Why do we do these crazy things? The difference between humans and animals

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Extreme ironing © b1ue5ky, creative commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

Life may be ubiquitous in the universe, forms and structures may crop up independently in very similar forms, but at the moment it seems as if human life is unique on our planet. The Cambridge Palaeobiologist Professor Simon Conway Morris made a name for himself by studying the Burgess shale, which is one of the earliest records of soft-bodied animal forms. From this work, he developed an interest in convergent evolution – the idea that independent evolutionary processes hit on the similar solutions again and again. Now that convergence has blossomed into a field of its own, Simon has turned his attention to human and animal intelligence. At this year’s Faraday Institute summer course he described some of his findings so far, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading

Learning From the Past: Intelligence, creativity and risk in evolutionary processes

What is intelligence? The ability to process information or respond to signals? The use of language, music or mathematics? One measure of whether something is intelligent is if it can use past experience to direct future behaviour in a helpful direction. This is something I often attempt, with varying levels of success! In recent years, a number of researchers have been asking whether evolutionary processes can also do this. Continue reading

The Intelligence of Plants

Kale © Caltiva Creatividad, freeimages.com
Kale © Caltiva Creatividad, freeimages.com

Networks of plants can achieve surprising things. For example, one study has shown that the trees in a forest are interconnected through the fungi that grow around their roots. A radioactive chemical injected into one tree soon appears Continue reading