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Similar to Could Plants Develop Sentience? but slightly more general: I'm not interested in plants in particular, but want a more general understanding of the effect of motion on intelligence and vice versa.

In general intelligent lifeforms on Earth, like hominids, cephalopods, and cetaceans, are highly mobile. Mobility and intelligence seem to be linked in our home ecosystem with the most mobile creatures having the largest brain-to-body mass ratios.

So the question I have is reasonably simple: is this a coincidence, a consequence, or a prerequisite for intelligent life? Could a sedentary creature, of any order, develop high levels of intelligence, possibly even sentience, or does intelligence require and/or beget movement?

For the sake of clarity my initial thought in asking this question was geared toward ambush predators like the snapping turtle only more sedentary in habit since most ambush predators I can think of move between kills and this theoretical lifeform either couldn't or wouldn't.

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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to Close-Voters: Please explain why you are voting to close so that the OP can fix the problems that you see. He can't fix them if he is not aware of them. Personally I think this is a reasonable question. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 25 '17 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, close-voters, please don't confuse "This is a bad question" with "I don't know the answer." $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 25 '17 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ If you are interested, Larry Niven already explored this idea in the short story "The Handicapped" (appeared in the Neutron Star collection, there are several places to read it online legally AFAIK) - though, (spoiler!): in his story the sentient creatures devolved into a sedentary state - they weren't always like that... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Oct 25 '17 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C. This thought deserves answer level attention. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 25 '17 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C. sorry to be that guy, but saying people are "sedimentary" means that they are composed of layers of rock of varying mineral compositions. I suppose a creative interpretation could apply that to humans, but I'd guess you intended to use "sedentary", which means still. Sorry to be that guy! $\endgroup$ – Le Mot Juiced Oct 25 '17 at 17:14

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The only limitation of the development of intelligence is an evolutionary purpose. Every significant trait or feature present in a living organism is there because it helps that organism survive and reproduce. For a plant or other sessile creature to develop intelligence it must be able to use that intelligence in some way to improve its fitness. It might need intelligence to acquire food, avoid predators, or attract mates as a few simple examples.

In general non-mobile organisms have little use for intelligence. They can't move to find food, avoid predators, or mate. In general they lack most sensory inputs as well as motor functions, meaning that even if they were intelligent they wouldn't have effective ways of understanding the environment around them or of reacting to it even if they did. All that said, it's not inconceivable that there might be some task for which a sessile organism would require intelligence. Most likely this intelligence would need to develop along side appropriate sensory inputs (to give the intelligence something to think about) as well as some ability to react (to accomplish something once it decides to do so).

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps intelligent guidance of spores/eggs could provide benefit? Like a giant game of Go where all the pieces are also players: positioning your offspring well (ie considering three or four ‘moves’ ahead in the generation game) would be a driver for very specialised intellect that could be repurposed. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 25 '17 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also, it is possible that the organism is only sedentary in its adult stage, where it retains its intelligence from a previous, juvenile state where it has its uses (e.g. the aliens in Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead"). Or, they may be devolved versions of a mobile creature, which, after attaining sentience loses its mobility (e.g. the aliens in Larry Niven's "The Handicapped"). $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Oct 25 '17 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN This thought also deserves answer level attention. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 25 '17 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ "Every trait or feature present in a living organism is there because it helps that organism survive and reproduce. " This is untrue. Evolution is undirected and has no goal. The most you can say is that 'Every feature present in a living organism is there because it hasn't been an overwhelming detriment to reproduction in previous generations.' $\endgroup$ – Carl Kevinson Oct 25 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlKevinson I acknowledge that what you say is true and that what I said was overstated. I also think that in the context of a discussion of significant features such as intelligence my statement is almost universally true. I've changed the sentence to: "Every significant trait or feature." Intelligence would not arise simply because it was not an "overwhelming detriment to reproduction". Such a complex and costly trait could only be acquired via positive selection. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Oct 25 '17 at 19:16
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As mentioned by others,

Nothing evolves an adaptation just because. The reason there is a correlation between movement and intelligence is because movement requires understanding of your environment (must recognize that you cant run through a rock), if you are in a fixed position awareness doesn't really help you because you cant react to dodge incoming threats.

This begins to explain why there can be a correlation between intelligence and predation. One good way to be an effective mobile predator is you need to be able to recognize your prey and their patterns and plan a solution.

In all terrestrial cases intelligence has been evolved to react to the environment and to acquire food sources humans included.

To start answering your question:

your sedentary creature would need a reason to need intelligence other than to use motion to achieve a biological goal. Perhaps the weather is so erratic and violent that awareness and pattern recognition would need to be used to deploy protective measures on demand. Perhaps they develop a telepathic means of communication which aids them in reproduction being able to plan with eachother when is best to mate.

OR YOU COULD take the inverse of your scenario

Instead of a sedentary creature evolving intelligence, what about an intelligent creature de-evolving mobility. This isn't uncommon, there are plenty of birds which have lost the ability to fly because they found food sources without it (penguins and chickens).

You could even start to see such a trend in humans. We use to cover tens of miles daily and swing from trees. Now in many cases to be more productive requires tolerating a sedentary position for long periods (learning and working behind a desk). We have machines that can handle moving us A to B so it we don't really need our previous mobility. We very well could lose it. Your creature could be a parallel of this.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 (very similar to what I would have answered) but chickens can fly if you don't clip their wing. They just can't fly well. Cage raised chickens may not be able to fly but that would just be because of undeveloped musculature just like a couch potato can't run five laps on a standard track. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Oct 25 '17 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think even if the animal loses it's motion it'll need to have a reason for intelligence. Brains are expensive to run so there'll be a heavy selection pressure to get rid of unused intelligence. (In the way blind fish lost their eyes because they lived their entire lived in darkness) $\endgroup$ – Richard Tingle Oct 25 '17 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Good suggestion for the reverse approach $\endgroup$ – Nikola Radevic Oct 26 '17 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ We sort of have venus flytraps and sensitive plants which are a sort of rudimentary intelligence. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Oct 26 '17 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, according to Scientific American blog, plants have something much more interesting than intelligence scientificamerican.com/article/do-plants-think-daniel-chamovitz $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Oct 26 '17 at 12:29
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Okay, first off, it's important to say what no one here seems willing to say: no one knows squat about this. Everything anyone says or has said is the subject of intense debate and inflammatory argumentation.

What this means to a worldbuilder is simple: you don't have to explain it.

Any organism at all can have sentience, and no one on Earth can say anything about it. As far as planets with sentient life go, we have a sample size of one. There is simply zero sound science on the matter.

Expect argument on this!

Second, I'm looking around and I'm seeing a huge amount of poor, poor analysis of evolution, the kind of talk that leaves space for creationists to argue. If you see the words "evolutionary purpose" run screaming. The phrase is meaningless at best and harmfully misleading at worst.

Holy effing JC, I lose patience with this. Evolution has no purpose. Evolution's primary engine is randomness. Natural selection can narrow down the amount of successful organisms, but it doesn't create them or direct them.

I've got to say this again: evolution has no purpose. To say that this or that feature of an organism is constrained by "evolutionary purpose" is putting the cart before the horse, or if you will, the arthropod before the ganglia. The mechanism is simple: evolution happens by accident, natural selection narrows it down.

Look, here's a simple example: say there's a lush field full of life and flying creatures with all sorts of flowery ornamental plumage, as tends to happen when there aren't lots of predators around that can manage to catch birds. Then suddenly the field is buried in lava. What species of bird will survive?

Some subset of the birds that happened to be in the air at the time. None of those birds developed with the "evolutionary purpose" of surviving sudden outpourings of lava. Even more relevant, the color and structure of the plumage of the birds that survived had nothing to do with whether or not they survived the lava.

Those colors and plumage happened because the environment allowed the randomness of evolution to travel down all sorts of useless byways, because there was nothing around to stop it. Then, through nobody's virtue or intention, a bunch of them died off. Fast forward to today, and some people on various websites argue about the "evolutionary purpose" of this or that frilly crest on this or that bird. It's nonsense! It's pure folderol.

So these people talking about this or that environmental stimuli leading to the development of consciousness are talking out their bazoo. The rule is: evolution happens randomly to the degree an environment permits it.

So yes, a sedentary organism could develop sentience. It could be in the face of environmental pressures, or it could be just because it did, that's why, and there's nothing more to it.

Nobody likes this, because we don't like uncertainty, which is why you get a lot of authoritative-sounding talk like you'll see around. But the most irritating fact is that evolution seems like a system almost entirely designed to foil the kind of answers people like to give.

This isn't my thinking, by the way, I got all this from Stephen Jay Gould.

Expect argument on this!

P.S.: people should be cautious about using plants as an example of lack of sentience. It's not broadly known, but there is in fact a growing field called "plant neurobiology". It's highly controversial, but it's far from a settled argument, partly because certain plants have been shown to pass tests of sentience that it was previously assumed only animals could pass.

P.P.S: the other thing people who like to sound authoritative always leave out is sexual selection, a mechanism described by Darwin and almost entirely ignored in layman's arguments. Simply put, a hyperintelligent mollusk could evolve just because the female mollusks thought they were cute.

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    $\begingroup$ Saying “intelligence must have an evolutionary purpose” is not equivalent to the statement “evolution has a purpose”. While Stephen Jay Gould might argue that not all traits must serve an evolutionary purpose, he most certainly would not argue that no traits serve evolutionary purposes. Moreover, intelligence would never arise as a non-adaptive byproduct or spandrel. An organ capable of intelligence is too complex to arise in the absence of positive selection and even if it did without a useful function its energy costs would result in its rapid loss due to negative selection. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Oct 25 '17 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ While strictly speaking true the probability of a feature that is actively harmful (like an expensive, unused brain) is far far less likely that a feature that helps with survival. For such a complex and actively harmful feature to have evolved the organism would have to have next to no competition since it would be easily outcompeted. Not saying a brain couldn't be useful for a sendentary creature but just saying "it doesn't have to make sense!" isn't really plausible ("we don't understand the purpose is far more plausible") $\endgroup$ – Richard Tingle Oct 25 '17 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ This answer reads like a rant and could be reworked to remove emotion, which allows logical arguments to be better received by not putting those with existing prejudices on the defensive while they read. $\endgroup$ – person27 Oct 26 '17 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ Intelligence is both expensive (in every animal we've seen it; admittedly less so in corvids), and intelligence "to human levels" with a sample size of 1 started with creatures that where less-intelligent that evolved towards intelligence. For a random walk to reach location X, it either needs to be near location X, X or equivalent locations needs to be all over the place, or there needs to be some kind of selective pressure moving you towards X. The space of "what life can be" is large, the space of "intelligence" is small, unpressured evolution won't find it with P =~ 1. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Oct 27 '17 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @LeMotJuiced No, billion zillion isn't enough for the random walk to work. The configuration space being too large to find X for any physically realizable random walk is perfectly reasonable. Even a modest amount of selection can make things reachable that random walks cannot reach in the lifetime of the universe. How many rolls for 4 billion d6s to get 3 billion 6s? Now add selection: 1% of dice that land on 6 lock in and don't roll again, and 10% of those unlock (and start rolling again) each round. In a few dozen rounds you get 75% 6s. And intelligence is more like 4 googleplex d6s. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Oct 27 '17 at 20:12
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If we start from the assumption that the more an organ is used, the more it has to develop, it is easy to answer your question.

Sentience is the result of an high environmental pressure on the brain, that forced it to go beyond the simple model of instinctive reaction. The more an organism moves, the more it has to face a dynamic environment, and therefore also its brain has to be dynamic and able to "think out of the box".

As counterexample, just think of how many vegetables do you know which are sentient? Yes, there are plants which can react to external stimuli, but nothing even close to what we recognize as being sentient. In a sedentary set up a brain (and its massive energy demand) would simply be an evolutionary burden.

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Intelligence is useful in deciding between choices. Taking away all options involving moving is a big limitation. But perhaps not fatal. You just need to give the creature a reason to make decisions based on complex input.

Prediction

Say the main food source is intermittent. The smart choice is to breed just before the source reappears. This only requires adjustable timing in reproduction and some meaningful sensory input to directly reward better predictors.

Or consider how much energy should be devoted to growth, storage or reproduction, there is some statistically optimal position for any set of conditions. The problem is how long does it take to find that sweet spot relative to the competition, what does it cost to be late, and how well can the spot be estimated from simple input.

In both cases on earth our immotiles like plants and shellfish do well by preprogrammed triggers, but here seasons are pretty predictable, to the point where it isn't worth paying for brains to try and beat the market. If the important events on your world were less predicable a more complex calculation would be useful. Maybe your creatures even need complicated communication so that non-local patterns can be used to predict local events.

Manipulation

Options expand very quickly with the competence of your manipulators. It is sometimes suggested a positive feedback between our manipulators and brains is a large part of the reason we are where we are. If they have a plausibly free manipulator and the senses to make use of it, it's not impossible they get a similar feedback.

Arms race

Say it lives by tricking some prey into its mouth. It needs to develop new tricks as fast as its prey figures them out. Both sides could benefit from better decision making.

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Yes, possibly.

As has been pointed out, the development of sentience and intelligence does require some survival benefit (intelligence, at least, needs to be developed) and, generally, this requires the organism to have some kind of control over its environment, to make decisions and to be able to act upon them (which would normally require movement).

However, suppose that an organism had no real control over its environment, and that environment was increasingly volatile and unpredictable, but that the organism did have some control over its own biological functions: which direction to extend root systems; whether to grow height or foliage; when, and possibly even how, to reproduce; etcetera - essentially the ability to budget its energy and develop strategies to survive in an environment not as stable as most plants have.

Most plants have very simple responses that help them to grow and flourish: they sense heat and light; they use seasonal changes to drive their life cycles and these are all automatic, because automatic works in the majority of cases.

I think it quite feasible that an organism, though, on some other world with erratic seasons and weather, although being sedentary, might benefit considerably from the ability to make decisions on how best to utilise its resources, especially if the organism was carnivorous with a need to lure, trap and restrain prey.

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It's an interesting idea. I think we have an extremely biased view on the whole subject of intelligence/consciousness, and even on our concept of what life is.

One possible path, using my biases as a basis, is that the genetic ancestors of said creator were mobile. At some point evolution favored the stationary.

Perhaps they live in an environment where movement is either:
too dangerous --those that move die
OR
the environment is so abundant in resources that moving around is pointless.

The plant/fungi route is also not too far fetched as recent research is showing us there is more going on there than we once thought.

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  • $\begingroup$ please explain the bias. do you mean something like "we may not recognize intelligence without movement" or "this doesn't mean that there is no intelligence just because we are not able to recognize it" ? $\endgroup$ – Henning M. Oct 25 '17 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ More so the latter. Our understanding of life is based on a single case. Which is life here on Earth. Our understanding of intelligent-consciousness, being "human-smart" is based on also one case. Maybe we'll find one day that there is a certain core that creates our level of intelligence. I would not be surprised if that core is much different than we imagine considering how the universe loves to surprise us. However, until we collect a decent set for our data-model we can only say, "Who knows". $\endgroup$ – James Oct 25 '17 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ funny meta bias: You try to imagine what (and if there is) the core is that creates our level of intelligence, while I think there may be not one core but unimaginable many ;-) $\endgroup$ – Henning M. Oct 26 '17 at 19:45
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In principle, sure. Lots of other people have suggested that it might have some evolutionary "reason" to become sentient - i.e., some advantage conferred by sentience that would allow it to do better than others. But! That's not the only way it could happen. Evolution doesn't move towards an optimized goal, it just throws away things that are harmful - it's possible that the reason your critters evolved sentience wasn't because it was useful to them, but because it wasn't harmful enough to make it worth getting rid of.

There's a phenomenon called pleiotropy: a single gene producing multiple apparently unrelated effects. For example, certain chickens have "frizzy" feathers, and the same gene causes them to have increased metabolism. Perhaps your critters evolved some useful trait that had sentience as a pleitropic side effect - a side effect that was at least not harmful enough to be worth sacrificing the useful trait in order to get rid of. It's unlikely that this would get you sentience right away - I doubt sentience is controlled by a single gene - but it could get the ball rolling.

There's also something called sexual selection, which is natural selection without the life-and-death part. The idea is that potential mates might focus on a particular trait that's unrelated to an individual's actual fitness, and use that to judge the quality of the mate. For example, this is likely the origin of the peacock's fancy tail. It's not unreasonable to expect it would be more common among species that were at least partially sentient, so that they had enough "society" to "decide" what was attractive. But if, early on, your critters "decided" intelligence was attractive, sexual selection might bootstrap them to full sentience.

One last idea (a little silly): in Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep", one particular species, the Riders, were sedentary - descended from something like a sea anemone. They didn't achieve much technology on their own, until in the distant past another species gave them machines that they could ride (hence the name) and use to do all the things most species use muscles for. There's no reason you couldn't have something similar - maybe a sedentary species that developed a glimmer of sentience, and then got helped along the way by someone smarter.

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    $\begingroup$ I was looking for this. People misunderstand evolution principles too often. If you understand that things can evolve useless but not harmful traits, you open the door for a lot of fun things in worldbuildings. $\endgroup$ – GlorfSf Oct 27 '17 at 7:49
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I attended a very interesting talk by Prof. Wolpert from Cambridge University once.

His talk started more or less with the following:

Why do we have a brain? It's a pretty fundamental question. Why have we, as a species, developed a brain, when there are so many organisms in our planet doing fine without it?

I argue that we have a brain for one reason, and one reason only: to produce adaptive and complex movements. And if you think about it, movement is the only way we have of affecting the world around us. Even if you think about communication, speech, sign language, writing, ..., they all require muscle contraction.

(He notes this isn't entirely true, and expands on it, but that's out of the scope of this answer)

He argues that perception and prediction bring no evolutionary advantages if not to improve movement. An example: there is no point in remembering places if it doesn't affect the way you move later in life.

Another point he mentions is that once you don't need movement, you may not even need a brain (see squirts eat their own brain when they fix themselves to rocks). -- although the scientific validity of this joke is questionable.

So if we believe in his hypothesis, which for me seemed pretty reasonable, then intelligence and motion are not a coincidence. Motion requires intelligence and there would be no point for a sedentary organism to develop intelligence.

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  • $\begingroup$ From your link: "However, the adult does possess a cerebral ganglion which may even be larger than in the embrionic stage, so the scientific validity of this joke is questionable." $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Oct 26 '17 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 good point. updated the answer $\endgroup$ – dangom Oct 27 '17 at 9:28
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Possibly a type of organism used as a ball in some form of sport could become sentient. This could make for an interesting sport as well.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    $\begingroup$ Left field, no pun intended, but yeah that's an interesting thought. You might want to flesh it out some though to avoid the wrath of the reviewers as it is it's very short and not hugely informative. For example what kind of sport did you have in mind? $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 25 '17 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions. We strongly discourage one- or two-line answers, as these typically lack clarity and/or reasoning for why the proposed solution is viable. Barring an edit, this may be deleted as inadequate to the task of answering the OP's question. If you haven't already, feel free to take the tour to get a better understanding of the site. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 25 '17 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to Worldbuilding. As Frostfyre said, we're looking for answers that provide a little more explanation than this. Can you edit to flesh this out more? This post received six "delete" votes in review, but I want to give you a chance to improve it before it's deleted. You can check out our short tour for more about how the site works. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 26 '17 at 3:09
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Intelligent Design. Someone/something wanted to have things intelligent for any number of reasons and, with a good understanding of genetics, made some "things" to test a theory/give the creators something to interact with/create a curiosity item/build an early warning system for some danger/as pets/ as garden caretakers/as an outlet for their love, etc. The explorers may never find the creators just the intelligent sedentary life forms.

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Considering evolution favors survival, but self awareness (the first part of intelligence) can also arise through other means, I think it is entirely possible. A bigger question is "Would we be aware it is alive?"

Theoretically a crystalline lifeform is possible, and it could develop intelligence. Being crystalline it does not need to move in ways that we can perceive to live, and so appears sessile to us. It eats thermal energy that it converts from its world's sun. It excretes the excess at night to the environment. It changes it's crystalline structure to affect its environment, using solar energy in ways we can't even imagine. It communicates using infrared light. It evolves over geological time spans.

We would have no idea it was alive, let alone sentient. With no awareness of it, and it likely having no awareness of us, there is no way for either of us to even say hello.

Now take this same lifeform billions of years later, and it has evolved faster thinking and the ability to "see" through it's surface. It has also learned to communicate using visible (to us) light, that is how it trains its pet insects. At this point, you have a sessile lifeform that is capable of communication with us, civilization as we understand it, even using other lifeforms as beasts of burden.
There you have your lifeform's history. Feel free to use any of that you like.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not quite what the OP was asking, your answer is more about our perception of one possible intelligent sessile creature rather than actually answering can a sessile creature evolve intelligence. $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 25 '17 at 20:52
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Best to look at ourselves as an example. Simplified, one of the main theories is that our brains grew to cope with the increased demand of social interaction. Remembering people's names, statuses, developing manners, social correctness, and basically surviving in a community and coming out top dog.

Some animals like baboons have a big red arse and the redder and more arsey it is the hotter that mate is, but humans are not quite the same - for us it's all about charm and social standing within a community, so we evolved to be able to manage that, the side effect being that our increased intelligence was useful for other things, and once you're on an evolutionary slope to improvement, you don't stop until it no longer benefits you. Keeping in mind that females will become more and more demanding of how funny, charming, popular etc. you will be we evolved into what we have today which is an incredibly nuanced system of finding a mate. You certainly can't just flash your bum anymore.

So yes, if they needed to become more intelligent, but more importantly, if they needed big brains for something else, even if it's remembering which mushrooms are safe to eat, there's a chance for evolution to push their intelligence in a sideways direction until they become sentient.

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The main use of intelligence is prediction, for planning, for survival.

Motion is a relative concept.

In an environment where organism is sedentary but is surrounded by dynamic objects, interaction with which is required for the organism's survival, intelligence will develop.

The motion does not even have to be physical movement. As long as there is a change of signal with enough differentiation as to require prediction, planning, and dynamic choice-making - intelligence will become a factor of natural selection.

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Plenty of people are pointing out that intelligence (or any trait) comes through a random mutation that happens to have staying power in terms of the trait providing some fitness. And this typically requires some motive ability in order to use the intelligence to affect it's situation in relation to the environment.

I'd actually point out that plants already do have some minimal intelligence depending on how you define it. Plants grow toward the sunlight to get more sunlight. If I wrote a program that repositioned some aspect of itself to better meet it needs I would call that "adding some intelligence" to that program.

However I am assuming you are talking about human comparable intelligence, in which case it's worth pointing out the fact that there is no survival benefit to humans being as smart as we are. There is no reason for early man to have the brain power to write a symphony or write complex computer programs. That is not to say there is no reason for our intelligence, especially since it comes at a heavy cost due to our huge brains and all the energy it takes to keep them running. It is for this reason that it is thought our intelligence is not a direct result of survival fitness selection, but rather a runaway effect of sexual (reproductive) selection.

Once everyone is "smart" enough to come in out of the rain and put food on the table, that is enough survivally speaking. What takes over is intelligence as a form of sexual ornamentation. The ability to captivate a group or get attention telling stories. The intra-species competition of political strategizing for status acquisition. For this runaway effect to take over, symbolic communicative abilities within the species becomes a more limiting factor of intelligence development than mobility.

I just thought this notion might be useful to you. Two relevant books are "The Runaway Brain" and "The Mating Mind".

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, welcome to Worldbuilding! Interesting thoughts... You say that "symbolic communicative abilities within the species becomes a more limiting factor", but could it happen, even if that is the limiting factor? $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Oct 27 '17 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ To clarify, two types of INT development -- Motive INT: tied to survival selection, refined only through its secondary benefit in physical competition. There's limits to how much a mind can help in this domain, a wolf that can write a symphony gets no benefit and that trait gets lost. The other is INT refined in direct INT competition, more tied to sexual (than survival) selection, and requires symbolic communication (rather than mobility) for the intellects to compete. Thus IMO non-mobile plants might achieve hyper intelligence if they developed sex prefs based on sophisticated communication $\endgroup$ – user1169420 Oct 28 '17 at 0:05
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In our world, even the development of a nervous system seems to require mobility. The closest thing I can think of to a sedentary creature with a nervous system are shellfish. A clam's intellectual life is limited: Move up in the sand column. Move down. Filter water, clam up. But this is much more stimulating than the intellectual life of a carrot.

Moving up the evolutionary chain complex behaviour is more likely to arise in predators than in prey. As Speaker to Animals commented in one of the Ring World books, "How much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a leaf" This is a bit of an exaggeration, as smarts are needed to not be lunch. But generally predators have lower birth rates, higher survival rates, and longer lives than their prey. Coyotes are smarter than rabbits. Wolves are smarter than moose.

Another factor in this is the amount of time it takes to feed. Herbivores spend a large part of their day just munching. You have to pump a lot of leaves through a gut to get a reasonable number of calories.

Social behaviour seems to be a key feedback in developing more smarts. Pigeons are smarter than owls. (Training owls makes training cats look easy. Most of an owl's brain is hardwired image processing and hunting) Ravens (and corvids generally) are smarter than pigeons. But both pigeons and corvids exhibit social behaviours.

So to answer your question: To develop intelligence it needs to make multi-factor choices that are more difficult than can be handled by tropisms and instincts. Those choices have to affect the survival and reproductive success of the critter.

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The answer to your question "Does intelligence require and/or beget movement" can be simply answered: "A form of intelligence requires/begets movement." We know this because humans are 'intelligent' and highly visually and movement-oriented. But to answer the more general "Do all forms of intelligence require or beget movement?" you'd have to do one of two things: either define intelligence strictly or get very broad in your thinking about how you get there.

It would be very easy, for instance, to define intelligence only in the human-like capacity. For a long time this has been a struggle in science: is x creature 'sentient'? How do you define that intelligence? Tool use? Language use? Ability to discern self (the so-called 'mirror test')? Ability to experiment? Ability to remember? For any given test there are some species that pass it and a lot that don't: chimps have a notion of self and crows pass down grudges between generations, some plants communicate by vibration and many animals use tools. Etc, etc.

It is also very easy to misunderstand evolution and how species get to where they are, recklessly ascribing words like, "Purpose" or "reason" to particular traits. There are twenty-three thousand genes in human genome. A water flea (a small water crustacean) has thirty-one thousand. There is a Japanese flower that has roughly fifty times what humans have in terms of genetic material. One thing that Dawkins points out in his 'Selfish Gene' book is that a lot of the time genes are carried not on the weight of their own evolutionary fitness, but that of the collective of genes in the organism in which they happen to exist. That is, a specific gene and the trait it expresses may have positive, negative, or neutral effect on the organism's health and in any of these cases have little to no effect on whether it survives: the weight of all those other genes and expressed traits is the overwhelmingly factor.

Combine this with the notion of inter-species gene flow, and we know that, in theory, the genes that create our as-yet-undefined intelligence could get to the target organism in any number of ways.

To properly phrase your question, you need to define what sort of 'intelligent' capability the species has, and you have to be pretty clear with this: saying something like, "Learn where things are in a space" means both rats and Roombas qualify. You need to phrase things in a manner that lets you distinguish between your intelligent species and ones who are 'non-intelligent'.

One way to do this is to consider what it applies it's intelligence towards. Humans have hyper-evolved visual cortexes: much of our 'intelligence' has to do with vision as a result. Eye-hand coordination is one aspect of this (and has to do with movement). Spatial recognition and awareness, object permanence, ability to recognize items, people, expressions all based on less-than-complete information all factors into this. Humans, in fact, probably 'fill in' most of the visual information they think they are getting (leading to 'the world is an illusion in our minds'). All of this is noteworthy because what it actually is is a pile of mechanical mechanisms we build on a particular sense that really only detect a narrow band of lightwaves.

You can imagine a similar set of hyper-evolved mechanisms that, say, detect subtle changes in PH. A 'digestive' intelligence that is able to factor out poisons and conserve rare nutrients. You can't cut out the concept of motion entirely, because things are still moving through a complex network of stomachs and intestines, as specially evolved as the rods, cones, neurons, synapses, glia and so on of a human visual cortex. But the organism itself may not be moving itself much, instead living in a river or ocean and simply processing everything as it came by - maybe even choosing how to excrete what it doesn't directly use to build up structures around it (golgoth sapians). Learning to count by filling stomachs instead of ticking fingers, etc. Communicating through the release of gases of different flavors. Cultivating farm animals by selectively maiming fish before depositing them in pens for later consumption. All of this is imaginable, and would lead to an intelligence of a highly different variety than humans.

So, to properly phrase the question, I'd encourage you to think first about how you want the sedentary species intelligence to express. Then, think about what biological processes that were hyper-evolved would lead to such an expression. And then work back from there, knowing that the genes which caused this expression could come from anywhere: from food it ate, air it breathed that contained pollen. The genes could have come from another species with proto- or full-blown intelligence whose genes were carried in spores and later captured and repurposed. The intelligence could be entirely accidental, having arisen by chance and been lucky enough to be in an organism that was very environmentally viable with or without intelligence. But embrace that evolution is a billion trillion balls bouncing around a sphere and sometimes some of them fall through the hoop of 'intelligence' or 'has opposable thumbs', and none of them ended up there for a 'reason'.

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