Sunday, 10 February 2013

Value in Universal Darwinism

Universal Darwinism leads to some ideas about values, goals and optimization targets:

  • All values are based on copying with variation and selection;
  • Adaptive evolution results in goal-directed systems.
The basic idea that values and evolution are intimately linked. Values come from evolution, and evolution produces values.

To expand on these ideas:

Copying-with-variation and selection is the basis of all non-trivial optimization processes

Trivial optimization processes include things like random search and exhaustive search which maintain little or no state between trials.

The basic idea is that all values come from evolving systems. Everyone is familiar with goal-directed behaviour that comes from genes. Much animal behaviour fits into this category. Another source of human goal-directed behaviour is memes. Catholic priests are typically not helping their genes to reproduce, it's memes that they labour for. The third main source of goal-directed behaviour is copied structures within minds - which can result in behaviour that produces pleasure, but is non-adaptive for memes and genes.

Note that the copying need not only consist of previously-successful solutions. Information about failures and mistakes could also be copied.

This is not a new idea - for example here's Evan Louis Sheenan in The Laughing Genes (page 79):

I want to make the point that survival, especially for our replicators, is necessarily at the root of all our oughts.


Replicator survival is the fundamental principle from which we derive all our oughts, even though it may not seem at all obvious to us.

The second part of the thesis is:

Cumulative evolutionary processes result in goal-directed systems

Cumulative evolution is the opposite of devolution. It's the sort of evolution that results in adaptive complexity - rather than the degeneration and eventual death that results from too-high a mutation rate.

In general, all adaptive evolution encourages variants which act as-though they have the goal of propagating themselves.

These ideas propose an intimate link between value and copying in a wide range of optimization processes. They link morality and ethics, evolutionism, and optimization strategies.

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