Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Evolutionary Impulses

Imagine that, all of a sudden, humans no longer found food to be delicious or sex to be enjoyable.

Would we go on eating, procreating, and surviving with the big picture in mind, or would the human race die off after a few decades because we'd all be too short-sighted? In other words, how important are our evolutionary impulses today, now that we have an established society?

7 comments:

Adam Gurri said...

Extremely important. Even if we could argue that social norms would keep us eating and reproducing, it would just push the question one step back: our evolutionary impulse to follow social norms would be keeping us around.

Peter Van Valkenburgh said...

I'm gonna second adam here. Our social norms are mere reflections of our impulses. indeed, our need to create and conform to norms is an evolved impulse. As hume would say, "reason is..."

Greg Finley said...

Two more half-baked thoughts that may or may not be related:

Most Americans are willingly trading off a few years of life expectancy for their love of food, and the obesity and other health consequences that come with it. And this happens despite social norms that pressure people to be healthy and avoid looking like a cow (though there are also many norms that encourage people to overeat, of course).

I also thought about this in the context of animals. Does my cat eat because it finds the food tasty, or for some other reason? What about when you get to the level of bacteria and other microscopic organisms? I've always found the reasoning beyond "The Selfish Gene" and other evolutionists to be a little suspect. Can our instincts to eat and have sex solely be due to some random variation long, long ago, when our food-and-sex-loving ancestors came to dominate competing species?

Greg Finley said...

I guess a way to restate my original question in economics terms: Do we have enough incentives as individuals to keep having children, etc., even if we don't have the pleasure of sex? Or would sustaining the population require solving some massive coordination problem? Perhaps the government would have to subsidize parents even more than it already does.

Adam Gurri said...

I guess it's hard to answer your question because we're thinking like economists, e.g., we're talking about individuals. But the pressure to reproduce really happens at a much smaller level; at the level of the gene. The fact is that no living creatures exist today that weren't fashioned by millions of years of evolution to have some mechanism that drove them to reproduce.

Your hypothetical is basically saying "what if these specific mechanisms for survival and reproduction were to suddenly vanish, would there be any mechanisms left?"

The answer is probably not, but to the extent that there were, the people with traits that led them to preserve their lives and reproduce would pass on those traits to the next generation, while those who did not have those traits (obviously) would not.

Greg Finley said...

This is really getting complicated, but you explained that very well. So another way of saying it would be: if some evolutionary mechanisms were removed, they would likely just evolve again.

Adam Gurri said...

Or I guess we could just go extinct.