RE: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

From: Emlyn O'regan (
Date: Wed Jan 30 2002 - 20:36:20 MST

I think what Eliezer means is that Alden proposal implies selection for the
"good" of the group. In fact, this is only ever a side-effect of natural
selection on individuals.
In the long run, you'd think that those species which accidentally develop
characteristics that help the species in some overall way (like an optimised
mutation rate), should do better than those which do not.
All thinking about evolution at the group level suffers from a particular
problem... even if there is some beneficial trait that the group should
theoretically adopt, you must always consider whether there is a "cheating"
strategy that individual genes could adopt, which would take "unfair"
advantage of the group strategy, and probably end up compromising it. For
instance, imagine a species which regulates its use of the environmental
food supply by eating sparsely and breeding at a careful rate, and as a
result has continued resource supply indefinitely. That seems like a pretty
good idea. Except that it is prone to a selfish strategy, where one genetic
branching mutates to remove the regulation. It consumes resources and
multiplies much more quickly. This branch would likely be fitter (takes in
more resources), and would become numerous rather quickly, eventually
dominating the group.
There may be a short term/long term problem, too, with the mutation
maximisation idea. There may be many instances where such species are
out-competed in the short term by others with more immediately beneficial
characteristics (even though they may be long term detrimental). For
instance, a species which has a lower mutation rate might not adapt so well
in the long run, but it might have a higher percentage of individuals which
are healthy at any time, thus its population is fitter and likely comes at
lower resource cost.
Also, a species which can successfully spawn mutants at a relatively high
rate has another problem; it's going to end up creating offshoots which
eventually will be different enough that they wont be able to interbreed
with the original group. Suddenly, rather than adapting, this species
creates competitors, as their niches are likely still very similar. On the
level of the group this is bad, on the level of the individual it's good,
excepting that if your species gets outcompeted then your individual genes
are toast.

-----Original Message-----
From: Smigrodzki, Rafal []
Sent: Thursday, 31 January 2002 11:51
To: ''
Subject: RE: The Quest for the Purpose of Life

 Eliezer S. Yudkowsky [
<> ] wrote:

Alden Streeter wrote:
> What makes you think that every species doesn't maximize it's rate of
> mutation? Evolution predicts that there should be an equilibrium between
> mutation rate ensuring maximum variation for potential evolution and
> mutation prevention ensuring adequate health of the population.
> rate is itself an evolved trait.

ERROR 514: group selection postulated

### What do you mean?


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