Consciousness is considered to be one of the most complex and difficult subjects in the scientific study and one which scientists are only just beginning to understand. While most contemporary discussions of consciousness focus on physics, some scientists have begun to suggest that the mystery could be solved in an entirely different field, that of evolutionary genetics.
Could human intelligence have been caused by a virus?
It is clear that human beings have an incredibly sophisticated level of consciousness which goes far beyond that of other animals. No one is quite sure as to why this happened with most scientists suggesting that the enhanced intelligence of human beings is nothing but an evolutionary quirk. However, two new studies published in the biology journal Cell suggest that something very different might have caused it.
The two new studies both suggest that human intelligence might have been formulated by an ancient virus which infected early humans. The reason that the scientists believe that this could be the case is that they have isolated a certain neuronal gene referred to as Arc. In the course of their investigations, the scientists found that this particular gene uses a process to encode genetic information and transfer it between synapses in the brain in a very similar way to how viruses transfer information. This unique form of information transfer has led the researchers to wonder whether an ancient virus could have transmitted these genes into the human brain which were then incorporated into the basic genetic structure of human beings.
If this is the case, then human intelligence could be the result not of superior evolutionary processes but the trace of a genetically encoded virus.
Naturally, this line of thought has raised some questions concerning human intelligence. If it is the case, then it would appear unusual that no other animals were infected in the same way, particularly those who share common DNA with human beings. There is also the question of other highly intelligent animals such as dolphins – were they similarly infected with a virus in the ancient past or are there many ways to develop a sophisticated level of consciousness in mammals.