Choose a topic

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.


Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
Necessary Illusions
On Affordances
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
Uncertainty and Unpredictability

Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?

Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A society needs a government.
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Family Values
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
Open Society and Falsification
Sex and Gender
Society and The State
Spheres of Influence
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Problem with Hedonism
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

Evolution is not Religion

Religions need magic

Let me state first what I think evolution is.

It is an algorithmic process that has replicating entities, a bit of variation in the replication and a selection pressure that means that some replicants replicate more often. This process happens again and again and again, and after many repetitions the entities are better adapted to the selection pressure than their ancestor.

Daniel Dennett calls this algorithm the evolutionary algorithm.
The evolutionary algorithm is capable of exploring a vast design space and over time finding a design that is marvelously capable of existing given the demands of selection pressure. Darwin first discovered the evolutionary algorithm in biology and called it Natural Selection.

Natural Selection has been confirmed with many threads of evidence so many times that it is no longer reasonable to doubt it.

It is no more a theory than gravity is a theory. Its an accurate description of how one aspect of reality works that is both predictive and explanatory. It is the explanation that turned biology from a categorizing study into a unified science. The evolutionary algorithm is not limited to biology.

Any situation that involves a loop of replicating entities, a bit of variation and selection pressure will see those entities evolve.

Technology is one such area. Clearly machines evolve to become better and better suited to their purpose. But is this improvement really an evolutionary one?

Why not say that the improvement in cars is the result of continuous application of human intelligence to a problem?

First, I think that saying this in no way contradicts evolution. After all, it is human intelligence that is replicating the cars, and dreaming up the variations, and then selecting the best variations for future replication. But in designing cars humans face a problem of finding the best design in a vast design space. Most of the designs in that space are of little use. But since the design process is evolutionary it fairly quickly homed in on wonderful mechanical devices, that are marvels of intricacy and efficiency.

If people weren't using an evolutionary process to develop better cars, if they were just being smart and finding the best design without evolution being involved, then why didn't these smart people find contemporary mechanics right off? Fashion provides another example of an evolutionary situation.

A designer produces a popular new style and other designers try variants to see which variant will be the most popular. But if fashion is evolutionary why doesn't fashion home in on a best style the way that machines home 12in on a best sort of mechanics? Well consider the selection pressure on fashion one of the prime criteria is to be new, last year's fashion is boring, so fashion rewards more radical variation than mechanics.

The thing that works in fashion is the ability to attract attention, not durability and fuel efficiency. But even in fashion, the evolutionary exploration of design space turned up some durable designs. Once high heels were invented no amount of rationalizing about how practical flat shoes are could override the head turningness of high heels.

We see this especially in Second Life where high heels don't extract a discomfort cost, and have therefore become quite extreme and common.

Evolution can usefully inform many things of interest, from how our minds work to linguistics to wondering why our universe has the fundamental parameters it has. We can look at a situation and wonder how the evolutionary algorithm might be involved.

Its not enough to say that 'Its evolution'. Thats just handwaving. You have to show that the elements of evolution are present. That there are replicating entities, a bit of variation in the replication and a selection pressure that means that some replicants replicate more often. If we can't find all three of those elements then invoking evolution gets us noplace.

Another thing to consider is that though our brains may have been formed by one evolutionary process that has given us certain primeval attitudes and though our thoughts may be created within our brains by another evolutionary process (maybe) does that help us understand each other? Not much. We are people existing in the world and interacting with each other.
Thats not an evolutionary situation.

Evolution can help us understand ourselves and our world, but it won't help us understand why some body did a particular thing, or whether something is good or bad, or the meaning of a poem, or the beauty of music. Evolution may help us know how we understand, but it can't tell us what we understand. Evolution is no guide, and evolution is no god that must be obeyed. Evolution is not a religion, its a powerful and useful idea.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.