Re: [asa] Shermer and Inevitability

From: Nucacids <>
Date: Sat Nov 07 2009 - 00:25:50 EST

Hi Murray,

Yes, I think this is helpful. Thanks. I'm just pointing out the basic
logic of Shermer's argument is shaky.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Murray Hogg" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Friday, November 06, 2009 10:23 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Shermer and Inevitability

> Hi Mike,
> One thing that Shermer seems not to consider is whether, having once
> arisen, the very presence of technologically adept intelligent life does
> not preclude the emergence of a second, similar species. After all, at
> least some evolutionary scenarios suggest that Cro-Magnons drove
> Neandertals to extinction. If competition can result in the elimination of
> an already existent intelligent, technological adept species, what are the
> odds that similar competition can prevent emergence of such a species in
> the first place?
> Another way of thinking of this is in terms of evolutionary niches.
> One could posit - and it seems rather to coincide with what we actually
> observe - that there are vaguely defined "levels" within an ecosystem
> within which species compete for resources. At the lower levels the
> resources are reasonably abundant and this allows a very large number of
> various species to fill that "niche". But, as we ascend, the resources get
> harder and harder to exploit, competition gets more and more fierce, and
> thus only one or two species are able to adapt to fill the niche's at the
> higher levels.
> So, to put this crudely, one finds;
> Millions of bacteria
> Thousands of plants
> Hundreds of herbivores
> Tens of predators
> One "super-predator"
> The very fact that the "super predator" is able to dominate all other
> species in the battle for survival means that once this species arises, it
> is not soon likely to be displaced. Further, it is not likely to allow any
> similar species to emerge. Such a species is also going to arise late in
> the evolutionary process for the simple reason that it has to be an
> emergent adaptation from a "lower" level.
> I don't see then that the late emergence of only one "super predator"
> (i.e. an intelligent, technically capable species like ourselves) should
> be so very remarkable.
> It is, incidentally, simply wrong that only the primates have
> technological intelligence! Off hand I can think of one group (birds) and
> three species - otters, beavers and dolphins - who demonstrate an ability
> to construct artefacts or use tools.
> These are very cursory thoughts, but I hope you find them a helpful point
> of departure for further reflection.
> Blessings,
> Murray
> Nucacids wrote:
>> Michael Shermer makes an argument that doesn’t strike me as being as
>> strong as he thinks it is:
>> Shermer writes:
>> “What are the odds that intelligent, technically advanced aliens would
>> look anything like the ones in films, with an emaciated torso and limbs,
>> spindly fingers and a bulbous, bald head with large, almond-shaped eyes?
>> What are the odds that they would even be humanoid? In a YouTube video,
>> produced by Josh Timonen of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason
>> and Science, I argue that the chances are close to zero”
>> and explains:
>> “if something like a smart, technological, bipedal humanoid has a
>> certain level of inevitability because of how evolution unfolds, then it
>> would have happened more than once here.”
>> Not necessarily. If event X has the likelihood of happening once every
>> 3 billion years, then after 3 billion years, it becomes inevitable and
>> it happens once. It’s like the lottery. If the odds of winning are a
>> million-to-one, if a million people play, someone will win. That the
>> winning is inevitable does not mean a thousand people from that million
>> should win.
>> Shermer also adds:
>> “But of the 60 to 80 phyla of animals, only one, the chordates, led to
>> intelligence, and only the vertebrates actually developed it. Of all the
>> vertebrates, only mammals evolved brains big enough for higher
>> intelligence. And of the 24 orders of mammals only one—ours, the
>> primates—has technological intelligence. As the late Harvard
>> evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr concluded: “Nothing demonstrates the
>> improbability of the origin of high intelligence better than the
>> millions of phyletic lineages that failed to achieve it.” In fact, Mayr
>> calculated that even though there have evolved perhaps as many as 50
>> billion species on Earth, “only one of these achieved the kind of
>> intelligence needed to establish a civilization.””
>> But this is like arguing that since there was only one winner of the
>> lottery, it was not inevitable that someone, somewhere would win. Yet if
>> enough people play, it becomes more likely that someone will win to the
>> point that it becomes inevitable. And the more people that play, the
>> more people who do not win.
>> Inevitability does not mean an event should happen multiple times. It
>> would depend on how likely that event was. And unless we have
>> independent evidence about this probability, we cannot rule out
>> inevitability because the event happened once.
>> Mike
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Received on Sat Nov 7 00:25:58 2009

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