Future Fitness

Any particular brain admits but a subset of instincts and behaviors that might arise in the totality of brains. Some brains admit an instinct for killing rabbits by neck-snapping, others can learn to retrieve dead waterfowl, some can master trapping by reading books. Some human instincts, selected in environments that no longer obtain, are today of potentially dubious, even negative utility. After generations of supersession by novel instincts or learned behaviors, these detrimental ones will perhaps atrophy or even disappear. The abilities needed for future advances may depend on genetically embodied learning instincts affording origination, transfer, exploitation, and defense against memes, the molecules of cultural transmission.

Obviously, different brains are better or worse than others at different subjects. Consider the ability to manipulate quantum mechanics and/or general relativity, the current extremes of our ability to comprehend what appears to be basal reality. Facility with abstract conceptualization and imagination, aligned with analogical reasoning is presently what is needed to excel at these two learned behaviors. Various people hit abstraction ceilings at various levels, for various reasons, maxing out at, say, algebra, trig, calculus, programming, etc.

Although able to calculate abstruse physics results, our brains were originally selected for handling the apparent physics of the mundane world, utilizing neural networks to rapidly simulate differential equations and game theory (walking, throwing, evading). Alas, these networks do not provide an instinctive ability to do integration by parts or find roots of unity. One reason math and science are “so hard” is the difficulty in setting aside instinctual physics for Newtonian, then setting that aside when necessary to exploit QM and GR.

Imagine, then, a world in which people have been uplifted and educated to the point where all brains able to handle intellectual physics can be so trained. A world in which the educated mustn’t constantly roll their eyes at or waste their time with the pitiable failings of the populist unfortunate. A world in which the greatest proportion of people who can rise beyond the highest abstraction ceilings is available and eager to so rise. Here I am unavoidably US-centric: metaphorically this might be something akin to bestowing upon all, worldwide, the privileges that were available mainly to white male geeks of the baby boom generation. Potentially this think force would be able to marshal the cognitive power needed to advance civilization towards an ever-improving environment for ethical self-actualization.

In such a world, fantasies such as establishing off-world settlements would be much less burdensome to both the stayers and the goers. These expanding far-flung societies might even become self-sustaining eventually, perhaps subject to selection pressures imbuing their descendants’ brains with an instinctive physics more suited to their environment, after a hundred thousand years or so even displacing the innate “cartoon physics” of yesteryear (to them: to us, presentyear) with variants making it easier to conceptualize QM and GR at their parents’ knees rather than in grad school.

Such an advanced intellectual basis might promote transcendence of currently unimaginable abstraction ceilings, helping our descendants get even better at as-godness.