Re: Galaxy brain problem

Hal Finney (
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 10:37:58 -0700

Anders Sandberg writes:
> On Mon, 11 Aug 1997, Geoff Smith wrote:
> > Is it paranoia to think that the universe will only become more
> > Darwinian after the singularity?
> That may depend on the pay-offs: is it more efficient to be darwinian
> than to develop using other evolutionary systems (say, cooperative
> lamarkianism), and does the Red Queen Hypothesis hold (if you are not
> developing, you will become obsolete and raw materials)?

On Nova last night, I watched Edward O. Wilson rave about the marvelous
success of ants. These are social insects, which work cooperatively and
have been very effective in their ecological niche. They have changed
very little over millions of years due to their success, and in many cases
they dominate the ecology at their scale.

The reason cooperation can work despite the competitive pressure of
evolution is because all the ants are siblings, children of the same queen.
A gene which encourages cooperation, even when it means sacrificing in
favor of the sisters, may cause its host ant to die, but save multiple
copies of itself in the siblings. So such genes can spread and thrive.

When we look ahead to an era where people can have complete control over
their reproduction, the question is whether a similar phenomenon could
occur. It makes more sense to look at memes (self-reproducing ideas and
customs). In terms of memetic reproduction, a meme for cooperation and
self-sacrifice could succeed if it sufficiently increased its own spread.

The loss of a host would eliminate that host as a vector for future spread
of the meme. This could still be beneficial for the meme, in a couple of
circumstances. The host's sacrifice could increase the survival of other
hosts of the same meme. This would be directly analogous to the genes
in the ants. In this case, we'd expect to see a meme for cooperation,
but only with other people who shared the same meme. This could be
something like a religion which preached kindness to other people who
share the faith, but not to outsiders. Other social organizations like
clubs or even racial groups could work the same way.

Another way that a meme could benefit from its host's sacrifice would be
if that event led to an explosive spread of the meme, like a plant which
casts its seeds to the winds even as it dies. This might apply to a meme
for heroic sacrifice in circumstances where stories would be told about
the host's death.

One problem with the first approach is the difficulty of knowing whether
another person is a host of the meme. With the ants, they can just smell
each other and they know they are siblings. So the meme might be linked
to some externally visible behavior. There would still have to be vigilance
for "imitative memes" which mimicked the external behavior but did not
cooperate. Such a traitor would be denounced and driven out of the

All these behaviors are actually seen in the world today, to various
extents. It may well be that they will be preserved even in a Darwinian
ultra-competitive future.