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I was asking this first on philosophy forums, but it is suggested, that answer could be found from evolutionary view of point, so here we go:

Again my question raised when thinking of myths, their origins, mysticism and religious institutions. It is said that prieshood came to existence, when ape first landed from trees to earth collecting and gathering fruits, hunting and then started to plant and farm. Whole agriculture was build organizating leadership of the society among whom were the priests and shamans who tried to understand natural forces with limited knowledge and superstition. Accelerating need for planning future, not only own family's, but whole society's future forced thinking process of humanized apes to become more involved with contemplating. Did some of the deep thinkers find that there was a dimension on meditation which is next to impression of using herbs and drugs to bring mental experiences, were they hallucinations, visions, calmness or anything similar alive? Thus they became ascetics and adept on focusing mind toward itself while other part of high class of the society became adept on aiming mental activity outward, improving skills to master matter and physical nature. On ancient times both still shared same concept of need of supernatural forces to be placated or otherwise controlled to get or avoid certain every day results.

This also brings up a huge evolutionary problem so to say. While apes, if they were just lead by rather unconscious instincts, they would have reproduced and build on the principle of the strongest is the leader. But when reasoning, ability to think "cunning plans" as stated by Baldric on Blackadder came to existence, then the most clever often won the game. But what is clever on the other extreme of the religious practice, self sacrificing and altruistic ethics? It feels almost unnatural, that religions evolved to direction, where ethic and moral rules fights against physical existence or surveillance of the individual. There is a strong hope of afterlife compensation, which explains some of it, but I'm still a bit struggled, why (and when) apes started to retire to the forests to meditate and rather practice altruistic ethics, loving enemies for example instead of getting justice and their own benefit fulfilled in first hand, instead of reproducing and fighting for their lives and space?

To bring whole question to modern life, I think zen buddhism is a good example of such practices brought to other level. While on the most plain form they don't expect belief on the existence of the self nor karmic relations of the acts, they still rather follow high ethics of the teachings of Buddha and live simple middle way life just being aware and mindfull of the things happening at the moment, which is the ultimate goal of the practice and life.

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We're not entirely convinced that there's enough biology in that question to make it a fit for this site, and even if there was it's very broad :) –  Rory M May 31 '12 at 14:16
No philosophy, biology, religion and antropology forums accept my question. One I haven't tried yet are pseudo sciences, gotta try ;) –  PHPGAE May 31 '12 at 18:22
You should consider cogsci.SE which already has some questions in related topics of game-theory and evolution. The site has provided answers to similar questions (the particular Q was badly framed) both an evolutionary and psychology perspectives. If you do decide to ask on CogSci, take time to focus and scientifically frame your question. You can edit and flag for migration. –  Artem Kaznatcheev Aug 17 '12 at 0:19
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closed as off topic by Rory M May 31 '12 at 14:15

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1 Answer

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I think this is a difficult question all around, which is why its a little uncomfortable for some to be entertaining questions which are often seemingly metaphysical in nature.

I think also that it is true that biology and neuroscience will have a big impact on the question, its also fair to say that the jury is still out on this question.

The genetic anthropologist Svante Paabo is one of the most engaging researchers in this question. He started out studying the difference between the human gene sequences and the chimpanzee to try to suss out the specific genes which might be be responsible for out social selves. So from this point of view, it might be that intelligence started at most about the time of human chimp divergence, 8-25 million years ago.

Finding the specific genetic structures that convey our unique cognitive or social abilities would certainly pinpoint that time much more accurately. There is just 1-4% difference between the chimp and human genome sequences (depending on how you calculate it), but even 1% of a 5 Gb genome is a lot of differences and no intelligent mutant chimp has been found (that they've told us about!) .

Since then, a lot of interest has focused on assembling a complete Neanderthal genome sequence. Since Neanderthals diverged from humans about 500k years ago, and there's plenty of evidence that they were intelligent, comparing the three genomes (human chimp and neanderthal) would help pinpoint the specific genetic elements which are distinctly human.

If it is a mutation or set of mutations as the current thinking implies, there is a good chance that it is a combination of strong selection and accident. Its true that cooperation is often enjoys a strong selective advantage, but it doesn't make you smart or hospitable. When we talk in biology we don't say altruism, we say cooperation. If such cooperation happened only because of selection, we would see such behavior in other primates. So if we see this, I would lay odds to look for a rather complicated story...

Another interesting person to read is anthropologist Terrence Deacon, who is trying to understanding the terms with which we define intelligence. About ten years ago there were actually experiments that showed that chimpanzee some strong candidate intelligence genes related to cognition could be put into people (who needed gene therapy because they had lost cognitive function) and restore that function. Apologies, this is anecdotal - i saw him give a great talk, but he's moved on a bit and can't find the references.

This is important I think because the fundamental definitions of human intelligence have failed over the years, from the old chestnut of using tools, to a recognition of mortality, to awareness, animals have surprised us, particularly primates. I wonder whether we will be able to confirm these vital factors until we get a monkey asking for the keys to the car so that they can go get some pizza.

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Thanks for suggest. I need to browse thru links and see, if there are any clues :) –  PHPGAE May 31 '12 at 18:19
I found this site which deals with the same question: fitnesshealth101.com/fitness/meditation/origin –  PHPGAE May 31 '12 at 19:28
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