[ExI] the formerly rich and their larvae, was: Impressive book: Farewell to Alms

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Feb 8 06:17:37 UTC 2008

Emlyn writes

> On 05/02/2008, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>> It's important right now (that many people are choosing to have few
>> children), but evolution has a way of curing such "defects". Clearly
>> from a biological perspective---how can anyone evade this tautology?
>> ---any decision to have *fewer* viable offspring will simply result
>> in those genes responsible being eliminated from the population.
> Only if it's the genes that are responsible. I would put it to you
> that the genetic component in the decision to have a child (or number
> 2, 3, etc) has only a very low genetic component, and a high memetic
> component.

Yes, it does have a memetic component. We might compare that to
"fashion".  But the results that obtain and stay for much longer are
genetic, and there can be such a thing as a genetic resistance to 
damaging memes.  For the hardest (for most of us) example,
think about how hard it is to diet:  the memes are powerful, but
your geneticcally originated urges to eat overpower them in 
almost all cases.  This is because your long ago uncles and aunts
who didn't have such urges didn't leave so many descendants.

Now first off, the time available is important.  I quickly concede
that if there is a singularity bearing down upon us, or if we take
a quick hand in genetic engineering, then the long-term genetic
changes I'm talking about aren't really relevant. 

But on the other hand, it's positively amazing how quickly any
exponential change takes effect. In just two generations whatever
cultural or genetic influences that caused people not to have
children will be markedly reduced in frequency.

> I'm surprised that no one has been talking about memes here, and it's
> all focussing on genes. Genes are useful for understanding our past,
> but the near past and present have surely got to be mostly about
> memetic evolution on top of a mostly static genetic profile (which
> builds bodies that can host memes well). It's all about timeframes.

Yes, right.

>> By the exact same token (which speeds the evolution) cultural evolution
>> will go hand in hand. Any culture which supports *not* having extremely
>> large families will become less dominant over time---because of, obviously,
>> the simple, tautologous fact that more biologically successful strategies
>> supplant the less successful.
> uurrrr.... we're not insects.

:-)   Maybe not, but the mathematics of population biology applies to
us too.

> At the moment it's exactly the cultures that are not dominant which
> have the highest birth rates.

Dominent?  You mean, as having a high per capital GNP?  Standing back
and looking at the situation through the lens of a population biologist, that's
not what matters:  what matters is what fraction of the world's people
have what characteristics. And over time---if we have time---the childless
for whatever reason (memes or genes) will fall by the wayside. Richard
Dawkins likes to use the analogy  "What if anti-conception pills grew on
trees?".  His answer:  women today would have an instictive horror for
the very shapes of the pills.  I assume that the readers of this list can follow
the evolutionary logic.

> Cultures are mostly independent of genes. They're just a set of ideas.
> If you could make a memeset that successfully said "You should never
> reproduce" (in fact we probably have one of those kicking around in
> wealthy countries now), it could still lead to a more successful
> culture over time. Success here wouldn't be defined circularly by
> number of warm bodies, but by relative control of the planet's wealth.

That's a good point, but still, just how long can a continuously
decreasing fraction of the population continue to hold on to a
continuously increasing fraction of the wealth?  Something breaks
sooner or later. Besides, since people come in discrete units, a
continuously decreasing number of people with characteristic X
leads to extinction.


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