Re: the term "eugenics"

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Aug 24 2001 - 14:22:59 MDT

"Peter C. McCluskey" wrote:
> (Lee Corbin) writes:
> >So since the mindless *always* win these fights, who can suggest
> >a good two-word phrase for a voluntary movement of people who
> >favor obtaining for their children the best natural sperm or eggs
> >that they can?
> How about "sexual selection"? If the theory proposed in The Mating Mind
> is correct, it is already solving the problem that the eugenicists say
> we should be worried about, without any of the risks associated with
> giving a small group of experts authority to decide what is best.

Sexual selection already has a distinct definition. Furthermore, sexual
selection in this technical sense is very often a dysgenic pressure when
considered in terms of environmental fitness rather than competitive
reproductive fitness.

Sexual selection:

        Sexual selection is a kind of evolutionary positive
    feedback that can result in ridiculous and even
    suicidal traits becoming overwhelming evolutionary
    advantages, leading in some cases to a kind of
    genetic suicide.
        Suppose that there's some species - let's call it a
    "tailbird" - that happens to have a small, ordinary,
    unassuming tail. It also happens that the tails of
    healthy tailbirds are slightly more colorful, more
    lustrous, then the tails of tailbirds that are sick, or
    undernourished. One day, a female tailbird is born
    with a mutation that causes it to sexually prefer
    tailbirds with bright-colored tails. This is a survival
    trait - it results in the selection of healthier male
    mates, with better genes - so the trait propagates
    until, a few dozen generations later, the entire
    species population of female tailbirds prefers
    bright-colored tails.
        Now, a male is born that has a very bright tail. It's
    not bright because the male is healthy; it's bright
    because the male has a mutation that results in a
    brighter tail. All the females prefer this male, so the
    mutation is a big success.
        This male tailbird isn't actually healthier. In fact,
    this male is pretty sick. More of his biological
    resources are going into maintaining that flashy tail.
    So you might think that the females who preferred
    that male would tend to have sickly children, and the
    prefer-bright-tails trait would slowly fade out of the
        Unfortunately, that's not what happens. What
    happens is that even though the male has sickly
    children, they're sickly children with bright tails. And
    those children also attract a lot of females. Genes
    can't detect "cheating" and instantly change tactics;
    that's a monopoly of conscious intelligence. Any
    females who prefer the non-bright-tailed males will
    actually do worse. These "wiser" females will have
    children who are, sexually, out of fashion. Bright tails
    are no longer a survival advantage, but they are a
    very strong sexual advantage.
        Selection pressures for sexual advantages are
    often much stronger than selection pressures for
    mere survival advantages. From a design
    perspective this is stupid - but evolution doesn't
    care. Sexual selection is also a Red Queen's Race:
    It involves competition with conspecifics, so you can
    never have a tail that's "bright enough". This is how
    you get peacocks.
        Any time you see an enormously exaggerated trait
    - the tail of a peacock, the antlers of a buck, the
    intelligence of a human - it's a good guess that two
    forces are at work: Competition with conspecifics,
    and sexual selection.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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