Future Human Evolution

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of, for many reasons.

While there does seem to be some evidence of the division into “gracile” and “robust” forms in primates, Oliver Curry mistakenly says that chimpanzees split into robust chimps and gracile bonobos. This is not true. The common ancestor of humans, chimps and bonobos split into the descendants of chimps and a second group that itself split into the descendants of the bonobos and the descendants of the humans. We can see this in the fact that we are more closely related to bonobos and that we share some anatomical and behavioral features with bonobos, though many of our behaviors more closely resemble chimps, while bonobos physically resemble chimps more. So the evolutionary picture is more complex than Curry suggests.

The next bizarre statement, from an evolutionary point of view, is that “human evolution will reach its peak in about the year 3000.” I don’t know what this could possibly mean. Evolution does not have “peaks” in the sense that a species is as good as it gets. Species are always adapting to their environments. Humans are a strong generalist, and we are thus highly adaptive to practically every terrestrial environment. This leads into the nonsense about genetic regression. There is no such thing as genetic regression — there is only more or less adaptive species to their environment.

This then leads me to the issue of evolution itself. When a species is as mobile as our own — especially in the modern world — natural selection as adaptation to the physical environment no longer occurs. What we have now in control is population dynamics, where a genetic change spreads rapidly and evenly throughout a population after a few generations. Now, Curry mentions sexual selection. But I see little evidence for major differences in sexual selection. All the studies that have been done my evolutionary psychologists show that people universally find the same general proportions physically attractive. Globalization is, again, even eliminating many of the cultural differences that may (as unlikely as that is, since those differences were never actually substantial) have contributed to sexual selection. The elements contributing to intelligence, as I noted in a previous post, are so numerous as to make it difficult to determine what combinations are best.

This is not to say that over the time span he mentions — 100,000 years — that human evolution won’t occur. Sure by then we will have colonized the moon and Mars, perhaps even the stars. And one would expect those isolated populations to evolve. But to keep things more down-to-earth, Curry fails to mention another type of evolution. It is a more important kind, and it is the kind that gave rise to human intelligence itself. And that is the evolution of more complexity. It is possible that certain people might evolve to have more complex minds — perhaps as much more complex than humans as humans are over chimps and bonobos. It is unlikely they would appear to be physically any different, as the difference would be in the minds of the people who emerged into the more complex forms of thinking. This kind of evolution seems more likely, and it seems more immediately likely. And if Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan are right, it may have already happened in a small group of people. That is a much more interesting kind of evolution in my book.

Intelligence

In his book “On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins says that intelligence is the ability to detect and predict patterns. I would go a step further and say that the signature of human intelligence is the ability to then create new patterns. If we look to what it is that IQ tests test for, it is pattern recognition. The more complex the patterns are that one can recognize, the more intelligent a person is said to be. Of course, there are many kinds of patterns, and some people are better at picking up some kinds patterns than they are at others. Thus there could be social intelligence, emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence, artistic intelligence, literary intelligence, memory-intelligence, mathematical intelligence, etc. Some patterns, like those in math, are extremely simple patterns — so simple that math is difficult for many people.

So we see a variety of kinds of intelligence. We should also then expect that, with the way we measure IQ, we should see differences in IQ based on the complexity of a society one finds oneself in. People in more complex societies, cultures, and sub-cultures would then test as having higher IQs than do those in less complex societies, precisely because those in more complex societies would be more likely to encounter and have to recognize more complex patterns. Complexity in a society (or in a person’s mind) is something that emerges over time. Some places, due to any number of factors, have more complex societies than others. When an environment changes, a society can and oftentimes will react to become more complex. This helps to make sense of the fact that IQ has steadily gone up in Western countries throughout the 20th century (it doesn’t appear to be the case only because by definition 100 is average, meaning they have had to modify the tests). Obviously, evolution could not be working quite that fast, to make people at the end of the 20th century smarter than those at the beginning. However, I think we can all recognize that Western culture and society have gotten more complex over that same period. People living in the more complex societies, being exposed to more complex patterns, would naturally be able to detect the more complex patterns associated with high IQ. This also makes sense of the fact that IQ can and does oftentimes go up as a person gets older. Some children can see complex patterns right away and easily. Others learn to do so.

Is there a genetic component to IQ? Unquestionably. But with 1/3 of our genes being expressed exclusively in the brain, good luck figuring out what combinations make for high intelligence. Also, the massive shifts and migrations of people throughout history and pre-history, along with the bottlenecking that occurred several tens of thousands of years ago to make us almost genetically identical, makes any racial component to IQ so unlikely as to be almost laughable. Intelligence comes about through the interaction of genes and environment, and the more complex the environment is, the higher the IQ of the people in that environment. As noted, social-cultural-environmental differences are accidents of geography as much as anything, as Jared Diamond observed in “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” As the world becomes more complex, other cultures around the world will respond to that complexity — sometimes by lashing out, sometimes by becoming more complex themselves. But we have to recognize that this is where the differences lie: in our psychosocial complexity. It is that component to IQ that is variable among groups, not genes. The world we live in, and how complex we think the world is that we live in, makes a difference. Individual differences, rather than group differences, may be another matter, as different individuals may be better or worse at detecting patterns, or certain kinds of patterns. And there is certainly a difference in ability to create new patterns. Artists, poets, and musicians aren’t all that common, after all. But my guess is that they are also less common than they could be.

Interdisciplinary Education for an Interdisciplinary World

Part of the problem with education is students do not know what relevance many topics they study have for them.

I remember throughout grade and high school that I thought math to be utterly unimportant and irrelevant to anything I was ever going to do. And throughout most of my early years I had wanted to be a scientist. How could teachers have allowed me to think that math was not important? I did not really learn math was important until I took chemistry in high school. It was only then that I truly understood fractions for the first time.

And, even though I loved to read, I thought literature pointless (it did not help that in high schools they seem to go out of their way to find the most boring literature available –- I learned how wonderful literature was in college, when we were made to read books and stories that were actually interesting). Literature had nothing to do with biology, after all, and that was what I was going to go into. This attitude is not unique to me or to high school –- it prevails in most students, and through college.

It was only later, after I had decided to pursue literature and especially after I started working on my Ph.D. that I began to see how interconnected everything was. For my dissertation, I was able to use my biology (after all, I wrote a dissertation titled Evolutionary Aesthetics), and I further discovered that it would have been a much, much, much better dissertation if I had known a great deal more math (fractal geometry and statistics in particular) and had learned to program (I actually needed to learn how to program much, much earlier than my Ph.D. dissertation, for my first attempt at grad school, but after I dropped out of my Master’s in biology, I didn’t think I needed to learn the programming I had needed to learn to finish my Master’s thesis–wrong again!).

I learned as I progressed through grad school that I actually needed many more tools from many more disciplines to do the work I wanted to do. For my dissertation, I needed to know social psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, economics, linguistics, neurobiology, molecular biology, mathematics, chaos theory and fractal geometry, programming, literature, and philosophy. And I didn’t know the math or programming I needed. I found a programmer, fortunately, but even then it would have been much better if I could have done it, and I couldn’t do the math I needed to do certain analyses to more definitively prove my thesis.

The disciplinary approach to teaching is breaking down. Students are siphoned into what they enjoy, and these same students then ignore everything else, complaining about anything that intrudes on the one thing they want to learn. This kind of hyper-specialized education is fine if all you want to produce is worker bees. But if you want creative thinkers, those who can come up with new things –- the kind of people who will make more wealth and produce more value in and for the world –- then disciplinary-only educations will not work.

What we need is a truly interdisciplinary education. We need interdisciplinary thinking, interdisciplinary classes, and interdisciplinary education. Only an interdisciplinary education will allow students to see how disciplines are interrelated. Only an interdisciplinary education will create interdisciplinary thinkers who can create more value in and for the world. We need chemists who love Bach, biologists who love Goethe, businessmen who love Aristotle. We need philosophers who love biology and business and artists who love physics and economics. Only with an interdisciplinary education will we have people who think this way, across the disciplines, through the disciplines, complexifying their thought so new things can be thought. What would the world be like if our politicians actually knew and understood the economics of Ludwig von Mises, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the plays of Sophocles, the linguistics of Chomsky and Pinker, the novels of Kafka, chaos theory, systems theory, evolutionary theory, the poetry of William Blake, and ancient Greek history? Could interdisciplinary thinking finally give the country great statesmen instead of demagogues? Could an interdisciplinary education create more ethical businessmen, since they would understand that there is not a conflict between ethical action and profit? Imagine a businessman who knew the value of a dollar, of his workers, and of a van Gogh. Imagine what an interdisciplinary education would do for teachers. Wouldn’t it make them – teachers? How can teachers teach when they know nothing? Teachers more than anyone should be interdisciplinary. They should know and understand the reason for having an interdisciplinary education, to understand and know the connections between the disciplines, and be able to help their students understand the importance of all the disciplines for understanding any one of the disciplines.

What is interdisciplinarity? It is not multidisciplinarity, where we have just a hodgepodge. It is not having students doing writing exercises in math class, or quadratic equations in literature class. That does not show students how the disciplines are interrelated. To have an interdisciplinary education, students need to know the value of each of the disciplines, how they relate to each other, the history of the disciplines. Students do not know how modern science arose out of natural philosophy and religion. Misunderstandings of ideas such as entropy make people reject evolution on the argument that more complexity could not arise in an entropic universe, where everything is becoming more random (this is, incidentally, not quite what entropy is about). We need to teach students about systems and complexity and information, so they can see how all disciplines relate to one another. This will give students an interdisciplinary education. And they will need an interdisciplinary education if they want to have an edge in this increasingly interdisciplinary world.

Spiral Dynamics

It seems that conservatives, libertarians, and liberals are all talking past each other. It is as if each group has their own way of thinking that excludes the others –- whether it is because they consider one of the others less complex, more interested in feeling than thinking, or they consider what the others believe to be complete nonsense. If this is the case, is it possible for these groups to be able to talk to each other at all?

Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics lay out a hierarchical theory of psycho-social development that may perhaps explain why these groups are talking past each other. In other words, they develop a theory that explains both the psychologies of individuals and the social structures of individual societies –- and show that different people, and different societies, think in particular ways for particular reasons.

What they –- and I, with some modifications –- propose is that human societies go through spiraling cycles of new levels of complexity, switching between individualistic and collectivist forms of social organization. This is often preceded by individuals who lay the groundwork for the new social organization. And even when one form of social organization is left behind, there are people who continue to think that way. And, to make the situation even more complex, we continue to have aspects of the lower levels holding up the new levels of complexity.

But that is all very abstract. What we need are details. Basically, Beck and Cowan suggest that we start off in survivalist mode –- what helps the individual survive is what we do. This is really the level of purely animal survival: food, drink, sleep, and sex. Next we develop into the roving bands/tribal mode –- this is in the present day both athletic teams and the family unit, and is the kind of thinking we mean by “family values.” This is the level of ritual, traditions and symbols. At its worst, it is the level of racism, superstition, and fear of change. Once this level becomes repressive, we get development of the powerful individual mode – this is in the present day in rock stars and rebellious teens in general, as well as in gang members. In the past, this was ancient Greece during the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Rome during the Roman Empire. This is the time of heroes and strong leadership, storytellers and mythology. To the extent that these two groups exist in the modern world, liberals have a tendency to label them as victims and to try to leap them –- and sometimes those in the next level –- into their kinds of societies. Since you cannot skip levels, since each level develops naturally out of previous levels, this is inevitably disastrous.

The next level is the level of authority and order. This is the realm of modern-day conservatives and those on the Right. At this level, it is believed that the world gains meaning from doing your duty, respecting traditions and heritage, and obeying the religious laws. Conservatives believe in good and evil, right and wrong, in sacrificing now for the future, love and charity, and in patriotism. At their worst, they fear trespassing upon the ordained order, are nationalistic and tend toward theocracy and authoritarianism. Many are royalists and, in the United States, have Puritan tendencies. Historically, this was medieval Christianity and the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

Following this is the development of capitalism and science -– the realm of the modern-day libertarian, or classical liberal. There is strong support for reason and science. Such people and societies are optimistic and willing to take risks and are highly pragmatic in dealing with the world, even if they are idealistically pro-freedom in political issues. Such people and societies support personal rights and liberties, and were responsible for abolishing slavery – the irony of the most capitalist country in the world being the last to abolish slavery does not negate this fact. In fact, Emerson, whose thinking exemplifies this level of thinking, was a staunch abolitionist. Other thinkers at this level include Adam Smith, John Locke, Lord Acton, Voltaire, Machiavelli, and Descartes. At its worst, it promotes deterministic thinking and results in alienation.

Next is the development of egalitarian thinking –- the realm of the modern-day Left. In fact, it was in the first expression of this level in the French Revolution that the terms Left and Right were first developed. It is equally interesting that the Left represented a new level of collectivist thinking beyond capitalist thinking, and the Right represented the old form of collectivist thinking in the Royalists and religious thinkers. At its best, postmodern leftism emphasizes being socially responsible, caring for all people, finding ourselves, and treating workers well.  It promotes pluralism and relativistic, postmodern, multidisciplinary thinking. At its worst, like all collectivist thinking, it promotes feeling over reasoning. And more, having much of its thought based in Marx, it leads to welfare states, socialism, communism, and even fascism, is anti-hierarchy, and supports economic redistribution. It is in fact deeply conservative of its own status quo, and supports anti-free speech codes like political correctness. In opposing free speech and other individual liberties, people at this level tend to be in agreement with conservatives more than they are willing to admit. For example, both will end up favoring anti-pornography laws, but for very different reasons.

Now, each of these levels tend to be exclusionary, rejecting each other. Those above reject those below as being too simplistic, and those below are just plain confused about what is going on at higher levels. But there are two levels (so far –- more will emerge over time) above the egalitarian level –- the integrationist and the holistic. The integrationist is a return to individualism, but it also sees the values of each of the levels below it. People at this level attempt to create a society were all of these levels can work together –- both the individual psychologies and to develop a more integrated society. Thus, it tries to promote environmentalism, capitalism, religion, heroic individualism, and families simultaneously. Beauty, truth, and ethics are united into one way of thinking. Knowledge and competency are emphasized, as are fluid, nested hierarchies and interdisciplinary, chaotic, fractal thinking. This level is the first truly self-aware level, and there is no longer any fear of yourself or the world. Nietzsche may not have been the first of such thinkers, but he’s the transitional figure that allowed for this kind of thinking to emerge. And as for holistic thinking, which is only just beginning to emerge, we have such thinkers as Frederick Turner. Everything is understood to be connected to everything else, there is interest in wholeness of existence, and patterns and living systems are emphasized. Such thinkers are interested in bringing holistic order to the entire society – and thus supports a kind of holistic hierarchy, or holarchy.

This is but a brief outline of how the different forms of thinking evolved. For further discussion of these ideas, you might also be interested in a piece I wrote on it for The Freeman. I think if we come to understand how different forms of thinking emerge, we can stop speaking at cross-purposes to each other. The lower levels are all necessary parts of our thinking, and each level is needed to help us develop a more complex and just society. But conservatives, libertarians, and liberals won’t be able to do it. That is up to the integrationist and holistic thinkers, whose thinking is more complex, and who understand the value of each of the different levels.

Five Models for Thinking

In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates say that he likes dividing things up into categories because it aides in thinking. He also tells us that, like a good butcher, we need to make sure we are making the cuts at the natural joints; otherwise, we just make a mess of things. Nietzsche came along 2300 years later to remind us that conceptual categories are, ultimately, artificial, and that we need to challenge them periodically, and remember that the divisions among things are not really so clear-cut.

That having been said, let me lay out several models I am using that determine my thinking.

1) Information Theory. I support an ontology of information. If something is inform, it has no form. If something informs, it gives form. Thus, information is that which is without form, yet gives form. All things in the universe are information, and the universe itself began as information and continues to exist as information.

2) Chaos Theory, Bios Theory, Constructal Theory and Fractal Geometry. All things in the universe are self-similar regardless of scale, in several different fractal geometries. They exhibit order and disorder simultaneously around strange attractors. Bios theory is similar to chaos theory, but explains creativity in the universe as a product of bipolar feedback (simultaneous negative and positive feedback)–that is, it explains how systems find new strange attractors.

3) Self-Organization and Spontaneous Order. When objects can interact, they will, and when they do, they will give rise to order spontaneously. That order can range from the simple order of a salt crystal to the complex liquid crystal order of a living cell. Complex order requires an understanding of network theory as well.

4) Emergence. All laws of the universe evolved from separate entities interacting to give rise to those laws. These laws act as strange attractors. The result is a new entity the properties of which cannot be predicts from the underlying interactions.

5) Nested Hierarchies. Everything in the universe evolved into its level of complexity from lower levels of complexity. Biology evolved from chemistry which evolved from quantum physics (atoms), and atoms evolved from quantum strings. New levels of complexity arise naturally from lower levels of complexity as the entities of that lower level interact as a complex, dynamic system.

The idea of nested hierarchies comes in several flavors:

1) The physical model exemplified by J.T. Fraser‘s umwelt theory of time. With his model, the timeless level of pure chaos evolved into the probablistic time of quantum physics, whihc evolved into the deterministic time of chemistry (Newtonian physics), which evolved into the weakly forward direction of biotemporality (biological time), which evolved into the strongly forward direction of nootemporality (human time). Each level contains more and more time. And, I would argue, each new level becomes increasingly fractal in nature.

2) The human cognitive and social model developed by Clare Graves. With his model, the pure survialism of animal life evolved into the weak communitarian structures of tribalism, which evolved into the weak individualism of Achilles-type heroism/belief in power gods, which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of authoritarian-religious systems (like Medieval Christianity of modern-day Islam), which evolved into the stronger individualism of the capitalist/scientific social system (the Modern Era in Europe and America), which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of secular egalitarianism (Marxism/Communism, environmentalism, postmodernism), which evolved into integralism, which recognizes the value of each of the lower levels (lower in the sense of being less complex, as each level is more complex than the lower levels), which evolved into holism, which attempts to more smoothly unify all the lower levels. The last two levels recognize the value of complex, fluid, nested hierarchies, as opposed to the egalitarian level, which rejects all hierarchies, and the authoritarian level, which tries to impose rigid hierarchies on everyone.

To have an even more integrationist way of thinking, we cannot forget these four things: I-we-it-its : individualism-communitarianism-traditional science-systems science. And these must be fully integrated into the two forms of nested hierarchy mentioned above (as those two ideas must themselves be integrated).

These are a few of the models with which I am thinking. Actually, these are really just a single model with which I’m thinking. The model itself exhibits all the qualities listed above. You will also find useful elements of my thinking in catastrophe theory (due to its relation to emergence), and the ideas of both negative and positive feedback (and the bipolar feedback of Bios theory, of course). Negative feedback is equilibrium thinking, but positive feedback results in waves such as boom-bust cycle and the cycles described by cliodynamics. And be sure to read up on complexity as well. Knowing what models I’m using should help to make sense of much of what I have said and will say from now on in the blog.