Sunday, May 25, 2008

Learning may be bad for us

The Baldwin Effect, first put forward by the psychologist James Baldwin in 1896, claims that specific selection takes place on the ability to learn. For some it puts learning at the heart of evolutionary theory.

In an interesting spin on the role of learning in evolution, Tadeuskz Kawecki at the University of Fribourg, has suggested that evolution mostly selects against learning. For most animals, it’s better to be plain dumb. We know that learning is a feature of even very primitive worms, with as little as 302 neurons. They learn to avoid disease-ridden bacteria. However, in fruit fly experiments, Kawecki has found that when he put smart, learning flies in with dumber flies, the smart flies died faster.

Most species may reach an optimal equilibrium between learning and instinct. Learning, it turns out, produces species that need and over-abundance of experience to survive, making them vulnerable just after they’re born. We humans are the most extreme learners, and it takes years of rearing before we can survive on our own. But as we’ve shot ahead of our equilibrium between learning and survival, there seems to be no limit to our ability to learn how to destroy each other and the very planet we inhabit. The ability to learn may, in the end, have been our death warrant.


Anonymous said...

I thought that Baldwin effect was something to do with shouting at your daughter's mobile answering service and then watching the audio clip spread like wildfire around the internet... Boy, was I wrong!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful writing. Very rightly said with the weapons of mass destruction we seem to have over done the learning. Chernobly was one disaster showing us what all is possible. Seems ignorance can be bliss. Sometimes I feel mind is just a troublesome thing and it would be better if we were silent, thoughtless creatures, somewhat like trees. I don't know if they are thoughtless as long time back there were experiments by J.C. Bose to prove that trees can sense, feel emotions and even do basic Maths. I feel trees have subtle intelligence. Now where am I heading. Isn't it possible that this is retrogressive change and we all are programmed to self-destruct? Who knows if we are fulfilling our destiny by this massive learning that we have accumulated over past century. This blog is so intersting not dry and brooding like the main blog through which I came to this link. Thanks for sharing.