How, oh how, did an unloving and mindless universe, cough up minds who were capable of love?
"No mystery in that," you say, "it's just a matter of natural selection."
But natural selection is cruel, bloody, and bloody stupid. Even when, on the surface of things, biological organisms aren't directly fighting each other—aren't directly tearing at each other with claws—there's still a deeper competition going on between the genes. Genetic information is created when genes increase their relative frequency in the next generation—what matters for "genetic fitness" is not how many children you have, but that you have more children than others. It is quite possible for a species to evolve to extinction, if the winning genes are playing negative-sum games.
How, oh how, could such a process create beings capable of love?
"No mystery," you say, "there is never any mystery-in-the-world; mystery is a property of questions, not answers. A mother's children share her genes, so the mother loves her children."
But sometimes mothers adopt children, and still love them. And mothers love their children for themselves, not for their genes.
"No mystery," you say, "Individual organisms are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers. Evolutionary psychology is not about deliberately maximizing fitness—through most of human history, we didn't know genes existed. We don't calculate our acts' effect on genetic fitness consciously, or even subconsciously."
But human beings form friendships even with non-relatives: how, oh how, can it be?
"No mystery, for hunter-gatherers often play Iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas, the solution to which is reciprocal altruism. Sometimes the most dangerous human in the tribe is not the strongest, the prettiest, or even the smartest, but the one who has the most allies."
Yet not all friends are fair-weather friends; we have a concept of true friendship—and some people have sacrificed their life for their friends. Would not such a devotion tend to remove itself from the gene pool?
"You said it yourself: we have a concept of true friendship and fair-weather friendship. We can tell, or try to tell, the difference between someone who considers us a valuable ally, and someone executing the friendship adaptation. We wouldn't be true friends with someone who we didn't think was a true friend to us—and someone with many true friends is far more formidable than someone with many fair-weather allies."
And Mohandas Gandhi, who really did turn the other cheek? Those who try to serve all humanity, whether or not all humanity serves them in turn?
"That perhaps is a more complicated story. Human beings are not just social animals. We are political animals who argue linguistically about policy in adaptive tribal contexts. Sometimes the formidable human is not the strongest, but the one who can most skillfully argue that their preferred policies match the preferences of others."
Um... that doesn't explain Gandhi, or am I missing something?
"The point is that we have the ability to argue about 'What should be done?' as a proposition—we can make those arguments and respond to those arguments, without which politics could not take place."
Okay, but Gandhi?
"Believed certain complicated propositions about 'What should be done?' and did them."
That sounds like it could explain any possible human behavior.
"If we traced back the chain of causality through all the arguments, it would involve: a moral architecture that had the ability to argue general abstract moral propositions like 'What should be done to people?'; appeal to hardwired intuitions like fairness, a concept of duty, pain aversion + empathy; something like a preference for simple moral propositions, probably reused from our previous Occam prior; and the end result of all this, plus perhaps memetic selection effects, was 'You should not hurt people' in full generality—"
And that gets you Gandhi.
"Unless you think it was magic, it has to fit into the lawful causal development of the universe somehow."
Well... I certainly won't postulate magic, under any name.
But come on... doesn't it seem a little... amazing... that hundreds of millions of years worth of evolution's death tournament could cough up mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, steadfast friends and honorable enemies, true altruists and guardians of causes, police officers and loyal defenders, even artists sacrificing themselves for their art, all practicing so many kinds of love? For so many things other than genes? Doing their part to make their world less ugly, something besides a sea of blood and violence and mindless replication?
"Are you claiming to be surprised by this? If so, question your underlying model, for it has led you to be surprised by the true state of affairs. Since the beginning, not one unusual thing has ever happened."
But how is it not surprising?
"What are you suggesting, that some sort of shadowy figure stood behind the scenes and directed evolution?"
Hell no. But—
"Because if you were suggesting that, I would have to ask how that shadowy figure originally decided that love was a desirable outcome of evolution. I would have to ask where that figure got preferences that included things like love, friendship, loyalty, fairness, honor, romance, and so on. On evolutionary psychology, we can see how that specific outcome came about—how those particular goals rather than others were generated in the first place. You can call it 'surprising' all you like. But when you really do understand evolutionary psychology, you can see how parental love and romance and honor, and even true altruism and moral arguments, bear the specific design signature of natural selection in particular adaptive contexts of the hunter-gatherer savanna. So if there was a shadowy figure, it must itself have evolved—and that obviates the whole point of postulating it."
I'm not postulating a shadowy figure! I'm just asking how human beings ended up so nice.
"Nice! Have you looked at this planet lately? We also bear all those other emotions that evolved, too—which would tell you very well that we evolved, should you begin to doubt it. Humans aren't always nice."
We're one hell of a lot nicer than the process that produced us, which lets elephants starve to death when they run out of teeth, and doesn't anesthetize a gazelle even as it lays dying and is of no further importance to evolution one way or the other. It doesn't take much to be nicer than evolution. To have the theoretical capacity to make one single gesture of mercy, to feel a single twinge of empathy, is to be nicer than evolution. How did evolution, which is itself so uncaring, create minds on that qualitatively higher moral level than itself? How did evolution, which is so ugly, end up doing anything so beautiful?
"Beautiful, you say? Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor may be beautiful, but the sound waves, as they travel through the air, are not stamped with tiny tags to specify their beauty. If you wish to find explicitly encoded a measure of the fugue's beauty, you will have to look at a human brain—nowhere else in the universe will you find it. Not upon the seas or the mountains will you find such judgments written: they are not minds, they cannot think."
Perhaps that is so, but still I ask: How did evolution end up doing anything so beautiful, as giving us the ability to admire the beauty of a flower?
"Can you not see the circularity in your question? If beauty were like some great light in the sky that shined from outside humans, then your question might make sense—though there would still be the question of how humans came to perceive that light. You evolved with a psychology unlike evolution: Evolution has nothing like the intelligence or the precision required to exactly quine its goal system. In coughing up the first true minds, evolution's simple fitness criterion shattered into a thousand values. You evolved with a psychology that attaches utility to things which evolution does not care about, like human life and happiness. And then you look back and say, 'How marvelous, that uncaring evolution produced minds that care about sentient life!' So your great marvel and wonder, that seems like far too much coincidence, is really no coincidence at all."
But then it is still amazing that this particular circular loop, happened to loop around such important things as beauty and altruism.
"I don't think you're following me here. To you, it seems natural to privilege the beauty and altruism as special, as preferred, because you value them highly; and you don't see this as a unusual fact about yourself, because many of your friends do likewise. So you expect that a ghost of perfect emptiness would also value life and happiness—and then, from this standpoint outside reality, a great coincidence would indeed have occurred."
But you can make arguments for the importance of beauty and altruism from first principles—that our aesthetic senses lead us to create new complexity, instead of repeating the same things over and over; and that altruism is important because it takes us outside ourselves, gives our life a higher meaning than sheer brute selfishness.
"Oh, and that argument is going to move even a ghost of perfect emptiness—now that you've appealed to slightly different values? Those aren't first principles, they're just different principles. Even if you've adopted a high-falutin' philosophical tone, still there are no universally compelling arguments. All you've done is pass the recursive buck."
You don't think that, somehow, we evolved to tap into something beyond—
"What good does it do to suppose something beyond? Why should we pay more attention to that beyond thing, than we pay to our existence as humans? How does it alter your personal responsibility, to say that you were only following the orders of the beyond thing? And you would still have evolved to let the beyond thing, rather than something else, direct your actions. You are only passing the recursive buck. Above all, it would be too much coincidence."
Too much coincidence?
"A flower is beautiful, you say. Do you think there is no story behind that beauty, or that science does not know the story? Flower pollen is transmitted by bees, so by sexual selection, flowers evolved to attract bees—by imitating certain mating signs of bees, as it happened; the flowers' patterns would look more intricate, if you could see in the ultraviolet. Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers? But for there to be some great light written upon the very stars—those huge unsentient balls of burning hydrogen—which also said that flowers were beautiful, now that would be far too much coincidence."
So you explain away the beauty of a flower?
"No, I explain it. Of course there's a story behind the beauty of flowers and the fact that we find them beautiful. Behind ordered events, one finds ordered stories; and what has no story is the product of random noise, which is hardly any better. If you cannot take joy in things that have stories behind them, your life will be empty indeed. I don't think I take any less joy in a flower than you do; more so, perhaps, because I take joy in its story as well."
Perhaps as you say, there is no surprise from a causal viewpoint—no disruption of the physical order of the universe. But it still seems to me that, in this creation of humans by evolution, something happened that is precious and marvelous and wonderful. If we cannot call it a physical miracle, then call it a moral miracle.
"Because it's only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced, thus explaining away all of the apparent coincidence from a merely causal and physical perspective?"
Well... I suppose you could interpret the term that way, yes. I just meant something that was immensely surprising and wonderful on a moral level, even if it is not surprising on a physical level.
"I think that's what I said."
But it still seems to me that you, from your own view, drain something of that wonder away.
"Then you have problems taking joy in the merely real. Love has to begin somehow, it has to enter the universe somewhere. It is like asking how life itself begins—and though you were born of your father and mother, and they arose from their living parents in turn, if you go far and far and far away back, you will finally come to a replicator that arose by pure accident—the border between life and unlife. So too with love.
"A complex pattern must be explained by a cause which is not already that complex pattern. Not just the event must be explained, but the very shape and form. For love to first enter Time, it must come of something that is not love; if this were not possible, then love could not be.
"Even as life itself required that first replicator to come about by accident, parentless but still caused: far, far back in the causal chain that led to you: 3.85 billion years ago, in some little tidal pool.
"Perhaps your children's children will ask how it is that they are capable of love.
"And their parents will say: Because we, who also love, created you to love.
"And your children's children will ask: But how is it that you love?
"And their parents will reply: Because our own parents, who also loved, created us to love in turn.
"Then your children's children will ask: But where did it all begin? Where does the recursion end?
"And their parents will say: Once upon a time, long ago and far away, ever so long ago, there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed. Once upon a time, there were lovers created by something that did not love.
"Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth.
"Long ago, and far away, ever so long ago."
You seem very impressed with love, as our entire culture is. Might that be a bias?
It's hard to point to concrete ways that love helps people (cooperation, parenting, and various other things are perfectly possible without love).
It's easy to point to many known ways that love hurts people. First, there are broken hearts and divorces. Then there's external pressure on who we love or not (if you don't love me I'm going to leave you; if you love her, I'm going to leave you). And then there is the theory that my love for you gives you obligations to me. People ... (read more)
One of the things the post does is point out that it's a bias.
The utility function is not up for grabs. If you value love, this has nothing to do with your beliefs. Valuing love can trigger biases, such as wishful thinking, but it is not of itself a bias. It's neither rational nor irrational, but arational.
We might be living in a simulation. If we are, then as Eliezer pointed out himself, we have no idea what kind of physics exist in the "real world." In fact, there is no reason to assume any likeness at all between our world and the real world. For example, the fundamental entities in the real world could be intelligent beings, instead of quarks. If so, then there could be some "shadowy figure" after all. This might be passing the buck, but at least it would be passing it back to somewhere where we can't say anything about it anymore.
I tried, Unknown, I really did. I wanted badly to be a theist for a long time, and I really tried to think along the path you're suggesting. But we've learned so much about the myriad ways that intelligence isn't fundamental - can't be fundamental. It's too complex, has too many degrees of freedom. You want to postulate a perfect essence of intelligence? Fine - whose? What will it want, and not want? What strategies of rationality will it execute? Intelligence is a product of structure, and structure comes from an ordering of lower levels. As fundamental as it seems from the inside, I don't think there's any way to put back the clock and view intelligence as an irreducible entity the way you seem to want to.
If you replace "love" in this article with "theistic spirituality" -- another aspect of the human psychology which many, if not most, humans consider deeply important and beautiful -- and likewise replace mutatis mutandis other parts of the dialog, would it not just as well argue for the propagation of religion to our descendants?
There is an argument from David Deutsch about the beauty of flowers. It is available here http://www.qubit.org/people/david/index.php?path=Video/Why%20Are%20Flowers%20Beautiful
Although I do not agree with everything he says in that talk. I think he may be right in that one reason both bees and humans find flowers attractive is that there was a huge genetic gap between bees and flowers, and so the shortest way of signaling between the species was to use a more universal standard, a standard that seems to be embedded in the very nature of intelligence(at lea... (read more)
I haven't watched the talk, but that sounds like a very odd reply when you consider that humans can't actually see the complicated ultraviolet patterns that flowers use to signal to bees in particular.
Eli: "Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth."
And there goes Caledonian again, with his vacuous comments intended only to spite. Eliezer already said everything you're saying - too bad you couldn't see it :(
Explaining love to a naive non-human intelligence that doesn't have an analogue:
"We feel a strange sort of attraction (sometimes physical, sometimes mental) towards other members of the species, and sometimes towards the species as a whole."
"Well, duhhh. Evolution maybe?"
"But you don't get it - sometimes it goes so far as to cause us to let harm be done to ourselves in the name of love."
"Lemmings walking off cliffs in droves? Birds evolving large showy tails that give them difficulty flying because it makes them more like... (read more)
Mike Blume: "Intelligence is a product of structure, and structure comes from an ordering of lower levels."
I agree with that (at least for the kind of intelligence we know about), but the structure rests on universal laws of physics: how did those laws get to be universal?
You have moments of poetry Eli, I enjoyed that.
I especially enjoy these types of posts. Your posts are so often densely packed with information that I find myself getting overloaded. This format allows for a back and forth between ideas, covering possible arguments, and the mock discussion allows me to take a mental break every few sentences. The end result is a post that I can enjoy from beginning to end, and feel that I've learned a point well enough to argue it on my own.
Wow. And this is the sort of thing you write when you're busy...
I've enjoyed these past few posts, but the part I've found most interesting are the attempts at evolutionary psychology-based explanations for things, like teenage rebellion and now flowers. Are these your own ideas, or have you taken them from some other source where they're backed up by further research? If the latter, can you tell me what the source is? I would love to read more of them (I've already read "Moral Animal", but most of these are still new to me).
The important thing is that we humans value love, and therefore we want love to perpetuate throught the universe.
I don't see the dialogue as arguing for anything, rather than explaining; but if it is, it's arguing for the propagation of those parts of our psychology we really want to keep, not the blind preservation of everything evolution gave us.
OK Eliezer, answer the easy question "why are flowers beautiful" and dodge the hard one about fugues, rainbows, stars, sunsets, and iridescent beetles, as well as the beauty of difficult to catch gazelles, the ugliness of easy to catch pigs, and the ugliness of tasty and nutritious bottom-dwelling fish.
Nitpick: pigs have only been easy to catch for ~9000 years.
"Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth."
Did this dialogue take place aboard the Battlestar Galactica? :-P
Re: Evolution is not mindless or stupid. Rather, it gets more intelligent as time goes on and intelligence in species increases.
I have an essay on this topic. To quote from it:
Feel free to refer people to that page whenever you hear them claiming that evolution is blind or stupid.
@Nick Tarleton "but if it is [arguing for something], it's arguing for the propagation of those parts of our psychology we really want to keep."
For many or most humans, to the extent that current religion is imperfect, the enhancement of spirituality is perhaps the most important goal for humanity. Of course, various groups do have variations on what they mean by religion, but worship of a god is very common
I wonder, then, if Eliezer's explanation/argument could be applied just as well to the preservation and encouragement of worship of the divine, though it would not fit well with the atheism advocated in his other articles.
None of those things will be our gift to the future. Our gift will not be the strategies we acquired through luck, stumbling onto the correct paths through the maze by trial and error. It will be the ability to understand what makes stra... (read more)
Well, as a women with at least 4 men after her genetic material, who is very circumspect about the wisdom of child-rearing, I find this discussion somewhat interesting... People consciously want to perpetuate themselves. It's not just sex without contraception = babies + oxytocin + progesterone = child loving. People love children that do not yet exist. People love the written words they leave behind on the page. People love creation... their own... their immortality. With enough power, could the superintelligence reach back through the relics and mem... (read more)
Unknown: "We might be living in a simulation. If we are, [...] there is no reason to assume any likeness at all between our world and the real world. For example, the fundamental entities in the real world could be intelligent beings, instead of quarks."
Bostrom's simulation argument is only persuasive because it gives us reasons (posthuman civilization is plausible; posthumans could run ancestor simulations) from within our world for thinking that our world is a simulation that bears likeness to the "real" one. Without such reasons, the... (read more)
Re: ancestor simulations
As a matter of fact, we don't run many ancestor simulations.
Rather, most simulations are games and movies: action adventure, comedy, pornography, etc - which makes it more likely that those are the kind of simulation we are in, if our world exists under simulation.
Temple- Actually I reread your post. I think the problem is never 'Love' proper, but negative things that are sometimes associated with love, specifically jealousy and selfishness- well jealously is a type of selfishness. For example: married man falls in love with another woman and decides in his romantic passion to have an affair, which in turns hurts his wife and ends his marriage. The problem: His wife's jealousy. Why should we lie to ourselves our whole lives about who we love? Why should we only love our parents, children, and spouse? Lameas... (read more)
None of us can say what our descendants will or will not do, but there is no reason to believe that any particular part of human nature will be worthy in their eyes. [emphasis mine]
I can see one possible reason: we might have some influence over what they think.
fugues, rainbows, stars, sunsets, and iridescent beetles
Yes, these are hard. Here's my speculation:
Rainbows => sun and water => plants to eat => prey animals. Stars and sunsets => good weather tomorrow => easier survival (and reproduction). No idea about the beetles yet.
difficult to catch gazelles, the ugliness of easy to catch pigs, and the ugliness of tasty and nutritious bottom-dwelling fish.
These are easy.
All these things possess attributes desirable for a human. "I wish I could run as fast as a gazelle, or be as dangerous to my ene... (read more)
As for the fugues, the reaction of the human brain to music is most puzzling and fascinating to me. It feels as if 'some shadowy entity' forgot to remove direct API for accessing our own emotional machinery.
@Caledonian: A properly designed AI should care about the very things that we care. Or what would be the purpose of building it? Wipe out the human race trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis? I'm well aware of the huge mind-design space out there - but I think that we should aim for the right spot when designing our first AI (now, where is the spot, and how to aim for it is still an open question).
I would be interested in seeing what you think about how we should build an AI (and what its goals should be as well...)
@Michael and Vlad
None of them are tough to explain. Some Vlad's nailed, some are coincidence. Random thing happens to resemble useful thing in some property, random thing sets off our beauty sensors. Every now and then you'll end up eating a poisonous beetle, but aesthetic judgment clearly has a net benefit for us. You don't need to think up elaborate reasons for why we think sunsets are beautiful. You just need to remember that we have a useful phenomenon called 'beauty' that reacts to useful things. It's only natural that some other things are, by chance... (read more)
“Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers? “
Eliezer, could you make a plausible rationalization of human attraction to music based on natural selection?
Great post btw.
Humans used to live in small tribes of about 50 people, and prepared for the hunt by looking at their cave paintings of animals they would soon kill. But cave paintings are not a perfect virtual reality aid for imagining a hunt. So they also rubbed their furs in the grass to get the right smell, and they also made sounds to remind themselves of the hunt. Natural selection favored these behaviors because they helped people hunt for food better. Over time, people evolved to desire certain kinds of visual, olfactory, and auditory sensations -- this was... (read more)
Why do you think humans might perceive certain sound combinations as evoking different emotions?
the tones in human voices change, depending on the emotional states of the speakers?
I've heard that isn't true in tonal languages. Is the meaning of the tones universal across atonal languages? I doubt it, for otherwise, how would tonal ones develop?
I’m sorry, Elliot, but, while your suggestion is logical, it does not seem very plausible to me. I do not see how appreciation of Bach can boost my hunting abilities. A further mystery to me is how we are able to read complex emotions expressed by music. Often it can be easier to gauge the emotional context from the music than from the intonation of foreign speakers.
I also have some doubts concerning Eliezer’s theory on the beauty of flowers. If our appreciation of nature’s beauty has a hidden utilitarian purpose related to agriculture, why is it more often expressed by urban dwellers than by those who actually make a living out of land?
I've heard that isn't true in tonal languages
Where did you hear that?
It's false. "Tone" as a lexical property of words (as in "tonal languages") is a specific technical concept that is not to be confused with "intonation", which is an essentially universal phenomenon of human speech.
Once hunting music was created, females could select mates not just by how well they hunted directly (which they often didn't directly observe), but also by the quality of their hunting music. A man's hunting music provided extra information about his knowledge of hunting. Once females started selecting mates partially in this way, there was evolutionary selection pressure on men to start making music for the purpose of attracting a mate.
Female taste in music did not correspond to hunting music absolutely perfectly; it was just flawed rules of thumb... (read more)
Of course the feeling of love had to evolve, and of course it had to evolve from something that was not love. And of course the value of the love that we feel is not woven into the fabric of the universe; it's only valuable to us. But it's still a very happy thing that love exists, and it's also sort of a lucky thing; it is not woven into the fabric of the universe that intelligent beings (or any beings for that matter) have to have anything that feels as good as love does to us. This luck may or may not be "surprising" in the sense that it ma... (read more)
The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music. Here's approximately the relevant part.
Basically he suggests it's useful as pre-language for mother-infant communication, for maintaining group cohesion, and for sexual signaling. The specific structure of music is largely a side effect of how our brain processes language.
The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music. Here's approximately the relevant part.
Basically he suggests it's useful as pre-language for mother-infant communication, for maintaining group cohesion, and for sexual signaling. The specific structure of music is largely a side effect of how our brain processes language.
There may be organisms whose niche does not require them to have a state that represents the level of reinforcement implied by the "experience of love", but that is not a deficiency, and we are not "lucky&qu... (read more)
Vladimir: "These are easy." Ben: "None of them are tough to explain. Some Vlad's nailed [...]" Elliot: "Humans [...] prepared for the hunt by looking at their cave paintings of animals they would soon kill [...]" Elliot again: "hunting music [...] How's that?"
In case anyone was wondering where evolutionary psychology gets its bad reputation for being a bunch of "just-so" stories, see above.
To be clear, I'm not saying that there aren't any adaptive explanations for aesthetic appreciation of music, rainbows, &c. Rather, it's that we're unlikely to uncover the true explanations in the process of speculating on a blog comment thread. To do this properly, and therefore actually have half a chance of getting the right answer, you'd want to be deeply familiar with the literature on human evolution and modern-day hunter-gatherers. You'd want to review or conduct cross-cultural studies. You'd want to devise some extremely clever experiments to run in the psychology lab, &c.
By all means, generate hypotheses! Guess!--but know when you're just guessing.
Aack!!! Too... many... just so stories... bad evolutionary psychology... comment moderation... failing.
It seems to me that some of these explanations for beauty are overkill. Start from the straightforward idea that natural selection shaped our pattern-recognition hardware, in all of its varieties, for "ordinary" evolutionary reasons. Then suppose that we discovered ways of contriving input (e.g. music, art) that exploited and tickled our pre-existing hardware, after the fact. I don't see the need for music itself to have developed from anything that increased fitness.
Similarly, for sunsets and rainbows, suppose that we already had hardware that r... (read more)
Love as Drug, Drug as Love... Has anyone here been both in love and taken ecstasy? (I have never taken E and cannot attest). Are they similar? Which is better and why? When rats are given ecstasy, their brains dump a shit load of OXT and 5HT and they start behaving very strangely... they start wanting to be close to each other and licking each other and following each other around and nuzzling... From a human point of view it seems almost romantic. Ecstasy was, afterall, first used by psychiatrists as a drug of choice in 'couples counselling' because ... (read more)
I don't see how a drug producing a feeling means it's simple; one signal can start off an arbitrarily complex process.
(Never took Ecstasy either.)
The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music.
On the contrary. That is exactly the sort of rubbish that gives evolutionary psychology such a bad name.
The idea that something like music -- an extremely high-level byproduct of human cognition -- could be explained directly as an evolutionary adaptation is absurd enough. (Imagine trying to give a Darwinian account of why chess pieces move in the way they do.) The invocation of sexual selection -- the process that explains the peacock's fancy tail -- borders on the ludicrou... (read more)
Also of interest... Same friend said, and this is a paraphrasing, "Either take E with a partner you already know and trust, or else avoid the people you meet while on E for at least a month afterwards, because you will become psychotically attached to anyone you sleep with for no good reason, and are likely to pursue a bad relationship to disasterous ends..." Maybe not everyone needs E to get this 'psychotic attachment' for 'no good reason,' and this might be something along the lines of what Temple had in mind when he suggested we explore the n... (read more)
I have been in love, and taken ecstasy. (As it happens, I have also taken ecstasy with someone I was in love with.) I do think being in love is more complex than the feeling induced by those chemicals.
It seems to me that one of the biggest parts of being in love is the pervasive fixation on that one person. Those obsessive thought patterns that are like wanting to saturate yourself with that person's essence. An ecstacy trip can't really give you that, and of course by itself it can't supply the person.
However, the feeling of being on X is somewhat simil... (read more)
I was once impressed by the ability of natural selection to create incredibly complicated functioning living things that can even repair and make copies of themselves. I realized that this was the result of it having so much time and material to work with and relentlessly following an algorithm for attaining fitness that a human being with its biases would be apt to deviate from if consciously pursuing it, but I still felt impressed. I have never felt that way about beauty or emotion.
Elliot: âOnce hunting music was created, females could select mates not just by how well they hunted directly (which they often didn't directly observe), but also by the quality of their hunting music... So music became a useless display (useless for survival) used in sexual selection, like the peacock's tail. â
The majority of people (including non-hunting females) enjoy listening to music without even trying to perform it themselves. Among those few, who did learn how to play musical instruments, most could get greater boost to their sex-appeal by devoting their time to body-building instead. Using the peacock analogy, I would say that our âmusical tailâ seems too large judged by its effect on the other sex.
I wonder if bees could be said to love the other members of the bee hive? When a bee sacrifices its life by stinging, is that the ultimate act of love?
Citation? A trait could be attractive in both sexes.
Singing voices are markedly sexually dimorphic. As though the males were signalling size, while the females were signalling youth. The utility of this in multi-part harmony singing may be incidental, though.
Hal Finney, I am reminded of Stephen Pinker's discussion of love between two individuals whose interests exactly coincide. He says that the two would come to form one organism, and they would be like multiple organs or cells within that individual organism, and so would not have to experience "love".
Re: natural selection is cruel, bloody, and bloody stupid
I previously posted an essay addressing the "stupid" claim - here's another one to address cruel and bloody.
It observes that most of nature is better characterised by peaceful cooperation than by bloody conflict.
I take joy in the merely real, because I learned to; I take joy in seeing a vastly improbable coincidence where there is none, because of a hiccup of evolutionary psychology. The first is motivating, the second is blinding, but before I deconstruct the second (and perhaps build the first from its parts), I can take it in, short-term. There's no reason not to stop for a moment and feel the joy/marvel/amazement that you suspect you're feeling for a stupid reason; just don't let your guard down.
"Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers?"
Hm... this is, of course, a wonderful essay, but I'd give 5:1 against that being the true reason humans are attracted to flowers. A generalized attraction to symmetry as a result of some sort of sexual selection would make more sense. And the whole story is guaranteed to be much more modulated by culture than here assumed. This is a classic evo-psych Just So Story (not that the field is wholly vacuous).
Perhaps the author is not endorsing that viewpoint though.
I'd be more inclined to go with, "It's easier to make a brain that does everything you want and a few other things, than to make a brain that does exactly and only what you want."
I t... (read more)
I think that the perception of beauty has something to do with mathematics, well reality rather, but math has something to do with reality.
I want to ask the following:
Something akwardly inefficient and distorted, out of shape and disfigured - how often do you find there the essence of beauty?
To explain Gandhi, and altruistic behavior in general beyond what makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, I would say that we have taken the tools that evolution gave us for very different things (including friendship, love, empathy, and so on) and fundamentally re-purposed them. Our brain, our hardware, is a product of evolution, but our brain has been shown to be very highly plastic and flexible, especially when we are young. Our culture, or education, and our upbringing is a big part of the software we are running on our brain and, to a large ext... (read more)
This prompts me to propose a new heuristic: treat any claims of great and improbable virtue with great skepticism.
In Saul Alinksky's telling (in "Rules for Radicals"), Gandhi adopted nonviolence because it was the best option he had. The Indians had no guns and no way to get them. Gandhi also complained about the passivity of Indians. He turned these weaknesses into strengths. Passive sit-in's and pas... (read more)