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How did humans become so smart and learn all the technology? Could sheep or some other type of animal become smart and invent new technology? If you accustom a type of non-human animal to what humans do could they just act like a Human? Are there Homo Erectus or one of those types of Human presently on Earth?
Question Date: 2003-06-03
Answer 1:

You asked some great questions! Here are my answers.

1. How did humans become so smart and learn all the technology?
This is actually a complicated question. The way humans became smart was most likely the same way all animals change over time. We evolved into smarter and smarter animals because something about our environment encouraged us to be smarter. What I mean is that, because of who we were and how we interacted with our environment, we were more successful as a species when we used our intelligence.

So, people who did smarter things lived better lives, and had more children. Since the smart people were having more smart children, the overall population was made up of more and more smart people...before you know it, we had evolved into a smarter species! This is how evolution works--in the expression "survival of the fittest" , survival actually means survival of the whole species, not an individual like you or me. Also, "fittest" doesn't mean strongest, it means best suited to his or her environment. For some reason, being smart made us more "fit" for our environment, so we gradually changed into smarter and smarter creatures.

For other animals, though, things other than intelligence were more important for making them fit for their environment. For example, Cheetahs are more successful if they're fast, not smart, and Birds of Paradise are more successful if the males have beautiful tail feathers to attract mates more easily. So it's not all about being strong!

As for the technology, I think that naturally followed from our intelligence and the fact that we have such useful hands. Our brains helped us figure out better and better ways to do things, and our hands are versatile enough that we can actually build things that make our ideas work. So, instead of huddling around a fire and shouting to your friends at the neighbor's fire, you can put on warm clothes, turn on the heater, and call your friends on the telephone! Wow, that was a long answer (but I think that means it was a good question.)

Could sheep or some other type of become smart and invent new technology?
This might become possible, but it would depend on many things. For sheep, the answer is probably no. Sheep have evolved into animals that don't need to be very smart to survive. A totally new environment, with different food sources and different hunters and different competitors would be required to change that. This new environment would have to be so different that I don't think it would ever actually exist. This might be different for other animals, though. Dolphins and whales seem to be extremely smart already. Some people think that if they only had thumbs, they might actually have civilizations and technologies as complex as ours. Apes (like Gorillas, Orangutans, and Chimpanzees) are also extremely smart ...and they do have thumbs! I think that if humans didn't exist, these Apes would evolve into creatures as smart and capable as we are.

Scientists are discovering more and more animals that are much smarter than we once thought. Parrots, for example, can score as high as some three-year-old humans on some intelligence tests! (That makes me think twice about keeping them in cages!) But, it would be very hard for them to invent something as complex as a car, for example, without hands to build and use tools. If you're around in a million years, though, check out the Apes to see how they're doing!

If you accustom a type of nonhuman animal to what humans do, could they just act like a Human? In many cases, the answer to this question is yes. Chimpanzees can paint and draw and play simple video games, seeing eye dogs can learn to "read" crosswalk signs so they know when it's safe to cross a street, and I've heard of pet cats than can open doors and turn on lights. Many of the more complicated things we do, though, are probably beyond most animals' capabilities. Most animals wouldn't understand the need to drive a car or bake muffins, and these activities are very different from their normal activities, so it would be almost impossible to teach them to do these things. Like in the last question, though, Apes might be an exception. There's probably very little that humans do that Apes couldn't learn to do. This is one reason why it's so sad that many of them are so endangered!

Are there Homo Erectus or one of those types of Human presently on Earth? Basically, my answer is no, not really, but it's actually a little more complicated than that. What complicates this issue is the fact that nobody can agree on what happened to Neanderthals. (Have you heard of Neanderthals? They were primitive humans who lived in Europe until about 35,000 years ago.) Some scientists argue that Homo neanderthalensis (the scientific name for Neanderthals) went extinct after Homo sapiens (that's who we are today) appeared on the scene, but other scientists argue that Neanderthals and modern humans lived together.

Answer 2:

Humans aren't the only animal that makes and uses tools. Numerous other apes, especially chimpanzees,have been known to create rods for catching termites from a nest by taking a stick and stripping off all of the leaves. Sea otters have been known to choose and fashion stones with which to smash open shells of clams, and octopus sometimes jam pebbles into the shells of clams to prevent them from closing.

There are many theories for the evolution of intelligence in humans, but when intelligence in animals is examined, a number of trends appear:

1. Carnivores tend to be more intelligent than herbivores. Intelligence is probably needed to stalk and chase prey rather than to just eat it growing on the ground.

2. Animals that feed off of variable food sources, like scavengers, tend to be intelligent.

3. Animals with relatively developed sensory mechanisms need intelligence to comprehend those senses.

4. Animals that have a large number of appendages that can be used to manipulate objects tend to be especially intelligent.

5. Animals that care for their young tend to be intelligent.

Humans, in walking on two legs instead of four, freed up their forelimbs into arms, and fingers are excellent manipulatory tools. Being mammals, humans need to take care of their young at least for a while(since mothers produce milk for their offspring). Lastly, humans were in the past omnivorous animals: eating meat when they caught it, and padding out their diet with fruits, nuts, and various other plant products. Thus, it would be reasonable to expect that humans would be fairly intelligent animals, having at least three of the five points that listed above.

The most important evolutionary step for humans, however, was probably communication by language. Other animals communicate, either by sound, gesture, smell,or touch. However, humans alone are capable of creating a new sound (a new word) to identify something that has not been seen before. Because of this, a human can speak to another human about something which is not present to be pointed to or talked about; in fact, they need not have ever even seen what they are talking about! The ability to have technology, I think, is dependent upon this: because we can communicate abstract concepts through language, we can build upon the ideas of others.

Could sheep or some other type of animal become smart and invent new technology? In theory, yes. However, sheep are herbivores, they are not opportunistic, and they have no fingers to manipulate anything. As it turns out, sheep are among the less intelligent of mammals. That being said, I can thing of other animals - bears, wolves, crows, squids, octopuses, etc. that could possibly become able to invent technology.

If you accustom a type of non-human animal to what humans do, could they just act like a Human? Part of the reason why humans behave the ways that they do is learned. Other parts of that reason is that humans have instincts. Other animals also have instincts, and those instincts are not always the same. So, yes and no.

Are there Homo Erectus or one of those types of Human presently on Earth? The only species of human presently living on Earth is Homo sapiens . All other species of Homo are extinct -however, new ones may evolve from us.

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