Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nicholas Humphrey

I recently read Dawkins' 1984 article Animal Signals: Mind Reading and Manipulation.  On page 387 he refers to Nicholas Humphrey's 1976 article The Social Function of Intellect when talking about the origin of consciousness.
Humphrey... goes so far as to suggest that the whole faculty of subjective consciousness and self-awareness evolved as a device to facilitate reading the minds of others.  
Humphrey spells it out simply in the summary of his article:
I argue that the higher intellectual faculties of primates have evolved as an adaptation to the complexities of social living. For better or worse, styles of thinking which are primarily suited to social problem-solving colour the behaviour of man and other primates even towards the inanimate world.
He describes what this means in greater detail on pages 309-310: 
Thus social primates are required by the very nature of the system they create and maintain to be calculating beings; they must be able to calculate the consequences of their own behaviour, to calculate the likely behaviour of others, to calculate the balance of advantage and loss - and all this in a context where the evidence on which their calculations are based is ephemeral, ambiguous and liable to change, not least as a consequence of their own actions. In such a situation, 'social skill ' goes hand in hand with intellect, and here at last the intellectual faculties required are of the highest order...
Once a society has reached a certain level of complexity, then new internal pressures must arise which act to increase its complexity still further. For, in a society of the kind outlined, an animal's intellectual 'adversaries' are members of his own breeding community. If intellectual prowess is correlated with social success, and if social success means high biological fitness, then any heritable trait which increases the ability of an individual to outwit his fellows will soon spread through the gene pool. And in these circumstances there can be no going back: an evolutionary 'ratchet' has been set up, acting like a self-winding watch to increase the general intellectual standing of the species.

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