Sunday, 4 January 2015

Sex and gender will never get old

People seem to regularly declare that advanced creatures won't have sex or gender.

For example, Mark Ridley argued for genderless 'angels' in The Cooperative Gene / Mendel's Demon, writing:

Earthling life is gendered, but this will probably prove to be a freakish condition in life as a whole in the universe.
I'm not convinced. The alleged advantage seems to be wider mate choice. However, that seems like a minor advantage to me - the pool of prospective mates for humans is already enormous.

In favour of gender is the possibility of specializations associated with gamete size. A seed spreading lifestyle and an egg-nurturing lifestyle are different - and they often demand different morphologies. In the organic realm, males are often small and mobile - rather like their gametes.

In the modern world, the "seed spreaders" are marketing and advertising departments. The "egg nurturers" are things like manufacturing facilities. Sometimes these are combined into single, 'hermaphrodite' organizations - but there are also separate organizations devoted to cultural "seed spreading" and organizations devoted to cultural "egg nurturing". Dimorphism based on gamete size occurs in the cultural realm as well as the organic realm. It seems likely that this is a general feature of evolutionary processes.

Recently, Robin Hanson has argued against angel sex, writing:

Second, it seems to me that sexual reproduction is quite unlikely to last. Today when we design software, devices, novels, and even organizations, we are almost never tempted to mix together random parts from different prior designs. Very advanced aliens should similarly design themselves deliberately, without much coin-flipping.
I would classify this as a basic misunderstanding of what sexual reproduction is all about. No definition of sexual reproduction I am aware of says that the recombination involved must be "random" - or based on "coin-flipping". Rather, sexual reproduction involves combining the traits from parent organisms to produce offspring organisms. Once this understanding of sexual reproduction is accepted, it becomes very unlikely that it will ever die out.

Sex reproduction could die out in two main ways: extinction or perfection. Universal extinction is unlikely - and attaining a universal perfect form is also unlikely. In between these extremes sexual reproduction flourishes. A universal perfect form is an unlikely outcome of evolution because the possibilities involved are so vast. Advanced organisms will include enormous creatures that run stellar farms. The idea that these will reach perfection and lose interest in exchanging heritable information with one another before the universe winds down does not seem credible - because of the enormous size of the search spaces involved and the immense difficulty of searching the space of possible genomes even today - when genomes are miniscule.

Sex is nature's masterpiece. It might be fun to speculate about its demise - but - but it is probably not very realistic.