Evolving beyond genes

For Johan,

It is widely accepted that we humans evolved via accumulating genetic mutation for the majority of our evolutionary history. Only until very recently after we learn to acquire knowledge, initially through customs and rituals and later through codification (in recorded forms) that we start to evolve via means other than genetic mutation. With the acquisition of knowledge and subsequent manipulation of knowledge to generate a particularly consequential type of knowledge, namely “ideas” human begins to interact with the environment in ways that is different to how their gene have drive them. That was a mouthful, let me unpack it.

Our genes not only determines our anatomy, it also affect our behavior towards our environment. For example when a humans stand on the edge of a cliff, that human will instinctively incline to walk back and for most cases males instinctively prefer to cosy up with a female than another male.

With ideas, humans can develop new ways to interact with the environment. These kind of interaction range from making sophisticated stone tools to building a supercomputer.

Now let me go back and explain why i refer to human knowledge development as a form of evolutionary process. This is because human knowledge development (“adaptation” is probably a more accurate word instead of “development”) is driven by the same evolutionary process as genes, namely heritability, variation and selection. In the case of knowledge, scientist use the word meme to describe the knowledge equivalent of gene. Driven by humans interaction with memes, memes are copied from carriers of memes such as people, customs, rituals, books and other media to other carriers. Variation occurs when memes is not accurately pass on from carrier to carrier or when new memes interact with other existing meme in a human carriers mind (creating new idea or knowledge). Through selection pressure, memes that is either difficult to co-exist with other memes, difficult to be copied or unattractive will eventually decrease in population and make room for other memes. It is through this process memes spread and evolve. As memes evolve, humans gain the benefits of increasingly sophisticated memes that give us incredible power to manipulate our environment. Going to the moon for example.

In morden times, memes rather than genes accounts for almost all of our adaptive capacity. Furthermore due to the nature of our economy (we really value innovation) and information technology the proportion of our adaptation by memes is growing even more. This does not mean that we are no longer evolving genetically, we still are (eg: here and here), in fact genes and memes coevolve, its just that memes evolve faster and have larger impact. There can also be other form of human adaption, like accumulation of change we have done to the environment. I decide not to dwell to much on it, because it is largely a manifestation of our memes.

I hope that answers your questions, and its not too dry.


Message from the Previous Universe

Big Crunch During the Q&A session of his talk on how the internet will save the human civilization, David Eagleman, a polymath, told the audience an intriguing premise for his next novel. His premise is base on the cyclical model of the universe, which suggest that we are in an expanding universe that will eventually be pull back by gravitational force and collapse into a singularity (aka big crunch). At the state of singularity, there will be enough energy to cause the next big bang and crease a subsequent universe, leading to an infinite series of finite universes (watch Eagleman talk about his premise here, starting from 1:36:20).

Assuming this theory is correct then that means it is possible for civilizations unimaginably ahead of ours to exist in the previous universe. what if, that civilization wanted to send a message to the next universe. How would they do it? what message would they send? and how will us be able to read it?

Wow, what an intriguing thought experiment. I took on the challenge, immediately. How would they send us the message? The previous civilization has to be very powerful. They are able to freely manipulate the universe within the confine of the fundamental force (they would have unified what we know as strong, weak, gravity and electromagnetic forces). It is likely that they have also received and decipher messages from their own preceding universe. They understand that the singularity that initiated the next big bang is their only connection to our universe. so their message has to persist through both their big crunch and our big bang until there is a civilization sophisticated enough to decipher it. Arm with their power and intellect, they configured all the matter in their universe so when it collapse it will create a designed singularity of near infinite complexity. This singularity, will explode to form stars and planet according to their design. So that one day our civilization will look up the sky and understand their message to us. Yes thats right, our night sky are the answer to our search for advanced extraterrestrial beings. In their design, there are numerous planet spread across the cosmos that is capable of conceiving and sustain live to increase the likelihood of advanced civilization. For it is extremely difficult to determine when (if it does) will life (replicators) emerge from the primordial soup of planets, and whether it will evolve into technologically advanced civilization (as advancement in the technological sense is not determined). The message will therefore have to be readable from any corner in the cosmos, at anytime during the life span of the universe. One conceivable way to achieve this is for the message to be encompass not only all the stars, planet but also time. It will indeed be a 4 dimensional message only decipherable when we map out the locations of all the stars and planet from the big bang and big crunch, from this information we will infer the message from the previous universe.

What message would they send? To contemplate this question, we much start with what we can safely assume about them, which is they are survivors and want to continue to survive, even beyond the existence of their own universe. They have to be, for without the survival instinct they wont survive to develop advance technology to send us the message in the first place. So we can be sure that part of the message will be their request for and the information required to recreate them. To make sure that we are not hesitant to recreate them, due to fear of alien life, they will convince us that they are of peaceful nature and has no intention to cause harm. They will further entice us with offer of the most advance knowledge and technology accumulated from their universe and very possibly many before. This technology will allow us to manipulate the universe as we see fit. We will be able to send our message along with their so that we too can be recreated in the next universe. They, of course, are fully aware of our prevalent survival instinct. Although suspicious of their intentions, we will nevertheless accept their request and enact on it hastily. Why? Because we are afraid, not of them but the possibility that other intelligent civilization may also have decode the message and planing to transform our habitat into message of others. This has been their plan all along to not rely on a few but many civilization. They know all too well the threat of extinction by others will compel even the most suspicious, for survival is the greatest incentive of all.

Why boys pay more?

What cause a society to have, in general, boys who lavish time and money (ie resources) on to girls and get much less in return?

I can think of cause that falls under two categories, namely economical and biological.

Oversupply male or shortage of female will lead to stronger competition among the boys (compare to competition on the girls side). This is obviously. But what may contribute to the oversupply of males? I offer these scenarios:
A: There are more mate seeking males than females, leading to oversupply of males. (Many reasons can cause this: higher female mortality rate, more boys willing to move to big cities than girls leading to oversupply of boys in big cities, etc).
B: More selective boys (eg. they all only want certain types of girls). This will reduce the number of “desired” female thus effectively causing female shortage.
C: Boys cheats more. For every boy who cheats there is an extra supply of boy, effectively causing oversupply.

Biological cause are well known (i think). i cannot do justices here in a short blog post, but it goes something like this:
Females contributes far more than males in the act of procreation. Female eggs cost more than male sperm, females nutrition are directly siphon off her by the offspring during and after pregnancy (milk). Because of the overwhelming cost to her in the act of procreation, and her reliance on her partner to feed and care for her during and after pregnancy she needs to avoid bad partners who runs off after conception.
So it become a good evolutionary strategy for her to demand “down payment” in the forms of food and other resources before conception. It is more than probable that this courtship behavior from our evolutionary past still linger in modern societies today.
Update: the risk of unwanted pregnancy and violent (rape) may also cause girls to be less incline to have sex or go on a date with a physically stronger, unfamiliar man, respectively. It is therefore foreseeable for girls to be pay less for dates in order to compensate for the risk.

Note: i though about taking differentiation of income between the sexes into consideration, where if boys general make more money than girls, it is likely that boys will spend more on a date with a girl. I decided to leave it out because, i want to concentrate on male-female asymmetric contribution to the relationship. It is arguably not asymmetrical when the boys spends more in proportion to their extra income.
I also contemplated on adding a “cultural” reason to the asymmetric contribution (eg being a “gentlemen”). However, its difficult to tell if the cultural reasons are not simply manifestation of the underlining economical or biological reasons already stated above. I therefore left them out. Even though there are probably evolutionary foundation to the economical cause i stated above as well.

CIA’s data on sex ratio of most countries

Financial crisis from an historic perspective

According to this guy; In order to avoid another great depression US set up  regulation to forbid investment banks from gambling with household savings then which was later deregulated to help American banks to compete with German banks, which then let to more competition; eventually banks were force to putting household saving into riskier investment that bubbled and blow up on all our faces.

And evolution history of the global financial system from this guy.

Good stories.