Sunday, 14 January 2018

Resource allocation theory

A common class of problems which agents frequently face involve resource allocation. Organisms divide their resources between growth, maintenance and reproduction.

Resource allocation decisions can be fixed or flexible. They can be directly genetically controlled or dependent on cognitive evaluation of circumstances.

To help quantify the resources involved it is often useful to split these problems up so that they can be represented as scalars and visualized on a one-dimensional axis. Seceral such splits will be described in the rest of this post.

First a few words about the "interchangability" of resources. Economists often treat resources as interchangable, since there is a market on which they can be exchanged for one another. However, not all organisms have access to efficient markets. Without these, it might not be easy to convert resources from one form into another. If resources are not interchangable at all doesn't make much difference to most of the analysis on this page. Instead of one resource, this just means that there are multiple resources which can be treated independently. However, in practice, resources may often be "weakly" interchangable, through barter, favors, debt, etc. Or maybe if you don't have enough sodium, you can make do with some potassium instead. While these kinds of complication are fairly common, they go beyond the scope of this page. Here we will just talk about "resources" as though they can be represented by scalars.

A fairly basic split when modeling resource allocation decisions is between self and other. Resources allocated to yourself are often then sub-divided between growth and maintenance processes. Other-allocated resources typically go into a range of processes associated with reproduction: mate seeking, courtship, coitus, parental care - and so on. It is possible to manipulate this self/other axis in a wide range of organisms via dietary energy restriction. This diverts resources into maintenance processes and away from reproductive processes.

Another fairly common way in which resource investment can vary involves the parental investment axis. Organisms face a choice between investing in existing offspring, or investing in producing new offspring. Strawberries, salmon and elms often focus on creating new offspring - while by contrast, elephants, whales and humans tend to invest quite heavily in their existing offspring. The parental investment axis is often referred to as r/K selection, which I rate as one of the worst pieces of terminology in evolutionary theory.

The parental investment axis seems rather neglected to me. Apart from the associated terminological mess, another issue is political correctness. When the topic comes up, it often gets mentioned that the human fertility rate is pretty variable. In Nigeria and Somalia is about 6, while in Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is about 1. After a while, Rushton (1996, 1988) may get cited and then this often leads to accusations of racism flying around. The parental investment axis seems to be a hot-button topic which is difficult for many people to discuss dispassionately.

Whether to invest in existing or future kids is one decision, whether to invest in existing or future mating partners is another, related decision. Males and females both face this sort of decision sometimes - their existing mate may be damaged, old or infertile. Or maybe they became more attractive and can find a better mate. Some female animals carry sperm around with them - for them the issue can be whether to use the existing sperm or to get a new stock.

Another resource-allocation decision involves whether to put resources into reproducing sexually or asexually. Not very many creatures face this dilemma, but strawberries, some aphids and some fish can reproduce in both ways depending on the circumstances. Reproducing asexually avoids the costs of sex - such as the costs of producing and spreading pollen or semen, but also avoids the benefits of sex, such as producing diversity to hinder the spread of parasites.

Resource allocation theory (and optimal resource allocation) also apply to cultural evolution. Indeed these terms are more common in economics than they are in traditional evolutionary biology.

In biology, this topic is often treated as part of life history theory.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Observation evolution 101

I've written some articles about the evolution of observers and observations. Here I would like to try and boil those articles down to some basic bullet points indicating the areas which I think most need covering in such articles. Here we go:

  1. Evolution of observers and observations follows the the same rules that Darwin originally elucidated;
  2. Observation evolution is not a new scientific area requiring new principles and new specialists;
  3. The evolution of observers and observations leads to adaptations and goodness of fit;
  4. The concept of "observation of the observable" is a useful generalization of "survival of the fittest";
  5. The term "anthropic principle" totally sucks: the basic idea has nothing specifically to do with humans;
  6. The terms "observer selection" and "observation selection" do not really delimit the subject properly either: there's more to evolution than selection;
  7. While the topic has previously been covered by physicists and philosophers, most failed to apply evolutionary theory to it;
  8. While "observer selection" is pretty obvious, the idea that observations also obey Darwinian rules often needs spelling out;
  9. Observation evolution is not tautological or obvious - there is real, testable science in the area;
  10. Putting observers and observation evolution at the heart of Darwinism mirrors what happened with physics a century ago.


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Original sin

Today I have spent some time trying to understand the doctrine of original sin. Not because of a resurgence of interest in the memetics of Christianity, but because of an observation in an article titled: "The Theology of Global Warming" linking fossil fuel consumption with original sin. The author wrote:

It was Michael Crichton who pointed out in his Commonwealth Club lecture some years ago that environmentalism had become the religion of Western elites. Indeed it has. Most notably, the burning of fossil fuels (a concomitant of economic growth and rising living standards) is the secular counterpart of man's Original Sin. If only we would repent and sin no more, mankind's actions could end the threat of further global warming.
Readers may or may not be aware that I am not a fan of global warming hysteria. Long ago I identified global warming prevention as a bad cause. It has occurred to me that I may be able to contribute a little via positive destruction. So, I occasionally do things like celebrate the "The Catastrophic AGW Memeplex" page.

The whole business of global warming as a religion of secular western elites with fossil fuels playing the role of original sin and conservation and green energy being the path to salvation seems to me to have some truth to it. Both Christianity and global warming are like apocalyptic cults. Their members are out to save the world. There's even a secular version of hell: Venusian runaway global warming reputedly awaits if we do nothing.

I have some basic understanding of how causes use superstimuli (like hell and global apocalypse) to motivate people and morally-charged sentiments (like original sin) to attract their attention. It is fairly clear that both Christianity and global warming are pyramid schemes of virtue (and virtue signalling), where converting unbelievers is one of the main ways to advance up the pyramid. But how exactly does original sin work? and what can we learn about the global warming movement from understanding it?

One thing which is obvious is that putting a moral spin on the issue gives it salience. If you learn you can save a few bucks by shopping around the corner, you might tell some freinds, but if you learn you have been doing something morally wrong your whole life without even realizing it, then that's a message worth sharing more widely.

Another thing that is worth noting is that the whole scheme works even without any factual truth being involved. Christianity is proof of the concept that the whole "original sin" scam works without reference to truth, reality or facts being involved.

Original sin is generally accompanied by docrines of "redemption" or "salvation". Rarely do you hear that you were born a sinner - and there's nothing you can do about it. Sin is the hook, salvation is the bait. The path to salvation usually involves spreading the word to others - as memetics would suggest is favored by selection.

Deep general theories that explain many phenomena are worth looking into. I am intrigued by these parallels between Christianity and the global warming movement and expect that more can be learned by looking into them. Aside from original sin, there are other parallels with apocalyptic cults in general, including the modern variants that involve "existential risks" and an apocalypse involving intelligent machines.

Understanding the details of exactly how these types of social movement work is a massive challenge. This is just the sort of application which we need a mature version of cultural evolution to help us understand. It is worth digging in a bit, I think. Otherwise we will continue to see massive resource allocation failures arising out of memeplexes that exploit bugs in human psychology.