A friend and I were passing by a tennis court the other day, where people were happily playing tennis together. It struck me in that moment how prevalent it is for people to enjoy each others’ company through competitive activities.
Certainly this is not true for all shared activities, but it tends to be true for many of the more active ones. I wondered out loud whether there could be a sentient species who would find such a way of spending time completely incomprehensible — who might even find such behavior downright psychotic.
In other words, could a species evolve intelligence without ever evolving a sense of pleasure in competing with other members of their own species? Or is such a species impossible on first principles?
My friend pointed out, quite sensibly, that puppies and children compete with each other as a way to grow their skills. There is clear survival value in learning through competition.
But that didn’t completely satisfy me. That merely shows that competition is one successful paradigm for evolution. It doesn’t show that competition is necessary for all possible successful paths of evolution.
I found myself positing a species that is more like The Borg from STTNG. In such a species, individuals might be physically separate beings, yet possess a kind of communication that to us would seem like telepathy, like cooperating cells in a single organism. The evolutionary advantage possessed by such creatures would be linked to an inherent quality of cooperation, somewhat the way the tentacles of an octopus always cooperate with each other, even when they are engaged in disparate subtasks.
That still doesn’t mean that evolution of this kind of intelligent species is possible. There could be sound evolutionary reasons why it is not possible. But for now, it seems at least plausible.