PHIL: The One Adaptation (WAS: Present Dangers)

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sat, 04 Sep 1999 22:40:33 -0500

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(I'm re-forwarding this to the list - I sent it on Wednesday but it didn't get there.)

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> Robert Bradbury writes:
> >Humans have been selected to be about two things: survival & reproduction.

And yet, we aren't fitness-maximizers, but adaptation-executors, to paraphrase Cosmides and Tooby (from _The Adaptive Mind_ - thanks, Paul Hughes!). We are the sum of our adaptations, and are under no obligation to maximize our fitness. Thus the contraceptive, for example.

We are the sum of our adaptations, and one of those adaptations stands out from all the others - it's the adaptation of reasoning, of representing the logic and contents of the Universe, of believing what's true. In the end this is the only meaningful adaptation; all the others being but shadows of the ancestral environment, causes without goals, mere programs that can become obsolete in an instant with a change of context.

To believe what is true is also the only meaningful adaptation in a greater sense, because, when combined with the adaptation - not fitness-maximizing behavior, but *adaptation* - that allows us to direct

our actions through purposes, formulate subgoals based on cognitive
content rather than instinct, it yields the impulse to *do what is
right*.  And despite failure, and misguided actions, and all the other
obstacles, sometimes that impulse *does* cause something right to come about.

Thus the pattern that is a human - though evolved by a causal process with no concern for truth or right - may come to reflect the logic of the Universe, and perhaps even to serve the unknown ultimate ends of existence; if, of course, any exist.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way