Could human-level intelligence have evolved underwater?

Hey it’s Tim. So I was watching a video showing blue whales being deliciously huge in the ocean and it got me thinking—

Was it inevitable that intelligent life evolved on land and not in water?

For most of the time life has been on Earth, it has been only underwater. And some of today’s most intelligent species, like dolphins and whales, still live underwater. But could human-level intelligence have evolved in the water?

Could there be an intelligent water species that lives in huge cities with advanced agriculture and industry, with complex culture and art and music and sports, who discovers the Higgs boson and understands quantum computing and launches satellites into orbit, and who sometimes fights in world wars—all underwater?1

Or is there something important about being on land for that kind of highly developed species? If so, why? And if not, what would it be like to have a 7-billion-creature species, just as smart as we are, all in the ocean?

_______

You can sign up for the Dinner Table email list here to be notified about the new topic each week, and remember to submit future topic suggestions to [email protected].


  1. Other than their occasional scubahiking excursions on land.

Home Archive