A Future Evolution?

Dear Gaians,

Have you read "The Lucifer Principle", by Howard Bloom? This follow-on to Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal" continues the exploration into just what is evolving. Dawkins said it's the survival of the genes which is assured, not the survival of the bodies which make the genes mobile. Wright asserted that many of the traits which have been used to "prove" that humans are more than mere beasts can be shown to have survival value, especially for the genes.

Bloom develops the notion that just as genes are the replicators (get reproduced exactly, overlooking evolutionary drift) in the kind of organisms normally studied in Biology, systems of ideas ("memes") are replicators for super-organisms--groups of biological organisms acting in concert to assure the continued existence of the memes.

An anecdote therefrom:

Some researchers began putting a dish of sugarwater outside a beehive each morning, wanting to see if the bees would learn to come back, or would just re-discover the dish each time.

Each morning, they put it farther away from the hive, by a set distance. Imagine their surprise when the bees began clustering each morning. Not where the dish had been the day before, but where it was _going_ to be.

Rloom suggests that this feat of inferential reasoning is beyond the mental capabilities of an individual bee-brain and shows that the brains can work together, as a superorganism, developing thoughts beyond the powers of any of the members and then directing unknowing individuals to achieve the ends of the superorganism. So, he says, the bee doesn't rationally choose to go wait for the sugarwater, nor is it even capable of framing the thought.

"Chrisitanity" is an example of a superorganism (several, really).

I keep wondering what superorganisms _I'm_ unconsciously a member of, and what I'm being programmed to do in their service.

I've also been reading Vernor Vinge, a physicist/science fiction writer, talking about what he calls The Singularity. In mathematics, a singularity is a point on a graph where its future direction can't be inferred from its past. Vinge predicts that within 30 or 35 years, well within the lifetime of most folks alive today, humans will build a computer smarter than any human, and that from then on computers will design their own successors, soon leaving humans in the dust. It stands to reason that the rate of increase of intelligence will skyrocket, since the intelligence of the designers will be increasing.

He says this will be the end of the Human Era.

Maybe this is good news for Gaia. Maybe not. The emphasis as The Singularity approaches will be toward intelligence. There will be no cycles left over for compassion, dignity, even self-preservation. What rude beast may come slouching out of such an effort?

I can visualize humanity fading from the scene much as our hominid ancestors faded in the shadow of their brilliant successors. Asimov used to paint glorious pictures of a future when humanity was served by robots--but these were mere servants. The actuality will be quite different. What will it be like to live as slow-witted children among beings doing things we just can't grasp?

Then I remember the miracle of the cell. I'm no biologist, but I know there are parts of the cell which biologists think might once have had a life of their own. Mitochondria, for example, are little self-motile specks which act as garbage collectors.

Once upon a time, somewhere back in our history, several independent species, mitochondria among them, got together and formed an organism greater than any single one of them. None of them faded from the scene, although as far as I know there's nothing like a mitochondrion among today's independent species.

And one day, some cells got together.....

Might not we and the superintelligent computers of the near future also get together? Maybe we could play Jiminy Cricket to their Pinocchio. Or we could if we knew how to be a conscience.

I'm going to work on getting ready.

- Peter in Arlington

Created: Saturday, February 24, 1996, 10:27:49 AM Last Updated: Saturday, February 24, 1996, 10:27:49 AM