Category Archives: Principles

Sparsensess Principle

Principle
“The Sparseness Principle: When relatively simple processes produce similar things, those things will tend to be identical!” (Communication with Alien Intelligence)
“Whenever two relatively simple processes have products which are similar, those products are likely to be completely identical” (130, Darwin’ Dangerous Idea)
Explanation
“Consider the set of possible processes, which Minsky interprets a lá  the Library of Babel as all permutations of possible computers….Except for a Vanishing few, the Vast majority of these processes ‘do scarcely anything at all.’ So if you find ‘two’ that do something similar (and worth noticing), they are almost to be bound to be one and the same at some level of analysis.” (130, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

The Organism’s Greater Good

Principle
When a group of self-interested individuals has selfish interest in seeing that instances of selfishness get punished. An individual displaying selfish behavior will be punished those whose self-interest is negatively affected by his selfish behavior.
Explanation
“Yet these phenomena are rare. What stops the mutiny? Why do segregation distorters, B chromosomes and cancer cells not succeed in winning the contest? Why does harmony generally prevail over selfishness? Because the organism, the coagulation, asserts its greater interest. But what is the organism? There is no such thing. It is merely the sum of the selfish parts;; and a group of units selected to be selfish cannot surely turn altruistic.
     The resolution of this paradox takes us back to the honey bees. Each worker bee has a selfish inter in producing drones; but each worker equally has a selfish interests that no other worker produce drones. For every self drone-producer there are thousands of bees with a selfish interest in preventing drone production. So a bee hive is not, as Shakespeare thought, a despotism, run from above. It is a democracy, in which the individual wishes of the many prevail over the egoism of each” (33, The Origins of Virtue)
Source
The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley

Groupishness

Term
The integrity of the whole being defended by repressing the mutiny of individuals.
Explanation
“The lack of nepotism makes the analogy between people and social insects faulty. Far from embracing vicarious reproduction, we seem to go to great lengths to avoid it. But it does not affect the analogy with chromosomes, which are even more egalitarian about reproduction. Chromosomes may not be altruistic — the do not surrender their right to replicate — but they are something other than selfish. They are ‘groups’: they defend the integrity of the whole genome, suppressing selfish mutinies by individual genes.” (40, The Origins of Virtue)
Source
The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley

Division of Labor

Principle
When members of a group specialize at tasks that would be normally be pursued by each individual separately, the aggregate task output of the group specializing at tasks will be greater than the task output of a group that chose not to specialize at tasks.
Explanation
“Somebody not trained in pinking could probably only make one pin a day, and even when practised he would only be able to make twenty or so. Yet, dividing labour between pin-makers and non-pin-makers and by further dividing the task of pin manufacture between a number of specialist trades, we vastly increase the number of pins that can be made by each person. Ten people in a pin factory could and did, said Smith, produce 48,000 pins a day. To buy twenty pins from such a factor therefore costs only 1/240 of a man-day, whereas would have taken a purchaser a whole day at least to make them himself.
     The reasons for this advantage, said Smith, lay in three chief consequences of the division of labour. By specializing in pin-making, the pin-maker improves his dexterity at pin-making through practice; he also saves the time that would otherwise be spent switching from task to task; and it pays him to invent, buy or use specialized machinery that speeds up that task” (42, The Origins of Virtue)
Source
 
The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley

Ridley’s Intelligence Hypothesis

Principle

Matt Ridley describes how sexual selection could lead to an increase in neoteny which leads to disproportionately bigger brains. Disproportionately larger brains led to longer childhoods which led to an increase a monogamy. An increase in male monogamy led to greater choosiness in females which led to a doubling down on the male selection of younger woman and an even greater increase in neoteny.

As neoteny and monogamy positively fueled the development the brain, it better enabled the Machiavellian Hypothesis and Geoff Miller’s Theory on the Development of Intelligence.

Explanation

“I believe that Miller’s tale deserves a special twist from the neoteny theory (although he’s not convinced). The neoteny theory is well established among anthropologists. And the notion of human monogamous child rearing is established among sociobiologists. Nobody has yet put the two together. If men began selecting mates that appeared youthful, then any gene that slowed the rate of development of adult characteristics in a woman would make her more attractive at a given age than a rival. Consequently, she would leave more descendants,, who would inherit the same gene. Any neoteny gene would give the appearance of youthfulness. Neoteny, in other words, could be a consequence of sexual selection (by enlarging the brain size in adulthood), it is to sexual selection that we should attribute our great intelligence.” (342, The Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

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

 

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

“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

The Baldwin Effect

Principle
Individuals can change the conditions of competition for their own offspring by the parents solving problems within their lives that their offspring will later face in their lives. Parents can affect the phenotype of their child by passing their learned behavior on. When a species finds a particular behavior compelling, it will begin to select for individuals that possess the genotypes that best enable them to engage in that learned behavior.
Over time, the changes in behavior, which affects the phenotype, will begin to direct the development of the genotype. In this manner, creatures that are capable reinforced learning will not only have greater freedom to affect their phenotype but will see their genotypes change more rapidly than creatures that are not capable of reinforced learning.
Explanation
“Baldwin was an enthusiastic Darwinian, but he was oppressed by the prospect that Darwin’s theory would leave the Mind with an insufficiently important and originating role So he set out to demonstrate that animals, by dint of their own clever activities in the world, might hasten or guide the further evolution of their species. Here is what he asked himself: how could it be that individual animals, by solving problems in their own lifetimes, could change the conditions of competition for their own offspring, making these problems easier to solve in the future?”(77, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Consider a population of a species in which there is considerable variation at birth in the way their brains are wired up. Just one of the ways, we suppose, endows it possessor with a Good Trick — a behavioral talent that protects it or enhances its chances dramatically…
Those few individuals in the population that are lucky enough to have the Good Trick genotype will typically have difficulty passing it on to their offspring, since under most circumstances their chances of finding a mate who also has a Good Trick genotype are remote and miss as good as a mile.
     But now we introduce just one ‘minor’ change: suppose that although the individual organisms start out with different wirings (whichever wiring was ordered by their particular genotype or genetic recipe)…they have some capacity to adjust or revise their wiring, depending on what they encounter during their lifetimes. (In the language of evolutionary theory, there is some ‘plasticity’ in their phenotypes. The phenotype is the eventual body design created by the genotype in interaction with environment. Identical twins raised in different environments would share a genotype but might be dramatically different in phenotype.) Suppose, then, that these organisms can end up, after exploration, with a design different from the one they were born with. We may suppose their explorations are random, but they have an innate capacity to recognize (and stay with) a Good Trick when stumble upon it. Then those individuals who begin life with a genotype that is closer to the Good Trick genotype — fewer redesign steps away from it — are more likely to come across it, and stick with it, than those that are born with a faraway design.
     This head start in the race to redesign themselves can give them the edge in the Malthusian crunch — if the Good Trick is so good that those who never learn it, or who learn it ’too late,’ are at a severe disadvantage. In populations with this sort of phenotype plasticity, a near-miss is better than a mile….
     In the long run, natural selection — redesign at the genotype level — will tend to follow the lead of and confirm the directions taken by individual organisms’ successful explorations — resign at the individual or phenotype level.
     The way I have just described the Baldwin Effect certainly keeps Mind to a minimum, if not altogether out of the picture; all it requires is some brute, mechanical capacity to stop a random walk when a Good Thing comes along, a minimal capacity to ‘recognize’ a tiny bit of progress, to ‘learn’ something by blind trial and error. In fact, I have put it in behavioristic terms. What Baldwin discovered was that creatures capable of ‘reinforcement learning’ not only do better individually than creatures that are entirely ‘hard-wired’; their species will evolve faster because of its greater capacity to discover design improvements in the neighborhood.” (77-79, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett