Stephen Jay Gould and Progress

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 7 Jan 1997 20:14:27 -0800 (PST)

Damien Broderick writes:
>Gould's theme is that natural diversity is usually attributable to nothing
>more interesting than a drunkard's walk away from a wall. Life starts
>simple (against the `left wall') because it can't start any other way.
>Mostly it stays simple, by mensurable metrics. Even now, arguably, most of
>the earth's biomass is simple bacteria. Over time, some variants wander off
>to the right. Humans and other large critters exist off on the right-most
>tail of the curve, but not because there is any `complexification drive'.

I read this part of his book, and it made perfect sense to me. We can
explain progress by the boundary/initial condition without needing any
local progressive tendency. It is similar to explaining the second
law of thermodynamics via initial conditions, rather than to a time
asymetric local law of physics.

Some of our descendants will be gods, not necessarily because beings
on average tend to improve, but just because being a god is a possible
state of being, and there is some path from here to there.

Robin D. Hanson