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

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Fri Feb 8 07:32:29 UTC 2008

On 08/02/2008, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
> 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.

Well, yes, we are not perfect memetic hosts, blank slates, not by a
long shot. Our genetic makeup influences us profoundly; we are
entirely made of what our genes dictate (plus whatever non-dna cryptic
inheritance mechanisms lurk in the eucaryotic cell, I guess, but off
topic...). So yes, dieting is hard, abstinence is hard, throwing
yourself off a cliff is hard.

But, our genes don't make our decisions. Our genes make a body with a
brain that makes decisions day to day, with a bunch of hardwired crap
in there which is about as subtle as the 3 laws of robotics, and leads
to all of the tradgedy of the human condition that one might expect.
The results of the genes' hamfisted and mostly broken control over the
brain is exactly like the warnings our GAI enthusiast friends of the
dangers of humans trying to hardwire controls into super

I digress. What I'm trying to say is, your statement "any decision to
have *fewer* viable offspring will simply result in those genes
responsible being eliminated from the population" makes the unfounded
(and I think incorrect) assumption that there are genes responsible
for the decision to have fewer children. There certainly are memes
responsible for that decision. But I bet there is no significant
correlation between birth control choices and genetic makeup. The
result of that? No matter how many generations people make birth
control choices over, genes will be entirely unaffected.

But... if you know of any genes that have been found for not passing
on one's genes, let me know.

> 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.

Well indeed. There is a generally accepted idea that, slight tweaks
not withstanding, we evolved for the pleistocene. That ended 10,000
years ago. Perhaps proposed genetic effects of reproductive choices
would be quicker to rear their heads than this, but you're still
dealing with many generations, at least maybe a couple of hundred

> 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.

Genetic influences perhaps, although as I've said above, I doubt they
exist. Cultural influences, otoh, not necessarily. Memes compete with
each other, not with human phenotypes. They should correlate weakly or
not at all with genes. Thus they can damage their hosts all they like,
as long as they can transmit to other hosts enough to make up for that
damage. You probably could best think of them like epidemiologically.
A disease that caused people not to have reproduce as successfully,
that was airborne, wouldn't cause itself to die out over generations
because of the lowered reproductive output of its hosts. Its success
would depend on other factors, such as the efficiency of the
transmission through the air, the density of populations, potentialial
host's ability to resist it.

> > 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.

Yes, but only in the biological domain.

> > 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.

What also matters is where those characteristics come from. Genes or
memes? Many behavioural characteristics of humans will be entirely
uncorrelated with genetic makeup.

> 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.

But they don't grow on trees, we make them. Some memes took hold that
said birth control would be useful, some people (enabled by the
accumulated power of western science) made the things, and people
bought them. They bought and took them in the absence of an
instinctive revulsion because genetic selection cannot keep pace.

Now it's true that a revulsion to the form of these contraceptives
(let's say the pill) could be selected for, in that the meme for
reproductive control might be more strongly resisted by human
phenotypes with that revulsion already. But well before that began to
take hold, you'd see the companies that make the pill changing the
form to no longer match the nascent yuck instinct (or being replaced
by companies that changed it). Then, that instinct, minor as it must
be, would no longer be supported by selection pressure (which would
now start its slow push at the new form(s)), and would disperse.

Memetic selection is faaaaster than genetic selection by orders of
magnitude. The only new selection such as you describe will ever
influence us again is if civilisation falls (because civilisation can
be viewed as being only about memes slugging it out ever more

> > 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.

Well, there's capitalism in a nutshell. I wonder what will happen? But
on topic, there's no reason to think that the fraction of people
holding these wealth-attracting ideas would decrease over time. You
can have ideas that weren't passed on to you by your parents. Little
or no genetic component.

> Besides, since people come in discrete units, a
> continuously decreasing number of people with characteristic X
> leads to extinction.
> Lee

No genetic component. No decrease.



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