"Another post inspired by conversation with David Friedman: Deal with it, haters"
"I bet Robin Hanson already talked about this much more clearly"
I feel like Friedman is confused about a point I've been making about technology and human evolution, so I want to flesh it out a little more here and get your thoughts on it.
Genes are selected by reproducing themselves successfully. David talked a lot in the prior comment thread about what I call a brute force approach to this objective. You could imagine a gene or set of genes that just gets the organism to reproduce early, often, and in large volume. An organism with those sorts of genes would literally be a cancer on the planet, but as we know - cancer tends to do pretty well for itself. Lesser versions of this are out there, of course: cockroaches, rats, etc.
But obviously genes get along fine without this approach and persist using other strategies. Instead of the cancer strategy you could just be good at keeping your host organism from dying before reproducing. You're not going to overtake the Earth, but there's no Charles Darwin Prize waiting for the gene that overtakes the Earth like a cancer. Genes get one of two "prizes": are you around next year or aren't you? There's no valorization of any particular outcome when it comes to evolution except for perhaps whether your mechanism for being around next year helps or hinders you chance of being around two years from now.
There's an awful lot in this world that helps humans survive that isn't directly tied to our genetics. My furnace has done an excellent job keeping me alive this winter, but I didn't and couldn't build it myself - and there's nothing in my genetic make-up that could whip up a furnace back in October to ensure its own survival.
And this has been my essential point - science and technology are generated and distributed according to different principles from genes. In other words I, with my genes, will access technology, survive, and reproduce even though I don't have any genes to pass on to produce that technology myself (I may have genes that lead me to truck, barter, and exchange because that's how I got the technology in the first place - these would be passed on).
David seems to think (and I may be misinterpreting him) that this poses some sort of problem. That we are outrunning the slow process of evolution but that it will catch up to us and the fact that the techie-gene has allowed lots of non-techie genes to persist spells trouble for the whole business model.
I have my doubts about that, but I do think it will dramatically change the way that the human species evolves over the next several millennia.
Think about how humans thrive in the modern world. As I noted before, they thrive by accessing technology (whether that's safe food, medicine, or a furnace). Humans that do this pass on their genes. The problem is, lots of humans access technology and thrive that don't create technology. Will their genes crowd out the techie genes?
Well think about the people with the techie genes. How do they thrive? They thrive by trading their technology and getting the resources to acquire someone else's technology. People with the genes to produce value do well in this world, so the question really is what force is going to win out: the positive externality of techies shielding non-techies from failing to reproduce, or the internalized benefit of the tremendous value produced by techies? Or perhaps that's the wrong way to pose the question since we're surviving in a world of comparative advantage.
It's not a foregone conclusion either way, but it seems to me comparative advantage principles argue strongly in favor of this being a virtuous cycle we've stumbled into. Certainly it has been for the last two centuries or so. But if this is going to last it means that the composition of future generations of humans is going to be substantially determined by social and technological forces rather than genetic forces (or, if you like, you could say that I think that genes that produce certain social organizations will be highly fit in future generations).
Remember, survival for modern humans is grounded in comparative advantage. It's Darwin's Difficult Idea meets Ricardo's Difficult Idea. That means that gene's will be selected in the context of their cooperation with someone else's genes, on the other side of the transaction. All I'm saying is that that's a very different dynamic than non-trading, non-technological species.