9. Evolutionary Development of Competencies, Mind and Intelligence

Principally, for many competencies no understanding is required. The longest time in the evolution of life, competencies needed to live and survive emerged without the competent organisms having any understanding or consciousness. Even today, most forms of life operate without any understanding. The live and survive competencies they bring in, emerged through natural selection, so they are purely Darwinian creatures (83).

The 4 categories of competence acquisition (Learning) after Daniel Dennett

Every generation forms variations of certian traits or competencies, with “winner traits” leading to more copies in the next generation. Such Darwinian creatures were born with all competencies that they will ever have. They are gifted without learning and without understanding and without needing to learn. The competitive-selective testing of behavioural competencies selects on the generational level.


In his book on the evolution of mind „From Bacteria to Bach and Back“, the American philosopher Daniel Dennett defines four levels of competency-acquisition levels based on underlying understanding and conscientiousness requirements. Apart from the primitive (but very successful) category of the Darwinian competency-acquisition, he defines 3 more categories and names them after the behaviourist Skinner, the science philosopher Popper and the cognition psychologist Gregory. Dennett writes about 4 categories of “creatures”, however to me 4 categories of competency-acquisition seems more appropriate, as the lower categories of competency-acquisition are also embedded in creatures of higher levels. Humans, for example also bring in some competencies that we were born with (breathing, for example) that we would consider Darwinian competencies.

The 4 categories of competency-acquisition according to Dennett are:

  • Darwinian competency-acquisition (all competencies congenital)
  • Skinnerian competency-acquisition (learning through conditioning)
  • Popperian competency-acquisition (learning through mental testing of behavioural hypotheses)
  • Gregorian competency-acquisition (Thinking)


Skinnerian competency-acquisition results from conditioning. Skinnerian creatures bring in a certain formability. Apart from congenital competencies, they are able to adapt existing beaviours. The adaptation follows according to positive or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement consists of a rewarding stimulus (e.g. a tasty fruit), negative reinforcement consists of a punishing stimulus (e.g. pain). Behavioural patterns that trigger a positive stimulus will appear more often in the future. The competitive selective testing of behavioural competencies happens on the individual level during life. The Skinnerian competency-acquisition also acts evolutionary in Darwin’s sense, as the conditioning may improve survival competencies that increase survival and reproduction probabilities.


Popperian competency acquisition results from  „offline“ testing of bahavioural hypotheses. Popperian creatures extract information from the environment and can test hypothetical behaviour „offline“, and, if need be, let die (the hypothesis) virtually (instead of dying as the acting individual). The first action that the acting individual then carries out is not random anymore, but the result of mental testing of different behavioural options. The competitive-selective testing of bahvioural competencies takes place on the level of behavioural hypothesis.


The Gregorian competency-acquisition is actually, what we humans implicate, when talking about learning in the sense of school education. Abstract concepts can be recognized and reasoned about. Reading, writing, presentations, mathematics, politic, sociology and social interaction. Dennett views Gregorian competency acquisition as a domain of humans.

Trying to measure intelligence

Humans, who score low values in intelligence tests also have gifts, talents and interests and may in some areas outperform the “brainiacs”.


Intelligence quotients (IQs) are only scorest hat count the numer of correct answers in an intelligence tests that consists of tasks that were considered relevant by the developers of the test. Some capabilities and talents that may have well been relevant in human evolution are not even covered in a paper based (or screen based) test, for example motoric talents/capabilities are entirely left out. Even some senso-cerebral areas of performance are left out. The sense of smell and the processing of information from smelling is very important in other species, for example dogs. In intelligence tests it is not even covered. Most intelligence dimensions covered by an intelligence test cover abilities that in relation to human evolutionary time only very recently have become relevant for living and surviving. Most performance parameters covered in intelligence tests did not play a (direct) major role in most of human evolution. My point is: Intelligence is something very subjective. IQ-counts feint objectivity. An IQ simply reflects the number of right answers in an intelligence test. What intelligence is and how well an intelligence test covers it is purely a matter of definition. How valid does an intelligence test cover intelligence? Abilities that we develop in life are strongly influenced by our environment and thus by the time we live in.

Idiocratisation through Mechanisation

The film „Idiocracy“ mentioned in the prologue illustrates an American society that has dumbed down over the centuries, due to a higher fertility of humans with low intelligence compared to humans with high intelligence. Critics pointed out that the examples shown in the beginning of the film displayed different classes (upper middle class vs. lower class). This critique may remember us that the development of intelligence and capabilities does not only depend on genetics. Important for learning are interest in the topic, a comfortable and stimulating learning environment and good possibilities to integrate learning activities into everyday’s life. For gaining abilities and improving them, their repeated application is important – “use it or lose it”. Skills that are being taken over by machines are under threat of getting lost.

Idiocratisation is a combination of „Nature“ and „Nurture“

As Gregorian creatures we do not exclusively underly genetic constraints. A stimulating environment is also important for the development of our abilities and talents (maybe even more important than genetic disposition). „Nature“ and „Nurture“ are in a state of equilibrium. 


This implies that the mechanisms that led to the societal dumbing down in Idiocracy did not only act through natural selection over generations, but during lifetime through lifestyle, educational environment and learning and educational systems. The effect on offspring is not only through passing on of the genetic make up, but also through passing on of social circumstances (class, social environment). This would then be a cultural idiocratisation leading to a flattening of individual capabilities.


Capabilities that we need less and less in every day live decline already in the same generation. The impact of this loss of capanbilities on the following generations depends on their link to natural selection. Capabilities that are essential for survival until reproductive age and for reproduction will persist over generations.


We are often concerned about the deterioration of motoric cababilities from generation to generation and the declining fitness of large parts of our youth. (The scores measured in intelligence tests improve from generation to generation, so mankind apparently improves in fulfilling tasks on paper.).


When seeing scientific works from the 19th century, it strikes me how well scientists were able to draw images of animals and plants (look at Darwins, Humboldts or Haeckels drawings). I spent years at universities, but have to admit that my drawing capabilities are very weak. I also have to assume that writing by hand was a craft that my father mastered better than me (I am writing on a laptop here).


We can hardly tell, which impact the omnipresence of smartphones has on collective abilities. Already now it seems that the simple availability of navigation gadgets leads to a collective regression of human’s sense of orientation. The way, how we process information is also undergoing epochal change: The time that we spend concentratedly working on one task (e.g. reading a book) gets more and more interrupted by attention seeking gadgtes (e.g. smartphones). In Idiocracy, decisions are being taken by computers that were build by previous generations. Hardly anybody in the outlined society was still able to programme of control these computers.