Evolution's Arrow and Novelty
The purpose of evolution is the pursuit of novelty. Every creature that is walking around is Nature's attempt at a novel solution to the problem of existence. Sex is an attempt to create novel immunities to ever-changing pathogens. And even asexual, clonal creatures are creating new copies of themselves in an attempt to reset any injuries they may have accumulated.
"Nature vs. nurture" is a false dichotomy. Rather, it is in our nature to nurture and be nurtured by others
"Nature versus nurture" is a false dichotomy, just as "nature and nurture" is a false compromise. The real relationship is hierarchal: Nature made us nurturing and nurture-able. Nature made certain things difficult to mold, but it also gave us the willpower to overcome those difficulties.
Alcohol is the best predictor of sex
There are many pieces of sexcraft engineered in humans that, upon examination, seem superfluous or irrelevant. Consider the flanges that men have on their penises or the moaning that women make during love-making. Those features may have conferred a benefit only one in a thousand times in the past, but that’s more than enough to leave permanent traits in descendants many generations later. Imagine what would happen if a trait had a benefit one in ten times? It would spread through the gene pool like a wildfire.
While the invention of alcohol distillation was less than ten thousand years ago, alcohol is genetically ubiquitous. Most people now have some variant of ADH or ADLH-producing enzymes for metabolizing alcohol. The rapid spread of genes for digesting alcohol rivals that of the genes for digesting lactose. Consuming milk from cows is as modern as drinking alcohol from fermentation, yet one serves as an efficient delivery method for calories, whereas the other is seen as a vice.
It’s likely that a double-digit percentage of Americans are conceived while at least one parent is under the influence of at least one alcoholic beverage. Whether it’s a one-night stand with a stranger or it’s a date night with a lover, there is often a drink involved. It might even turn out that the best predictor of sex is alcohol itself.
All intrinsic motivation is rooted in extrinsic motivation since evolution made us enjoy flow to maximize skill acquisition
There is a movement in productivity literature that emphasizes intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation. This movement started in academia with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. His idea is that we are at our best performance when our tasks are in that sweet spot between anxiety and boredom, i.e. we have enough of a challenge to lean into, but not so much that we are frustrated. Daniel H. Pink then ran with this idea and made a more mainstream book called Drive that packages these concepts into a pop business book about motivation.
But technically, all intrinsic motivation is about extrinsic motivation. Evolution made us enjoy flow because that's when we are developing our skills the fastest. It's enjoyable so that we can do more of it, and therefore derive more benefit to ourselves. The popularity of these books in business proves as much. By following their guidelines and designing workplaces to be more intrinsically motivating, we are likely doing so to maximize either our output or the output of employees. If we just wanted to enjoy our work for its own sake, we would already be there.
Altruism is the first and greatest meme
The fact that groups celebrate selflessness is practically tautological.
Ancient helicopter parents gave us the extended adolescence, which is is why we have large brains, which is why we are creative
One of the hallmark distinctions between us and other animals is the length of time we spend raising our young. Young calves are capable of standing on their feet right out of the womb, whereas human babies would die without immediate and prolonged caretaking. The transition from zero weaning to adolescent care-taking must have included an intermediate stage that would be familiar to the grating experience of witnessing someone over-parent today. Watching someone who is hovering over the sandbox, monitoring their child's every move with a hawk-like vigilance, probably has analogs to hundreds of thousands of years ago.
When different subspecies of Homo Sapiens were intermingling, there must have been a mother who held and played with her seven-year-old son, speaking kiddie talk until the wee hours, to the derision of others. Someone from another tribe might have scolded her, "By that age, our children are hunting, fighting and even having sex. Kids need to be kids!" But then this "helicopter" mom kept it up, and all this stimulation during the child's formative years helped cultivate imagination and creativity. All the time he spent playing in the sandbox when he was young later gave him the bright idea of storing grains in a dry place or for burying raw meat in ice, and his tribe then stayed healthy during a rough winter or maybe an Ice Age, whereas the other ones died off. His knowledge became valued, and so he reproduced often, and then he had many daughters who had the same "over"-parenting gene his mom had. They continued to care for their children as long, if not longer, until we wind up in the situation we are in today, with those resisting over-parenting, and those soldiering on because they can't help it.
Archaeology is like aliens trying to understand humans by analyzing bubble gum wrappers
If a meteor killed all humans and destroyed most of civilization, what would a curious alien find? Most likely they would discover a cell phone screen here, a half-sneaker there, and some bits of a gun over there—all traces of modern civilization. The odds that aliens would ever find evidence of transitional human societies—spearheads from the Assyrians, horse-and-carriages from the British, or stone buildings from Babylon—are one in a billion. An alien is a billion times more likely to find a bubble gum wrapper than a piece of papyrus. The alien would then naturally conclude that some "intelligent designer" must have created this modern civilization as is, for there would be none or barely any record of its gradual development.
As long as sentience exists, so will competition. As long as competition exists, so will suffering
Sadly, we will never reach the goal of eliminating suffering from the universe. Whether it's in aliens, animals, A.I. replacements for humans, or even humans that don't make the transition through the Singularity, there will always be suffering.
We can start by defining these sufferers in the abstract as conscious, semi-intelligent "nodes." Each of these nodes had to evolve. Even if we create sentient, intelligent beings, they will just be an extension of the evolution of us. All nodes are subject to the rules of persistence which require resources to maintain their existence, even if it's just the burning of coal to power data centers.
The second principle is the scarcity of resources. There is no unlimited source of anything in the universe. Every node has a non-zero amount of physical material, and that material is ultimately limited. So some games between nodes—games that these nodes have trained themselves on through evolution—will be zero-sum games. As a result, the increase in value for one node (anything that helps perpetuate its persistence) will often require the decrease in value for other nodes. In other words, competition is inevitable.
Then, for nodes to be competitive for survival, they have to respond in-kind to threats. They have to feel pain. Pain is essentially an alarm that provides bursts of data that dominate all other data on the buffer. So a computer that is meant to emulate pain like humans would encounter situations where it stops processing ambient data, and instead focuses all of its energy on the alarm: i.e. the pain. It would gird itself up, creating an exceptional "emergency" circumstance whereby it would drain energy from other modules temporarily to deal with the thing causing the pain. The result would look like an approximation of the human experience of pain.
As a result, nodes will harm other nodes in a competition for resources, and as a result, they will suffer at the hands of each other.
Atheism needed self-help to redeem the power of rhetoric over the soul and hand it back to the individual
The beginning of storytelling is the beginning of when words developed a life of their own. Originally, words were uttered for relational or informational notification such as, "Look out a snake!" or "I love you." In stories, words transcend space and time. A stream of storied text is like a magic spell that delivers blasts of pleasure when uttered. A story doesn't have to point to something happening here and now, and therefore it has a life of its own.
It's likely that the first shamans and druids were originally storytellers. Religion is all about the toll-free bridge between rhetoric and the soul. Sin is a word, which becomes a thought, which becomes one's damnation. The priest utters some words, perhaps even unintelligible words in Latin or glossolalia, which then lift one's spirits. It happens so automatically that we take for granted that a stranger can broadcast some words to a crowd and have it affect everybody's identities.
So, first it was the story, then came religion, and now it's self-help. The difference between religion and self-help is that the latter spells out the mechanics of the link between rhetoric and the soul. The power of positive thinking, or the laws of attraction, or Dianetics, all aim to not only show us that words have power, but that we can manipulate those words. Armed now with two centuries of psychological research, it's no longer necessary to tell people that God condemns them to make them feel guilty. Instead, a cognitive behavioral therapist explains how negative distortions create negative feelings which lead to negative actions, and it is up to us to dispute such distortions.
Considering all the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons that have been annihilated, chimpanzees took the better path by becoming less and less of a threat to modern hominids
At some point, chimpanzees lagged so far behind the modern line of hominids, that they weren't worth annihilating. Meekness became a survival mechanism, protecting them from the dominant threat to their ecological niche. Meanwhile, the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons were too competitive and therefore worth destroying. In other words, beyond the arms race between cousins of the same niche, there exists a greater arms race for second or third place seats at the king's table.
Discontentment and Nature
Nature’s trick with humans is to turn genetic discontentment into conscious discontentment. Instead of the slow trial-and-error of mutation and recombination, why not create machines that consciously seek to better their condition. When a meadow is overfarmed, humans develop angst and seek greener pastures. When the belly is full and time is abundant, humans dream of conquering neighboring tribes.
The discontentment of the lion is different. They can’t see past the present moment. And if they die before reproduction, it’s just as well. They were just another trial. They were just another error. For humans, this is not the case. Our lives are not just one trial, but rather the only trial. “You have only one life,” so the saying goes. This burden becomes our unhappiness, making us avatars for nature’s quest for self-improvement.
Every sex cultivates an attractive trait well before the opposite sex has had a chance to know what's happening
When women say they dress more for other women than for men, it’s because they’re playing a bigger game than men can understand. Arguably fashion could be meant just for an overall enhancement of status. But that status is only conferred by its simulated value in enticing the opposite sex. When an outfit is deemed “sexy,” for example, it’s not typically implied that it encourages sexual interest in the same sex.
Even if fashion is ultimately for the opposite sex, men can only appreciate a sliver of the fashion acumen of women. Women want to be ahead of the limited apparent taste of men and appeal to their subconscious tastes. Hence, women compete to be the most fetching of the fetchers. They depend on each other to create beauty contests and assess each other’s skills, rewarding each other’s fashion sense with status, but ultimately they are competing in those same contests.
Likewise, men are bonded by elaborate rituals to sort each other out. Women may never know the convoluted adventures men partake in to create novel and abundant professional and creative successes. If a man only has a few minutes to convince a woman whether or not to mate with him, that man will move Heaven and Earth to collect all the necessary ornaments of accomplishment. Are the men who run Fortune 500 companies doing so to impress women? Perhaps in the grandest sense. But impressing women isn’t the thought that wakes those CEOs up in the morning. It’s a sense of mission or intrinsic reward that motivates them. For if someone is driven just by the minimum needed to impress a member of the opposite sex, their genes will likely be out-duplicated by someone willing to impress the already minimally impressive competition.
The evolution of humans, while biological, also follows a trajectory related to physics and geometry. Life starts out in the primordial soup, almost like an abstract lattice of materials shifting and bouncing around. Eventually, the materials clump together forming one-dimensional dots or cells. These dots wander around in three dimensions, eventually elongating into lines to aid in digestion. Then the object widens to aid in mobility, floating like a rectangle or plane through space. The plane becomes the template for most creatures, post-Cambrian Explosion, from fish, to lizards, to mammals, wandering around on their bellies. But, as communication skills increase for the more intelligent primates, so does walking upright as it enhances social displays, turning the flat rectangle into an upright tablet. Like dominoes waddling through the Serengeti, these primates bounce information off of one another. Today, due to long-distance communication, these tablets have become more like stationary nodes, bound to chairs or cars, but connected to each other in a network. In this way, we have become like the dot again, just with tendrils that crisscross the globe.
Evolution wants us to be happy only 50% of the time
The sad thing about happiness is that we might be evolved to have it half of the time. Studies on workplace and marital satisfaction consistently show that half the people are happy with their careers or marriages.
Happiness is related to flow, which is the state of mind that athletes feel when they're in the zone, or when artisans immerse themselves in their craft. We achieve flow most often when tasks are in the middle of our skill level: Too hard, and we get anxious; Too easy, and we get bored. When we apply flow to games of chance, we are happiest when we have a 50% chance of winning, whether it's a dice roll or the passing of the football into the end zone.
Likewise, our design has a sliding scale of happiness. Fortunes can rise and fall, sometimes for generations, and so if happiness depended on the basics, such as having a full belly, then a bountiful epoch would lead to a bunch of lazy pandas, only to be crushed by hungrier barbarians.
Perhaps the evolution of happiness follows a similar scatter plot to altruism, as if happiness were a negotiation between the generosity of life versus one's motivation. If we are too happy, then we take life for granted, and don't succeed as much as we could. If we're too unhappy, we are defeated by life, becoming too much of a wet blanket to be worth befriending. In other words, happiness is a balance between striving for gain and savoring it.
Feast and famine both drive innovation: muscular Romans had the breadbasket, civic-minded Anglo-Saxons had the cold winters
The Romans conquered as far North as Britain, and the British colonized as far South and as the Horn of Africa, but these can't be the only times that gritty Northern hominids and burly Southern hominids traded dominance.
Perhaps the harsh climates with scare resources helped to isolate tougher hominids. Then, during a reverse Ice Age, the North invaded the South, reaped the abundant resources, and reached population levels they couldn't sustain previously. Those large populations then formed advanced colonies or tribes that then re-conquered the Northern territories and established new hegemonies.
Perhaps a microcosmic version of this exists in modern history. Despite the crude, swashbuckling imagery of Vikings, the first Baltic communities were the prototype of the orderly Dutch villages we see today. Such order was necessary innovation to make survival possible in an otherwise uninhabitable climate. But now those influences are reflected in Western powers, which are still projecting those forms of government Southward.
Assume that such a cycle was to repeat every ten thousand years at a sub-species level or every thousand years at the civilization level. Then imagine each wave introduced something novel, like, perhaps an interest in art at the sub-species level or an interest in democracy at the civilization level. Then one can see how otherwise primitive hominids, through alternating isolation then competition, could rapidly turn into modern humans.
For people to grasp evolution, we have to sell it as something more powerful than just the three Ms: mixing, matching, and mutation
One of our natural biases in pondering evolution is that of the passing-on of static traits. For example, a daughter might be said to have her dad's height and her mom's chin. But evolution has dynamic traits in addition to static ones. Evolution selects for traits in motion. The same daughter might not just have her dad's height, but also her dad's genes for height-lengthening.
We can at least rule out that a height-lengthening couldn't exist. For example, if someone has a taste for mating with the tallest people available, and that taste were passed on through a family tree, eventually those descendants will have taller and taller members of that species.
Given its many benefits, evolution should have made us better at lying
Sometimes the best way to uncover truths about evolution is not to ask why things are the way they are, but to ask why they aren't. We think we're pretty smart, but why aren't we even smarter? We often wonder how homosexuality evolved, but why aren't we all bisexual in the first place? Likewise, academics have plumbed the evolution of lying before, but why aren't we better at it? Why do we have so many obvious tells for lying? Involuntary ticks, such as having shifty eyes, should have been rooted out a long time ago.
Lying is useful, and yet it's tricky for most people. Or more specifically, it's outright lying that is difficult. Half-truths seem relatively easy for most people, such as pretending to love something or someone when you are only partially in love. But to feign interest when we have zero interest or to invent personae, such as pretending you went to a different college or grew up in a different town, causes us too much anguish.
One possibility is that lying is expensive. It takes less effort to describe things the way they are, rather than to invent or imagine some other reality. If you were to share a story, then logical consistency would come freely by just referring to facts. If you tell the truth to one person but not another, though, you have to keep track of who knows which version.
At the same time, we seem to have limitless imaginations. And if you give children toy dolls, they quickly make up logical stories between them. So it shouldn't take too much more cognitive skills than what we already have to lie. Instead, the cognitive load increases when we apply the same skills for imagination in the context of deception.
Another possibility is that the genes for lying and lie-detecting are at war with each other. Whereas today, people's eyes wander while they're lying (because we switch on lobes of our brain by looking in their direction), it may be a matter of time before that tell gets rooted out by the lie-detectors. Every generation that develops a better poker face may be followed by another generation that gets more suspicious.
A third possibility is that while we tolerate some lying, we punish pitch-perfect or sociopathic lying. As a metaphor, consider the vague rules of engagement at the playground. Sandbox fights aren't as dangerous as they could be, because deep down, we are scared. If we were to encounter a sociopathic bully, one who gouges eyes and breaks bones with no mercy, it would be incredibly disturbing, and those bullies would be liable to be "put away." Our society shudders at the thought of someone doing anything "cold-blooded." When someone is cold-blooded, we know that they can't be tamed or influenced, and so they have no benefit to us, or worse, they will almost certainly take advantage of us when the opportunity arises. In other words, we fear and loathe Jeffrey Dahmer on a whole different level than we do Tony Soprano.
Likewise, if we are too good at mind-reading, we are accused of being cunning or conniving. The world expects everybody to be slaves to emotion, both to their own and to the emotion of others. Anybody else comes across as calculating, and therefore must be exiled. All of which is to say that while lying—like all of our skills—evolved ostensibly for selfish reasons, those skills must obey social rules lest the herd decides that it's too much for one person.
Given the human variability in nose position, a slight bias in one direction would give us blowholes in 1,000 generations
Imagine walking down the street and seeing a person of the same ethnicity who has a nose that is a half-centimeter higher on their face than yours. Just as presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush were 16th cousins, this passerby could be a distant cousin of yours. The evolutionary distance between you two could be 32 generations, which divided by 0.5 centimeters, would indicate a speed of 0.016 centimeters per generation. Therefore, it could theoretically take "only" 1,000 generations for the nose to move to the top of the head. If this transition combined with random variations in limb length, including those that happen to be more useful in swimming, then it's not that far of a stretch to imagine that a world covered in water could quickly turn humans into aquatic mammals with blowholes. Could this variability in nose position already indicate that such transformations happened before?
Scarcity will always exist because those who take more will crowd out those who take less. Even as technology makes it so that one farmer can feed hundreds, we are ever clever in making new things scarce. The scarcity of diamonds, for example, shows that scarcity transcends caloric needs. We are also finding scarcity in areas that aren't limited in quantity per se, but more so limited in available quality, such as the scarcity of good opera seats or good homes in good cities.
And we are designed for this scarcity. We have a sliding scale of happiness that doesn't depend on our absolute quality of circumstance, but rather vaguely shoots for fifty-percent happiness since that's the optimal level required to keep us striving.
None of which is to say that utopia can't exist, but rather that it will exist in variables unrelated to abundance. So, for example, utopia might mean a decline in violence and the elimination of poverty, but just because technology leads to abundance, there will still be widespread discontentment. Abundance has existed many times in human history, and each time, we prevailed.
Half of all genetic traits are latent
Mom's needlework is present in her, but obscured in her sons. Likewise her sons' ambitions may be muted in their daughters. For the muted recipients, those traits either remain completely dormant, or find some narrow or redirected expression, either through proxy hopes and dreams or more gender-appropriate ones.
Heads, stereoscopic vision, and tube-like digestion; One can imagine how lifeforms look even without prior knowledge of Earth
All mobile creatures have heads because all the nerves accumulate at the spot that comes into contact most frequently with new information. Likewise, all digestive systems start from the head and end at the tail, because that's the direction that food is most likely to flow. Stereo vision is liable to evolve with two eyes parallel to the ground, as opposed to two eyes vertical, because the objects of interest to that creature are most likely to move on a horizontal plane, as opposed to vertically. An exception to this would be bottom-dwelling flounders, but their eyes are still left and right, not front and center. These rules would apply to creatures on other planets as well, with heads and digestive systems following the same pattern, which indicates there is at least one universal template for living organisms, one that existed before the formation of the Universe.
Homo Sapiens besting the Neanderthals isn't the first time one hominid annihilated all the others
The idea that at one point, Neanderthals lived among Homo sapien sapiens, suggests a process of elimination whereby we beat out the Neanderthals and became the last inheritors of the Earth. It's stories like these that perpetuate the popular notion of an arc of progress through history.
But perhaps there were multiple time periods with last-surviving hominids. Perhaps human speciation is a pendulum that swings back and forth between mono-hominid and poly-hominid eras. Since such timescales are beyond our archaeological reach, we don't know if our hallmark mono-hominid trends such as technological growth, civil rights, feminism, liberalism, the march towards peace, etc. happened before, but were lost when speciation led to the real world wars.
Homosexuality exists because sex is useful
Start from there, and then it's easy to sketch the rest of its evolution.
How bad can irrationality be? Chance-mating is the epitome of it, and yet that's how we got here
The criticism that someone is "irrational" seems to include a theory of rational philosophy that only has two dimensions—cost and benefit—while excluding a third one: time.
When choosing a mate, for example, which is probably the most important decision someone could make, some people make that decision within a few minutes, whereas others take a year or more to decide.
The former could be said to be irrational, being completely swayed by their emotions. But many—if not most—of us are the product of chance-mating. Even though the stakes are incredibly high, to not make a snap decision and "hook-up" with someone, means you may never have a chance to hook-up with that person ever again. Maybe that's the best possible person you could've ever mated with, and because you delayed, you will miss out on a genetic recombination strategy that has proven effective over millions of years.
Likewise, in making a decision to buy a house, even small decisions can make the difference between tens of thousands of dollars owed over the lifetime of the loan. For most people, nowhere else in their life will one hour of their time make that kind of a difference. The purely rational person could spend time according to their hourly rate, by comparison-shopping or by optimizing every single item on their mortgage statement. But most people wouldn't have a problem compromising that kind of detail-oriented work. They would determine how much effort to put into the search not based on the cost-benefit, but on the time they have to seize an opportunity.
Humans are smart, but DNA is smarter, having solved every problem Nature has thrown at it, something we are nowhere near achieving
Intelligence, on the level of humans, or even great apes, is rare among species, which make us feel special. But perhaps the rarity of intelligence is a phenotype-centric bias. We are our phenotypes, not our DNA, and so we have trouble seeing the advanced intelligence that is lurking in our genotypes. Most of the logic of genetic computing remains a mystery, but it has solutions for every problem nature can throw at it. Every second of every day it is churning millions of variations of species to solve a dizzying array of problems.
A phenotype-centric bias might think that dogs aren't that smart, at least compared to us. If only they had a larger brain, we imagine, then everything they do would be better, just as our brains help us do everything better. But do dogs need brains to make them better hunters? They need evolution, which they already have, which has made their legs fast, their teeth sharp, and their noses sensitive. Perhaps having a brain would help dogs learn the location of good hunting spots, just like humans study patterns in their prey. But since the dog's prey also have a minimal level of cleverness, changing their patterns frequently, dogs would need an enormous helping of brainpower for such pattern-matching to be useful.
Perhaps a dog could learn how to lay traps or throw spears like humans, but first, they would need to develop awkward limbs for tool manipulation, which would come at the sacrifice of swift paws. Then dogs would need to cultivate educational skills so that they could teach other dogs such instinctively difficult tasks as trap-laying. Since brain cells require an outsize helping of metabolism, they would have to be over-compensated by a loss in muscle cells. The brainiac dog would lose out to a brawny one who had just doubled its olfactory cells by evolving complex folds in its nose.
The intelligent genetic computer has time, and time again, chosen the promotion and demotion of specialized organs and cells as its primary means of solving problems, rather than giving tabula rasa cells the widest berth possible.
If a conclusion about evolution is life-affirming, perhaps it's incomplete, not a good conclusion, or simply not science
Why does learning about evolution often lead to life-affirming conclusions? When Darwin's Origin of the Species came out, people found that it implied a purpose to life. They saw a never-ending passing on of DNA as a contest for the survival of the fittest. Alas, everything we do is ultimately for the survival of the species! Survive, increase your intelligence, get stronger, have better children, create Supermen.
But what the Red Queen hypothesis shows is that many of the things we read into that make us "better" are ultimately founded on patterns that are life-dis-affirming. For example, human intelligence is just ornateness for impressing mates, similar to peacock feathers, i.e., it's somewhat random, or it's part of a runaway arms race. Survival of the fittest implies a contest with nature; Red Queen implies a contest with each other. We wouldn't have to do so many of these things if we weren't so busy destroying each other and competing for scarce resources.
Which goes to show that if a biological conclusion is inherently life-affirming, perhaps it's incomplete, not a good conclusion, or simply not science.
If genetic code is the ultimate spaghetti code, then maybe we've been designing programming languages wrong
If you took an arbitrary computer program and changed a zero to a one, there's a good chance the whole thing would crash or at least dysfunction. Much of a computer's program is laid out as a long stream of registers, and so a change like that could corrupt something fundamental, like a variable type, which would break a module, and thus the whole program.
A single genetic mutation, on the other hand, is more durable. Our DNA encodes meta-DNA that determines what parts are allowed to change with what probability. Certain features are redundantly encoded so as to prevent fatal deviations. Whole features, like eyesight, are so crucial to our survival, that their general functionality is consistent across the animal kingdom. Other features, like bone length, aren't so risky that even among our species, there is a relative variety of bone-length combinations (i.e. small hands with long legs, high cheekbones but with narrow jaws). DNA thrives on its landscape of varied corruptibility whereas computer programs must remain untampered with to function at all.
If rational thinking helps us make difficult decisions, then it's possible that abortion led to its evolution
Since choosing whether or not to keep a child is one of the hardest decisions to make, it may have also been the first hard decision we had to make, and therefore the vehicle by which rationality evolved.
If you really want to be Paleo, live like you're going to die at 45
Is it a rule of nature or physics that decadence must always follow abundance? Will we be the first creatures to subvert that?
Does decadence necessarily follow from advantage? Take the Panda, for example. It must have descended from a great bear at some point, but because it developed a unique digestive system for bamboo—providing it nearly unlimited mana—it got "lazy" and its powers waned.
Or consider America: it stepped up to the challenge during World War I and II, building itself up militarily and industrially giving it an overwhelming geopolitical advantage. But because of that overabundance, America has gotten more and more decadent since then, with some historians fearing a pattern of decline similar to the Roman Empire.
Does decadence necessarily follow from advantage? How can an organism, person, corporation, or nation maintain its advantage forever? How can it make gains in one area without accompanying slack in other areas? Or maybe it can't.
Is it rare or common in the universe to have a primordial soup spawn individual organisms competing for natural selection, instead of a single, giant organism, evolving as a whole?
Although sci-fi writers have done well to stretch the imagination as to what alien life might look like, they often project or extrapolate from creatures we know on Earth, such as reptile men or urchin-headed beasts. The more creative ones imagine floating ethereal tablets communicating telepathically, but even that is a projection of Earth-like individual organisms.
Is it possible to imagine life without individuality? Could alien life on another planet from start-to-finish be a single organism, possibly with internal independent parts that undergo natural selection, but ultimately combining into one piece? One planet, one life. Perhaps the alien life is fused with the planet itself, such that the entire planet is one organism. In which case, we may be peering into a universe looking for life on other planets, when the planets themselves might be peering back at us as floating eyes off in the distance, and together a series of organ-like planets in a solar system might form a single organism. Who knows, and we can't know because we are forever biased by life as we know it.
Is there a genetic preference for looks and smarts going together, or is specialization more common?
What is the distribution of features in humans? Is it like Dungeons & Dragons, where you start with 20 or so points that you can spend on dexterity, magic, and strength? Or is it more elitist, where the strong have many strengths, and the weak have many weaknesses?
One argument for compensatory distribution is the existence of types of people. Smart people are often physically diminished (nerds); Dumb people are often physically enabled (jocks). These could be just stereotypes or the result of typecasting: When we praise someone's strength, they tend to cultivate it. But what if it's part of some genetic specialization? The brain does use up a significant amount of resources, and so enhancements in intellect may need to be compensated with reductions in physical prowess. Perhaps it's better to be best at one thing and valued by your tribe, rather than be average at everything and completely ignored.
An argument for a clumping distribution is the presence of supermen. Blessings sometimes come in groups, such as in the attractive person who also happens to be smart, strong and creative. Genetically, this could mean they are part of some alpha-lineage that is clamoring for greatness as a way of securing the most number of mates. The meek, on the other hand, may focus on rapid reproduction with their peers.
Just as there are geometric rules that guide evolution—such as predators having two eyes forward and prey having two eyes to the side—there may be a geometric principle to consciousness, with id and subconscious being a natural dichotomy, one that we would find in other conscious animals, or even aliens
Just as while-loops and if-then statements are all that automatons need, cyclical chemical catalysts are all that life needs
One of the most basic programming concepts is the while-loop. Even in a multi-threaded paradigm, a while-loop cycles between each thread for new instructions to integrate. Without cycles, there would be no purpose to time. Cycles are perhaps the most basic sign of order in the Universe. Everything would just be one big event. The Big Bang produced objects that moved away from a center, but when those objects looped around each other, they formed meaningful activity.
The earliest prototypes for lifeforms were molecules that created eddies among themselves. Some carbon molecule reacted to movement in the environment in a looping pattern, creating a blip of activity only to dissipate afterward. For millions of years, a million times a day, these eddies came and went, came and went, until one of them formed a loop that could last for a longer length of time. These loops were like one of the self-replicating patterns in Conway's Game of Life, perhaps feeding off the bigger loops that were around them.
When the Earth orbits the sun, or when waves of the ocean move back and forth, or when sunlight increases and decreases, they provide pumps for a descending hierarchy of smaller and smaller cycles. Those early prototypes of lifeforms attached themselves to the periodicity of such cycles, ultimately creating feedback loops with their environment. The respiration of plants is so widespread, that when the Earth moves around the Sun and has seasons, the oxygen levels rise and fall in such a way, that if graphed, the Earth would appear to be breathing. Life is the loop.
Law of Hierarchal Returns
Technological progress is more often hierarchal than incremental. The older the technology, the more foundational it is. For example, DNA laid the groundwork for multicellular organisms, which laid the groundwork for sexual reproduction, which paved the way for the Cambrian Explosion. There has been tremendous biological innovation since then, with only minor changes to the fundamental technology of DNA.
The invention of the Internet nests within the invention of computers, which nests within the harnessing of electricity. Facebook, Wikipedia, and Google nests within the invention of World Wide Web which nests within the invention of the Internet. It's more likely that future technologies will derive from previous technologies, and not be whole new classes of technology.
The accelerating march towards the Singularity may, therefore, manifest itself less like a rocket taking off, and more like matryoshka dolls, with smaller and smaller changes having a greater and greater impact.
Love exists to justify compromise. The greater the love, the more unnatural it is for the sexes to collaborate
We are the product of a million ancestors who were mutants. Each mutant was the only one in their generation that had that mutation, whether it was a sense of humor or having skin cells that happened to be sensitive to light. Even if the average person appears to be plain, we forget that we have a deep history of outsiders in our genes. Whether or not these outsiders had mutations that were a handicap or advantage at the time, is unknown. But what is known is that each of them survived long enough to reproduce, and in most cases, they found someone to mate with in spite of, or because of, their difference.
Non-human animals don't have learning curves because they don't have our appetite for task-variety
The negative spaces of successful educational techniques often beg the question, Why are we designed to learn this way? For example, consider the hit memorization technique "spaced repetition." It's based on the notion that there is a critical time period after first learning something when it's best to re-learn it. When your recall dips down to 90%, a refresher will shorten the time it takes for you to get back down to 90%, and so on and so forth until the curve of forgettery disappears and you've created permanent knowledge. The graph of this process initially looks inefficient and brings up the question, Why aren't we designed to retain everything the first time we learn it?
However, this learning curve closely matches our omnivorous nature for task-selection. Whereas the woodpecker has only a few tasks to learn in life, we pick and choose tools and methods as our environment and culture demands. When you first encounter a tool, like a knife or pick, you may or may not use that tool again. So at that moment, it's not necessary to retain that knowledge. It may be a while before you return a second time—if you return at all—and so forgettery happens quickly early on. If you come back a second time and have sustained interest, you are liable to come back a third time sooner, and a fourth and so-on. Your learning therefore ramps up according to the understanding that you're actually interested in becoming familiar or developing a mastery of the tool in question.
When you are intrinsically interested in a task, your learning will naturally follow spaced repetition, but when you are not, such as when you're studying for an exam, then software and an application of the principle will be necessary to trick your brain into following its optimal and natural pattern.
One way to speed up the adoption of evolutionary theory is to explain how evolution is happening to us right now
Evolution doesn't have an evidence problem, but an education problem. Just as humans have difficulty imagining the number one million, they have trouble imagining how small changes and mutations over millions of years could lead to something as wonderfully complex as the eye.
One strategy would be to emphasize that evolution is happening right now. Some evolutionists might say it's not, that evolution is slow and goes in punctuated bursts, or that saying so would perpetuate the falsehood that we, as individuals, mutate throughout our lives and pass on those traits to descendants. But the point of the "evolution now" angle is to emphasize how readily perceivable evolution is.
One example would be an anatomical chart labeled with numbers representing possible rates of change for components. For example, if the average eye-spacing variation among humans is 2 mm, and the average genetic distance between individuals is about 20 generations, then the label "0.1" would indicate how many mm per generation eyes could move apart. At this rate, it could theoretically turn us into mammals like deer and cows, with eyes on the sides of our heads.
Or if the labels were placed on different lobes of the brain, on the parts responsible for memory or language, for example, the number 3 could mean how many more items per generation a human can remember, or 10 indicating how many more words per generation a human can speak. Doing so would make it easy to understand how after 1,000 generations, we could become pretty smart.
Even if it's not true that every generation learns 10 more words, by breaking down a seemingly complicated machine into components that grow in micro-steps—such as saying that we can gain .01 times more cones or rods per generation, or that eyes can grow .01 mm in circumference per generation—then it becomes less hard to imagine how simple nerve cells that detect the presence of light could bloom into something as grand and detailed as the eye.
Our mating decisions make us unwitting futurists
Our mating choices show incredible foresight. For example, mating outside one's race at one point was verboten, but those who dared do so had children who are now ready for a multi-cultural world, one that relishes the spectrum. Or mating with a nerd may have brought derision at one point, but whoever did so prepared their children for the world of today, where the creative class is supreme. Even though it seems like we mate according to whim, beneath that is a fiercely competitive genetic logic. Our genes take risks to ensure that in the race for better progeny, you won't just have the best shot today, but the best shot in a tomorrow created by everybody already taking their best shot.
Our sense of shared humanity comes from perceiving any beige android with two arms, two legs, and language-processing as one of us
Every difference that matters is genetic. The angry driver who is raging out—that's genetic. The significant other who has incredible empathy—that's genetic. The best friend who is great at math, the aunt who has short fingers, the teacher who can run marathons at the age of 50, the co-worker who can't, etc.—all genetic. Picture a kindergarten school portrait. This group doesn't represent a bracket of "humans," but rather a garden of tulips, grasses, and pines, all from different periods, like the Jurassic or Cambrian. This bracket, when cross-pollinated with another equally strange bracket somewhere else will lead to an even richer, out-of-this-world, descendant garden.
Our passing perception of each other's differences is not one of wonder, though. Perhaps it's in our interest to be blasé. If each time we walked down the street, it felt like a giraffe crashing through the gates of a zoo, it would overwhelm us. We couldn't create social norms without a sense of shared humanity. And yet, if we were to appreciate our differences, connecting every trait not just to different notes on a piano as geneticists or anthropologists would have us believe, but rather to entirely different types of instruments, only after then hearing this cacophony would it click in our heads what it means to be human.
Paleo philosophy argues that modern behavior is maladaptive. But so is Paleo: We are here both because of—and in spite of—expired environments
Everything is both maladaptive and adaptive. It's futile to argue whether or not something is natural, simply because the present nature is never the same nature that shaped our genes.
People are altruistic because they know that others will emulate them, essentially returning the favor
Prehistoric humans had both types of sexuality: capable of reluctant monogamy whenever promiscuity became too troublesome
Even though we have good basic ideas as to whether prehistoric humans were monogamous or not (based simply on correlating our genitals with other primates), we don't know how much variation existed in human sexuality. If anything, the recent decline in sperm counts indicates that flexibility is the more relevant story of our sexuality, rather than that we are naturally one way or another.
In the natural world, our perceptions are accurate. When we see a tiger jump at us, we see it correctly and make a quick decision to either run or fight. In the social world, though, our perceptions are suspect, because we don't know who is or isn't a threat. Even if we discern a threat today, that person may not be one tomorrow. We can't have a fixed mind about everyone. Since everybody is mind-reading everybody mind-reading, it helps to have a complex layer of contingencies. It's helpful to be thoroughly genuine until it isn't.
Someone in the tribe of Mitochondrial Eve had Aspergers Syndrome
The fact that Aspergers exists in all ethnicities means that it was present in our common ancestor. It's possible, then, that Aspergers could be a latent genetic trait, one whose prevalence is proportional to its utility at any given time. Today, Aspergers is useful for high-paying software jobs. In tandem, it's rate of incidence has been rising, especially in Silicon Valley. But was Aspergers occasionally useful to the cohorts of Mitochondrial Eve? The rare person with Aspergers may have caused many of the punctuated technological leaps of humanity by randomly introducing an engineering miracle to society.
Star systems interact so slowly that we wouldn't know whether life is evolving on a celestial scale or not
Even if there were no small molecules in our universe, and all that existed were just asteroids, moons, planets, stars and galaxies, then given enough time, the planets would form the building blocks of life. Right now, the only visible loops are spinning gravity wells, like galaxies and solar systems. But given enough time, binary star systems could interact with other binary star systems or galaxies in an elaborate dance, eventually creating patterns that could build quasi-proteins which could lead to mobile creatures, nervous systems, and eventually intention. It may take a power-tower number of years—beyond the theoretical Heat Death of our universe—for these celestial dances to map to the same dances that occurred in Earth's Primordial Soup, but eventually a pattern other than spinning gravity wells will prevail. So long as there is time, then patterns that persist shall.
Thanks to mass media, artistic talent has become a viable strategy for high evolutionary fitness
The term starving artist runs contrary to evolution's emphasis on fitness and survival, which is why evolutionists typically don't hold artistry in high-esteem. How can something be a profitable evolutionary strategy if it so frequently makes one starve? Art is not considered that practical, and therefore most explanations for its evolution ascribe it to side effects. Art is seen as an extension of child-like play, which drives growth for skills useful later in life: poetry is the play version of language acquisition, painting is the play version of design. All of this is changing, though.
Thanks to mass media, artists can now have a string of successes, whether it's books, films, or art, that catapult them to upper-class incomes. We're now seeing the emergence of artist dynasties, where the founding patriarch or matriarch is a star actor or musician. As alpha males, they produce lots of progeny through multiple marriages, and as alpha females, they have access to high-quality mates and child-rearing tools. They then raise at least one scion who continues the legacy of blockbuster artistic success. Think Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie or Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas.
The main talent driver of the past 1,000 years has been business, which parallels the ascendance of commerce and trade in the past millennium. But perhaps going forward, art will play a stronger role in shaping our evolution, now that it has been proven to be a viable path for genetic dominance.
The ability to get help evolved faster than the ability to ignore help
The advent of birth control has been balanced by the proliferation of birth-uncontrols like alcohol and drugs
The advent of birth control is balanced by the proliferation of birth un-control, such as alcohol, hard drugs, and skydiving. Perhaps “balance” is the wrong word, because these are all just options. Birth-control is an option, and so is the ability to reach for a chemical to suppress rational thinking. The evolution of humankind is the evolution of freedom. From freedom of diet, to the free use of our hands, to the free use of tools—we are driven by expanding and exploiting our infinite choice.
The bloat of lactose-intolerance and the red-face of alcohol allergies is probably similar to how we experienced the transition to omnivorism
The variation in diet among a newly formed tribe might have been like a visit to Whole Foods, with multiple dietary restrictions coming together. Or it might have been like a visit to the bar, with people challenging each other to see how much they can drink, thereby testing their alcohol tolerance.
The celebration of human greatness is the celebration of eugenics
Whenever we celebrate human greatness, we are celebrating eugenics. If we celebrate the best jazz players, we celebrate the best genes for improvisation and for music. In addition, we celebrate the players' dedication, which give us pleasure, and therefore celebrate their drive and determination, which happens to be a mixture of genes and free will. Through the collective action of our interests, we are all contributing to tournaments that passively sort out good people. However, since no individual is conscious of their part in the grand sorting, we are also all free from blame.
The chaos of cities has forced us to take the next step in consciousness evolution, which is meditation
A capacity for meditation may be an evolved trait, enabling us to switch temperaments when necessary. Human evolution is ultimately the evolution of choice, and so meditating may be yet another choice, one crucial when we join chaotic environments, like cities.
The evolution of altruism isn't mysterious if you start with the obvious: Altruism evolved because it's incredibly useful
Many books have been written debunking the connection between group selection and altruism. Computational geneticists show how ephemeral groups are, and therefore not strong enough to be a unit of selection. Experts in game theory have shown how altruism can be constructed as a frequently occurring equilibrium in cost-benefit matrices with purely selfish actors. Perhaps these theorists with their calculators are right, and they are more equipped than sociologists to distend ultimate from proximate causes. The proximate cause of human altruism is feeling good, and the ultimate cause is genes. Case closed.
But there is a simpler, more ultimate cause: altruism is common in the animal kingdom because the value of cooperation is so advantageous. It's ultimately what intuition tells the amateur evolutionist when conjuring up group selection: "Look at our cities, look at our family units, look at how much more we can accomplish together." Maybe it's for the good of the group, or the gene, or the species, but clearly, it is incredibly useful. Assert that first, then figure out how evolution accessed that usefulness.
The Evolution of Sleep
Sleep shouldn't have evolved in prey animals, because it makes animals too vulnerable to attack. And sleep shouldn't have evolved in predator animals, because it takes time away from hunting animals that are sleeping. That sleep evolved in both predator and prey indicates a sort of group coordination, like an armistice. Both need to eat, and both could use a recharge, and so they've agreed on a set time to lay down their arms, much like two warring countries agreeing to rules of engagement. The rules enable the countries to trade some of the lives of their citizens without threatening the entire existence of their kind.
The feedback loop of advertisers selling sex and consumers buying sexy products mirrors the sexual selection arms race of evolution
"Sex sells" is the mantra in advertising, but since every agency has the same motto, they are locked in an arms race, out-competing each other with ever-sexier ads. Meanwhile, the social tolerance for public, sexual displays has expanded to meet the deluge. Alongside the evolution of sexy ads is the evolution of human receptiveness to those ads. People buy the products with the sexiest marketing, which helps them acquire accessories to win their own arms races with each other to be the sexiest. Meanwhile, the word "sexy" has become so hackneyed, that we forget that saying it indirectly invokes the concept of sperms fertilizing eggs. All of which belies how our rhetoric—in addition to our technology, advertising, and consumerism—is recapitulating Red Queen-style evolutionary battles, but now with modern weaponry.
The Industrial Revolution, farming, the Ice ages: We've been preparing for the Singularity for 50,000 years
We have been preparing for our world turning upside-down ever since surviving our first Ice Age. Massive weather changes did not extinguish our ancestors but instead forced them to improvise and move to different biomes. We changed our clothes, modified our hunting techniques, and reorganized our societies. Such is our brain’s capacity for adaptation.
In 1970, the futurist Alvin Tofler predicted that massive social upheaval in the latter half of the twentieth century would cause future shock, but so far, that hasn’t happened. Whether it’s from the ascendancy of feminism or the transition from farm labor to desk labor, our psych wards were supposed to be overflowing with trauma victims who couldn’t cope with such changes. Fortunately, our DNA is imprinted with the protective coating of previous, survived traumas. Every time that our ancestors’ tribes were invaded and wiped, the survivors had to code-switch or die in the transition. Those who couldn’t did not pass on their genes.
The rhythm of history appears to be the layered cycling of short, medium, and long-term shocks, whether from tribal wipeouts to climate change, with long periods of stability in between. But, even during stability, we still ideate about the End Times enough to prepare ourselves for annihilation. If you’re a religious person, these thoughts might involve Rapture or Armageddon. If you’re a secular techie, they might involve the Singularity. Is it possible, then, that we’re already ready for such cataclysmic change? Will we wind up bypassing future shock and end up future bored?
The kin selection benefits of altruism are infinitesimally small compared to the benefits that the recipients of altruism get
The arguments for selfish altruism are often convoluted stretches of kin selection. In the villages from which our Mitochondrial Eve came, there was a good chance that a person drowning in the pond was related to you in some way. But even so, the benefits for the helper are small compared to the benefits for the recipient. If it were to be quantified, yes maybe the helper receives benefits down the line by having their relative's genes propagate, but the recipient benefits a hundred times more in that moment by not dying. The indirect selfish part of an altruistic act is so relatively small as to be potentially meaningless.
The Matrix goes back as far as Plato's Cave: We still don't know what batteries we're powering, nor what devil we're serving
The idea that we are all living in a simulation, as presented in The Matrix, is meant to be a metaphor for having inauthentic lives as unwitting cogs in someone else's machine. But such simulations may not be new. According to Dawkins's allusions in The Selfish Gene, human evolution can be seen as a product of an evolutionary war between bacteria. Or more directly, we are part of a simulation that is serving our genes. We don't know what batteries we're powering, and what devil we are actually serving. So the question from The Matrix is not about whether we are in a simulation, but which of the myriad larger games operate contrary to the simulation that is the human experience. It's only sad for Neo, the protagonist in The Matrix because he is a wage slave. Machines created these stultifying positions to keep humans busy while powering batteries to support the machines. The fact that some agent is limiting the free range of human expression for their own selfish purpose is what drives the revolutionary impulse.
If we can find such great games, and discover that they lead to our unhappiness, we should subvert them. Perhaps the revolution is already here, as technologies like The Pill attempt to subvert the plans that our genes have for us.
The Olympics isn't about finding the best; Otherwise, it would be dominated by freaks and cyborgs instead of fair, entertaining fights
The Olympics only makes sense in areas where human universality can be displayed. That the best runners run roughly the same speed is critical to making a compelling game. Physical skills that only 10 people on Earth have would never be tested. Even in a game like basketball, there aren't freakishly tall people who are 10 feet or 20 feet tall. If there was, the sport would be dead or the super-tall players would be forbidden. Superpowers are therefore obscured on behalf of fair fights.
The popular understanding of evolution won't improve until it stops seeming like a miracle
It wasn't until we developed science that we could stop imagining that the sun was a god on a chariot racing across the sky. And yet, even though we know the science of how the eye works and we know the science of evolution, a large portion of the American population still would prefer to see an intelligent designer behind it all. Books have been written speculating on the actual evolutionary steps necessary to get to the eye, but most people haven't internalized it. People don't have a gut feeling that it was all random natural selection.
Simply knowing how things work won't be enough. We have to know how to copy nature to eliminate the mystery. Until we can evolve an eyeball in a laboratory, it will always seem like the eye is too complex to be possibly explained by the random drifting of genes over billions of years.
The Profundity of Convergent Eye Evolution
Convergent evolution makes the best case for an arrow or some inherent will in Nature to create or become something. Evolution is not all just random shifting sands, with cockroaches equally as interesting as humans. If a feature evolves multiple times in different species whose common ancestor is hundreds of millions of years ago, it says that a certain class of solutions are universally useful in Nature, but reliably reachable.
The most profound case is the convergent evolution of the eye. The eye evolved three separate times, once for cephalopods (squid), another for vertebrates (mammals), and a third time for cnidaria (jellyfish), each of which is separated by hundreds of millions of years. To be fair, profundity is a human construct, but it is also a proxy for complexity, which may exist in reality. That something as complex as the eye could evolve and re-evolve, says something about the ease with which Nature can take a relatively undifferentiated canvas and spring forth a complex machine.
Extrapolating from that, the easiness of eye evolution makes it seem that abiogenesis, the beginning of life, would also be easy. If it's "easy" to spring forth an eye from a simple patch of photoreceptor cells, then why shouldn't it also be easy to spring forth basic cells from a simple patch of amino acids that are caught up in loopy chemical reactions?
There can be no "war between the sexes," so long as their genetic destinies are as twined as the strands of DNA that supposedly divide them
Ultimately the sexes are at peace with each other because their genetic destinies are linked. Every selfish man or woman who plays to the negative stereotypes of their sex has a mother and a father who benefits from that selfishness. If a selfless man or woman mates with a selfish jerk of a man or woman, they may be oppressed in this generation, but if the couple is successful in ensuring the survival and thriving of their children, then that selfless/selfish combination will perpetuate itself in their children, as designed.
While the lack of rights for women might vex those who currently live under those rules, those rules which supposedly benefit men, also benefit those women's brothers, fathers, and sons. This genetic collaboration doesn't justify those rules, but it does change the interpretation of existing, supposed fault-lines in the "war of the sexes." For example, when veiled, Middle Eastern women are trotted on Western news networks, it's framed under the guise that all those women are oppressed. Veiling is an automatic oppression according to feminism, but we can't assume that those women in rights-restricted countries are as excited about the promise of their liberation as we are. After all, those rules are intertwined with a social structure that supports their way of life.
The Red Queen Hypothesis means that both the skills for applying makeup and an attraction to makeup should evolve together
There is a Red Queen-style race between salesmen and shoppers
For example, clever hawkers at the bazaar versus clever shoppers who can such resist tactics, have co-evolved into making everybody better at commerce.
The replacement fertility rate could stand at 1.0 if we assume only women need to replace themselves
Fertility rates for developed countries are declining, with the United States at 1.86 per woman and Europe at 1.59. Fertility rates are even lower for sub-groups within those populations who are white, educated, or wealthy. The headlines surrounding these usually involve panic and surprise, the latter of which is caused by how counter-evolutionary it seems to have a fertility rate lower than the replacement rate (2.00).
However, no nation has a fertility rate lower than 1.00, and while having one child is a marked departure from having two children, it's all a giant leap from having no children. Childlessness is the termination or failure of evolution, whereas having at least one child is still the continuation of evolution.
And it may not even be an issue with continuity, but rather our poor definition of replacement. We assume the replacement fertility rate is 2.00 because there are two parents involved. If we only consider the female's perspective, the replacement rate could be 1.00, since women only have to replace themselves. Theoretically, if the world had one man, a global fertility rate of anything just above 1.00 could still replace the world.
Weak happiness simulators work both ways: We overestimate the happiness from childbirth but also underestimate smelling the roses
Humans have poor happiness simulators. Studies frequently show how often people are unhappier after having children despite how happy they think they will be. But having weak happiness simulators also works in the other direction: we often do things that make us unintentionally happy. For example, we often underestimate how much simple pleasures, like a bite of ice cream or the smelling roses, will improve our happiness.
Happiness is only useful as a motivator, not an outcome. The prospect of happiness is what drives us. Once the happiness is received, then whatever carrot was at the end of that stick is no longer relevant. In a way, then, it's almost that having weak happiness simulators is what makes us human, keeping an incentive always mysteriously looming on the horizon, and thus driving the continuance of living.
We are evolving into polite computers
Consider the example of the rigid C-3PO, who is very anal about protocol and other details. Likewise, we are developing genes to worry about obeying rules, both small and large, both self-imposed and other-imposed. That rule-following is part and parcel of a world that is becoming increasingly numerate, integrated, and also automated.
We get choice anxiety because we are latent opportunists, usually satisfied with "good enough," unless we are faced with so many options that we can get otherwise
An attractive woman who is perpetually single presents a paradox. (For the sake of argument, let's consider only women since beauty is such a linear selector for them). If we assume that she is straight and desires a relationship, the paradox is obvious: How could someone presented with so many options find themselves with none. When they pass us by on the street, we often think, "It must be nice." It must be nice to be attractive and have plenty of suitors. But for the attractive woman, it doesn't feel that way.
A clue can be found in the oft-cited study on the paradox of choice. Grocery shoppers, when presented with a table of three jams vs. a table with thirty-seven, often buy more from the table with fewer choices. The reasoning is that having too many choices causes decision-anxiety since there are too many items to compare amongst.
But perhaps this misses the true cause. The attractive woman who has exclusive access to high-quality suitors sees their situation as a burden. They find themselves with a unique opportunity, and so they have a greater responsibility to maximize their gains. Their ancestors took all sorts of genetic risks to produce a great-great-great-granddaughter of eminent beauty, and now their chickens are coming home to roost. The attractive woman then holds out, straining to maximize their options.
When there is a so-so pool to choose from, any satisfactory candidate will do. But when presented with an exceptional choice, only an exceptional candidate will do.
So perhaps the jam study isn't about the numerical overload of choices, but about the pressure to seize opportunities. The more splendid the situation, the more we start thinking about the most we can extract from it. Our ancestors, upon discovering a grove with tremendous bounty, thought about how to transport the most and best of this back to the tribe. If they didn't, then they would have never created alpha males nor buoyed their tribe enough to survive harsh winters.
The word "opportunist" is often a derogatory term, but we are all opportunists at heart, just latent ones.
We must colonize the Galaxy before Idiocracy becomes all-consuming and irreversible
A commonly mentioned reason for wanting to colonize another planet is to leave the Earth before we destroy it. A corollary reason could be to leave before evolution changes who we are. The Ancient Greeks, over the span of three generations, built an academic body of thought out of thin air. But what followed the School of Athens was a relative intellectual darkness, which points to the possibility that there could be positive (and negative) attributes about us today that could disappear. Our thirst for interplanetary or interstellar travel could be evolved out, and then we would, as a species lose this chance forever. We are on a collective march towards peace, and IQ levels appear to be increasing, but if a dumb, war-like gene proliferated, it could take over the world like a virus. While humans could roam the earth for thousands or millions of years, our humanity—or at least the humanity that we cherish today—could be destroyed before we have a chance to preserve it somewhere else.
Which came first, numerate people or a numerate world?
From an evolutionary perspective, our current level of numeracy seems too high. When did our ancestors need calculus, for example? However, in today's environment, advanced math skills are crucial for certain high-reward fields, such as science or business. So did evolution "anticipate" we would live in a technologically-advanced society and create those genes ahead of time?
Initially, numeracy must have started as a trickle. If someone had the ability to count and separate provisions fairly, they would have become a better trader. If that gave them an advantage, then it would have also made trading more advantageous for others. So the evolution of a new skill also raises the utility for others to acquire the same skill. As human society became more and more numbers-based, then accelerating genes for numeracy evolved, such as—in a naive example—an attraction to numerate people. Numerate people then created a world where bricks and bushels of grain had to be counted, which then rewarded even more numerate people, until finally, we have the situation we are in today.
Likewise, programmers are building the world, making us more dependent on hard-to-use computers, further making it advantageous to be a programmer.