Understanding human inter group competition

On page 85 of Jame5 I point out that:

“Culture is the byproduct of an animal’s acceptance of a shared moral-ethical meme complex to enable social collaboration in large groups.”

Later in the book I broaden the concept of a ‘moral-ethical meme complex’ to include all kinds of beliefs and assert that said shared beliefs are fitness indicators relevant for inter group competition. As a consequence groups with fitter belief systems prosper while groups with unfit belief systems either adapt or perish. For a quick introduction to my thoughts on this issue I suggest reading my paper on friendly AI theory or Jame5 pages 69 and following.

In genetics the concept of group selection is controversial at best. On the memetic level however it becomes intuitively obvious. Let me explain:

With the advent of human thought the focus of evolution shifted away from a genetic level and moved to an evolution of ideas and concepts about the world that gave rise to new ideas etc. The genes, dominant fitness determining information-carrying vehicles up to that point became secondary.

The decisive difference between the Homo Sapiens and other primates was the particularly useful ability to transfer these memes to other members of the group, including their young, by effective communication in the form of speech.

From that time forward, evolution on the genetic level slowly began to retreat and eventually became secondary as fitness indicators in humans as memes started to have an ever larger impact in determining an individual’s fitness in the group as well as on an inter group level. The evolution of memes went on though the Stone Age and various metal ages on a material level until it shifted toward harnessing more energy with the first steam engine in the late eighteenth century. What followed was the Industrial Revolution. Then came the first computers that eventually triggered the Information Age.

In summary: Human groups act as super organisms on the basis of shared beliefs with evolution continuing on the level of beliefs (memes).

Example: Captitalism vs Communism
The cold war was a period of conflict between two groups with largely different belief systems. In the blue corner mostly capitalist democracies and in the red corner mostly communist dictatorships. Capitalism eventually ‘won’ as its belief system happened to allocate resources with alternative uses more efficiently and effectively. By now the former eastern block largely abandoned the less fit ideology and is moving on.

Example: Market Economy
In market economies companies can be seen as groups competing for the scarce resource money. A company’s culture, policies, processes, intellectual property are its beliefs and its staff form that companies embodiment as a group. Companies compete in the market place, act, adapt, learn and form alliances. Those with fitter belief systems survive and flourish while those that are less fit go bankrupt and ‘die’.

And so evolution continues.


RIP genetic evolution – long live cognition!

Evolution – meaning the process of chance mutation and non-chance retention by natural selection – is a slow, tedious and complexity bound process on the genetic level as pointed out brilliantly by Eliezer on the overcomming biases blog. Genetic evolution as an optimization process is full of flaws, drawbacks and dead ends. Genetic evolution is blind and if genetic evolution has a goal it can only be seen in the implicit goal of increasing fitness.

Human cognition is a far better optimization process, yet by far not as well understood as genetic evolution. The crucial point of genetic evolution however is, that it is the only naturally occurring optimization process. Having taken 3.5 billion years to evolve the superior optimization process of human cognition one might argue that genetic evolution has done its duty and can retire and leave increasing fitness further to its successor: human cognition.

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Does truth matter?

Sure it does. Science is all about The Truth ™. But what about fitness? Yes, I mean Darwinian fitness as in ‘survival of the fittest’. According to my friendly AI theory (2007/11/09 UPDATE: latest version here), that is good which increases fitness. In that sense knowledge of truth is good if and only if said knowledge increases fitness. Is there a set of false believes – as in scientifically unjustifiable believes – that if held by an individual would increase said individual’s fitness? Yes there is: religion.

Sorry folks – there is no way to prove or disprove neither the existence nor the absence of a God. But that’s why it is called a religious believe and not a religious truth – right? Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennet and Sam Harris have written book after book in defense of The Truth and science versus the misguided belief in religion.

Most popular counter beliefs aimed at ridiculing religion are the Pastafarian belief in a flying spaghetti monster and the more sophisticated Celestial Teapot by Bertrand Russell.

It stands to argue however that the belief in an undetectable monster or a celestial teapot on the one hand does not add to an individual’s fitness while the belief in Christianity, Islam or the Jewish faith on the other hand does. Religions increase an individual’s fitness by allowing for the development of groups larger then what can be evolutionary stable by sheer face to face monitoring by creating internalized restraints in their followers and thereby increasing the likelihood of sticking to a shared moral code.

For an in depth explanation I suggest reading Selection of Organization at the Social level: obstacles and facilitators of metasystem transitions. Particularly chapter four: Social Control Mechanisms.

The sentence ‘No Good without God’ becoming true in the sense of religion increasing fitness must burn like chili sauce on the eye lids of intelligent designers and religion bashing Darwinists alike. Oh the sweet irony!

Other examples of false beliefs increasing an individual’s fitness include the optimism bias for example.

Time out! Reality Check: Is the truth bad? Or are some truths good while others are evil? Far from it… The solution lies in the big picture. The truth is not that there is no God but that internalized restraints improve how well humans function as part of large groups. The truth is not that Joe average is less likely to succeed as he thinks but that those that try may loose but those that don’t have lost already.

These truths just happened to have manifested themselves in the course of genetic and memetic evolution in phenotypes that don’t make them immediately deducible from said phenotypes. So before you argue for the abolishment of religion please design a set of implementable internalized restrains that are at least as efficient and effective.

Or more generally put: before you argue for the truth make sure it is not just the debunking of a false belief without replacing the false belief with something that is not at least as effective and efficient at increasing an individual’s and/or a group’s fitness respectively.

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