Category Archives: Building Blocks

Machiavellian Hypothesis

Principle

This hypothesis suggests that social manipulation drove the development of the human brain rather than obstacles presented by the environment and organisms other than human beings. This theory explains the intelligence of many ape and dolphins.

However, this theory does not fully explain the development of the human brain. That requires Geoff Miller’s Theory on the Development of Intelligence.

Explanation

“What [Nicholas] Humphrey and [Richard] Alexander described was essentially a Red Queen chess game. The faster mankind ran– the more intelligent he became–the more he stayed in the same place because the people over whom he sought psychological dominion were his own relatives, the descendants of the more intelligent people from previous generations. As Pinker and Bloom put it, ‘Interacting with an organism of approximately equal mental abilities whose motives are at times outright [sic] malevolent makes formidable and ever-escalating demands on cognition. If Tooby and Cosmides are right about mental modules, among the modules that were selected to increase in size by this intellectual chess tournament was the ‘theory of mind’ module, the one that enables us to form an opinion about one another’s thoughts, together with the means to express our own thoughts through the language modules. There is plenty of good evidence for this idea when you look about you. Gossip is one of the most universal of human habits. No conversation between people who know each other well — fellow employees, fellow family members, old friends — ever lingers for long on any topic other than the behavior, ambitions, motives, fralities, and affairs of other absent — or present — members of the group.” (332, The Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

 

Neoteny

Term

The retention of typically juvenile features in adult life.

Explanation

“The key to his argument is the concept of ‘neoteny’ — the retention of juvenile features into adult life. It is a commonplace of human evolution that the transition from Australopithecus to Homo and from Homo habilis to Homo erectus and thence to Homo sapiens all involved prolonging and slowing the development of the body so that it still looked like a baby when it was already mature. The relatively large brain case and small jaw, the slender limbs, the hairless skin, the unrotated big toe, the thin bones, even the external female genatilia — we look like baby apes.

The skull of a baby chimpanzee looks much more like the adult skull of an adult being than either the skull of an adult chimpanzee or the skull of a baby human being. Turning an ape-man into a man was simple matter of changing the genes that affect the rate of development of adult characters, so that by the time we stop growing and start breeding, we still look rather like a baby. ‘Man is born and remains more immature and for a longer period than any other animal,’ wrote Ashley Montagu in 1961.”(327, Red Queen)

“The combination of a slow change and long period of youthfulness means that as adults they have astonishingly large brains for an ape. Indeed, the mechanism by which ape-men turned into men was clearly a genetic switch that simply slowed the developmental clock. “(328, Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Geoff Miller’s Theory on the Development of Intelligence

Principle

Intelligence is the result of runaway sexual selection. The development of the human neocortex began when humanity’s select for males that possessed a rudimentary form intelligence that proved immediately advantageous. As the offspring of females who selected for males with rudimentary intelligence increased relative to the rest of the population, a female innate, physiological female preference developed as a result of the Baldwin Effect. This feedback loop between the development of intelligent offspring and the development of the female preference for intelligent males led to an intelligence arms race between males, where the intelligence that may have existed several generations before is now normative and the new winners in the battle for female attention have to possess a more advanced form of intelligence. Even after male intelligence developed beyond the point where it proved immediately and pragmatically advantageous, the female preference remained thus fueling the runaway development of intelligence.

Explanation

“So argues Geoffrey Miller. After laying bare the inadequacies of the conventional theories of intelligence, he takes a surprising turn.

‘I suggest that the neocortex is not primarily or exclusively a device for toolmaking, bipedal walking, fireusing, warfare, hunting, gathering, or avoiding savanna predators. None of these postulated functions alone can explain its explosive development in our lineage and not in other closely related species…The neocortex is largely a courtship device to attract and retain sexual mates: Its specific evolutionary function is to stimulate and entertain other people, and to assess the stimulation attempts of others’

The only way, he suggests, that sufficient evolutionary pressure could suddenly and capriciously be sustained in one species to enlarge one organ far beyond its normal size is sexual selection.” (338, The Red Queen)

“Wherever else in the animal kingdom we find greatly exaggerated and enlarged ornaments, we have been able to explain them by runaway, sexy-son, Fisher effect of intense sexual selection..Sexual selection, as we have seen, is very different from natural selection in its effects, for it does not survival problems, it makes them worse. Female choice causes peacocks’ tails to grow longer until they become a burden — then it demands that they grow longer still…And so, having found a force that produces exponential change in ornaments, it seems perverse not to consider it when trying to explain the exponential expansion of the brain.” (339, The Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

 

 

Runaway Sexual Selection

Principle

When a trait comes into existence largely due to female selection rather than utility. The basis for this theory is that females are adapted select mates who possess traits that enable their children to thrive. And when a trait appears that enables survival, females will begin to select for it. As females begin to select for it, the female preference for it becomes more pronounced via the Baldwin Effect.

Where this process can ‘run away’ is when the preference for the trait persists even once the male population achieves maximum practical utility through the trait. If a male bird for example, benefits from a longer tail, females will begin to select for the longer tail. Eventually, the tail will evolve to a point where it has achieved the physically, practically most effective length. But the female preference for longer tails does not disappear simply because the tail has reached the practically optimal length. So the female birds continue select for longer tails even though their “ideal” mates are now hindered by their tales being too long. At this point, one would say the sexual selection process has ‘run away’.

 

Explanation

“Sir Ronald Fisher had suggested then that females need no better reason for preferring long tails than that other females also prefer long tails. At first such logic sounds suspiciously circular, but that is its beauty. Once most females are choosing to mate with some males rather than others and are using tail length as the criterion — a big once, granted, but we’ll return to that –then any female who bucks the trend and chooses a short-tailed male will have short-tailed sons. (This presumes that the sons inherit their father’s short tail.) All the other females are looking for long-tailed males, so those short-tailed sons will not have much success. At this point, choosing long-tailed males need be no more than an arbitrary fashion; it is still despotic. Each peahen is on a treadmill and dare not jump off lest she condemn her son to celibacy. The result is that the females’ arbitrary preferences have saddled the males of their species with ever more grotesque encumbrances.  Even when those encumbrances themselves threaten the life of the male, the process can continue — as long as the threat to his life is smaller than the enhancement of his breeding success. In Fisher’s words: ‘The two characteristics affected by such a process, namely plumage development in the male and sexual preference in the female, must thus advance together, and so long as the process is unchecked by severe counterselection, will advance with ever-increasing speed.” (139, The Red Queen)

“Arbitrary ornaments can grow elaborate for no reason other reason than that females discriminate between males and end up following arbitrary fashions: and the more they discriminate, the more elaborate the ornaments become. What Fisher said in 1930 was right, but it left a lot of naturalists unconvinced for two reasons. First, Fisher assumed part of what he set out to prove: That females are already choosy is crucial to the theory. Fisher himself had an answer for this, which was that initially females chose long-tailed males for more utilitarian reasons — for example, that it indicated their superior size or vigor. This is not a foolish idea; after all, even the most monogamous species, in which every male wins a female (such as terns), are choosy. But it is an idea borrowed from the enemy camp. And the Good-geners can reply: ‘If you admit that our idea works initially, why rule it out later on?’

The second reason is more mundane. Proving the Fisher’s runaway selection could happen and the ornament get bigger with ever-increasing speed does not prove that it does not happen. Computers are not the real world. Nothing could satisfy the naturalists but an experiment, one demonstrating that sexiness of sons drove the evolution of an ornament

….

One other piece of evidence seems to weigh in the balance on the side of Fisher — the phenomenon of copying. If you watch a lek carefully, you see that females often do not make up their own minds individually; they follow one another. Sage grouse hens are more likely to mate with a cock who has just mated with another hen. In black grouse, which is also lek, the cocks tends to mate several times in a row if at all. A stuffed black female grouse (known in this species as a greyhen) placed in the male’s territory tends to draw other females to that territory — though not necessarily causing them to mate. In guppy fish, females that have been allowed to see two males, one of which is already courting a female, subsequently prefer that male to the other even if the female that was being courted is no longer present

Such copying is just what you would expect if Fisher was right because it is fashion-following for its own sake. It hardly matters whether the male chosen is the ‘best’ male; what counts is that he is the most fashionable, as his sons will be.” (145-6, The Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen

Cognification

Term
Adding intelligence to an unintelligent object through the application of artificial intelligence. This can include either narrow artificial intelligence or
Explanation
“It is hard to imagine anything that would ‘change everything’ as much as cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence. To begin with, there’s nothing as consequential as a dumb thing made smarter. Even a very tiny amount of artificial intelligence embedded into an existing process boosts its effectiveness to a whole other level. The advantages gained from cognifying inert things would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than the transformations gained by industrialization.” (29, The Inevitable)
Source
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

Protopia

Term
A state in which the world is progressively becoming better. Kevin Kelly coined this term to contrast his understanding of the world to the dystopian or utopian points of view, which are both stagnant rather than progressively changing.
Explanation
 
“However, neither dystopia nor utopia is our destination. Rather, technology is taking us to protopia. More accurately, we have already arrived in protopia.
     Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better. It is incremental improvement or mild progress. The ‘pro’ stems from the notions of process and progress. The ‘pro’ in protopian stems from notions of process and progress. This subtle progress is not dramatic, not exciting. It is easy to miss because a protopia generates almost as many new problems as benefits. The problems of today were caused by yesterday’s technological successes, and the technological solutions to today’s problems will cause the problems of tomorrow. This circular expansion of both problems and solutions hides a steady accumulation of small net benefits over time. Ever since the Enlightenment and the invention of science, we’ve managed to create a tiny bit more than we’ve destroyed each year. But that few percent positive difference is compounded over decades into what we might call civilization. Its benefits never star in movies.
     Protopia is hard to see because it is a becoming. It is a process that is constantly changing how other things change, and, changing itself, mutating and growing. It’s difficult to cheer for a soft process that is shape-shifting. But it is important to see it” (13, The Inevitable)
Source
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

“Should This Be Built”

Principle
An ethos around product development that insists on only building products that contribute real value to the world.
Explanation
“The question is not ‘Can this product be built? In the modern economy, almost any product that can be imagined can be but. The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’ To answer those questions, we need a method for systematically breaking down a business plan into its component parts and testing each part empirically” (55, The Lean Startup)
Source
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Dennett Reductionism

Term

Dennett Reductionism refers to reducing a phenomena to its ‘bottom’ (as in ‘bottom-up’ design) explanation. It is the tendency of a social science to seek biological explanations, the biologist to seek chemical explanations, and the chemist to seek a physics explanation. Daniel Dennett would call it ‘using a crane’ to provide an account for existence.

This reductionist philosophy stands in stark contrast to those who reduce phenomena to a top-down explanation of its existence.  Dennett refers to this problematic approach as a ‘skyhook‘.

Explanation

“We must distinguish reductionism, which is in general a good thing, from greedy reductionism, which is not. The difference, in the context of Darwin’s theory, is simple: greedy reductionists think that everything can be explained without cranes; good reductionists think that everything can be explained without skyhooks.” (82, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)

Source

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett