Tag Archives: Evolution

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

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

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

Tangled Bank Theory

Term
Theory that offspring are more likely to survive if they are different than their parents. The assumption propping up this theory is that the local habitat a child is born into is often already saturated with genetically similar relatives and it therefore pays to be genetically different.
This theory has been charged with suffering from the ‘fallacy of affirming the consequent’. The counterargument here is that just because children happen to be more diverse does not mean that diversity occurred simply for the sake of setting children apart from their relatives. Diversity for the sake of genetic distinction is not aligned with how life typically behaves: life prefers to mutate as infrequently as possible. Mutation, and evolution, only when obstacles to life’s continuation arise. Indeed, the mathematical odds of a mutation proving beneficial in the offspring of two parents who have survived until that point within their local environment are outweighed by the odds of a mutation proving harmful. It would therefore be impractical for offspring to trend towards diversity merely to distinguish themselves from their parents; the risk far exceeds the reward.
Explanation
Articulation of Theory
“As [Michael Ghiselin] put it, ‘In a saturated economy, it pays to diversify.’ Ghiselin suggested that most creatures compete with their brothers and sisters, so if everybody is a little different from their brothers and sisters, then more can survive. The fact that your parents thrived doing one thing means that it will probably pay to do something else because the local habitat might well be full already with your parents’ friends or relatives doing their things.’
     Graham Bell has called this the ‘tangled bank’ theory, after the famous last paragraph of Charles Darwin Origin of Species: ‘It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” (60, The Red Queen)
Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent Counterargument
 
“The trouble is, all these results are also predicted by rival theories just as plausibly. Williams wrote: ‘Fortune will be benevolent indeed if the inference from one theory contradicts that of another. This an especially acute problem in the debate. One scientist gives the analogy of somebody trying to decide what makes his driveway wet: rain, lawn sprinklers, or flooding from the local river. It is no good turning on the sprinkler and observing that it wets the drive or watching rain fall and seeing that it wets the drive. To conclude anything from such observations would be to fall into the trap that philosopher call ‘the fallacy of affirming the consequent.’ Because sprinklers can wet the drive does not prove that they did wet the drive. Because the tangled bank is consistent with the facts, does not prove it is the cause of the fact.” (61, The Red Queen)
The Lack of Drift Counterargument
 
“The tangled bank also conflicted with evidence from fossils. In the 1970s evolutionary biologists realized that species do not change much. They stay exactly the same for thousands of generations, to be suddenly replaced by other forms of life. The tangled bank is a gradualist idea. If the tangled banks were true, then species would gradually drift through the adaptive landscape, changing a little in every generation, instead of remaining true to type for millions of generations. A gradual drifting away of a species from its previous form happens on small islands or in tiny populations precisely because of effects somewhat analogous to Muller’s ratchet: the chance of extinction of some forms and the chance prosperity of other, mutated forms. In larger populations the process that hinders this is sex itself, for an innovations is donated to the rest of the species and quickly lost in the crowd. In island populations sex cannot do this precisely because the population is so inbred.” (62, The Red Queen)
Platonic Bias Counterargument
 
“It was Williams who first pointed out that a huge false assumption lay, and indeed still lies, at the core of most popular treatments of evolution. The old concept of the ladders of progress still lingers on in the form of teleology: Evolution is good for species, and so they strive to make it go faster. Yet is stasis, not change, that is the hallmark of evolution. Sex and gene repair and the sophisticated screening mechanisms of higher animals to ensure that only defect-free eggs and sperm contribute to the next generation – all these are ways of preventing change. The coelacanth, not the human, is the triumph of genetic systems because it has remained faithfully true to type for millions of generations despite endless assaults on the chemical that carry its heredity. The old ‘Vicar of Bray’ model of sex, in which sex is an aid to faster evolution,  implies that organisms would prefer to keep their mutation rate fairly high — since mutation is the source of all variety — and then do a good job of sieving out the bad ones. But, as Williams put it, there is no evidence yet found that any creature ever does anything other than try to keep its mutation rate a low as possible. It strives for a mutation rate of zero. Evolution depends on the fact that it fails.
     Tangled banks work mathematically only if there is a sufficient advantage to being odd. The gamble is that what paid off in one generation will not pay off in the next and that the longer the generation, the more this is so — which implies that conditions keep changing.” (63, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Life’s Preference for Stasis

Principle
Life prefers stasis. Evolution is not the natural state of life; conditions must be adverse for the continuation of life before it evolves. Without obstacles to its continuation, life will not evolve.
Explanation
“It was Williams who first pointed out that a huge false assumption lay, and indeed still lies, at the core of most popular treatments of evolution. The old concept of the ladders of progress still lingers on in the form of teleology: Evolution is good for species, and so they strive to make it go faster. Yet is stasis, not change, that is the hallmark of evolution. Sex and gene repair and the sophisticated screening mechanisms of higher animals to ensure that only defect-free eggs and sperm contribute to the next generation – all these are ways of preventing change. The coelacanth, not the human, is the triumph of genetic systems because it has remained faithfully true to type for millions of generations despite endless assaults on the chemical that carry its heredity. The old ‘Vicar of Bray’ model of sex, in which sex is an aid to faster evolution,  implies that organisms would prefer to keep their mutation rate fairly high — since mutation is the source of all variety — and then do a good job of sieving out the bad ones. But, as Williams put it, there is no evidence yet found that any creature ever does anything other than try to keep its mutation rate a low as possible. It strives for a mutation rate of zero. Evolution depends on the fact that it fails.
     Tangled banks work mathematically only if there is a sufficient advantage to being odd. The gamble is that what paid off in one generation will not pay off in the next and that the longer the generation, the more this is so — which implies that conditions keep changing.” (63, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Life-Dinner Principle

Principle
The evolutionary incentive for predators to catch their prey is greater than the incentive for prey to get away from predators. While it is true that the prey’s life is literally on the line in the evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, the predator must catch prey to survive. Prey may survive merely being stronger, and therefore a worse target, than the rest of its kin. A predator, on the other hand, will die if it never catches prey. A world in which the prey’s survival capabilities exceed the predator’s abilities is a world in which the predator doesn’t exist. Consequently, if a predator exists, its capabilities must exceed that of its prey.
Explanation
“Richard Dawkins and John Krebs raised one argument derived from arms races to the level of a ‘principle’: the ‘life-dinner principle.’ A rabbit running from a fox is running for its life, so it has the greater evolutionary incentive to be fast. The fox is merely after its dinner. True enough, but what about a gazelle running from a cheetah? Whereas foxes eat things other than rabbits, cheetahs eat only gazelles. A slow gazelle might never be unlucky enough to meet a cheetah, but a slow cheetah that never catches anything dies. So the downside is greater for the cheetah. As Dawkins and Krebs put it, the specialist will usually win the race” (68, The Red Queen)
Source
 
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Principle of Accumulation of Design

Principle
The vast majority of what consider to be a ‘designed x’  is an accumulation of designs that came before that ‘x’. This stands in contrast to the belief that an ‘x’ needs a be produced by a more designed ‘x’. This principle is the foundation of bottom-up design.
Darwinian Explanation
 
“Darwin’s contribution is granting the premise of the Argument from Design… Watches and other designed objects don’t just happen; they have to be the product of what modern industry calls ‘R and D’ — research and development — and R and D is costly, in both time and energy. Before Darwin, the only model we had of a process by which this sort of R-and-D could be done was an Intelligent Artificer. What Darwin saw was that in principle the same work could be done by a different sort of process that distributed work over huge amounts of time, by thriftily conserving the design work that had been accomplished at each stage, so that i didn’t have to be done over again. In other words, Darwin had hit upon what we might call the Principle of Accumulation of Design. Things in the world (such as watches and organisms and who knows what else) may be seen as products embodying a certain amount of Design, and one way or another, Design had to have been created by a process of R and D. Utter undesignedness — pure chaos in the old-fashioned sense — was the null or starting point.” (68, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Psychologist Richard Gregory: “Time’s arrow given by Entropy — the loss of organization, or loss of temperature differences — is statistical and it is subject to local small-scale reversals. Most striking: life is a systematic reversal of Entropy, and intelligence creates structures and energy differences against the supposed gradual ‘death’ through Entropy of the physical Universe” (Gregory 1981, p. 136)
Source
 
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett