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Humans don't exist, at least... not here. Instead we have [Insert non-lame animal name here:].

They're not too bright, but also could be considered vaguely self aware, about Gorilla level intelligence. They're roughly bipedal, but can get quite a trot going on all fours. They're thick skinned and durable, and can withstand blunt-force impact similar to being hit by a truck.

They're furry tanks, basically.

Obviously such a predator would be hard, if not impossible, to kill without an overwhelming numbers advantage and would most likely be the dominant species on the planet (as well as an absolute monster of an apex predator)... but with no threats to their position in the food chain, would they develop into what could be considered an advanced civilisation?

Would there be any reason to develop tools, invent things, if there was no survival requirement involved? Or would they stagnate and remain ape-like forever, like politicians?

Edit

Forgetting the Gorilla comparison, the question I'm asking is whether an intelligent, tool using, engine building, airplane flying civilisation could develop from a species that had few, if any, external threats? Assuming that humans developed the way you did in order to improve survival chances in a world where we weren't the toughest kid in school, would the toughest kid in school bother to develop in a similar way?

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    $\begingroup$ Given that gorillas are animals with roughly gorilla level intelligent, thick skinned, and durable, would the fact that gorillas did not form an intelligent society help form your answer? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 14 '17 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ Research is finding that species with significantly less complex brains than ours are capable of 'tool use', and manipulating their environment. But the way our evolution worked out, we had our last common ancestor with gorillas about 9 million years ago. If your question is 'could gorillas have developed intelligence and advanced tool use without becoming human', the answer is essentially yes. It wouldn't necessarily be a gorilla anymore, but the only reason humans aren't big furry killing machines(...well, bigger and furrier) is because it didn't work out that way. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 14 '17 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ The mistake hear is that you think it matters that this critter is at the top of the food chain. It doesn't matter that they are already the best. Eventually something will survive better, or differently, and there will be a parting of evolutionary ways. If you want to write them to evolve so that they just happen to stay on top, that's actually highly likely, barring an extinction event. Just because selection pressure isn't coming from predation doesn't mean there is no selection pressure. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 14 '17 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ Humans are an apex predator, so you may want to consider editing your title. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Mar 14 '17 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Mikey, evolution isn't about what is innovative. It's about what works, and only in relation to what didn't work as well. There is no absolutism in evolution, because there isn't anything in evolution except evolution. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 14 '17 at 3:40
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TL;DR - absolutely. Evolution doesn't stop just because you're good at something.

Stop for a moment, and imagine a member of your species who is a perfect physical specimen, for whatever your selection criteria are for 'perfect'. Now imagine that you absolutely cannot bring yourself to engage in conversation with this person for more than five minutes at a time. Selection pressures have guided you into a position where this 'perfect' thing was overrated, and you will reevaluate your position on the definition of 'perfect'.

Similarly, the not-a-gorilla apex predator will make selections when mating, and given enough time, social dynamics come into play. Maybe it's like a lion's pride, and the strongest male gets all the dates. Maybe the female is the stronger of the species, and devours the male after conception. But one day, a not-a-gorilla is born who is different. Maybe he's just a LITTLE smarter. But he figures out that the females like gifts of flowers, or tasty critters to eat. He brings the tasty critters, doesn't get eaten and now he's very much more likely to survive to make more progeny than the ones that get eaten.

And it doesn't have to be social dynamics. The point is that there are SO MANY pressures causing evolution, that simply being on the top of the food chain isn't enough to stop that, especially over the long term. The point of my earlier comments on your post is that, after enough evolution happened to create advanced intelligence, the new not-a-gorilla is probably nothing like the old not-a-gorilla, in the same way that I'm only a very tiny little bit like an actual gorilla.

Minor Edit: I feel compelled to point out that when the not-a-gorilla has developed intelligence, I am in no way implying that it will be smaller, weaker, slower or mostly bald. We only turned out that way mostly by chance and choice. At some point, less fur became attractive. The advanced not-a-gorillas could have gotten bigger, faster, stronger, hairier, and more durable in the same time frame that they became intelligent. Evolution doesn't have an end game, it just comes down to who makes more and better babies.

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    $\begingroup$ May I submit for your consideration an example from history: the shark. Modern sharks evolved 100-60 million years ago. In the time it's taken for us to to evolve from proto-rodents, the apex predator of the sea has changed very little. $\endgroup$ – Easy Tiger Mar 14 '17 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @EasyTiger your point? -- you state that "the apex predator of the sea has changed very little", which means you yourself realize that they change (albeit more slowly than some other groups). $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Mar 14 '17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @errantlinguist I think the point is that given a bunch of hamsters and a bunch of sharks and a lot of time, there's a greater chance that one day a hamster will put a hamster on the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. $\endgroup$ – Jon Hanna Mar 14 '17 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @EasyTiger, I appreciate the point, but orcas like tasty shark snacks. They breathe air, have complex brains, and social structures. Remember, the advanced not-a-gorilla and early not-a-gorilla are probably not going to be anything alike. An evolutionary branch does not necessarily lead to the end of the progenitor. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 15 '17 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ @EasyTiger the question is titled "Could an Apex Predator grow into an intelligent society?" not "Will an Apex Predator grow into an intelligent society?". Sharks, like all other creatures, continue to evolve. Ergo sharks could grow into an intelligent society. $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Mar 15 '17 at 15:18
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One theory of human brain development is based on Social Intelligence. As humans began living in larger social groups (tribes and clans) our brains doubled in size to track these complex relationships. My sister's husband is off limits, but I can date my sister's husband's brother. My father's enemy's son is my enemy.... We have complex social rules which are fundamental to us, but really have no purpose in nature so it wouldn't evolve directly.

Instead, as the theory goes, we needed to keep track of who was who in the "in circle" around the various alpha positions and their families in society. If your family is close to the king this actually does impact your genetics, over and over in numerous ways. Children of the king's friends get married and you have an aristocracy – tracking a royal heir can sometimes be a societal obsession, and even in social animals the children of alpha females are treated better because of nepotism (nepotism literally means "nephew-ism").

Scheming men and women breed with the powerful, and they have powerful scheming children. This consolidates to an evolution of social intelligence that has nothing to do with mechanical engineering or scientific observation. It might however be related to language skills, persuasiveness, charisma. It also might explain cult leaders and narcissists who exploit a kind of social control over people even when it seems to defy logic.

How much of today's telecommunications and broadcast media is simply about the relationships of status individuals in society?

So if your critters have a strict social pecking order with lots of complicated rules they are expected to follow, they could be a society of backstabbing power-climbing schemers who are savvy and manipulative without necessarily being hammer and screwdriver intelligent.

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    $\begingroup$ An interesting idea, so... without the external threats of bigger, more powerful, animals to eat them they'd probably start to focus more on who in their own group is useful/dangerous and go from there. $\endgroup$ – Wompguinea Mar 14 '17 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ And the control of resources, especially as those resources become more cooperative between larger communities (farms, armies). $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Mar 14 '17 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ "Nephew"-ism because popes didn't have children. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Mar 14 '17 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, it would explain why the solitary white shark did not evolve so much while orcas which have a much more complex social structure are much more clever (to the point of being on display like dolphins). It's a nice theory for sure. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Mar 14 '17 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix well, they promise not to at least. It's not like it would be hard for them to cover up. ;) $\endgroup$ – Apologize and reinstate Monica Mar 14 '17 at 23:26
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I think it's entirely possible...

Once a creature is at the peak of the food chain its only competitors are its fellows. As in your creature could evolve to be intelligent simply by competing with others of its own species for mates and resources. Given a significant population this sort of competition becomes inevitable.

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The problem an Apex Predator has is having enough prey, and reducing energy expenditure to catch said prey so you come out ahead.

Once that is solved, the next problem is socialization. There is reason to believe that humanity's intelligence developed to deal with other humans; we build complex social models to win the "in-tribe" dominance games and have more kids than the other humans.

So one issue is that your Apex Predator doesn't have much need to be social; in fact, a large group of such Apex Predators would starve as they consumed all the prey in an area.

Trying to scale up the prey as well runs into problems, as your size gets larger your N gets smaller, and smaller N leads to more instability.

However, what if we presume our Apex Predator forms a symbiotic relationship with a prey species; the Apex Predator becomes a herding species. They herd one kind of herbivore, which they use only when short other food, while they hunt other food.

Clashes between herders require their impressive size and strength, as does hunting other species. Herding requires more than one of them, providing socialization and a red queen's race of intelligence within the social groups.

The herd animals being larger than them would also provide a reason for them to be strong. They would cull the most aggressive, but they would still have to deal with brontosaurus sized cows.

Similar symbiosis occurs in nature without intelligence. So it isn't completely ridiculous that it would precede the development of intelligence, then lead to more developing.

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I think that it isn't likely.

Intelligence is a big investment. The young develop slower since you have to teach them. You have to grow a bigger brain that consumes a lot of energy. Luckily meat is energy dense compared to plant matter but there is still the question: why did the species bother?

Intelligence develops to solve problems. So, you have to figure out what problem arose that intelligence was needed to solve?

One possibility is that intelligence led the creature to become the apex predator. By using their intelligence they removed their rivals (like with us). However, if the predator had more going for it (speed, claws, poison, armor, etc.) then once it was smart enough to remove the threat, it wouldn't need to get any smarter.

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't exactly right. Intelligence didn't develop because problems needed to be solved. It developed in little steps, by chance and selection pressure, and the problems it solved made the members of the species who had it more likely to survive than the ones who didn't. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 14 '17 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanBoddy, yes but I think that it was the pressure of the problems that made the incremental changes in intelligence into survival benefits. The brain power that we spend reasoning is taken, partially from out ability to process scents and map the world by them. Intelligence had to be worth enough to give that up. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 14 '17 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ Human hearing is an ongoing real time fourier analysis that can reliably tell the difference between a softball hitting a concrete floor, or a baseball hitting drywall, in real time. Intelligence is worth a lot, and durable meat eaters have abundant energy. Our olfactory senses don't match those of dogs, but that's because in relation, our systems give us the advantage, in terms of evolution. You aren't wrong either, but my point is that your last comment is more correct than supposing intelligence developed for a reason. It simply developed, and just happened to be a survival trait. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 14 '17 at 2:09
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Sure, evolution was spurred by natural bottlenecks like droughts, ice ages, isolation etc,. more than competition with other predators. Make one ice age 1 degree colder or hotter and it would have turned out vastly different. Humans would be physically, mentally, and socially widely divergent from what we are now if we survived at all.

Other species were at comparable levels many times in our prehistory. So complex civilisation for your unnamed predator could have been a result of needing to cooperate and develop social systems as a means of survival against a series of natural events rather than competition against other animals.

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The trouble apex predators have re: continued evolution isn't that they have no predators etc, it's that they can go anywhere they want to.

When a mutation occurs it's chances of recurring sufficient to become an emergent property of a species are massively diminished in a large genepool. This, not any other factor, is the primary reason why Apex anything don't tend to evolve much.

Humans have bred plants and animals by doing what nature does..inbreeding. Yes, that's right.. you wouldn't be as smart as you are if it wasn't for inbreeding.

Isolation begets evolution. With this in mind, Apex (walking, hopping or slithering) predators can reasonably be expected to evolve 'further' if some event isolates a breeding population from the greater whole.

In fish, & birds this is clearly harder to achieve, given that natural events that can dislocate one breeding population from another are...well, they don't really happen very often at all. Some species have essentially locked themselves into their path by various forms of ingrained migration tactics, which whilst helping the species survive in many senses, essentially drop it from the list of "species that might go somewhere"

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There would be no reason for them to evolve if they don't compete amongst themselves or have some external forces working against them, because they're dominant. Look at some animals that have stayed pretty much the same for millions of years because they reached a kind've happy medium.

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Why not look to the oceans of Earth?

Orca/ Killer Whales are Apex Predators and have been for quite some period of time. They have social behaviour and work together to form complex hunting techniques to take down most other creatures around.

However, they do not appear to have developed the ability to create supermarines (reverse submarines) to conquer land, nor the need to use tools, create industry, engineer items, etc - all things that we deem necessary as an advanced civilization - even if the development of nets would aid them capturing prey, housing could provide shelter for their young, glass-walled air-tanks to keep naked chimps in as pets...

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! Interesting start. But I think something is missing. The OP asks if things like engine building, tool using, etc. would be likely. Your last paragraph looks like you state that it would not be possible, but could potentially benefit this species. Is there a way you see to make this work? For example what would be needed to make Orcas use tools, etc. A final short statement about your opinion would be nice. If you got quesionts take the tour and visit the help center. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 14 '17 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ A supermarine goes over water, a superterra goes over land. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Mar 14 '17 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix, this is my quote of the day. :D $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Mar 14 '17 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Orcas do use tools, but perhaps are simply limited in their level of tool creation by the lack of opposable thumbs / lack of dexterity in general. $\endgroup$ – Justin Dunlap Mar 14 '17 at 22:43

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