Re: "friendly" humans?

Date: Thu Jan 01 2004 - 17:23:18 MST

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>On Thursday, January 01, 2004 2:47 PM
>Wei Dai wrote:
>> On Thu, Jan 01, 2004 at 06:13:19PM +1300, Nick Hay wrote:
>> I think you missed one of my points. Evolution *did* directly make us
>> want more children, not through genes, but through co-evolved symbiotic
>> memes.
>What? If evolution acts on you, it is through the intermediary of a gene,
>gene complex, or other heritable genetic information; at some point in the
>past, a heritable gene must have arisen which produced heritable variation
>which covaried positively with reproductive success and thereby became
>fixed in the population. Evolution is not a pro-child puppet master that
>can employ genes on one occasion and memes on another.
>> Hence my reference to the "be fruitful and multiply" passage in
>> Genesis 1.
>If a meme that urges childbearing from a philosophical standpoint is
>prevalent over evolutionary time, and there is a gene whose heritable
>effect is to make the bearer more susceptible to that meme, and this
>gene's other effects do not have negative reproductive effects that
>outweigh this (for example by making the bearer susceptible to other memes
>that urge celibacy), and the covariance (not the correlation, the
>covariance) between the gene's heritable variation in susceptibility and
>the meme-bearer's variation in actual reproductive output is large
>(meaning that the gene must make people noticeably more susceptible to the
>meme, and people who bear the gene must have noticeably more children, so
>that the covariance and not just the correlation is large), then the
>darwinian dynamic may fix the gene in a population.
>It's not clear why memes that particularly urge childbearing would be
>around reliably, over evolutionary time, in a population that did not
>already have an emotional urge to do so; nor is it clear that this has
>actually happened, given that in the West, at least, many major religions
>tend to be somewhat down about sex.

I believe Wei and Eliezer are referring to two different concepts; Eliezer
seems to be thinking of evolution in the "strict" biological sense, and Wei
seems to be thinking of evolution in a "broader," more universal sense. For
example, if we have two villages, A and B, competing for a mutual and
necessary resource, we can conceptualize A and B as organisms, and their
respective meme-pools as each organism's "genes," (we will assume that
whatever genetic differences there are between A and B's members is
negligible, so far as reproductive capability goes anyway). If the existence
of a certain "reproductive meme" appears in B's, but not A's meme pool, and
has a significant effect on the village B's net total reproduction rate
(even small increase of only 2% or 3% per generation can make a very large
difference in the long run), then eventually village B will outpopulate A
and drive it to extinction (or A's members will be absorbed into B). In this
way memes have aided genes in the past, although only for their own
purposes. Given this, it is not surprising to find that our ancestor's meme
pool should contain exactly such "reproductive memes."

What is extremely important for this process to work though is that A and
B's memes cannot cross pools very easily (say, because they have different
languages). If A and B's memes can cross over villages with significant
frequency, then we will not have evolution of individual villages, but
evolution of individual memes in A and B's collective meme pool (thus the
"reproductive meme," if it is to survive, must survive in A and B's
collective meme pool for reasons other than increasing its members
reproductive rate, at least so far as A and B go).

Also equally important is that parents pass their memes onto their children;
in order for evolution (of villages, populations, etc.) to work, traits must
be inherited with sufficient frequency, but with an occasional variation.
Perhaps this is one reason why there seems to be the universal assumption
that one should "listen to one's elders," and "respect tradition."
(Incidentally, there seems to be an absolute reversal of this age-old trend
in our modern society; tradition and folk wisdom are often flagrantly
ignored, for better or worse.) Needless to say, both of these criteria have
been considerably violated as of late, breaking the link between
reproduction and memes; memes can no longer rely wholly upon "group
boundaries," and must be more clever and robust now if they are to survive.
Also unlike genes (inclusive fitness not withstanding!), if memes end up
killing their host (or negatively effecting the host's reproductive ability)
this can result in a net increase for the meme!

~Paul Fidika

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