Re: The Future of Human Evolution

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon Sep 27 2004 - 17:55:29 MDT

At 03:44 PM 27/09/04 +0100, you wrote:
>It is my belief that you take evolutionary psychology far too seriously.

I think very few people including me take it seriously enough.

>I will try to explain:
> > Problem is that what humans "actually want" has been shaped by Stone Age
> > evolution. What they want varies depending on external conditions, not
> > just the obvious ones like heat when it is cold, but humans "actually
> > to make war on neighbors when they have either been attacked *or* have
> > become convinced that they face "looming privation" (for lack of a better
> > word) due to their perception of falling income per capita.
>This is not quite the case. Humans have a tendency to do this, possibly due
>to evolution success of the behaviour. However, within the conscious sphere
>of individuals, if you ask "do you want to make war on your neighbours
>whenever you're in an economic crises?" the answer will, in the vast
>majority of cases, be negative.

The question would never be asked.

Assume I am right about "looming privation," i.e., a rotten outlook for a
substantial fraction of the population being what drives the psychological
traits behind OBL, 9/11 and the rest, including suicide bombers. Is this
mechanism or anything related being discussed *anywhere* besides here?

>In fact, as politics is conducted more and
>more on the basis of rational discourse

The exact point of this model is that "rational" to the extent we have it
gets switched off on favor of "rationalization."

>instead of by authority of a few,
>the conscious sphere of the individual becomes more important in relation to
>the hard-wired condition-action reflexes you speak of, and wars become,
>where civilization makes politics public, if not inconceivable, at least
>unfrequent. Example: would you imagine Germany declaring war on its
>neighbours in the near future because its economy is in bad shape?

Man what a question. It depends on what you mean by "near future." There
is a substantial time constant, years to a decade or more, after general
perception of "looming privation" before some xenophobic meme is amplified
up to the point the population goes into or at least will support attack
mode. The *last time* this happened in Germany, the communist meme was a
solid contender against the Nazi meme fairly late in the game.

> > Of course you could specify that the AI should only figure out what
> > unstressed humans want. The problem with that is that they "actually
> > things (like children) that set up the conditions that lead to lead to
> > stress and eventually wars.
>Well, wars are not so much a matter of population excess, but a matter of
>resource growth being insufficient to support population growth with a
>relatively even standard of living.

It might take a slightly rising standard of living, i.e., income per capita
moderately well distributed to keep xenophobic meme gain down or to shut
off war mode in a population. But that's a fair statement of the thesis.

>A post-singularity world will, most
>likely, not suffer of decline in standard of living due to population

There are people (like Robin Hanson at one time) who argue that a post
singularity world could be terribly poor because all it takes is one
persons with the idea that it would be groovy to have a zillion of
him. Potentially this is much worse than high birth rates that at worst
double the population every 15 years.

I suspect that the *real* problems close to and through the singularity are
going to be different from anything we have anticipated.

> > And they "actually want" their minds not to be messed with, which makes it
> > hard to edit out either traits leading to wars or children.
>These traits do exist, but I believe what Eliezer refers to (and I may be
>mistaken) when he says "to want" is not the behaviourist idea of "that which
>a given agent seeks by its actions", but "that which an agent expresses to

I think the first scares me a little less than the second. At least if
things are looking good, war mode stays in the background (until you are
attacked that is).

As for what people express . . . .

>So, again: in the conscious sphere of the individual, many of these
>problems are far less important. As for messing with people's minds, people
>do acknowledge that messing with their minds may be in their own interest,
>thus education and psychological/psychiatric therapy.

What you say is true, but I really doubt it reaches the evolved
psychological traits level to much of an extent. *Maybe* people will make
such changes when we really have the tools. Minsky for one does not think
a lot of the idea.

Analogy is always suspect, but knowledge about metabolism and the digestive
system does not keep you from getting hungry and knowledge about the
psychological mechanisms behind the breaking of pair bonds in childless
relations probably won't save many such relations.

But in any case, I really appreciate anyone willing to stick their oar in
on such a sticky subject.


Keith Henson


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