Thursday, March 14, 2013

Just Some Thoughts

By William G. Muir
So I am sitting here pondering on to write this blog post about. Just sitting here thinking, letting my mind wonder, hoping that it will latch onto some interesting enough notion. And where does it lead me to but the very notion of thought itself. Thought is something all of us humans share in common, even though we like to portray those we disagree with as never having thought one thought in their lifetimes. It is something we all do to varying degrees.

So I am going to explore my understanding of thought and see where it takes me.

So if all us humans think it must mean that thought itself is something that goes back at least as far  our earliest ancestors. It is one of the gifts that they have imparted to us that we didn't evolve out of. It became an important tool in shaping who we are as a species today. Why thinking was very important to our ancestors. Unlike the other animals early hominins didn't have large fangs and claws to use to bring down game or to protect themselves with. Compared to their primate cousins they were puny and weak. It was the mind, which was the factory for thinking, that allowed them to survive.

Because our ancestors were able to think, it allowed for them to develop the necessary tools for survival. Sure it might have been just an accident, born of out desperation that led to the first hominin to picking up a rock and hurling at a leopard that was planning to have them for lunch. But that ancestor of ours was ale to link the striking of the predator with the rock and its backing off together. Because they could connect A to B they were able to use this same technique the next time they found themselves in a similar circumstance. 

So we can at least see the act of thinking goes all the way back to our ancestors who lived in the savannahs of Africa several millions of years ago. But does it go back even farther than that? If so how far back can we trace it? Just who do we share this unique ability with? Will we come to discover that thinking is not as unique as we thought it to be?

Just a quick look around our own homes will show us that our pets, namely cats and dogs do think. Sure they are much more driven by their inborn instincts then us humans, but even when they are following these genetic instructions we can see their thought process in action. Hunters by ancestry the desire to seek out prey is still coded in our furry friends DNA and here we can see their minds at work.

These animals however are domesticated, so they are breed for certain traits, it could have been intelligence was something that was selected for. But what of there basal predecessor, do wolves and the big cats shows signs of intelligent thought? If you ever turned on a nature show and watched as they follow the large cats and or wolves around you see will that yes indeed they do think. These animals hunt in packs which if anyone has ever played on a team sport it takes a great amount of thinking to get each individual member to do execute their roles so as to achieve a positive outcome.

I think it is fair to say that mammal in general think to some extent. Should this be a surprise? After all mammals do tend to have a decent size brains. With the brain of hunters being far larger (as in regards to their body size) than do herbivores. It is thought that meat eating provides the necessary amount of proteins and calories needed to fuel the large caloric demands of the brain. But what of the other animals? Do birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and all invertebrates think? Do their brain possess the required structures to think?

That my dear readers I do not know. 

So let us work from the position that there is a possibility that all mammals can think. Where does the ability to think in abstract begin? Is this some think only us human beings can do? Or do we see the primitive capabilities of abstraction in our mammalian cousins? Yes, Yes we do. We see it in animals that live in packs, their ability to recognize a hierarchical structure with an alpha member on the top is an example this type of thinking in action. Not only in societal structure but in there hunting we see abstract thought at work. Strategic thinking is another form of being able think in the abstract, To be able to plot out future actions requires the ability to think beyond the concrete information you have at the present moment. 

So thinking as a process has been around for some several hundred millions maybe even a billion years. And abstract thought probable developed a few million years after the first concrete thought popped into some creatures mind. (I think at this point I should clarify that every thing in this post is just my own ideas. I do not claim them to be scientific in any way. This blog post is just me working out what is going on inside my own mind, and therefore no one should take what is here for actual knowledge. I could be wrong about every point I have made. If so I will gladly accept any corrections, as longs they are with scientific data, that you might provide.) 

I think it is safe to say that we humans have become thinking machines. From hurling rocks at predators we get a line of technology that leads to rockets that carry us into space. From sitting and watching birds fly through the sky we learn the principles of aerodynamics. Because some king wanted his people to worship him as god after his death we get get cultures that build monuments like the Great Pyramids of Giza. Our curiosity led us to discover the Higgs Boson on the quantum level while on the macrolevel we are unlocking the secrets of Super Massive Blackholes.  

All around us are examples of how humans think. When you are listening to an orchestra playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony you are hearing the thoughts that were in the great composers head. We you hop into your car and cruise down the road are surround by the thoughts all of designers and engineers. Books, tv and movies, speeches, paintings, architecture, even the computer you are reading this on right now at one time was just a thought in someone's mind. 

Well that is enough rambling for me, I am off to do some more thinking. Hopefully it will be more coherent than this blog post is.  

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