[Some short thoughts I just wanted to get out of my brain; bullet-points instead of well-structured prose. This is entirely random speculation, and not well-explained. Cross-posted from Grand, Unified, Empty.]

  • Social systems (laws, customs, memes) are subject to evolutionary pressure from the dynamics of reality; when reality changes, existing social systems are typically no longer in equilibrium and have to evolve, or collapse and be rebuilt. Consider for example the invention of the birth control pill and the resulting impact on family structure, gender relations, etc. Pre-pill social customs around marriage and family were no longer in equilibrium in a world with reliable female birth control, and so society shifted to a new set of customs.
  • “Change in reality” largely means economic and technological change. New wealth and new capabilities.
  • “Change in reality” has been accelerating for a long time as new technologies and discoveries unlock new economic prosperity which enables more discoveries, in an explosive feedback loop. Some argue that technology/science have slowed down a lot recently, but I think that’s mostly because our best and brightest are too busy extracting economic value from our recent innovations (computers and, separately, the internet). Once that bounty has been consumed, more general technological progress will resume its previous course.
  • There is a natural limit on how fast social systems can evolve. Humans can adapt to living under radically different memeplexes, but not instantly, and somebody has to invent those memes first. When reality changes slowly this is fine, as it leaves plenty of time for a multiplicity of experimental memetic shifts in different groups, letting the best adaption dominate with high probability.
  • At some point in the future (possibly soon?) reality will start changing faster than our social systems can adapt. Our existing laws, customs, memes, and government will be out of equilibrium, but we will not have enough time to converge on a new social system before reality changes again. Society will fragment and human culture will undergo an intense period of adaptive radiation.
  • The countervailing force is technology’s ability to connect us (the “global village”) and equivalently the law of cultural proximity.
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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:29 AM

I would change 'some point in the future' to 'the 1960's'


I think there is a sort of micro view where that is true, but also that culture can change very rapidly in many ways. It might not be entirely pleasant, but I think society could handle a permanent 1960s level of change. What worries me is e.g. the much more recent phenomenon that siblings a couple of years apart are active on totally different social media sites, and have different social norms and practically different language dialects as a result.

Yeah, makes sense to think of this level of fragmentation as a qualitative difference.

Some comments:

  • Social systems are also part of reality and they influences economic and technological environment just like the other way around. E.g. the social change caused by modern contraception greatly influenced consumption habits, therefor causing changes in investments into research and production
  • I don't know if " technology/science have slowed down", this is hard to measure. Yet if it did I believe it is due to reaching a plateau in most fields where the returns are strongly diminishing. That is: no more low hanging fruits, loads of research needed for small improvement. Shovels and knives did not change too much in the past two millennia after all.
  • "but we will not have enough time to converge on a new social system " - what does this mean? Is this when social media started to be designed to cause dopamine loops? Or is it when millions starved to death in North Korea? Is this when the Soviet Union collapsed? Is this when the French revolution happened? Is this why the Cahokia civilization declined?