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Nornagest comments on Your Strength as a Rationalist - Less Wrong

69 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 August 2007 12:21AM

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Comment author: Nornagest 25 February 2015 09:31:05PM *  3 points [-]

See, this is why it's a bad idea to use the language of design when talking about evolution. Evolution doesn't have a design. It optimizes locally according to a complex landscape of physical and sexual incentives, and in the EEA that usually would have favored fast and frugal heuristics. Often it still does; if you're driving a car or running away from a bear, you don't want to drop what you're doing and work out the globally optimal path before taking action. That's all well and good.

But things have changed in the last 12,000 years; we spend more time doing long-range planning and optimization work, for example, and less time running away from tigers and hitting each other on the head with clubs. Evolution works slowly, and we haven't reached a local maximum for our environment yet, nor are we likely to in the near future as we continue to reshape it; we're left with a set of cognitive tools, therefore, that are often poorly adapted to our goals. It's these that we seek to compensate for, when and where doing so is appropriate.

While our goals are informed by biology, though, their biological influences are no "truer", no more "correct", than any other. We certainly shouldn't treat them as gospel; if they turn out to be in tension with the environment, as in many cases they have, evolution will be quite happy to select against them.