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Returned to original title, for the good reasons given here
There was a recent post in Discussion which at time of this writing held staggering 454 commentaries, which inclined me to write an evolutionary psychology and social endocrinology derived post on courtship, and Mating Intelligence, to share some readings on recent discussions and evidence coming from those areas. I've been meaning to do this for a while, and a much longer version could have been written, with more specific case studies and citations and an academic outlook, yet I find this abridged personal version more adequate for Lesswrong. In no area more disclaimers are desirable than when speaking about evolutionary drives for mating. It touches emotions, gender issues, morality, societal standards, and it speaks of topics that make people shy, embarrassed, angry and happy on a weekly basis, so I'll begin with a few paragraphs of disclaimers.
I'll try to avoid saying anything that I can remember having read in a Pick Up Artist book, and focus on using less known mating biases to help straight women and men find what they look for in different contexts. This post won't work well for same-gender seduction. If you object irrevocably to evolutionary psychology, just so stories, etc... I suggest you refrain from commenting, and also reading, why bother?
Words of caution on reading people (me included) talking about evolutionary psychology, specially when applied to current people: Suspicious about whether there is good evidence for it? Read this first, then if you want Eliezer on the evolutionary-cognitive difference, and this if your feminist taste buds activate negatively. If you never heard of Evolutionary Psychology (which includes 8 different bodies of data to draw from), check also an Introduction with Dawkins and Buss.
When I say "A guy does D when G happens" please read: "There are statistically significant, or theoretically significant reasons from social endocrinology, or social and evolutionary psychology to believe that under circumstances broadly similar to G, human males, on average, will be inclined towards behaving in manners broadly similar to the D way. Also, most tests are made with western human males, tests are less than 40 years old, subject to publication bias, and sometimes done by people who don't understand math well enough to do their statistics homework, they have not been replicated several times, and they are less homogenous than physics, because psychology is more complex than physics."
If you couldn't care less for theory, and just want the advice, go to the Advice Session.
Thusfar in Evolutionary Psychology it seems that our genes come equipped with two designs that become activated through environmental cues to think about mating.
Knowing this is becoming mainstream. The state of the art term is Mating Intelligence, and it has these two canonical modes that can be activated, depending on factors as diverse as being informed that X is leaving town in two days, and detecting X's level of testosterone, accounting for his height and status, and calculating whether his genes are worth more or less than his future company. If you choose to read the linked books, then you'll delve in this much deeper than I have, so stop reading this, and write a post of your own afterwards.
I'll list some main misconceptions, then suggest how to use either the misconceptions, or the theory mentioned while explaining them to optimize for whatever you want from the opposite gender individuals at a particular moment.
Misconception 1: Guys do Short-term, Girls do Long-term, unless they don't have this option.
This is false. Guys are very frequently pair bonded, most times even before women are, both have oxytocin levels going up after sex, and both have high levels of oxytocin during relationships. Girls only have less frequent causal intercourse because it is hard to find males worthy of the 2 year raising a baby period, or in the case in which they are pair-bonded already, because of the risk of the cuckolded "father" leaving, fighting her, or recognizing the baby ain't his. Obviously, no one's brain has managed to completely catch up with condoms and open relationships yet.
Misconception 2: Women go for the bad guys (if I remember my American Pie's correctly, also called jocks in US) and good guys, nerds, and conventionals are left last.
'Bad guys' is a popular name for high testosterone, risk taking, little routine individuals. And indeed when a woman's short-term mating intelligence program is activated, which happens particularly when she is ovulating and young (even when she's close married/relationshiped) she does exhibit a preference for such types. When optimizing for long-term partners, the reverse is true.
Misconception 3: Guys just go for looks, Girls just go for status.
Toned down reality: Guys in short-term mating mode go for looks, Girls in long-term mating mode care substantially for the difference between lower than average status and average status, then marginal utility decreases and more status is defeated by other desirable traits.
Women in short-term mode do not optimize for status, they'll take a bus-boy who shows through size, melanin, symmetry and chin that he survived local pathogens despite his high testoterone, she's after resistant genes, not resources. Men in long term mode still optimize for looks, but not that much, kindness and emotional stability take over when marginal returns for more beauty start subsiziding.
Misconception 4: When genders optimize for Status, Status=Money.
Unlike all known primate and cetacean species, Humans daily deal with being high, low, and medium status in different hierarchical situations. This should be as obvious as not to be worth mentioning, but sadly there are strong media incentives, and for some reason I don't understand well strong reasons within English and American culture to pretend that women go for status, status=money, therefore women go for money, and men should make more money. It may be a selection effect, the societies that financially took over the world believed that being financially powerful was the best way to get laid, or marry. It may just be that marketing these things together (using sexy women to sell cars) created a long-term pavlovian association. Fact is that it unfortunately happened, and people believe it, despite it being false. Women who begin believing it sometimes force themselves into doing it even more.
Status has no universal measure. If you met someone in Basketball team, status will be how good that person is plus their game attitude. If in a class at university, maybe it will be how well spoken the person is in the relevant topic. Status can be how much food the person usually shares with groups, or how much they can ask for others without being very apologetic. It can be how many women sleep with a man, or how many he can afford to reject. It can be how many purses a woman has, or how she can show thrift and a sense of belonging to a community that identifies as anti-consumerist. Some minds assign status based on location of birth, race, hair color etc... (In my city, Japanese women, all the 400.000, are commonly assumed to be high status). Finally, men do optimize for the trait people think as status, explained below, in long-term mates.
Even in the case where status plays the largest role, women when activating long-term reasoning, status is only one factor out of four multiplicants that are important for the same reason, and detected, in a prospective male mate:
Kindness*Dependability*(Ambition-Age)*Status = How many resources a man is expected to share with you and your hypothetical kids.
And this does not even begin to account for any physical trait, nor intelligence, humour, energy levels etc... If you take one thing out of this text, take this: Make your beliefs about what status is pay rent. Test if status is what people think it is, or something that only roughly correlates with that. Sophisticate your status modules, they may have been corrupted.
Misconception 5: Once you learn what your mind is doing when it selects mates, you should make it get better at that.
Let's begin by reaffirming the obvious: We live in a world that has nothing to do with savannahs where our minds spent a long time. We can access thousands, if not millions of people, during a lifetime. We have condoms and contraceptives. We live in an era of abundance compared to any other time in history, and in societies so large, that the moral norms constraining what "everyone will know" do not apply anymore.
So the last thing you want to do is to make your mind really sharp and accurate when judging a potential mate through its natural algorithms. What you want to do, to the extent that it is possible, is to override your algorithms with something that is better, and better is one of these two things:
1) Increasing your likelihood of mating with the individual (or class of individuals) you want to mate with in a matched time-horizon (long if you want long, for instance).
2) Enlarging the scope of individuals you want to mate with to include more people you actually do, will or can get to know.
To give better advice, I'll first mention general advice anyone can use, and then specific advice for the four quadrants. For those who will say this is the Dark Arts, I say it would be if we lived in a Savannah without condoms, heating, medicine, houses or internets. Now it looks to me more like causing one-self, and one's beloved, to be more epistemically rational.
Women, be confident: If you are a woman, be more confident, way more confident, when approaching a guy, don't be aggressive, just safe, you mind is tuned with who knows how many trigger devices that may make you afraid of a no, of being thought of as slutty, of losing face, and of the guy not raising your kids. Discount for all that, twice. Don't do it if everyone really will know, or if you actually want kids from that guy.
Use your best horizon features: If you have a trait that the other gender optimizes for more in short-term, lure them by acting short-term, even if later you'll attempt to raise their oxytocin to the long-term point. If you have goods and ills on both time horizons, switch back and forth until you grasp what they want.
Discount for population size: There are two ways of doing that, one is to reason to yourself "I may not be as attractive as Natalie Portman or Brad Pitt, but our minds are tuned to trying to get the best few achievable mates out of a group of 100-1000, not of hundreds of millions, so I do stand a very good chance" The other is nearly opposite: "I may think that I should only marry a prince, or sleep with Iron Man, but in fact my world is much smaller than this, and my mind will be totally okay to mate with Adam, that cool guy."
Be hedonistic: For men and women alike, the main way evolution got us into intercourse was by making it fun. The reasons it got us out are related to unlikelihood of leaving great-grandchildren, energy waste, disease, and lowered status. Of those, only a subset of lowered status is still significant in a world full of condoms. Other than women when aiming at long-term only, everyone is completely under-calibrated for sex, since we substantially reduced the risks without reducing the hedonic benefits nearly as much.
Use fetishes and peculiarities: There are things each particular person is attracted to more than everyone else (for me that's freckles, red/orange/blue/purple hair, upper back, and short women). Use that in your favour, less competition, as simple as that.
Go places: There are better and worse places to find mates. Short-terming males (a temporary condition in which any male may find himself, not a kind of male) abound in dancing clubs, military facilities and sports areas, not to mention OkCupid. Long-terming females (same) abound on courses and classes of yoga, dancing, cooking, languages, etc... Long-terming males usually have more of a routine, so are more frequent on saturdays and fridays than on a tuesday late evening, they'll be more frequent wherever no one naturally would go to find a one night stand, or in groups that are preselected for strong emotions (low thresholds for falling in love) Short-terming females may exist in dancing clubs, bars and other related areas, but are very high value due to comparative scarcity when in these areas, someone looking for them is better off in groups with a small majority of women, where social tension and hierarchies don't scale up in either gender.
Note: The advice is about things you should do in addition to what you naturally tend to do in those situations, you already have the algorithms, and should just improve calibration, unless when explicited, the suggestion is not to substitute what you naturally tend to do, or this would be a book all by itself explaining 4 kinds of human courtship.
For Long-terming Men: Stop freaking out about financial status. Find a place where you are among the great ones in something, specially kindness, dependability, physical constitution, and symmetry which guys think of less frequently than Successful startups or Tennis worldchampions. If you are hot, use short-term, women are particularly more prone to switching from short to long-term. Get a dog, show you are able and willing to take care of something unspeakably cute and adorable. Be ambitious in your projects, show passion. While ambitious and passionate, also make sure she realizes (truly) that you notice things about her no one else does, find out her values, talk about shared ones, and be non aggressively curious about all of them. Show her kindness in small gestures that need not cost a lot, such as time consuming hand-made presents. Test OkCupid and see if it works for you. Memorize details about her personality, assure her you can be loving specifically to her. Postpone sex a little bit. May sound hard, but is a reliable indicator that you won't change her for the next that quickly. Rationally override any emotion you may have regarding her sexual behavior, show you are not agressive and jealous, thus making her "(be) (a)lieve unconsciously" that you will not kill her in an assault of hatred when she sleeps with hypothetical another man whose child will never exist and get some years of schooling from you. If you think you can tell the wheat from the chaff, separate the PUA stuff that works for long-term, if not, read softer confidence/influence/seduction material. Use oxytocin inducing media (TV series and romantic movies). Rest assured, there are more women looking for long-term men than the opposite, aid the odds by going places. Show sympathy, kindness (to others as well) and dependability whenever you can.
For Long-terming Women: If you've been convinced by financial status gospel, stop freaking out about it. If you just account for the 4 factors in the equation above, you'll be way ahead of everyone within the gospel trance, then there are still all the other things you look for in a guy, which by themselves are very important. Sure, a classic indicator is how much other women in your social group like him, and, good as it is, it is defined in terms of competition, try to discount this one, after all, it is partially just made of a conformity bias, a bad bias to have when looking for a long-term mate. Be very nice and kind, and almost silly near the guy. The kinds of guys who are Long-terming most of the time are those who won't approach you that frequently. Also, older guys obviously have less chaos on in their minds and lives, so are more likely to want to settle down for a few years. Postpone sex in proportion to how much you suspect the guy is Short-terming. The importance of this cannot be overstated. By postponing sex (and sex alone) you make sure Short-termers still have a good reason to be around you until suddenly there is a hormonal overload and they fall in love with you (not that romantic, but mildly accurate), love's trigger is activated by many factors, when they sum above a threshold. The most malleable of these factors is time investment, give a guy mixed short long signals, and you'll increase likelihood of surpassing the threshold. Also, give known guys a second chance, many times your algorithms friendzoned (sorry for the term) them for reasons as silly as "he didn't touch me the first time we met, and I didn't feel his smell, because the table was wide" or "That day I was in Short-term mode and this other guy had more easily detectable attractive features, leaving John on the omega mental slot". Forget romantic comedies and princess tales where your role is passive. A man's love is actively conquered by a woman, you are the one who will fight dragons - frequently RPG dragons - for the guy in the beggining, not the opposite, the opposite comes later as a prize.
For Short-terming Guys: Read Pick Up Artist books, actually do the exercises, as in don't find excuses for why you can't, do them. Don't do anything that disgusts you morally, which may be nearly all of it, but do all the rest. Other than that?... Some few things, very few indeed, were left out of those books. Optimize more than anything for your fetishes and specific desires to avoid competition. Use mildly tense situations which can be confounded with arousal (narrow bridges get you more dates than wide bridges). Woman's attractiveness peaks at approximately 1,73cm 5 feet 8 inches, shorter women are more likely to have had less home stability and developmental stability when young, which triggers more frequent short-terming, looking for testosterone indicators (square chin, prominent forehead, and specially having a ring-finger longer than index-finger) also helps, and it is fun because you can claim to read hands and actually make good predictions out of it.
For Short-terming Girls: I'll start with easy stuff, and escalate quickly to extremely high probability even in tough cases, such as he's not on the mood, tired, really shy, or (you think) not excited. Quite likely the main obstacle is inside your mind, not your clothes, either fear of rejection, or fear of reputational cost or something else. Be confident. Few guys will reject a subtle, feminine, discrete and firm sex "offer" (notice how language itself puts it). Look at him, smile, touch him while you speak, look intensely at his mouth while slowly approaching, make sure to try do this where he is unlikely to be paying some reputational cost (not on his aunt's marriage). If feeling clumsy, mention you do. When short-terming, men really do optimize for looks, so decrease light levels, and avoid available-female company, like asking him out to check a bookstore, or to see a movie. Sit near him while touching him, cut the conversation at some point, kiss him (remember to do that where neither of you may get embarrassed with anyone else). Before, talk about sexuality naturally and imagetically, say how it is important to you to be embraced, desired, enticed, penetrated, transformed inside, and arise re-energized the next day to go back to your life. If you are sure he is short-terming, make yourself scarce by mentioning time constraints. Carry condoms and pick them up while making up if he is still hesitant whether you want sex or not. But be cozy and reassure him "It's okay" if it feels like he nervous. If you are confortable with that, use the web, there are tons of Short-terming guys, and if you feel embarassed to meet a man who would reject you, you are safeguarded by being filtered beforehand through your pictures and description or by the bang with friends app. On the web, be upfront about your intentions, and assure them you are not a scam/bot/adv. When almost there, if he is not excited, it is not because you are not attractive to him, don't be passive, slowly touch and rub his genital, quite likely he's just nervous and you are disputing against his sympathetic system, when you and the parasympathetic win, he'll be excited and relaxed, and the party is on. If you live in a large urban area, go to swing places alone or with acquaintances, not friends - nowhere else there will be that many guys willing to have sex right there, right now, and the necessary infrastructure for it, in a safe environment with security guards, other high-class women etc... to make sure you are not getting into trouble - In short, guarantee situations in which neither him nor you pay reputational costs, be active yet reassuring, lower light levels, avoid competition and make sure there is infrastructure for the act.
The saying goes that you can't achieve happiness by trying to be happy (thought you can if you optimize for happiness, i.e. by reading positive psychology and acting on it). To some extent, it is also true that a lot of what goes on during courtship does not take place while actively and consciously focusing on courtship. It is one thing to keep those misconceptions and advices in mind, and a whole different thing to be obsessed about them and use them as cognitive canonical maxims for behaving, the point of writing this is to help, if it stops being helpful, stop using it.
Edit: Scrambled sources:
Do you think immortatility is technically possible for human beings?
I don't think immortality is technically possible -- evolution has installed many many mechanisms to ensure that organisms die and make room for the next generation. I bet it is going to be very hard to completely overcome all these mechanisms.
This seems to me, at first blush, to exhibit the Evolution of Species Fairy fallacy. Evolution doesn't work to benefit species, populations, or the "next generation". If a mutation arises that increases longevity, and has no other downsides, then animals with that mutation should become more common in the gene pool, because they die less often. I remember reading that the effect would not be very strong, because most animals don't die of old age. But why would there be the opposite effect?
I am loath to attribute a very basic error to a distinguished professor of biology. Is there another explanation? Is the claim that evolution selects for mortality true?
Note: Eric went on to add:
I'm also not convinced immortality is such a good idea. A lot of human progress depends on having a new generation with new ideas. Immortality may equal stagnation.
This seems to be blatant rationalization of a preconceived idea that death is good. (I doubt he truly believes that extra progress is worth everybody dying.) So perhaps his first statement is also a form of rationalization. But it seems improbable to me that he would make such a statement about biology if he didn't think it well-founded. More likely there's something I'm misunderstanding.
ETA: one of the first Google results is this page at nature.com, The Evolution of Aging by Daniel Fabian, which goes into some depth on the subject. The bottom line is that it agrees with my expectation that evolution does not select for mortality. Choice quotes:
The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, for example, argued in his De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) that aging and death are beneficial because they make room for the next generation (Bailey 1947), a view that persisted among biologists well into the 20th century. [...]
A more parsimonious evolutionary explanation for the existence of aging therefore requires an explanation that is based on individual fitness and selection, not on group selection. This was understood in the 1940's and 1950's by three evolutionary biologists, J.B.S. Haldane, Peter B. Medawar and George C. Williams, who realized that aging does not evolve for the "good of the species". Instead, they argued, aging evolves because natural selection becomes inefficient at maintaining function (and fitness) at old age. Their ideas were later mathematically formalized by William D. Hamilton and Brian Charlesworth in the 1960's and 1970's, and today they are empirically well supported. Below we review these major evolutionary insights and the empirical evidence for why we grow old and die.
How could a distinguished professor of biology, a leader of the HGP and advisor to the US President, get something so elementary wrong, when even a biology undergrad dropout like myself notices this seems wrong?
ETA #2: Gwern points to the Wikipedia article on Evolution of Ageing, which lists several competing theories of the evolution of aging (and therefore mortality). This shows the subject is more complex than I had thought and there may be good reason to believe mortality is selected for by evolution (or at least is reliably linked to something else that is selected).
I should be glad that I didn't discover an obvious error being committed by a distinguished professional, even if he may be ultimately wrong!
I was originally going to post this as a comment into the UFAI & great filter thread, but since I noticed that my comment didn't include a single word of AIs I thought about making an entire new discussion thread and I continued writing to improve the quality from comment to post. The essay is intended as thought-provoking and I don't have the required knowledge in the related fields and I mostly pieced this together by browsing wikipedia, but hopefully it gets you thinking!
Personally I think when considering the Drake Equation it's important to note that it actually took ridiculously long for intelligent life to evolve here and that we're on a finite timeline. The drake equation contains the rate of star formation, the number of planets in the stars, it even has a variable for the time it takes for life to evolve to the point of signaling detectably into outer space, etc. but it's also important to pay attention to that the average setup of the universe has changed.
On earth life has existed for almost 4 billion years and it has only been 43 years since our civilization first visited the moon and ~1½ centuries since the invention of radio? That is a very small time frame. Particularly if we consider that ~4 billion years is between a quarter and a third of the age of the universe itself.
When we consider the Great Filter we can at least propose that there have been several mass extinction events which failed to end all life on earth. I think it's a valid argument to say that for an example any powerful impact could have ended all life or reset the evolution of life some/any number of degrees - and it has been ~70 years since the initiation of the Manhattan project and already humanity has the potential to go through a thermonuclear war that could end human life on the planet, or rollback the game of life through nuclear winter. Mars could have been habitable. For an example there's no liquid water on Mars now, though there should've been earlier. The habitable zone as theoretized is considerably narrow - For an example: If at any point in the history of (life on) earth the average surface temperature had climbed to 200 celsius for whatever reason I'm pretty sure that would've made our planet like all the other planets observed - so far - in that they don't seem contain intelligent life. What I mean by this is that even though a vast number of planets reside in the habitable zone of some star, they have to maintain those conditions for a very long time, and that's just one variable. Which by the way is a pretty important thing to note when talking about things such as the greenhouse effect for an example. Some people seem to have this idea of "natural balance" that occurs automatically. It's as if those people are not looking at the "natural balance" on some of the other planets. Where's the mechanism anyway? Milankovitch cycles? Even algae managed to start an ice age according to some theories, humans certainly have the potential to do more harm than that and it's not like we only have to care for extinction events that we brought upon ourselves.
In addition to this it seems to me frequently neglected that the conditions inside the universe have changed considerably with the aging universe. Earth is not constantly bombarded by collisions, it takes time for stars and planets and so forth to attain their form, the average age of stars has changed. In other words the habitability of the entire universe changes over time, though not in a particularly synchronous fashion. If this does not seem reasonable then consider the following: Was the likelihood for finding intelligent life in any location of the universe when it was 1 billion years old the same as it is today? How about when the universe was 4 billion years old? 8 billion years? Most stars are between 1 to 10 billion years of age according to wikipedia.
Human species itself has gone through some sort of a bottleneck, a historical token worth reflecting upon: Had the event been worse and those few remaining members of our ancenstry perished the planet earth would arguably still be without intelligent civilizations even today.
This line of reasoning in my opinion favors two different details:
1. Since our intelligence took almost 4 billion years to evolve, any event within that time that could've wiped out all the progress, would've occured before the rise of intelligent civilizations - and so all those events contribute to the Great Filter
2. The often contemplated likelihood that human intelligence is among the earliest intelligent species to arise, if life had been considerably less likely in the earlier stages of the universe. (which is very complatible with the fact that we have not observed life elsewhere - or at least that's somewhat complementary to likelihood of intelligent life) In otherwords if our species is within the first 5% of the intelligent civilizations to arise that should be reflected upon our observations. Of course the same is true for the last 5%, etc. This is an important point, because that's not the kind of reliability science rests upon.
Remember how life taking almost ~4 billion years to evolve on earth was a ~1/3 (rather ~2/7) of the age of the entire universe? Well our solar system is only 4.6 billion years old. Life on earth has been evolving practically since the formation of our solar system and at no point in time were all the replicators wiped out.
So, any thoughts?
I was surprised to see the high number of moral realists on Less Wrong, so I thought I would bring up a (probably unoriginal) point that occurred to me a while ago.
Let's say that all your thoughts either seem factual or fictional. Memories seem factual, stories seem fictional. Dreams seem factual, daydreams seem fictional (though they might seem factual if you're a compulsive fantasizer). Although the things that seem factual match up reasonably well to the things that actually are factional, this isn't the case axiomatically. If deviating from this pattern is adaptive, evolution will select for it. This could result in situations like: the rule that pieces move diagonally in checkers seems fictional, while the rule that you can't kill people seems factual, even though they're both just conventions. (Yes, the rule that you can't kill people is a very good convention, and it makes sense to have heavy default punishments for breaking it. But I don't think it's different in kind from the rule that you must move diagonally in checkers.)
I'm not an expert, but it definitely seems as though this could actually be the case. Humans are fairly conformist social animals, and it seems plausible that evolution would've selected for taking the rules seriously, even if it meant using the fact-processing system for things that were really just conventions.
Another spin on this: We could see philosophy as the discipline of measuring, collating, and making internally consistent our intuitions on various philosophical issues. Katja Grace has suggested that the measurement of philosophical intuitions may be corrupted by the desire to signal on the part of the philosophy enthusiasts. Could evolutionary pressure be an additional source of corruption? Taking this idea even further, what do our intuitions amount to at all aside from a composite of evolved and encultured notions? If we're talking about a question of fact, one can overcome evolution/enculturation by improving one's model of the world, performing experiments, etc. (I was encultured to believe in God by my parents. God didn't drop proverbial bowling balls from the sky when I prayed for them, so I eventually noticed the contradiction in my model and deconverted. It wasn't trivial--there was a high degree of enculturation to overcome.) But if the question has no basis in fact, like the question of whether morals are "real", then genes and enculturation will wholly determine your answer to it. Right?
Yes, you can think about your moral intuitions, weigh them against each other, and make them internally consistent. But this is kind of like trying to add resolution back in to an extremely pixelated photo--just because it's no longer obviously "wrong" doesn't guarantee that it's "right". And there's the possibility of path-dependence--the parts of the photo you try to improve initially could have a very significant effect on the final product. Even if you think you're willing to discard your initial philosophical conclusions, there's still the possibility of accidentally destroying your initial intuitional data or enculturing yourself with your early results.
To avoid this possibility of path-dependence, you could carefully document your initial intuitions, pursue lots of different paths to making them consistent in parallel, and maybe even choose a "best match". But it's not obvious to me that your initial mix of evolved and encultured values even deserves this preferential treatment.
Currently, I disagree with what seems to be the prevailing view on Less Wrong that achieving a Really Good Consistent Match for our morality is Really Darn Important. I'm not sure that randomness from evolution and enculturation should be treated differently from random factors in the intuition-squaring process. It's randomness all the way through either way, right? The main reason "bad" consistent matches are considered so "bad", I suspect, is that they engender cognitive dissonance (e.g. maybe my current ethics says I should hack Osama Bin Laden to death in his sleep with a knife if I get the chance, but this is an extremely bad match for my evolved/encultured intuitions, so I experience a ton of cognitive dissonance actually doing this). But cognitive dissonance seems to me like just another aversive experience to factor in to my utility calculations.
Now that you've read this, maybe your intuition has changed and you're a moral anti-realist. But in what sense has your intuition "improved" or become more accurate?
I really have zero expertise on any of this, so if you have relevant links please share them. But also, who's to say that matters? In what sense could philosophers have "better" philosophical intuition? The only way I can think of for theirs to be "better" is if they've seen a larger part of the landscape of philosophical questions, and are therefore better equipped to build consistent philosophical models (example).
This essay at Edge touches on a few possible meanings for the term "group selection." Pinker argues that as a form of memetic theory it has no explanatory power, and that group selection for genes does not fit the evidence. He focuses on humans with some mention of insects that live in hives. So the essay doesn't seem surprising, but it does seem rather Hansonian.
An interesting new article, "Cooperation and the evolution of intelligence", uses a simple one-hidden-layer neural network to study the selection for intelligence in iterated prisoners' dilemma and iterated snowdrift dilemma games.
The article claims that increased intelligence decreased cooperation in IPD, and increased cooperation in ISD. However, if you look at figure 4 which graphs that data, you'll see that on average it decreased cooperation in both cases. They state that it increased cooperation in ISD based on a Spearman rank test. This test is deceptive in this case, because it ignores the magnitude of differences between datapoints, and so the datapoints on the right with a tiny but consistent increase in cooperation outweigh the datapoints on the left with large decreases in cooperation.
This suggests that intelligence is an externality, like pollution. Something that benefits the individual at a cost to society. They posit the evolution of intelligence as an arms race between members of the species.
ADDED: The things we consider good generally require intelligence, if we suppose (as I expect) that consciousness requires intelligence. So it wouldn't even make sense to conclude that intelligence is bad. Plus, intelligence itself might count as a good.
However, humans and human societies are currently near some evolutionary equilibrium. It's very possible that individual intelligence has not evolved past its current levels because it is at an equilibrium, beyond which higher individual intelligence results in lower social utility. In fact, if you believe SIAI's narrative about the danger of artificial intelligence and the difficulty of friendly AI, I think you would have to conclude that higher individual intelligence results in lower expected social utility, for human measures of utility.
I recently read (in Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale) about the Alu sequence, and went on to read about transposons generally. Having as I do a rather broad definition of life, I concluded that Alu (and others like it) are lifeforms in their own right, although parasitic ones. I found the potential ethical implications somewhat staggering, especially given the need to shut up and multiply those implications by the rather large number of transposon instances in a typical multicellular organism.
I have written out my thoughts on the subject, at http://jttlov.no-ip.org/writings/alulife.htm. I don't claim to have a well-worked out position, just a series of ideas and questions I feel to be worthy of discussion.
ETA: I have started editing the article based on the discussion below. For reference with the existing discussion, I have preserved a copy of the original article as well, linked from the current version.
We should not expect evolution of complex psychological and cognitive adaptations in the timeframe in which, morphologically, animal bodies can only change by very little. The genetic alteration to the cognition for speech shouldn't be expected to be dramatically more complex than the alteration of vocal cords.
Evolutions that did not happen
When humans descended from trees and became bipedal, it would have been very advantageous to have an eye or two on back of the head, for detection of predators and to protect us against being back-stabbed by fellow humans. This is why all of us have an extra eye on the back of our heads, right? Ohh, we don't. Perhaps the mate selection resulted in the poor reproductive success of the back-eyed hominids. Perhaps the tribes would kill any mutant with eyes on the back.
There are pretty solid reasons why none the above has happened, and can't happen in such timeframes. The evolution does not happen simply because the trait is beneficial, or because there's a niche to be filled. A simple alteration to the DNA has to happen, causing a morphological change which results in some reproductive improvement; then DNA has to mutate again, etc. The unrelated nearly-neutral mutations may combine resulting in an unexpected change (for example, the wolves have many genes that alter their size; random selection of genes produces approximately normal distribution of the sizes; we can rapidly select smaller dogs utilizing the existing diversity). There's no such path rapidly leading up to an eye on back of the head. The eye on back of the head didn't evolve because evolution couldn't make that adaptation.
The speed of evolution is severely limited. The ways in which evolution can work, too, are very limited. In the time in which we humans have got down from the trees, we undergone rather minor adaptation in the shape of our bodies, as evident from the fossil record - and that is the degree of change we should expect in rest of our bodies including our brains.
The correct application of evolutionary theory should be entirely unable to account for outrageous hypothetical like extra eye on back of our heads (extra eye can evolve, of course, but would take very long time). Evolution is not magic. The power of scientific theory is that it can't explain everything, but only the things which are true - that's what makes scientific theory useful for finding the things that are true, in advance of observation. That is what gives science it's predictive power. That's what differentiates science from religion. The power of not explaining the wrong things.
Evolving the instincts
What do we think it would take to evolve a new innate instinct? To hard-wire a cognitive mechanism?
Groups of neurons have to connect in the new ways - the neurons on one side must express binding proteins, which would guide the axons towards them; the weights of the connections have to be adjusted. Majority of the genes expressed in neurons, affect all of the neurons; some affect just a group, but there is no known mechanism by which an entirely arbitrary group's bindings may be controlled from the DNA in 1 mutation. The difficulties are not unlike those of an extra eye. This, combined with above-mentioned speed constraints, imposes severe limitations on which sorts of wiring modifications humans could have evolved during the hunter gatherer environment, and ultimately the behaviours that could have evolved. Even very simple things - such as preference for particular body shape of the mates - have extreme hidden implementation complexity in terms of the DNA modifications leading up to the wiring leading up to the altered preferences. Wiring the brain for a specific cognitive fallacy is anything but simple. It may not always be as time consuming/impossible as adding an extra eye, but it is still no little feat.
Junk evolutionary psychology
It is extremely important to take into account the properties of evolutionary process when invoking evolution as explanation for traits and behaviours.
The evolutionary theory, as invoked in the evolutionary psychology, especially of the armchair variety, all too often is an universal explanation. It is magic that can explain anything equally well. Know of a fallacy of reasoning? Think up how it could have worked for the hunter gatherer, make a hypothesis, construct a flawed study across cultures, and publish.
No considerations are given for the strength of the advantage, for the size of 'mutation target', and for the mechanisms by which the mutation in the DNA would have resulted in the modification of the circuitry such as to result in the trait, nor to the gradual adaptability. All of that is glossed over entirely in common armchair evolutionary psychology, and unfortunately, even in the academia. The evolutionary psychology is littered with examples of traits which are alleged to have evolved over the same time during which we had barely adapted to walking upright.
It may be that when describing behaviours, a lot of complexity can be hidden into very simple-sounding concepts; and thus it seems like a good target for evolutionary explanation. But when you look at the details - the axons that have to find the targets; the gene must activate in the specific cells, but not others - there is a great deal of complexity in coding for even very simple traits.
Note: I originally did not intend to make an example of junk, for thou should not pick a strawman, but for sake of clarity, there is an example of what I would consider to be junk: the explanation of better performance at Wason Selection Task as result of evolved 'social contracts module', without a slightest consideration for what it might take, in terms of DNA, to code a Wason Selection Task solver circuit, nor for alternative plausible explanation, nor for a readily available fact that people can easily learn to solve Wason Selection Task correctly when taught - the fact which still implies general purpose learning, and the fact that high-IQ people can solve far more confusing tasks of far larger complexity, which demonstrates that the tasks can be solved in absence of specific evolved 'social contract' modules.
There is an example of non-junk: the evolutionary pressure can adjust strength of pre-existing emotions such as anger, fear, and so on, and even decrease the intelligence whenever the higher intelligence is maladaptive.
Other commonly neglected fact: the evolution is not a watchmaker, blind or not. It does not choose a solution for a problem and then work on this solution! It works on all adaptive mutations simultaneously. Evolution works on all the solutions, and the simpler changes to existing systems are much quicker to evolve. If mutation that tweaks existing system improves fitness, it will, too, be selected for, even if there was a third eye in progress.
As much as it would be more politically correct and 'moderate' for e.g. evolution of religion crowd to get their point across by arguing that the religious people have evolved specific god module which doesn't do anything but make them believe in god, than to imply that they are 'genetically stupid' in some way, the same selective pressure would also make the evolution select for non-god-specific heritable tweaks to learning, and the minor cognitive deficits, that increase religiosity.
Lined slate as a prior
As update for tabula rasa, picture lined writing paper; it provides some guidance for the handwriting; the horizontal lined paper is good for writing text, but not for arithmetic, the five-lines-near-eachother separated by spacing is good for writing music, and the grid paper is pretty universal. Different regions of the brain are tailored to different content; but should not be expected to themselves code different algorithms, save for few exceptions which had long time to evolve, early in vertebrate history.
edit: improved the language some. edit: specific what sort of evolutionary psychology I consider to be junk, and what I do not, albeit that was not the point of the article. The point of the article was to provide you with the notions to use to see what sorts of evolutionary psychology to consider junk, and what do not.
Human reasoning is subject to a long list of biases. Why did we evolve such faulty thinking processes? Aren't false beliefs bad for survival and reproduction?
I think that ''evolved faulty thinking processes'' is the wrong way to look at it and I will argue that some biases are the consequence of structural properties of the brain, which 'cannot' be affected by evolution.
Brain structure and the halo effect
I want to introduce a simple model, which relates the halo effect to a structural property of the brain. My hope is that this approach will be useful to understand the halo effect more systematically and shows that thinking in evolutionary terms is not always the best way to think about certain biases.
One crucial property of the brain is that it has to map a (essentially infinite) high-dimensional reality onto a finite low-dimensional internal representation. (If you know some Linear Algebra, you can think of this as a projection from a high-dimensional space into a low-dimensional space.) This is done more or less automatically by the limitation of our senses and brain's structure as a neural network.
An immediate consequence of this observation is that there will be many states of the world, which are mapped to an almost identical inner representation. In terms of computational efficiency it makes sense to use overlapping set of neurons with similar activation level to represent similar concepts. (This is also a consequence of how the brain actually builds representations from sense inputs.)
Now compare this to the following passage from here.
The halo effect is that perceptions of all positive traits are correlated. Profiles rated higher on scales of attractiveness, are also rated higher on scales of talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence.
This shouldn't be a surprise, since 'positive' ('feels good') seems to be one of the evolutionary hard-wired concepts. Other concepts that we acquire during our life and associate with positive emotions, like kindness and honesty are mapped to 'nearby' neural structures. When one of those mental structures is activated, the 'closed ones' will be activated to a certain degree as well.
Since we differentiate concepts more when we are learning about a subject, the above reasoning should imply that children and people with less education in a certain area should be more influenced by this (generalized) halo effect in that area.
Since evolution can only modify the existing brain structure but cannot get away from the neural network 'design', the halo effect is a necessary by-product of human thinking. But the degree of 'throwing things in one pot' will depend on how much we learn about those things and increase our representation dimensionality.
My hope is that we can relief evolution from the burden of having to explain so many things and focus more on structural explanations, which provide a working model for possible applications and a better understanding.
PS: I am always grateful for feedback!
Say, that we have the following observational data:
| Orbit time
The minimal, the maximal distance between a planet and the Sun (both in thousands of kilometres) and the number of (Earth) days for one revolution around the Sun. Above is only the empirical data and no binding algorithm among the three quantities. The celestial mechanics rules which go by the name of the Kepler's laws. Can those rules be (re)invented by a computer program and how?
The following program code will be put into a simulator:
//declarations of the integer type variables
$DECLAREINT bad perihelion aphelion orbit guess dif temp zero temp1
//table with the known data in a simulator friendly format
$INVAR perihelion(46001) aphelion(69816) orbit(88)
$INVAR perihelion(107476) aphelion(108942) orbit(225)
$INVAR perihelion(147098) aphelion(152098) orbit(365)
$INVAR perihelion(206669) aphelion(249209) orbit(687)
$INVAR perihelion(740573) aphelion(816520) orbit(4332)
$INVAR perihelion(1353572) aphelion(1513325) orbit(10760)
$INVAR perihelion(2748938) aphelion(3004419) orbit(30799)
$INVAR perihelion(4452940) aphelion(4553946) orbit(60190)
$INVAR perihelion(4437000) aphelion(7311000) orbit(90613)
// variables orbit and bad can't be touched by the simulator
//to avoid a degeneration to a triviality
$RESVAR orbit bad
//do NOT use if clause, while clause do not set direct numbers ...
$RESCOM if while val_operation inc_dec
//bad is the variable, by which the whole program will be judged
//a big value of bad is bad. By this criteria programs will be wiped out
//from their virtual existence. A kind of anti-fitness
//do show the following variables when simulating
//penalize any command with 0 (nothing) and every line by 1 point
$WEIGHTS commands=0 lines=1
//minimize the whole program to 20 lines or less
$MINIMIZE lines 20
//the arena, where algorithms will be
//created and the fittest only will survive
//testing area where the simulator has no write access to
//here the bad (the penalized variable) is calculated
//bigger the difference between the known orbit and the variable guess
//worse is the evolved algorithm
//end of the testing area
After several hours the following C code has been evolved inside of the $BES - $EES segment.
What the simulator does? It bombards the arena segment with a random C commands. Usually it then just notices a syntax error and repairs everything to the last working version. If everything is syntactically good, the simulator interprets the program and checks if the mutated version causes any run-time error like division by zero, a memory leak and so on. In the case of such an error it returns to the last good version. Otherwise it checks the variable called "bad", if it is at least as small as it was ever before. In the case it is, a new version has just been created and it is stored.
The evolutionary pressure is working toward ever better code, which increasingly well guesses the orbit time of nine planets. In this case the "orbit" variable has been under the $RESVAR clause and then the "gues" variable has been tested against the "orbit" variable. Had been no "$RESVAR orbit" statement, a simple "guess=orbit;" would evolve quickly. Had been no "$RESVAR bad" statement a simple "bad=-1000000;" could derail the process.
Many thousands of algorithms are born and die every second on a standard Windows PC inside this simulator. Million or billion generations later, the digital evolution is still running, even if an excellent solution has been already found.
And how good approximation for the Kepler (Newton) celestial mechanics of the Solar system we have here?
This good for the nine planets where the code evolved:
And this good for the control group of a comet and six asteroids:
Could be even much better after another billion generations and maybe with even more $INVAR examples. Generally, you can pick any three columns from any integer type table you want. And see this way, how they are related algorithmically. Can be more than three columns also.
The name of the simulator (evoluator) is Critticall and it is available at http://www.critticall.com
Yay a new cool post is up on West Hunters blog! It is written by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending with whom most LWers are probably already familiar with (particularly this awesome entry). It raises some interesting points on biases in academia.
I was contemplating Conan the Barbarian, and remembered the essay that Robert E. Howard wrote about the background of those stories – The Hyborian Age. I think that the flavor of Howard’s pseudo-history is a lot more realistic than the picture of the human past academics preferred over the past few decades.
In Conan’s world, it’s never surprising to find a people that once mixed with some ancient prehuman race. Happens all the time. Until very recently, the vast majority of workers in human genetics and paleontology were sure that this never occurred – and only changed their minds when presented with evidence that was both strong (ancient DNA) and too mathematically sophisticated for them to understand or challenge (D-statistics).
Conan’s history was shaped by the occasional catastrophe. Most academics (particularly geologists) don’t like catastrophes, but they have grudgingly come to admit their importance – things like the Thera and Toba eruptions, or the K/T asteroid strike and the Permo-Triassic crisis.
Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, evolution seems to have run pretty briskly, but without any pronounced direction. Men devolved into ape-men when the environment pushed in that direction (Flores ?) and shifted right back when the environment favored speech and tools. Culture shaped evolution, and evolution shaped culture. An endogamous caste of snake-worshiping priests evolved in a strange direction. Although their IQs were considerably higher than average, they remained surprisingly vulnerable to sword-bearing barbarians.
In this world, evolution could happen on a time scale of thousands of years, and there was no magic rule that ensured that the outcome would be the same in every group. It may not be PC to say it, but Cimmerians were smarter than Picts.
Above all, people in Conan’s world fought. They migrated: they invaded. There was war before, during, and after civilization. Völkerwanderungs were a dime a dozen. Conquerors spread. Sometimes they mixed with the locals, sometimes they replaced them – as when the once dominant Hyborians, overrun by Picts, vanished from the earth, leaving scarcely a trace of their blood in the veins of their conquerors. They must have been U5b.
To be fair, real physical anthropologists in Howard’s day thought that there had been significant population movements and replacements in Europe, judging from changes in skeletons and skulls that accompanied archeological shifts, as when people turned taller, heavier boned , and brachycephalic just as the Bell-Beaker artifacts show up. But those physical anthropologists lost out to people like Boas – liars.
Perhaps this little old entry is relevant here. ^_^
Given the chance (sufficient lack of information), American anthropologists assumed that the Mayans were peaceful astronomers. Howard would have assumed that they were just another blood-drenched snake cult: who came closer?
Now I’m not saying that Howard got every single tiny little syllable of prehistory right. Not likely: so far, we haven’t seen any signs of Cthulhu-like visitors, which abound in the Conan stories. So far. But Howard’s priors were more accurate than those of the pots-not-people archeologists: more accurate than people like Excoffier and Currat, who assume that there hasn’t been any population replacement in Europe since moderns displaced Neanderthals. More accurate than Chris Stringer, more accurate than Brian Ferguson.
Most important, Conan, unlike the typical professor, knew what was best in life.
Cochran you are such a nerd.
So we say we know evolution is an alien god, which can do absolutely horrifying things to creatures. And surely we are aware that includes us, but how exactly does one internalize something like that? Something so at odds with default cultural intuitions. It may be just my mood tonight, but this short entry on the West Hunter (thanks Glados) blog really grabbed my attention and in a few short paragraphs on a hypothesis regarding the Hobbits of Flores utterly changed how I grok Eliezer's old post.
There is still doubt, but there seems to be a good chance that the Flores Hobbit was a member of a distinct hominid species, rather than some homo sap with a nasty case of microcephalic dwarfism. If this is the case, the Hobbits are likely descended from a small, Australopithecus-like population that managed to move from Africa to Indonesia without leaving any fossils in between, or from some ancient hominid (perhaps homo erectus) that managed to strand themselves on Flores and then shrank, as many large animals do when isolated on islands.
Island dwarfing of a homo erectus population is the dominant idea right now. However, many proponents are really bothered by how small the Hobbit’s brain was. At 400 cc, it was downright teeny, about the size of a chimpanzee’s brain. Most researchers seem to think that hominid brains naturally increase in size with time. They also suspect that anyone with a brain this small couldn’t be called sentient – and the idea of natural selection driving a population from sentience to nonsentience bothers them.
They should get over it. Hominid brain volume has increased pretty rapidly over the past few million years, but the increase hasn’t been monotonic. It’s decreased about 10% over the past 25,000 years. Moreover, we know of examples where natural selection has caused drastic decreases in organismal complexity – for example, canine venereal sarcoma, which today is an infectious cancer, but was once a dog.
I have to break here to note that was the most awesome fact I have learned in some time.
There is a mechanism that might explain what happened on Flores – partial mutational meltdown. Classic mutational meltdown occurs when a population is too small for too long. Selection is inefficient in such a small population: alleles that decrease fitness by less than 1/N drift fairly freely, and can go to fixation. At the same time, favorable mutations, which are very rare, almost never occur. In such a situation, mutational load accumulates – likely further reducing population size – and the population spirals down into extinction. Since small population size and high genetic load increase vulnerability to disaster, some kind of environmental catastrophe usually nails such doomed, shrinking populations before they manage to die off from purely genetic causes.
In principle, if the population is the right size and one adaptive function is considerably more complicated than others, presenting a bigger mutational target, you might see a population suffer a drastic decline in that function while continuing to exist. There is reason to think that intelligence is the most complex adaptation in hominids. More than half of all genes are expressed in the brain, and it seems that a given degree of inbreeding depression – say cousin marriage – depressesIQ more than other traits.
Flores is not that big an island and the population density of homo-erectus type hunter-gatherers must have been low – certainly lower than that of contemporary hunter-gatherers, who have much more sophisticated tools. Thus the hobbit population was likely small. It may not have been possible to sustain a high-performing brain over the long haul in that situation. Given that their brains performed poorly – while the metabolic costs were as high as ever – selection would have shrunk their brains. Over hundreds of thousands of years, this could well have generated the chimp-sized brain we see in the LB1 skeleton.
Of course, this could only have happened if there was an available ecological niche that did not require human-level intelligence. And there was such an opening: Flores had no monkeys.
That last sentence just struck me with utter horror.
People who grow up in a small town, or an old and stable neighborhood, often know their neighbors. More than than that, they know pretty much everything that’s happened for the past couple of generations, whether they want to or not. For many Americans, probably most, this isn’t the case. Mobility breeds anonymity. Suburban kids haven’t necessarily been hanging out with the same peers since kindergarten, and even if they have, they probably don’t much about their friends’ sibs and parents.
If you do have that thick local knowledge, significant trait heritability is fairly obvious. You notice that the valedictorians cluster in a few families, and you also know that those families don’t need to put their kids under high pressure to get those results. They’re just smart. Some are smart but too rebellious to play the game – and that runs in families too. For that matter, you know that those family similarities, although real and noticeable, are far from absolute. You see a lot of variation within a family.
If you don’t have it, it’s easier to believe that cognitive or personality traits are generated by environmental influences – how your family toilet trained you, whether they sent you to a prep school, etc. Easier to believe, but false.
So it isn’t all that difficult to teach quantitative genetics to someone with that background. They already know it, more or less. Possession of this kind of knowledge must have been the norm in the human past. I’m sure that Bushmen have it.
The loss of this knowledge must have significant consequences, not just susceptibility to nurturist dogma. In the typical ancestral situation, you knew a lot about the relatives of all potential mates. Today, you might meet someone in college and know nothing about her family history. In particular, you might not be aware that schizophrenia runs in her family. You can’t weigh what you don’t know. In modern circumstances, I suspect that the reproductive success of people with a fair-sized dose of alleles that predispose to schiz has gone up – with the net consequence that selection is less effective at eliminating such alleles. The modern welfare state has probably had more impact, though. In the days of old, kids were likely to die if a parent flaked out. Today that does not happen.
Seems quite coherent. It meshes well with findings that the more children parents have the less they subscribe to nurture, since they finally, possibly for the first time ever, get some hands on experience with the nurture (nurture as in stuff like upbringing not nurture as in lead paint) versus. nature issue. Note that today urban, educated, highly intelligent people are less likley to have children than possibly ever, how is this likley to effect intellectual fashions?
Perhaps somewhat related to this is also the transition in the past 150 years (the time frame depending on where exactly you live) from agricultural communities, that often raised livestock to urban living. What exactly "variation" and "heredity" might mean in a intuitive way thus comes another source short with no clear replacement.
[LINK] How Hard is Artificial Intelligence? The Evolutionary Argument and Observation Selection Effects
If you're interested in evolution, anthropics, and AI timelines -- or in what the Singularity Institute has been producing lately -- you might want to check out this new paper, by SingInst research fellow Carl Shulman and FHI professor Nick Bostrom.
Several authors have made the argument that because blind evolutionary processes produced human intelligence on Earth, it should be feasible for clever human engineers to create human-level artificial intelligence in the not-too-distant future. This evolutionary argument, however, has ignored the observation selection effect that guarantees that observers will see intelligent life having arisen on their planet no matter how hard it is for intelligent life to evolve on any given Earth-like planet. We explore how the evolutionary argument might be salvaged from this objection, using a variety of considerations from observation selection theory and analysis of specific timing features and instances of convergent evolution in the terrestrial evolutionary record. We find that a probabilistic version of the evolutionary argument emerges largely intact once appropriate corrections have been made.
I'd be interested to hear LW-ers' takes on the content; Carl, too, would much appreciate feedback.
This may be a question trivial for you, but: Why is there variation inside a species? On some instances, you could argue that the Nash equilibrum is mixed (for example, different men prefer different physical appearances of women, so women of different appearance can coexist), but: What the hell is the evolutionary advantage in having zits?
Probably, it has something to do with genes of different types (all of whom have a good reason to stay in the gene pool by a mixed Nash equilibrium) mixing up and producing zits, but: Why should evolution, that managed to create eyes and brains, be unable to get something against this working if other members of the same species can perfectly manage to avoid them? Because such a gene can easily exist in individuals that don't have that particular problem (and I can't think of any adverse effects this would have), it should be able to spread even if not all members of the species have a particular problem. The disturbing thing is that I imagine a working fix without adverse effects to require only pulling some hormonal levers, not coming up with the complication that is needed to make a proto-eye better by a positive amount (so that the mutation can survive).
I saw this in the Facebook "what's popular" box, so it's apparently being heavily read and forwarded. There's nothing earthshattering for long-time LessWrong readers, but it's a bit interesting and not too bad a condensation of the topic:
Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth. -- Cohen, Patricia "Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth"
A glance at the comments [at the Times], however, seems to indicate that most people are misinterpreting this, and at least one person has said flatly that it's the reason his political opponents don't agree with him.
ETA: Oops, I forgot the most import thing. The article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/arts/people-argue-just-to-win-scholars-assert.html
We may feel sympathy when we read about people killed for protesting in Syria, Bahrain, Libya, and other countries. But tyranny isn't just something happening to unfortunate people somewhere else. It's an existential risk to human civilization.
Civilization - even tribalism - relies on altruism. Altruism is defined as cooperation that is not the happy convergence of interests of rational self-interested agents. That happens too; but we don't call it altruism. Altruism is, roughly, helping others without the expectation of reciprocation or cooperation. And it happens because humans like helping other humans.
Altruism is probably mostly genetic. It's an evolutionary adaptation that instills the desire to help others into a species. Social pressure can install some amount of altruism; but it's my opinion that this would not work at all without a pre-existing genetic basis. Many species exhibit altruism to a level at least as great as that in humans. Some insects, which are incapable of feeling social pressure, are far more altruistic than humans.
Two theories for how this happens are kin selection and group selection. Regardless of which of these you prefer, both of them have two important weaknesses:
- They are both very weak effects compared to selection for traits that benefit their organism directly.
- They require special social conditions, on society size (on the order of 10 members per society in the case of kin selection) and immigration/emigration rate (extremely low in both cases).
It's not known whether humans are still evolving, or have begun devolving due to lack of selective pressure. But in the case of altruism, we can be sure: Even if some selective pressure still exists, most humans today do not live under the necessary conditions for either kin selection or group selection. Humans are living off their evolutionary capital of altruism.
Tyranny, whether it's that of Syria, Iran, North Korea, Nazi Germany, or the Soviet bloc under Stalin, aggressively selects against altruism. The most-altruistic people were among the first executed in all those places. They are the people being shot while protesting in Syria. Social activism under such a government is rarely in your best self-interest. Tyranny selects for self-interest; people who are willing to help the state oppress others are given opportunities for advancement. And it removes altruistic genes quickly from the population, likely undoing hundreds of years of evolution every year. Those genes will never be replaced.
I'm not too worried when this occurs over a few short months or years. But when a people lives under these conditions for generations, you may end up with a large population deficient in altruistic genes.
There's no solution at that point short of gene therapy. The population can stay in place, resulting in a society that is at best hopelessly mired in corruption and poverty, and at worst a danger to the rest of the world. Or it can disperse, and dilute altruistic genes around the globe.
ADDED: Knowing whether this is a real problem or not, would require learning something about how many genes are involved in altruism, and what their distribution in the population is. A legitimate objection to what I wrote is that if genes for altruism are distributed so that killing less than 1% of the population would have a major impact on their abundance, then they probably weren't very important to begin with. Although, sociopaths are only around 1% of the population, and they have a major impact on society. I wonder how much work has been done in studying the maintenance of alleles for which you only need a few members of the population to have them?
Sometimes we make a decision in a way which is different to how we think we should make a decision. When this happens, we call it a bias.
When put this way, the first thing that springs to mind is that different people might disagree on whether something is actually a bias. Take the bystander effect. If you're of the opinion that other people are way less important than yourself, then the ability to calmly stand around not doing anything while someone else is in danger would be seen as a good thing. You'd instead be confused by the non-bystander effect, whereby people (when separated from the crowd) irrationally put themselves in danger in order to help complete strangers.
The second thing that springs to mind is that the bias may exist for an evolutionary reason, and not just be due to bad brain architecture. Remember that evolution doesn't always produce the behavior that makes the most intuitive sense. Creatures, including presumably humans, tend to act in a way as to maximize their reproductive success; they don't act in the way that necessarily makes the most intuitive sense.
The statement that humans act in a fitness-maximizing way is controversial. Firstly, we are adapted to our ancestral environment, not our current one. It seems very likely that we're not well adapted to the ready availability of high-calorie food, for example. But this argument doesn't apply to everything. A lot of the biases appear to describe situations which would exist in both the ancestral and modern worlds.
A second argument is that a lot of our behavior is governed by memes these days, not genes. It's certain that the memes that survive are the ones which best reproduce themselves; it's also pretty plausible that exposure to memes can tip us from one fitness-maximizing behavioral strategy to another. But memes forcing us to adopt a highly suboptimal strategy? I'm sceptical. It seems like there would be strong selection pressure against it; to pass the memes on but not let them affect our behavior significantly. Memes existed in our ancestral environments too.
And remember that just because you're behaving in a way that maximizes your expected reproductive fitness, there's no reason to expect you to be consciously aware of this fact.
So let's pretend, for the sake of simplicity, that we're all acting to maximize our expected reproductive success (and all the things that we know lead to it, such as status and signalling and stuff). Which of the biases might be explained away?
The bystander effect
Eliezer points out:
We could be cynical and suggest that people are mostly interested in not being blamed for not helping, rather than having any positive desire to help - that they mainly wish to escape antiheroism and possible retribution.
He lists two problems with this hypothesis. Firstly, that the experimental setup appeared to present a selfish threat to the subjects. This I have no convincing answer to. Perhaps people really are just stupid when it comes to fires, not recognising the risk to themselves, or perhaps this is a gaping hole in my theory.
The other criticism is more interesting. Telling people about the bystander effect makes it less likely to happen? Well, under this hypothesis, of course it would. The key to not being blamed is to formulate a plausible explanation; the explanation "I didn't do anything because no-one else did either" suddenly sounds a lot less plausible when you know about the bystander effect. (And if you know about it, the person you're explaining it to is more likely to as well. We share memes with our friends).
The affect heuristic
This one seems quite complicated and subtle, and I think there may be more than one effect going on here. But one class of positive-affect bias can be essentially described as: phrasing an identical decision in more positive language makes people more likely to choose it. The example given is "saving 150 lives" versus "saving 98% of 150 lives". (OK these aren't quite identical decisions, but the difference in opinion is more than 2% and goes in the wrong direction). Apparently putting in the word 98% makes it sound more positive to most people.
This also seems to make sense if we view it as trying to make a justifiable decision, rather than a correct one. Remember, the 150(ish) lives we're saving aren't our own; there's no selective pressure to make the correct decision, just one that won't land us in trouble.
The key here is that justifying decisions is hard, especially when we might be faced with an opponent more skilled in rhetoric than ourselves. So we are eager for additional rhetoric to be supplied which will help us justify the decision we want to make. If I had to justify saving 150 lives (at some cost), it would honestly never have occurred to me to phrase it as "98% of 153 lives". Even if it had, I'd feel like I was being sneaky and manipulative, and I might accidentally reveal that. But to have the sneaky rhetoric supplied to me by an outside authority, that makes it a lot easier.
This implies a prediction: when asked to justify their decision, people who have succumbed to positive-affect bias will repeat the postive-affective language they have been supplied, possibly verbatim. I'm sure you've met people who quote talking points verbatim from their favorite political TV show; you might assume the TV is doing their thinking for them. I would argue instead that it's doing their justification for them.
There is a class of people, who I will call non-pushers, who:
- would flick a switch if it would cause a train to run over (and kill) one person instead of five, yet
- would not push a fat man in front of that train (killing him) if it could save the five lives
So what's going on here? Our feeling of shouldness is presumably how social pressure feels from the inside. What we consider right is (unless we've trained ourselves otherwise) likely to be what will get us into the least trouble. So why do non-pushers get into less trouble than pushers, if pushers are better at saving lives?
It seems pretty obvious to me. The pushers might be more altruistic in some vague sense, but they're not the sort of person you'd want to be around. Stand too close to them on a bridge and they might push you off. Better to steer clear. (The people who are tied to the tracks presumably prefer pushers, but they don't get any choice in the matter). This might be what we mean by near and far in this context.
Another way of putting it is that if you start valuing all lives equally, and not put those closest to you first, then you might start defecting in games of reciprocal altruism. Utilitarians appear cold and unfriendly because they're less worried about you and more worried about what's going on in some distant, impoverished nation. They will start to lose the reproductive benefits of reciprocal altruism and socialising.
In Cognitive Biases Potentially Affecting Judgment of Global Risks, Eliezer lists a number of biases which could be responsible for people's underestimation of global risks. There seem to be a lot of them. But I think that from an evolutionary perspective, they can all be wrapped up into one.
Group Selection doesn't work. Evolution rewards actions which profit the individual (and its kin) relative to others. Something which benefits the entire group is nice and all that, but it'll increase the frequency of the competitors of your genes as much as it will your own.
It would be all to easy to say that we cannot instinctively understand existential risk because our ancestors have, by definition, never experienced anything like it. But I think that's an over-simplification. Some of our ancestors probably have survived the collapse of societies, but they didn't do it by preventing the society from collapsing. They did it by individually surviving the collapse or by running away.
But if a brave ancestor had saved a society from collapse, wouldn't he (or to some extent, she) become an instant hero with all the reproductive advantage that affords? That would certainly be nice, but I'm not sure the evidence backs it up. Stanislav Petrov was given the cold shoulder. Leading climate scientists are given a rough time, especially when they try and see their beliefs turned into meaningful action. Even Winston Churchill became unpopular after he helped save democratic civilization.
I don't know what the evolutionary reason for hero-indifference would be, but if it's real then it pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for civilization-saving as a reproductive strategy. And that means there's no evolutionary reason to take global risks seriously, or to act on our concerns if we do.
And if we make most of our decisions on instinct - on what feels right - then that's pretty scary.
Evolution. Morality. Strategy. Security/Cryptography. This hits so many topics of interest, I can't imagine it not being discussed here. Bruce Schneier blogs about his book-in-progress, The Dishonest Minority:
Humans evolved along this path. The basic mechanism can be modeled simply. It is in our collective group interest for everyone to cooperate. It is in any given individual's short-term self interest not to cooperate: to defect, in game theory terms. But if everyone defects, society falls apart. To ensure widespread cooperation and minimal defection, we collectively implement a variety of societal security systems.
I am somewhat reminded of Robin Hanson's Homo Hypocritus writings from the above, although it is not the same. Schneier says that the book is basically a first draft at this point, and might still change quite a bit. Some of the comments focus on whether "dishonest" is actually the best term to use for defecting from social norms.
The standard story when dealing with inclusive fitness in evolutionary arguments is that my sibling's life is worth half of mine and my cousin's life is worth a quarter of mine.
But I obviously share more than half my genes with my sister because my parents are not unrelated. My parents must share a lot of ancestors enough generations back that nobody has tracked them, since they resemble each other insofar as they both look human. If I take into account that my parents are both human, I should be related to my sister much more than 50%.
So why do they assume a sibling has half your genes when reasoning about inclusive fitness?
My wife is Chinese, and both of my parents are of European descent. Should I expect my kids to like each other less than I like my sister, because they are less closely related?
This is an intellectual question about evolutionary psychology, not an anxious question about my family relationships. We're all doing fine, don't worry.
Robin Hanson has made several recent posts on Overcoming Bias about upload economics. I remain mystified why he doesn't link to or otherwise reference or comment on Carl Shulman's 2010 paper, Whole Brain Emulation and the Evolution of Superorganisms, which mentions many of the same ideas and seems to have taken them to their logical conclusions. I was going to complain again in the comments section over there, but then I noticed that the paper hasn't been posted or discussed here either. So here's the abstract. (See above link for the full paper.)
Many scientists expect the eventual development of intelligent software programs capable of closely emulating human brains, to the point of substituting for human labor in almost every economic niche. As software, such emulations could be cheaply copied, with copies subsequently diverging and interacting with their copy-relatives. This paper examines a set of evolutionary pressures on interaction between related emulations, pressures favoring the emergence of superorganisms, groups of emulations ready to self-sacrifice in service of the superorganism. We argue that the increased capacities and internal coordination of such superorganisms could pose increased risks of overriding human values, but also could facilitate the solution of global coordination problems.
Edit: For an in-depth discussion of precisely this topic, see Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg's 2008 paper "The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement", available as a pdf here. This post was written before reading the paper.
There doesn't seem to be a thread discussing Eliezer's short-short story X17. While I enjoyed the story, and agreed with most of its points, I disagree with one assertion in it (and he's said it elsewhere, too, so I'm pretty sure he believes it). Edit: The story was written over a decade ago. Eliezer seems to have at least partially recanted since then.
Eliezer argues that there can't possibly be a simple surgical procedure that dramatically increases human intelligence. Any physical effect it could have, he says, would necessarily have arisen before as a mutation. Since intelligence is highly beneficial in any environment, the mutation would spread throughout our population. Thus, evolution must have already plucked all the low-hanging fruit.
But I can think of quite a few reasons why this would not be the case. Indeed, my belief is that such a surgery almost certainly exists (but it might take a superhuman intelligence to invent it). Here are the possibilities that come to mind.
- The surgery might introduce some material a human body can't synthesize.1
- The surgery might require intelligent analysis of the unique shape of a subject's brain, after it has developed naturally to adulthood.
- The necessary mutation might simply not exist. The configuration space for physically possible organisms must surely be larger than the configuration space for human-like DNA (I get the sense I'm taking sides in a longstanding feud in evolutionary theory with this one).
- The surgery might have some minor side effect that would drastically reduce fitness in the ancestral environment, but isn't noticeable in the present day. Perhaps it harnesses the computing power of the subject's lymphocytes, weakening the immune system.
I am looking for books on evolution of conscience. Please suggest. I searched but nothing good came out.
I don't know if this is the right place for such requests.
If this is not the right place, pls tell me, i will delete this post.
It is a cultural universal that people are discouraged from having sex as often and with as many people as they want to. Every culture I've ever heard of imposes many restrictions on sex. I've never heard of a culture that shames people for being too stingy with sex.
If we assume that culture is adaptive, this means that the human sex drive is too strong for humans in society. Why is this? As sex drive is a phenotypic feature with extraordinarily strong selective pressure, why haven't we evolved to have the proper sex drive?
One reason could be that reduced sex drive is selected for at the level of the group, while higher sex drive is selected for at the level of the individual.
I originally titled this post "The Less Wrong wiki is wrong about group selection", because it seemed wildly overconfident about its assertion that group selection is nonsense. The wiki entry on "group selection" currently reads:
People who are unfamiliar with evolutionary theory sometimes propose that a feature of the organism is there for the good of the group - for example, that human religion is an adaptation to make human groups more cohesive, since religious groups outfight nonreligious groups.
Postulating group selection is guaranteed to make professional evolutionary biologists roll up their eyes and sigh.
However, it appears that the real problem is not that the wiki is overconfident (that's a problem, but it's only a symptom of the next problem) but that the traditional dogma on the viability of group selection is wrong, or at least overconfident. I make this assertion after stumbling across a paper by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson titled "The evolution of eusociality", which appeared in Nature in August of this year. I found a PDF of this paper through Google scholar, click here. A blog entry discussing the paper can be found here (bias alert: it is written by a postdoc working in Martin Nowak's Evolutionary Dynamics program at Harvard).
Here's some quotes (bolding is mine):
It has further turned out that selection forces exist in groups that diminish the advantage of close collateral kinship. They include the favouring of raised genetic variability by colony-level selection in the ants Pogonomyrmex occidentalis and Acromyrmex echinatior—due, at least in the latter, to disease resistance. The contribution of genetic diversity to disease resistance at the colony level has moreover been established definitively in honeybees. Countervailing forces also include variability in predisposition to worker sub-castes in Pogonomyrmex badius, which may sharpen division of labour and improve colony fitness—although that hypothesis is yet to be tested. Further, an increase in stability of nest temperature with genetic diversity has been found within nests of honeybees and Formica ants. Other selection forces working against the binding role of close pedigree kinship are the disruptive impact of nepotism within colonies, and the overall negative effects associated with inbreeding. Most of these countervailing forces act through group selection or, for eusocial insects in particular, through between-colony selection.
Yet, considering its position for four decades as the dominant paradigm in the theoretical study of eusociality, the production of inclusive fitness theory must be considered meagre. During the same period, in contrast, empirical research on eusocial organisms has flourished, revealing the rich details of caste, communication, colony life cycles, and other phenomena at both the individual- and colony-selection levels. In some cases social behaviour has been causally linked through all the levels of biological organization from molecule to ecosystem. Almost none of this progress has been stimulated or advanced by inclusive fitness theory, which has evolved into an abstract enterprise largely on its own
The question arises: if we have a theory that works for all cases (standard natural selection theory) and a theory that works only for a small subset of cases (inclusive fitness theory), and if for this subset the two theories lead to identical conditions, then why not stay with the general theory? The question is pressing, because inclusive fitness theory is provably correct only for a small (non-generic) subset of evolutionary models, but the intuition it provides is mistakenly embraced as generally correct.
Check out the paper for more details. Also look at the Supplementary Information if you have access to it. They perform an evolutionary game theoretic analysis, which I am still reading.
Apparently this theory is not that new. In this 2007 paper by David Sloan Wilson and E. O. Wilson, they argue (I'm just pasting the abstract):
The current foundation of sociobiology is based upon the rejection of group selection in the 1960s and the acceptance thereafter of alternative theories to explain the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. These events need to be reconsidered in the light of subsequent research. Group selection has become both theoretically plausible and empirically well supported. Moreover, the so-called alternative theories include the logic of multilevel selection within their own frameworks. We review the history and conceptual basis of sociobiology to show why a new consensus regarding group selection is needed and how multilevel selection theory can provide a more solid foundation for sociobiology in the future.
From the other camp, this seems to be a fairly highly-cited paper from 2008. They concluded:
(a) the arguments about group selection are only continued by a limited number of theoreticians, on the basis of simpliﬁed models that can be difﬁcult to apply to real organisms (see Error 3); (b) theoretical models which make testable predictions tend to be made with kin selection theory (Tables 1 and 2); (c) empirical biologists interested in social evolution measure the kin selection coefﬁcient of relatedness rather than the corresponding group selection parameters (Queller & Goodnight, 1989). It is best to think of group selection as a potentially useful, albeit informal, way of conceptualizing some issues, rather than a general evolutionary approach in its own right.
I know (as of yet) very little biology, so I leave the conclusion for readers to discuss. Does anyone have detailed knowledge of the issues here?
>Elisabeth Lloyd: I don’t actually know. I think that it’s at a very problematic intersection of topics. I mean, you’re taking the intersection of human evolution, women, sexuality – once you take that intersection you’re bound to kind of get a disaster. More than that, when evolutionists have looked at this topic, I think that they’ve had quite a few items on their agenda, including telling the story about human origins that bolsters up the family, monogamy, a certain view of female sexuality that’s complimentary to a certain view of male sexuality. And all of those items have been on their agenda and it’s quite visible in their explanations.
>Natasha Mitchell: I guess it’s perplexed people partly, too, because women don’t need an orgasm to become pregnant, and so the question is: well, what’s its purpose? Well, is its purpose to give us pleasure so that we have sex, so that we can become pregnant, according to the classic evolutionary theories?
>Elisabeth Lloyd: The problem is even worse than it appears at first because not only is orgasm not necessary on the female side to become pregnant, there isn’t even any evidence that orgasm makes any difference at all to fertility, or pregnancy rate, or reproductive success. It seems intuitive that a female orgasm would motivate females to engage in intercourse which would naturally lead to more pregnancies or help with bonding or something like that, but the evidence simply doesn’t back that up.
The whole discussion. It backs my theory that using evolution to explain current traits seriously tempts people to make things up.