The biology of an animal limits the direction of its evolution. Your starting point strongly shapes your path.
If you drop out of college, you probably won’t become a neurosurgeon, a lawyer, or a rocket scientist. But you can be an artist, an actor, or an entrepreneur. The paths we walk in life open some doors and close others. This is true for evolution as well.
Pay attention to the sizes of dinosaurs. Starting in the Jurassic, sauropod dinosaurs (brontosaurs and their relatives) evolved into 30-50-ton giants up to 30 meters long – ten times the weight of an elephant and longer than a blue whale.
This has happened in several groups including Diplodocidae, Brachiosauridae, Turiasauridae, Mamenchisauridae and Titanosauria.
It happened on different continents, at different times and in different climates, from deserts to rainforests. But other dinosaurs that lived in these conditions did not become supergiants.
The common thread connecting these animals was that they were sauropods. Something about the anatomy of sauropods – light, hollow bones with a high strength-to-weight ratio, metabolism and all – revealed their evolutionary potential in this direction.
This allowed them to grow as big as no other land animal has ever been before or since.
Similarly, carnivorous dinosaurs repeatedly turned into huge, ten-meter, multi-ton predators. Over 100 million years, megalosaurids, allosaurids, carcharodontosaurids, neovenatorids, and finally tyrannosaurs evolved into giant predators.
Brains are not their forte
Dinosaur evolution was good at making big bodies. Big brains, not great… Dinosaurs did show a slight tendency for brain size to increase over time. Jurassic dinosaurs such as Allosaurus, Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus had very small brains.
By the Late Cretaceous, 80 million years later, tyrannosaurs and platypus dinosaurs had developed larger brains. But, despite the size of the animal, the brain of a tyrannosaurus weighed only 400 grams. Velociraptor brain – 15 grams. The average human brain weighs 1.3 kilograms.
Dinosaurs eventually occupied new niches. Smaller herbivores have become more common, and birds have become more diverse. Later, long-legged forms appeared, indicating an arms race between swift-footed predators and their prey.
Dinosaur social life seems to have become increasingly complex. They began to live in herds and developed elaborate horns for fighting and displaying strength.
Nevertheless, the path of the dinosaurs seems to have been repeated.
They evolved time after time into giant herbivores and carnivores with small brains.
Dinosaurs are nearly 100 million years old in history, and there are few hints that they would have done anything radically different if an asteroid hadn’t intervened. There would probably still be these super-giant, long-necked herbivores and huge tyrannosaur-like predators on Earth.
They may have developed slightly larger brains, but there is little evidence that they would turn into geniuses. It is also unlikely that mammals would have displaced them. Dinosaurs monopolized their habitat.
Mammals, meanwhile, had other limitations. They never evolved into supergiant animals. But repeatedly developed big brains. Massive brains have evolved in killer whales, sperm whales, baleen whales, elephants, leopard seals and great apes.
Today, some descendants of dinosaurs—birds such as crows and parrots—have complex brains. They can use tools, speak and count. But it was mammals, such as great apes, elephants and dolphins, that developed the largest brains and most complex behaviors.
Does this mean that the destruction of the dinosaurs ensured that mammals would develop intelligence? Is not a fact!
Startpoints can limit endpoints, but they don’t guarantee them either. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college.
But if dropping out of school automatically made you a multibillionaire, everyone who dropped out of college would be rich. Even if you started from the right place, you need opportunities and luck.
The evolutionary history of primates suggests that our evolution was anything but inevitable. In Africa, primates evolved into large-brained great apes, and over 7 million years, modern humans emerged. But elsewhere, primate evolution took a very different path.
When monkeys reached South America 35 million years ago, they simply evolved into other types of monkeys.
And primates reached North America at least three times: 55 million years ago, 50 million years ago, and 20 million years ago. However, they have not evolved into a nuclear weapons and smartphones manufacturing species. Instead, for reasons unknown to us, they became extinct.
In Africa, and only in Africa, primate evolution has taken a unique direction. Something in African fauna, flora, or geography influenced the evolution of great apes: terrestrial, large-bodied, tool-using primates.
Even after the extinction of the dinosaurs, our evolution required the right mix of opportunity and luck. But evolution continues. The person is changing. What will the person of the future be like? We told in the article “Homo futuris”.
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