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Hypocrisy Check I | Hypocrisy Check II | Rationality and Population | Nice Articles | Adaptation | Evolution I | Evolution II | Evolution III | Evolution IV | Evolution V

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Hypocrisy Check I
How many children do you have? None. And the fact that I have none isn't as straightforward as it might sound. Years ago, when I worked at a large Midwestern university, an intelligent, attractive young woman introduced herself, complimented me on a recent lecture, and made it clear she was available for a relationship.

A few weeks later she confessed the truth — after evaluating her options at the university and based on genetic considerations, she had selected me to father her child. The reason she came clean was to make the process more efficient — if I understood the true purpose of her visits, she could drop by at more timely moments and stop pretending to have a normal relationship.

The next day, I got a vasectomy. This is a true story.
Hypocrisy Check II
Well, but this happens to a lot of men. Yes, and there are ten times more people than this planet can sustain (emphasis on "sustain"). Many women tend to be egoistic about their children. But after all, you would have passed on your genetic fingerprint. Yes, but plenty of people are having children, in fact more than enough. Also, it's not self-evident that an intelligent person has a greater right to exist than someone with normal intellectual abilities. And there is a genetic principle called "regression to the mean" that argues that my children would probably be quite ordinary (a notion borne out by the families of my brothers and sisters).

I will confess that I find most people insufferably boring, and I would hate to have created children that would bore me. It would be unfair to them. I made the right choice.
Isn't a vasectomy a little bit too hard .. you can enjoy sex without such crude methods ... Not with women such as I described. They're always assuring you that they are responsible and everything is under control, until the day nothing is under control and you are responsible.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Oh, I spaced out the birth control issue just this once" or "I'm late for some reason," and as I became wealthier, such incidents became more frequent. Believe me when I tell you, vasectomy was the only way.

[ Readers who think I'm exaggerating the risk posed by predatory women should read this. ]
Rationality and Population
I had a question/comment regarding your essay on evolution. In the essay, you seem to endorse the Malthusian position that curbing population growth is the only way to effectively deal with several global issues. (I apologise for misunderstanding your essay if this wasn't one of your arguments). No, reducing population isn't the only way to deal with certain global problems. It happens to be a humane way to address human suffering, which may or may not be on a particular person's list of priorities.

We can proactively reduce population through policy changes, or we can watch a lot of children die. Nature doesn't care how we reduce our numbers, only that we do.
I generally agree, but I think you dismiss "Every sanctimonious, green, save-the-whales, recycle-your-cans, wind and solar power movement" too quickly.

If we're talking about resource consumption, population is only one factor.
No, in point of fact, with respect to resource consumption population is the only factor. No population, no resource consumption. Small population, small resource consumption. It's a trivial relationship. The amount a population consumes, and the amount of resources available are also factors. You speak of these issues as though they were interchangeable terms in a mathematical expression. In fact they are terms in a mathematical expression (one called the Logistic Function), but they are certainly not interchangeable.

On a planet with a fixed surface area, most exploitable resources are limited by that surface area. To double the supply of wheat, you plant more wheat fields (where that is possible). Exploitable resources have the property that they follow trivially linear rules — more farming equals more supply, in an intuitively obvious way.

But population change doesn't follow linear rules, it follows exponential rules, for the reason that people make people of their own. The distinction between linear and exponential rates of change is crucial to understand. If you double the production rate of people, the population increases dramatically and in a counterintuitive way (in my article I show this difference with the Logistic Function example).
Reigning in [sic] excessive consumption, and technological improvements that effectively add to the pool of consumable resources also aleviate [sic] the problem. If this were true, the Green Revolution would have worked, but in point of fact, the Green Revolution only increased the size of the original problem. The only way to rein in consumption is to reduce population, which makes your argument circular. To reduce the "excessive" consumption of bread, you can either:
  1. Reduce the number of children born.
  2. Allow already-born children to die.
There is no third option, and for a starving child, there is no such thing as "excessive consumption." At the moment according to UNICEF, about 10 million children under the age of five starve each year.

Digression: I don't normally correct people's spelling, but lately I've been seeing more and more examples of "reigning in ..." instead of "reining in ...". "Reigning" is what monarchs do to kingdoms, while "reining" is what cowboys do to horses. Now that we have more kings than horses, it's obvious why this mistake is more common.
Dismissing other solutions to the problems as placebo's [sic] is probably a little counterproductive. If you understood population mathematics, you would abandon your argument. The lesson of the Green Revolution and its failure is that all remedies other than reducing population are placebos that can only increase human suffering in the long term. Again, I might be reading too much into what you're written, but I get the impression that you believe having children is inherently irrational. It's only irrational if your children, or your neighbor's children, are going to die. Now define "neighbor" in the modern world — because the definition should include anywhere with an airport, to be safe you will need to avoid constructing any tall buildings in your "neighborhood". In short, we're all in this together. true, it is irrational to add more people to an overcrowded world, but most people don't think in global terms. They think at the individual level: "having children will make me happier in the long run". That's not an argument, it's an excuse for irresponsible behavior, but I think you know that. Or even at the societal level: "the replacement reproductive rate is 2.2 children per family. my society isn't overcrowded, so if I have 2-3 children, I won't be contributing to the overcrowding of my society" But there aren't any isolated societies any more, because, to quote Thomas Friedman, the earth is "Hot, Flat and Crowded." And international authorities agree that the present rate of resource consumption is unsustainable:

Sustainability (Wikipedia)

A quote:

" ... there is now clear scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and that an unprecedented collective effort is needed to return human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits."

The authors of this article address the population problem in much the same way I do.
It seems then, that having children you can reliably support isn't irrational. If humans could reliably support our present population, that would be rational. But the evidence is abundant that we can't do that. And world population will likely double in the next 60 years. I agree that the best way to curb population growth is to deal with areas where growth is highest. With whom are you agreeing? I never said or implied this. The position is intellectually bankrupt and ignores the fact that areas with the highest population growth rates are deliberate cheap-labor pools for the First World. They are places where fertility-control measures are unavailable for a reason.

It's easy to say "them" with regard to birthrates, but it's not so easy when your own country's policies are the cause.
I also agree that the best way of doing this is to empower people (specifically women), allowing them to choose family size. I just don't agree with the general characterization of having children as being irrational. If you must watch your own children die, your choice to have children is irrational. If you must watch your neighbor's children die, your choice to have children is hypocritical. See above for a working definition of "neighbor." you write:"She thinks a bit more and says, "If I choose not to feed those starving people, but proceed to have my own children, than I am a despicable racist and selfish hypocrite. So for reasons of personal integrity I will not have any children.""

why is it hypocritical/racist/selfish to have children if you want to, and can reliably support them?
Hey, feel free to live in a moral vacuum. It's your choice. I can't write favorably about evolution, red in tooth and claw, then moralize about a reader's inability to see the point of such a trivial example. On the bright side, your arguments, which are all too common, serve to support the basic thesis of my article — evolution is morally neutral and cares only about who survives.
Nice Articles
I very much enjoyed the evolution article. The one on prime numbers was satisfying too. Both were the sort of thing I'd like to write if I were more knowledgeable. I'm 41 and often still cringe upon realizing what I believed even a few years ago, so who knows, at least I continue to become wiser. I feel the same way about myself, but with emphasis on the first part. I've thought a good deal about how evolutionary pressures affect men and women differently. Dawkins' Selfish Gene provides one example. Female humans are more likely to bear the burdens of raising children because the father is more able to offload this burden onto her. That's species-specific, it isn't universal, and it doesn't address the fact the men and women have the same stake in the outcome. It's more likely that women focus on the specifics of procreation while men go out and gather food to support the process, so women only appear to be bearing a disproportionate burden.

On the other hand, for a man the key is being chosen, while for a woman the key is the birth and subsequent events. So this idea might have merit.
("You left me an angle, I had to play it!", as Bernie Birnbaum says in Miller's Crossing.) Hah! One of my favorite movies. I watch it again and again. The Coen brothers sure make terrific films. In contrast, male fish often end up responsible for the babies because sperm diffuses in water whereas eggs do not, so the male must spawn after the female, and is thus more likely to be left holding the bag. There's a big difference — unlike with humans, the survival of the eggs isn't so intimately tied to the health of the mother. There's little basis for comparing fish eggs and human offspring. Some years ago I ran across another theory about sex in evolution that's very simple and explains much. Oddly, I haven't seen it since. Maybe it's shite. Anyway, in nature, male mammals often have many or zero offspring. As a result of these high stakes, males make a big gamble. There will be some magnificent males but also some miserable failures. By contrast women can have only a few offspring, and thus are better served by accepting normalcy at the expense of a shot at being exceptional. I think this is a reasonably well-established pattern. It also reflects the idea that women do the choosing and some males won't be chosen. Therefore there are many median women and relatively few at the extremes of fitness. This would account for why average intelligence is the same between the sexes but also explain why there are more male Nobel Prize winners and criminals.
There is some evidence for this idea (technically it argues that the I.Q. standard deviation value is larger in men than women), and it's very controversial at the moment. Some people who don't understand the idea incorrectly think it claims that women are dumber than men across the board, and former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers lost his job over it — he stated the theory correctly but was widely misunderstood, as a result he was forced to resign.

The irony was that Summers was misunderstood and attacked by people unable to understand the theory, e.g. the same people the theory describes.
This article explores the depressing possibility that women are simply too sensible to pursue math and science. An interesting position, one I haven't heard. It only makes sense if we disregard the respect with which scientists are held and the advantages of a tenured position. And in fact, at least in in the U.S., scientists aren't nearly as respected as they are in Europe (true about intellectuals in general), and tenure isn't a foregone a conclusion as it might have been before WWII, that is, before scientists were pictured as able to speak truth to power. Not that that is necessarily true, but we're talking about appearances.

On reflection, the idea that women reject scientific and technical positions based on pay doesn't hold up very well, because the jobs women end up accepting are on average even less attractive. I think the explanation lies elsewhere. I think it's geekophobia.
You probably won't be surprised to note that the iron oxide carbon sequestration project was likely a failure. The law of unintended consequences strikes again. I guess we'll have to face the music and reduce world population.
Nice job rescuing your boat self-handedly from yet another completely human set of circumstances. I better understand why you say smart folks are not to be considered a breed apart. Brilliant folks have to work at it unsympathetically, just like the rest of us. Indeed, and more importantly, bright people tend to be somewhat narrow in their views because they're better at argument than their average peers (a well-established paradox). Along that line, I have to ask you about about the relationship of species adaptation as it works within the process of evolution. A former professor recently explained loosely why he believes adaption is valid whereas overall evolution is still "highly" questionable. He flatly believes each organism was created as a one-off design, then adapts accordingly. This claim might only signify that Intelligent Design advocates believe adaptation to be a separate phenomenon different to the in-ordained outcomes possible in Evolution. In other words, because there are certain gaps in the theory's explanation, they feel justified in filling said gaps with the almighty Lord. Most people do not understand how the theory combines adaptation with long-term evolution. Is this a chicken-before-the-egg type question? Okay. Put simply, your professor's position is that, even though a particular species might undergo dramatic transformation as a result of adaptation to environmental changes and competition with other species, any particular species results from creation, not evolution.

So on the one hand, we have the explanation that (a) a new species results from isolation between branches of an original species, to the degree that the branches are no longer able to interbreed (the old criterion for defining species). On the other, there is the argument that (b) a new species appears out of nowhere by the random workings of nature or divine intervention.

Arguments for (a) include Occam's Razor, the idea that the simplest idea tends to be the right one, and the fact that all living species share the same programming language (DNA), a rather peculiar and ad hoc mechanism that could easily have turned out ten thousand other ways but didn't.

There's no good argument for (b) except a certain attractive kind of mysticism. But against (b) is the fact that (again) all living species carry a very strong sign of common origin — DNA. And not just DNA, but certain easily readable patterns within DNA that constitute a roadmap of past events and connections between species. It's a roadmap that, by way of some persuasive mathematics, allows us to say that hippopotami and whales are closely related, and that humans came out of Africa a relatively short time ago and are closely related to chimpanzees.

If it's true that individual species arrive untouched out of the blue and have no connection to other species, then God must has a perverse and ingenious desire to sow false leads and misguide us. It would be a God who created a sophisticated false impression with the DNA that binds all life together, but who also created the platypus.

Your professor's position is actually a desperate fallback position in the face of overwhelming evidence for adaptation as a source of new species, including examples that only require a few years (like the evolution of MRSA, Staph organisms adapting to antibiotics in a short period and easily traced). This evidence is a strong argument for all of evolution including the origin of new species (as shown by the fact that the new Staph organisms are no longer related to the old), except that we have excellent evidence for adaptation at hand, but less immediately accessible evidence for new animal species arising from old (because the time scale is different).

The problem for ID advocates is that scientific evidence persuasively argues for a morally neutral universe where nature is in charge, but our romantic side wants to believe in a grand plan overseen by a benevolent and loving God. Unfortunately, the God of religion is neither benevolent nor loving — those parts of human history where religion has left its mark are more ruthless and bloody than any imaginable history overseen by nature on her own terms.

Those who argue for religion's benevolence need to explain how its most sincere followers can murder doctors, burn down medical clinics and fly hijacked airplanes into buildings. I think mainstream authors on the subject confuse the laymen with long, drawn out explanations for such gaps, which makes it easier for "believers" to distort the ideas. The funny part is that such authors require from science a completeness of explanation that religion abandoned long ago. When there is an apparent gap in scientific evidence, religion rushes in to fill it with metaphysical explanations for which there is no basis in evidence or logic, but much bigger gaps in religious tales are ignored or waved away.

To religion, any missing evidence for evolution constitutes a persuasive counterargument, but these same standards are never applied to religion — that would be blasphemy.

Evolution I
This continues an earlier exchange. I'm hoping our descendants will still be around by then, whether or not they're still human is another matter. This raises the interesting issue of where to draw the line. Some have tried to draw it for the past — some hominid species either is or is not "human" or a human precursor. Maybe we can draw a similar line in the future — what will be the criteria for a future species to be seen as no longer human?

My opinion is that when we evolve to the point where we don't have religious beliefs (or a need for such beliefs) any more, when we naturally think with a discipline and efficiency that only scientists have now (such that we won't call it "scientific thinking" but simply "thinking"), that will mark the transition between humans and the next phase of consciousness.

Let me go further and say sometimes precursors of a future species appear in a present species. How about Einstein? It's fair to say that too much is made of Einstein and he is perhaps too often used as an example of one thing or another (often to his own annoyance). But my point about Einstein is that he was very original and his ideas tremendously influential — and his teachers hated him.

I smile when I think Einstein's teachers couldn't stand him and believed he would amount to nothing.
Evolution II
I think you're attributing some borderline-mystical powers to evolution here. Not really ... evolution created us, didn't it? If so, then evolution can and will create our successors. Obviously because evolution has no preferred outcome, our successors might also be cockroaches. When I think about post humans, it involves (possibly) pretty extreme genetic engineering, or (more likely) a race of machines overtaking us. In essence this argues that extraordinary evolutionary outcomes require something other than natural processes. Clearly not. Evidence? Us.
Evolution III
You sound like you're thinking of evolution as progress towards more complex and smarter beings. Find the quote where I say or imply this. Here is what I did say, a statement you ignored:

" ... because evolution has no preferred outcome, our successors might also be cockroaches."

I included this in anticipation of the argument you presented anyway.
If anything, there is a negative correlation between rational scientific thought and reproductive success. I have to agree this makes sense if we count individuals. If we count influential ideas, we get a different outcome. One can argue that ideas don't matter, only individual survivors, but many of those alive today owe their survival to the fruits of science and scientists. This makes science an environmental factor on evolution's game board. I just can't imagine any natural means to create a strong selective pressure towards creating ubermenschen. I can think of one — an absurdly overcrowded planet, where the only way to maintain the population is through increasingly ingenious ways to circumvent natural limitations (the "green revolution", modern medicine, clean water systems, sanitation). This creates a link between human ingenuity and human numbers.

And the argument against that (an argument I don't claim you would make) is that it represents an unnatural-seeming parasitic relationship between two different kinds of organisms ... but as it happens, parasitism is a very common evolutionary theme.
Evolution IV
There is no link between this and individual level selection for wisdom. Yes, but that wasn't the argument I was making. I'm saying there can be (and sometimes is) a symbiotic relationship between intelligence in a few and the survival of many. It's a delicate, easily disturbed balance, but it obviously works as a survival strategy — we see it all around us. I agree our culture is advancing and a lot of good scientific memes are making progress, but this doesn't necessarily affect genes. Of course it affects genes — the genes of the many whose survival depends on the genes of the few. Surely you don't intend to argue that the only legitimate genetic strategy is one that must affect all individuals in the same way? The many natural examples of parasitism and symbiosis argue against this view.

To demonstrate this, imagine how many people would promptly die if the present technological support system were to vanish — running water, modern sanitation, transportation, division of labor between agriculture and other sectors of society. And imagine how many technologists would die if their services were suddenly no longer useful and they were obliged to become hunter-gatherers overnight. Modern society is an example of evolution at work — weird, but legitimate.
That's something you have to prove, and I think it's going the other way. It's trivial to prove, the evidence is copious. The genes of one Jonas Salk (just an example) result in the survival of 50,000 additional people who would otherwise have died per year (and who did die before the first polio vaccine). The 50,000 don't need to have natural individual resistance against polio, because the vaccine provides it, and Salk (and his genetic endowment) is the source. One can make the argument that it would be better to have individual resistance, but one cannot argue that one vaccine designer and many recipients failed to survive in combination, because that's obviously false.

Without crowding and overpopulation, there's no need for Jonas Salk or the many other examples of technical ingenuity overcoming natural barriers to large populations. For present population densities, both are required, and symbiosis is evolution's answer.

Evolution is something more than individuals being tested against their environment. It can be any number of unique specializations in concert, and a vaccine creator is just one obvious example.

Consider lichens — the fungus can't get along without the alga, and the reverse. It's more complex than simple independent organisms, but lichens are by no means the most complex example in nature. The bottom line is that evolution doesn't care what we regard as "normal."
Evolution V
But you're talking about a race of Einsteins and logical thinkers. No, I'm arguing that a small number of intelligent people might form a symbiotic relationship with a much larger group, and this works as an evolutionary strategy. None of our amazing technological advances has done anything to increase the average genetic potential for intelligence of the human race. I agree, never claimed otherwise. That is a statement about reality, but most of this discussion has been about evolutionary principles. the only way to keep raising the average IQ of humanity will be to change the stuff we're made of ... No. From an evolutionary perspective, the only way to increase the average I.Q. of the species would be for that to be a requirement for survival. I certainly hope we will become more rigorous thinkers in future, but a society of Einsteins is not going to happen naturally. No, unless nature requires it of us. This is the single most important thing to understand about evolution — the only way a trait can become common is under circumstances where nature requires it. This is how we came to be as intelligent as we are — nature required it.

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