The Harshness

There has been a self-propelling gore-meme building here about the cosmic butcher’s yard. It might be necessary to scrub that (or perhaps hose it down). Until we’re discussing a nuked butcher’s yard, we’re not approaching a topic Gnonologists should be ready to get out of bed for.

‘Extinction Events Can Accelerate Evolution’ argue Joel Lehman and Risto Miikkulainen (at the link cited). Their abstract:

Extinction events impact the trajectory of biological evolution significantly. They are often viewed as upheavals to the evolutionary process. In contrast, this paper supports the hypothesis that although they are unpredictably destructive, extinction events may in the long term accelerate evolution by increasing evolvability. In particular, if extinction events extinguish indiscriminately many ways of life, indirectly they may select for the ability to expand rapidly through vacated niches. Lineages with such an ability are more likely to persist through multiple extinctions. Lending computational support for this hypothesis, this paper shows how increased evolvability will result from simulated extinction events in two computational models of evolved behavior. The conclusion is that although they are destructive in the short term, extinction events may make evolution more prolific in the long term.

(The computer dimension catches Kurzweil’s attention, but that’s a distraction right now.)

Chronic cosmic holocaust, it seems, is just for the tweaks. It’s mostly conservative, preventing deterioriation in mutational load, through quasi-continuous culling of nature’s minor freakeries. In order to actually up the game, nothing quite substitutes for a super-compressed catastrophe (or mass extinction) which cranks evolution to the meta-level of superior ‘evolvability’. By gnawing-off and burning entire branches of life, crises plowing deep into the X-risk zone stimulate plasticity in the biosphere’s phyletic foundations. As Kurzweil glosses the finding: “… some evolutionary biologists hypothesize that extinction events actually accelerate evolution by promoting those lineages that are the most evolvable, meaning ones that can quickly create useful new features and abilities.”

Or, as the Lehman and Miikkulainen paper explains:

The overall hypothesis is that repeated extinction events may result in increasing evolvability. By creating a survival bottleneck dependent upon unpredictable phenotypic traits, extinction events may indirectly select for lineages that can diversify quickly across the space of such phenotypes. … if radiating through niches generally requires modifying phenotypic traits, then this process of stochastic emptying and re-filling of ecological niches may select indirectly for the ability to radiate quickly, i.e. higher evolvability.

Gnon isn’t Malthus. It’s the thing toasting Malthus’ liver — in the fat-fed smoldering ashes of the biological kingdom it just burnt down.

September 1, 2015admin 16 Comments »

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16 Responses to this entry

  • The Harshness | Neoreactive Says:

    […] The Harshness […]

    Posted on September 1st, 2015 at 2:30 pm Reply | Quote
  • peter connor Says:

    These results seem obvious, if inconvenient for the more “advanced” forms of life. And there will always be the huge reservoir of microbes in the Earth’s crust…


    Posted on September 1st, 2015 at 3:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Says:

    Then there was this:

    (unrelated, actually — but synchronicity strikes again.)

    “Fall out of the sky, O taciturn —
    Where once was might, make silence remain.”


    Posted on September 1st, 2015 at 7:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Aeroguy Says:

    It’s all about killing the pretty spandrels who have outlived their usefulness to Gnon’s designs upon the universe.


    Posted on September 1st, 2015 at 8:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    Evolution is demonstrably not very good at selection.

    It’s just that humans are even worse.

    Notably there is no good reason to care if the human species is removed from existence. Equally, there is no reason not to care. It is on equal status to whether you decide to indulge in ice cream today. A preference doesn’t become special because it happens to be common, that’s the ad populum fallacy. (Though, being precise, it is easy to align incentives and interests on this one…neglecting for now how easy it is to gather stronger counter-forces.)


    Warg Franklin Reply:

    Aggregated preference for personal and kin survival backed by intelligence and power constitute a rather large creative opportunity. Capture the collective output of men in exchange for their collective survival. Is it a big enough power windfall to fend off existential threats like AI? We shall see. Note that this outside view involves no morality, and yet neatly justifies working for the survival and supremacy of (the productive parts of) the human race; you can make a profit if you succeed.

    And of course the monkeys care about their own survival; it’s their job. From the outside of course they may or may not succeed in cooperating to secure it, and Gnon may or may not laugh, but mistaking this amoral out-of-the-system view for something compelling to the monkeys is just a philosophical mistake, not a profound proof of nihilism. From the inside, we’re going to fight for personal and collective survival, and we’re going to feel strongly about that.


    admin Reply:

    Still the case that getting emotionally wrapped-up in group ID (“We humans will survive!”) tends to make people stupid. So it needs watching.


    Exfernal Reply:

    Survival of humanity entails its self-transformation in the long run, either spontaneous (anagenesis) or intentional (cue Nietzsche).

    Frog Do Reply:

    “Notably there is no good reason to care if the human species is removed from existence. Equally, there is no reason not to care. It is on equal status to whether you decide to indulge in ice cream today.”

    Isn’t this abstracting your thought process a bit too much? It seems too meta for me, like the libertarian “take a heuristic and axiomize it”. An inability to affect the extinction of the species does not seem to me to immediately take you to having no preference.


    Posted on September 1st, 2015 at 10:37 pm Reply | Quote
  • Erik Says:

    It’s all fun and games until the “higher evolvability” results in something that’s even faster to evolve itself into current-state-dependency.

    Remember the IQ Shredder? Regular extinction events and rapid adaptation can combine for a similar genome shredder. Keep the ice-age-resistance power around during the sun age and you get outcompeted by those who adapted to the sun age; drop the ice-age-resistance power during your adaptation and you die when the ice age rolls around again. Everything complex enough to have an option on ice-age-resistance dies. The survivors are rocks.

    Cheering for “faster adaptation” comes off as projecting progressivism onto biology. No, surely we don’t need all these old taboos, we are enlightened people living in better times, things have changed, our norms should change…


    admin Reply:

    Arguing ‘should’ with Gnon doesn’t strike me as going anywhere practical.


    Erik Reply:

    I’m arguing (by analogy) with you, and not asserting a ‘should’ myself. Progressives say ‘should’ to conservatives. Progressives burn down conservatives; then the lack of conservatives burns down the progressive house. What does anyone get out of it? A new generation of politicians with the ability to flip-flop betwen progressivism and conservatism even faster?


    admin Reply:

    I’m not sure what you think my ‘should’ is. It’s not really doable even up to Malthus, rigorously understood (we should appreciate seeing more of our children die). Beyond that point it’s utterly hopeless — as if we could imagine some kind of instantiable normative structure tolerant of mass-extinction. We should be ready for phyletic-clearance level die off? There’s no moral imperative that gets close to sucking up to Gnon during a burst of creative inspiration.

    Posted on September 2nd, 2015 at 8:47 am Reply | Quote
  • Dark Psy-Ops Says:

    There’s a case to be made for a domain-general ‘anti-survivalism’ to act as a grounding orientation for a more localized and specific conatus, as reflectively initiated by a ‘toasted Malthus’ Gnonological extinctionism. If anything gets out of this alive its not going to be by the same route as how it got in. Once again, death proves optimal over life.


    Posted on September 2nd, 2015 at 9:08 am Reply | Quote
  • Atavisionary Says:

    It has been shown that stress increases the rate of evolution, at least in bacteria. in E. coli in stressful environments they switch to a dna replication system prone to errors. More errors, more mutations, more evolution. This could also explain why so many independently evolved sex determination systems have a big and small chromosome. The disparity results in hemizygous exposure of genes which in turn increases the rate of evolution on the exposed genes.


    Posted on September 2nd, 2015 at 1:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/09/06) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] highlighting the probability and potentiality for disruptive catastrophes from when he’s actively rooting for them. So far as I know, he’s never raised his hand to cause one though. Also a […]

    Posted on September 8th, 2015 at 6:49 pm Reply | Quote

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