Why Scientific Achievements Might ACTUALLY Be USELESS for Humans | Richard Dawkins on Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu

Key Takeaways

  • The capabilities of our mind are beyond natural selection and what is necessary for our survival
    • The ability to think, reason, and be intelligent could have been an apparatus for out-performing rivals and sexual attraction
  • Dawkins believes the hard problem of consciousness is the biggest mystery
    • Dawkins dismisses panpsychism as a plausible interpretation of reality
    • For Dawkins, it is more probable that consciousness is a grand manifestation of neurons interacting with each other
  • “There could be billions of independently arisen life forms dotted around the universe but so widely scattered that none of them ever encounter any of the others” – Richard Dawkins
  • It is probable that the origin of life is not a highly improbable event, but something that chemistry students will soon discover and explain
  • Today, we can extract a gene similar to how we take a sequence of program instructions (e.g., subroutine) in machine coding and place it inside any other program
    • This is what we already do with plants and animals
  • What was once an ethical dilemma among the philosophers, the trolley problem- is now a dilemma for engineers that build self-driving cars
  • “Cultural evolution is a real phenomenon, it really looks like evolution, it really has the same progressive qualities as evolution does” – Richard Dawkins
  • In human culture, memes are anything that is copied from one brain to another
    • It might be a unit of selection. Think about a catchy tune that you whistle
    • This is a hypothesis that cultural replicators might be units of Darwinian selection in the same way genes are; that would mean that memes are evolutionary

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Richard Dawkins (T: @RichardDawkins and IG: @richard_dawkins) is an evolutionary biologist and a writer, well-known for public endorsement of science, critique of intelligent design, and atheistic stances
    • Richard Dawkins joins Tom Bilyeu on the Impact Theory podcast to talk about the role of science and evolutionary theory in human culture
    • Check out Richard Dawkins’ website
  • Host: Tom Bilyeu (@TomBilyeu)

Human Mind and Evolution

  • The emergent properties that are not the product of evolutionary survival are the properties of the human mind
    • The capabilities of our mind (especially in science and technology) are beyond natural selection and what was necessary for our survival
    • It is analogous to the evolution of computers; what were once calculating machines, later became capable of simulation artificial intelligence, playing chess, etc.; but their fundamental structure remained the same
  • It is hard to see why our brain developed beyond what was necessary for our survival; part of it is accidental
    • The ability to think, reason, and be intelligent could have been an apparatus for out-performing rivals and sexual attraction

Evolution of Sexual Selection

  • Sexual selection was a controversial matter in the history of evolutionary theory
    • It began with a disagreement between Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (co-discoverer of natural selection)
    • Darwin believed that females simply liked certain male features for aesthetic reasons
    • Wallace believed there had to be a utilitarian function for sexual selection, Darwin’s explanation was too ambiguous and mystical for his taste
    • E.g. There must be a pragmatic reason peacock tails attract peahens
  • The modern study of sexual selection divided between the followers of Darwin and those of Wallace
  • Ronald Fisher’s research attempts to mend the dispute between Darwin and Wallace
    • There is a genetic value in female preference for certain male features
    • Females genetically evolved to like certain features in males
    • And in parallel to that, males evolved to fit in with what the females preferred
  • The followers of Wallace still believe there is some sort of utilitarian functionalism behind sexual selection (e.g. extravagance of a peacock’s tail could be an indicator of health)
    • What is health in that context?
    • It means freedom from bacteria, viruses
    • Diarrhea would be an indicator of poor health
    • Long-tail might become dirty if you had diarrhea

Two Biggest Mysteries for Dawkins

  • Dawkins believes the hard problem of consciousness is the biggest mystery of them all
  • Second to this is the origin of life or the origin of genetics
    • Dawkins believes this to be a much less difficult problem than the evolution of subjective consciousness
    • Science understands everything that has happened once DNA is in place. The mystery is the first step before DNA, the origin of genetics
    • This is a question for the science of chemistry
  • We can not rule out the possibility that we are a unique species, that this is the only planet in the universe where this kind of life happened
    • That would mean that the origin of life is a staggeringly improbable event and we could not research it properly
    • “There could be billions of independently arisen life forms dotted around the universe but so widely scattered that none of them ever encounter any of the others” – Richard Dawkins
    • It is a possibility, but according to Dawkins, it is not the case
  • It is probable that the origin of life is not a highly improbable event, but something that chemistry students will soon discover and explain

Hard Problem of Consciousness

  • Dawkins sees this as a more complicated problem than the origin of life
  • Tom is intrigued by the idea of panpsychism, a belief that mentality is a fundamental feature of reality
    • This means that every particle in the universe holds a part of consciousness
    • Dawkins dismisses panpsychism as a plausible interpretation of reality
    • It is not helpful to say that, for e.g. every grain of sand, or every atom, is conscious
  • For Dawkins, it is more probable that consciousness is a grand manifestation of neurons interacting with each other
  • “It’s got to be a manifestation of great complexity of interacting units. No one of which is conscious in itself, but when you put them together, consciousness emerges from the interactions among them”– Richard Dawkins

Computer Coding and DNA

  • Richard Dawkins used to do computer programming, i.e. coding
  • Why is DNA like computer code?
    • In computers, it is all binary (0 and 1, two different states), and in DNA it’s quaternary
    • Programing languages translate instructions into binary form by a compiler or interpreter
    • Computer programmers are writing in something very similar to the way humans think
  • DNA is a set of instructions akin to machine code
  • What it is doing is giving instructions to create a specific protein at a specific point
  • Today, we can extract a gene similar to how we take a sequence of program instructions (e.g. subroutine) in machine coding and place it inside any other program
    • Genes can be transplanted, and they do what they are supposed to do in another creature
    • This is what we already do with plants and animals; scientists transfer certain genes from one plant to another to introduce a particular trait
    • They have genetically engineered cats to glow in the dark
    • Scientists used a fluorescent protein found in the crystal jelly, a type of jellyfish
    • Rewriting the human genome is illegal in most countries

The Morality of Genetic Engineering

  • Dawkins was at one point writing a science fiction book with a core idea of genetic engineering
    • The heroine of the story wants to revive a prehistoric species of human
    • She reconstructed the genome of Australopithecine and agrees to have the zygote implanted in her own body
    • The second part of the book (which Dawkins never finished) supposed to include the social, psychological, and political difficulties of her giving birth to a long-extinct species
  • Tom associates these difficulties with the ethical dilemmas we now confront when designing self-driving cars
    • The trolley problem is a hypothetical scenario in which we have a choice to save many people by sacrificing a single person
    • What was once an ethical dilemma among the philosophers, the trolley problem- is now a dilemma for engineers that build self-driving cars
    • Engineers need to decide how to program an autonomous car when it faces life-or-death situations involving multiple people
  • There are other examples of genetic engineering in China where the scientists inadvertently enhanced the brains of twin girls by trying to make them resistant to HIV
    • Is it a good thing to genetically enhance human intelligence?
    • If it is a gene that causes harm, Dawkins believes most people would agree
    • However, the question of enhancing intelligence (or giving other desirable traits) is not simple for most people

What is Meme Culture?

  • A meme is a cultural analog to a gene
    • It is a simple idea that travels fast, has emotional resonance, and can be re-contextualized multiple times
  • “Cultural evolution is a real phenomenon, it really looks like evolution, it really has the same progressive qualities as evolution does” – Richard Dawkins
  • In human culture, memes are anything that is copied from one brain to another
    • It might be a unit of selection. Think about a catchy tune that you whistle
    • This is a hypothesis that cultural replicators might be units of Darwinian selection in the same way genes are, so that would mean that memes are evolutionary
  • Internet is a whole new ecosystem for the prosperity of memes
  • Many people would benefit (e.g. advertisement companies) from a study where we try to find out why some ideas go viral
    • Something that goes viral is a successful meme
    • This might be the way Darwinian selection operates within a culture
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Notes By Dario

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