How viruses made us smarter.
First of all… it would be a sacrilegic oversimplification to locate the origin of a potentially infinitively complex phenomena such as Intelligence just in one point. Complexity Theory is there to support the notion that the argument being presented here as a factor for the development of intellect… is just one in many.
From ecosystemic challenges that forced our ancestors to develop novel evolutionary strategies which in turn resulted in biophysiological changes, to sustained interaction with psychedelic and entheogenic substances… the developmental history of human intellect and culture surely must be one of multifactoriality.
Now that this Limitation of Relevance has been established to these ideas… let’s get into it.
Notice one thing:
Terrestrial mammals all seem to rely on their sense of smell to confirm not only the “eat-ability”, but the actual nature and even the existence of a thing.
Even when Squirrels, Dogs, Cats, etc… have had many previous interactions with a certain object (an easy visually identifiable piece of fruit that can be judged to be good just by looking at it) their visual system is still a sensing mechanism secondary to olfactory.
Please notice how many animals have trouble locating food if the wind is blowing in that direction even when the object is easy to identify and is in their immediate visual field (multiple squirrels that can’t find the strawberry they are looking at because wind is blowing away from them).
The sense of smell seem to have the function of not optimizing, but actually creating, enabling, and defining the Search Space available for the rest of the brain.
“ If smells then search to see ”, instead of “ See… even if it doesn’t smell ”.
Much more neural computing power is required for visual searching vs waiting for chemical indicators to trigger the more complicated and energetically demanding optical information processing structures.
This seems like a logic adaptive mechanism to optimize computing power by reducing the search space:
Why employ energy in scanning 100% of the visual field if you can wait to have an olfactory trigger first ?
The link between Viruses, Anosmia & Intelligence:
The final proposal of this piece should be revealing itself to you already, it has been evolutionarily proven many times:
Natures likes to save Brain Power… and when skills or abilities are lost, the neural networks dedicated to the processing of that data is rewired and dedicated to more relevant information-processing tasks.
Plasticity is indeed one of the main characteristics of competent intelligences.
So the proposition is the following:
Just like in the COVID-19 virus… during the developmental history of man and its ancestors , several Anosmia-causing viruses periodically reduced the sense of smell by weakening the nervous connection and consequentially forcing visual perception reliance and the necessary neural rewiring.
This reduced sense of smell could have been the key that allowed the TAXONOMICAL MIND of MAN to emerge after being forced to recognize plants primarily by the shape of their leaves and not their smell… teaching their descendants to do so as well.
The emergence of a Mind capable of identifying plants by the shape of their leaves could have easily been the biggest trigger of General Intelligence.
This is just an idea born in a visual insight, and then the deliberated rationalization behind it.