These opinions warrantied for the lifetime of your brain.

Loading Table of Contents...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The River Still Empties Into The Ocean

There have been at least four major transitions in evolution in which individual replicators permanently sacrificed their reproductive interests for the sake of replication happening at a different level of abstraction:

  • eukaryotic endosymbiosis
  • sex
  • multicellularity
  • biological colonialism

A fifth such transition — culture — only got started a few tens of thousands of years ago, and it only got real traction a few centuries ago with the demographic transition. On top of that, two more transitions are stacked up in the pattern and waiting to land: engineering our genes, and engineering our minds.

With all three of these transitions happening at essentially the same time, we cannot predict with any confidence that our future biological history will be driven entirely by competitive replication at the level of individuals, and not at the level of memes or engineered genomes or engineered minds.

Hutterites, Hmongs, and Mormons seems like a pretty sparse set of data points on which to hang a prediction here. The meme-complex of modern techno-industrialism has now encountered scores of distinct societies, and is notorious for how completely it assimilates them. At any given time there will always be eddies in the current, but that doesn’t mean the river won’t be emptying into the ocean.