How Evolution And Logic Relate: Natural Filtering vs Foresight
Evolution can be seen as a process of discovering logic that works well in a particular environment. But evolution can't see what our foresight can grasp. In some cases the logic inherent in relationships of need (e.g. within groups) can be decisive.
JB: Let’s discuss how evolution and logic relate. Especially how the logic inherent in relationships of need matters in evolution.
Genes always need other genes, and cells often need other cells. Their inalienable interdependence creates a seemingly obvious “health of the needed” logic (within bodies, parts depend utterly on the health of the whole).
Does similar logic operate beyond organisms, in organized groups generally? You’ve called human groups “a kind of organism.” Isn’t their evolutionary fate bound to the health of what they need? Damaging what you need seems logically self-undermining.
DSW: Let me challenge your premise. Multicellular organisms are remarkably robust to many diseases and parasites. They also tolerate a considerable burden of selfish genetic elements such as junk DNA, meiotic drive genes, and neoplasms. Likewise for human societies. Many dysfunctional nations persist despite being dysfunctional.
Here is how I translate between your logic and my evolutionary way of thinking. Your scenario imagines individuals so dependent upon the group that undermining the group would be suicidal. So it’s only logical for a self-interested decision-making agent to avoid undermining the group.
But evolution is not a logical decision-making agent! It is a mindless process based only on fitness differences. To analyze your scenario from an evolutionary perspective, we need to posit an undermining type (no matter how logically stupid that seems) competing with a non-undermining type. Their fitnesses are not different within any given group because they are all in the same boat. But there are big fitness differences between groups that do or don’t contain the undermining type. The logically sensible non-undermining type evolves by between-group selection.
JB: That’s useful. But I’m not convinced it helps evolution evade the kind of logic I meant. Even though some within-group behaviours that harm group health are tolerable, there’s still a level beyond which it’s unsustainable. Groups either (blindly) evolve ways to stay below that suicidal threshold, or they perish sooner. I’d suggest between-group effects operate separately from this “natural filtering,” (arising from relationship-of-need logic).
You’re right to emphasize how evolution’s logic differs from human logic. Natural selection’s blind undirected mutation processes “manufacture” only certain kinds of changes. They’re inherently incremental and path-dependent. But our foresight means we’re not bound by those sorts of design limits (e.g., we can do wholesale redesign or multipoint coordinated changes; evolution can’t).
That distinction between human vs. evolutionary logic should inform how we organize ourselves, in any kind of group (in politics and economics). We need not be blind to how the local incentives of parts can subvert group health/survival (see Markets As Dumb As Trees and Darwin’s Wedge).
For the next post in this diablog series, click here ( Does Division of Labor Complicate Evolution's Trade-Offs).
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.
- During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
- The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
- Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939.
Credit: Library of Congress
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Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.