Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Genius Gene Great Filter – a Reprise

In a previous post, it was speculated that a high level of intelligence had to be present in a small fraction of an alien civilization population in order for the various discoveries and inventions that lay along the pathway to asymptotic technology to be accomplished. In other words, if there is no or insufficient genius genes in the gene pool, the alien civilization cannot progress far in technology, and perhaps in other areas such as calmness. This hypothesis was why it was termed a potential Great Filter, something that would prevent most alien civilizations from achieving star travel.

As noted elsewhere, sometimes an earlier cause or even a root cause can be found, and a Great Filter can be translated into something more fundamental. So the question underlying this is: how do genius genes originate and propagate? In that earlier post, social situations that can de-select genius genes were discussed. Social situations that promote genius genes may be more elusive to find.

The type of genius genes referred to are those which are useful in solving technology development problems. They are certainly not the genes which are useful in achieving social success. Technology development problems require the solver to be able to think abstractly, in some way, and to separate out the technology problem from all the connections it might have with individuals who have worked on it previously, those who favor different ways of solving the problem, previous attempts at both formulating the problem and resolving it, and many, many other factors which would tend to complicate the problem and interfere with understanding it from a viewpoint which allows the solution to be envisioned. In other words, the operation of genius genes involves an ability to withdraw from the world into a mental world in which the specific features of the technology problem are included, and other features are excluded. In this abstract framework, the brain with the genius genes can see a solution and translate it back to the real world where it can be implemented.

This ability to abstract and streamline features of the real world is critical to solving more intricate and complex problems and to formulate theories and relationships which are more general and more useful than simple correlations. But this same way of looking at the world does not necessarily assist the holder of these genes to be successful in society, and especially in propagating his/her/its genes. In other words, the evolution of genius genes takes place only in special situations, not in the common milieu of society. So, in order for there to be enough genius genes in the gene pool of a subset of the population, a geographically isolated subset, there has to be some selection process that favors genius genes.

Selection processes for evolution can be critical items, where the survival rate is different for the mutations, or gradual items that accumulate a differential reproduction rate over many generations. The first one might occur if the population was entering a new environment, perhaps having been expelled from their earlier environment by predation, food shortages, competition with larger or otherwise more threatening groups, or anything else. If there was a need to solve problems that were complex in order to survive, this would be the case.

It may be that genius genes on a typical alien planet are only selected for during some sort of catastrophe, such as large amounts of volcanism, an asteroid strike, the appearance of some virulent infection, or plant diseases or insect infestations rendering large areas barren of food sources. This would mean that the mutations which fostered genius would be selected for, but after the catastrophe had passed, they would slip back into routine reproduction rates, and simply exist in the gene pool at some percentage rate. Then, when technology climbs to the level where severe problems requiring genius genes exist, the use of them would re-emerge. If this scenario is the one which produces genius genes, then a necessary pre-condition for stellar adventures is a planet which is prone or was prone to some sort of catastrophe.

Maybe all planets which have life are prone to catastrophes of one sort or another. We have so little information about other planets that this possibility will remain unknown for a long period here on Earth. Our planet has had multiple situations, ice ages, asteroid strikes, and the like, but they occurred during periods prior to the evolution of a species that could evolve genius genes. There is only a short window here on Earth when these things could happen. Our prehistoric records, out to perhaps a hundred thousand years, are incomplete, and there may have been some catastrophe in some area of the planet that led to the sudden evolution, or sudden selection, of genius genes.

The other scenario is the gradual selection of genius genes. We have postulated that there are several genes that must combine in order to produce a genius of the level needed for the final stages of technology evolution. The obvious picture is that each of these genes individually is selected for, by having some benefit that arises, but combinations of them are not. The only time combinations of them would play a role is in the final rise of technology.

If each of the contributory genes that are needed for a technological genius are positive in selection effects, at least in some time period and in some geographic area with some travel barriers to gene mixing, then the gene pool in this area would accumulate them. And as long as they do not somehow become a liability, with a negative selection effect, they would remain in this gene pool subset, waiting for the moment of need to emerge.

Selection effects could arise in the pre-city time period, and would provide some advantage in hunting or otherwise surviving in a hunter-gatherer era. They could also have arisen in the early stages of city life, but only if there was a means for the holders of these genes to use them to an advantage in the new specializations of labor that the onset of city life entails. This might mean that certain professions originated with the onset of city life that required more intelligence. Leadership positions, technical trades, governance positions of any type, or traders could fulfill this requirement.

If, for example, early technical trades such as stone-working or metal-working or clay-working or others required some more intelligence than the large mass of citizens possessed, who engaged in agriculture, and the trades also allowed some increase in reproductive rate, then these genes could become more prevalent. In the majority of the population, it might not be the case, and so only those who occupied specialized positions would bring these genes to the gene pool. Over a long period of time, the genes might diffuse out, but have little effect in the more usual professions.

To summarize, there are several possible scenarios that account for the insertion into the gene pool of those genes which, when they occur together, give rise to the technical genius that will allow technology to reach its culmination. There does not seem to be any reason to suspect they do not commonly occur in an alien civilization, and so a genius gene great filter might only occur from the negative aspects discussed in the earlier post.

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