Have you seen this picture before?
Can you possibly take a guess who the artist might be?
Okay, which period?
If you ask me, it looks pretty “today”. I mean, this could be a digital-oil paint hybrid. Or maybe a piece created completely in Corel Painter.
Shockingly though, it is a prehistoric cave painting from Gua Twet in Borneo. They are stencils of human hands, made by placing the hand against the wall and then blowing a mixture of red ochre and water around them.
Those guys must have been high!
We almost believe evolution started with the iPad. Or maybe it started with the Beatles and LSD.
But then how do you explain the cave art in Lascaux, or Bhimbetka, or Borneo?
Did we become intelligent when we invented the wheel? Discovered how to make fire? When did it all begin?
What is intelligence?
Carl Sagan said that intelligence is the tendency of an organism to control its environment for the purposes of survival. By that definition, intelligence must have started with the first appearance of life. Even the single-celled amoeba moves away when the environment turns acidic. That’s intelligence at the basic level. It tries to acquire a better environment. (Although I can’t say we show the same level of intelligence in dealing with our environment).
Without intelligence, a species cannot survive. It cannot continue to exist through the hurdles of “Natural Selection” and “Survival of the Fittest”- the two strongest tenets of evolution. If intelligence is about survival, then it is the central facet of evolution. It transformed us from hunter-gatherers to community dwellers. It gave us our domestic hearth. It gave us our literature, art, mathematics and medicine. All that we do or have done, is guided by the sole purpose of the survival of the species.
At one end of the intelligence spectrum lies the amoeba, at the other, the human brain.
The Gua Twet painting depicts the journey of a Shaman into the spiritual world. The picture is in the public domain.