[extropy-chat] limits of computer feeling

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Wed Mar 21 03:54:23 UTC 2007

At 09:52 AM 3/20/2007 -0700, Jef wrote:
>On 3/20/07, Keith Henson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> > At 08:55 PM 3/19/2007 -0500, you wrote:
> > >At 12:11 PM 3/20/2007 +1100, Stathis wrote:
> > >
> > > >What would it mean to abrogate evolution? Arguably it has already
> > > >happened: we are more concerned with our happiness, which for
> > > >evolution is just a means to an end, rather than for example
> > > >maximising family size.
> > >
> > >*Not* "maximizing", unless you add situational provisos (we're K, not
> > >r). "Optimizing" might be better, but that's dangerously
> > >teleological. "Good-enough-izing" is what I'd call it.
> >
> > In the EEA it was maximizing, but not family size, it is maximizing the
> > number of surviving, reproducing children.  To that end hunter gatherer
> > peoples practice infanticide when a just born younger sib would threaten
> > the survival of an older but still nursing child.
>Am I the only one who feels something akin to the screeching of
>fingernails on a blackboard when someone blithely ascribes actions to
>"goals" that would require an impossibly objective point of view?
>Yes?  Then I'll try to keep my comments to a minimum.
>"To that end hunter gatherer peoples practice infanticide..." implies
>a teleological purpose that clearly isn't.  Suggest: "Therefore/For
>that reason (not purpose) hunter-gatherer peoples practice
>It's the same kind of implicit context confusion that leads to
>perennial misunderstanding of  consciousness, free-will etc.,
>goals/supergoals in AI,  and much of the PHIL101 discussion that often
>dominates these lists.

"From the mid-1970, modern evolutionary theory slowly began to win 
attention among anthropologists. One of the first anthropologists 
influenced by it was Napoleon A. Chagnon, who had already been the 
best-known student of the Yanomamo. Chagnon argued (1979a, 1979b, 1988) 
that Yanomamo warfare, as well as their internal conflicts, were 
predominantly about reproductive opportunities. In inter-village warfare, 
women were regularly raped or kidnapped for marriage, or both. Village 
headmen and distinguished warriors had many wives and children, many times 
more than ordinary people did. Violent feuds within the village were 
chiefly caused by adultery.

"As we shall see, most of these ideas were true. Unfortunately, however, 
Chagnon - who in the 'protein controversy' wholly opposed the idea that 
Yanomamo warfare involved competition over hunting territories - gave the 
impression that evolutionary theory was about reproduction in the narrow 
rather than the broadest sense. His arguments have thus opened themselves 
to all sorts of criticisms; anthropologists have anyhow exhibited 
considerable resistance to the intrusion of evolutionary theory, which 
called for a thorough re-evaluation of accepted anthropological 
interpretative traditions. Many of the criticisms levelled against 
Chagnon's position have been poorly informed about the fundamentals of 
evolutionary theory. For instance, one critic (McCauley 1990: 3) queried 
why, if fighting was beneficial for inclusive fitness, was it not 
continuous and ubiquitous. He failed to realize that fighting, like any 
other behaviour, could be only one possible tactic for inclusive fitness, 
depending for its success, and activation, on the presence of specific 
conditions. Another cluster of often-voiced criticisms was that it was not 
true that people were motivated by the desire to maximize the number of 
their offspring; that the widespread occurrence of infanticide among 
primitive people was one example that belied this idea; and that women were 
sought for economic as well as sexual purposes, as a labour force (McCauley 
1990; Ferguson 1995: 358-9).

"The flaws in these criticisms can be pointed out only briefly here. It is 
not that people consciously 'want' to maximize the number of their 
children; although there is also some human desire for children per se and 
a great attachment to them once they exist, it is mainly the desire for sex 
- Thomas Malthus's 'passion' - which functions in nature as the powerful 
biological proximate mechanism for maximizing reproduction; as humans, and 
other living creatures, normally engage in sex throughout their fertile 
lives, they have a vast reproductive potential, which, before effective 
contraception, mainly depended for its realization on environmental 

"Infanticide typically takes place when a new-born in conditions of 
resource scarcity threatens the survival chances of his elder siblings, as, 
for example, of an elder nursing infant; for inclusive fitness is not about 
maximizing offspring number but about maximizing the number of surviving 

I really recommend you read the whole article.

Keith Henson

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