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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on The Baby-Eating Aliens (1/8) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 January 2009 12:07PM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 January 2009 06:56:27AM 0 points [-]

As Doug observes, worker ants may indeed cheat and try to reproduce male offspring, to whom they are apparently more closely "related" for such purposes than they are related to the queen. Googling around on ant genetic conflicts also produced this paper on how even a group of clones apparently needed to police reproduction. That part I don't quite get, but the summary of standard relationships says:

In a society with a single, once-mated queen (monogyny and monandry), workers are more closely related (life-for-life relatedness) to their own sons (r = 0.5) or the sons of other workers (r = 0.375) than to males produced by the queen (r = 0.25). It is expected that workers favor male production by workers over male production by the queen. In contrast, in a society with a multiply mated queen (polyandry), workers are still more closely related to their own sons, but at an effective queen mating frequency above two, their average relatedness to other workers' sons is lower than to the queen's sons. In this situation, workers can increase their average inclusive fitness by laying their own eggs but preventing each other from reproducing through aggression or egg eating. Behavioral mechanisms, which in this way suppress selfishness of individuals against the group interest, are termed “worker policing” (3, 4).

If the tight but not perfect relatedness of workers in an ant colony can support cooperation and reproductive policing, I don't think I'm being that crazy for hypothesizing that chimp-level Babyeaters can do the same using punishment of nonpunishers. Of course I have not actually observed them. I am using the rationalizing part of my brain here. And I'm not sure I should ever dare attach any real credence to that. I am only saying that I should be able to get away with it as fiction. Real life? I'd have to rethink that from scratch.

Within the bounds of fictional rationalization, I obviously assume that there are economies of scale in Babyeater crystal-tending and child-tending to match the commons problems, as otherwise the group size would tend to shrink and eliminate conflicts of interests that way. Hence the lack of individually tended pens. Maybe then the Crystal Dragons come by and eat all the babies, or something.

Once you're in that equilibrium, though, spawning fewer offspring is an individual disadvantage even though it's a group advantage, and any move in the direction of selectively provisioning your own offspring will be treated as defection and punished. I don't understand why you think that provisioning your own offspring is a group advantage.