Monday, April 4, 2016

Malthusian Idiocracy

The title is a pleonasm. All idiocracies are malthusian. The adjective was added to emphasize that effect of an idiocracy.

As noted in the posts on idiocracies, they arise because of a negative correlation between reproduction rate and intelligence. If that happens in an alien civilization, the average intelligence will decline with each generation. At some point, if this continues, the civilization will not have enough intelligent members to function well, and governance may break down, the economy may stumble and collapse, or technology can begin to lose ground, instead of continually advancing.

Recall that all organisms, with the exception of fairly advanced civilizations of intelligent aliens, are malthusian, breeding as much as the environment can support. This is the essence of how evolution works. If the alien planet had evolved a million different species over the history of its life, all of them were malthusian. Any mutation that lost the drive to be malthusian was competed out of existence. This is perhaps one of the most fundamental laws of evolution. The implication is that no resources are accumulated, except in situations of affluence. They are all used up for breeding purposes.

Affluence happens for a species when it discovers resources in large quantity that enable the species to reproduce at the maximum rate possible. This can happen when a species migrates to a new area, with abundant foodstuffs, or a lack of predators, or some other advantage that eliminates the limitations that scarcity typically imposes on a species. Perhaps pest-borne disease was the limiting factor on the population of a new species, and they gain access to a new area where the pests cannot survive the environment. This is the equivalent of finding new resources. The explosion of population that would result is simply a reflection of the malthusian drive, although it can be described in other ways. It might be that for some species, water was a critical limit in their environment, but the climate shifts, and rains start coming and keep coming. Again, the limiting factor is removed, and the population expands up to the limits imposed by some other factor. Affluence may not be the best word to describe the situation immediately following the removal of one of these more obscure caps, such as disease or water, but the idea is that where there was limitation before, there is none, of that kind, later.

In the population of the species under some condition of population limitation, the organisms in that species continue their contribution to the genetic mix because of a combination of effects, genetic in origin, that affect survival and that affect reproduction. An individual who is more capable of dealing with the surroundings in which it lives is in a balance with an individual who is more capable of reproducing fast and furiously. To phrase it in the terms used before, an individual who is more capable of dealing with the limitations of the situation in which it lives can have the same reproductive contribution to successive generations' genetic pool as an individual who is less capable of dealing with these limitations, whatever they are, but instead concentrates on fast reproduction. You could loosely say that intelligence is on a balance with fast reproduction, in competition for future generations' genetic makeup.

Now consider the situation just after affluence starts. Those two individuals just mentioned are affected differently. The one who is better at dealing with the environment finds its skills not nearly so useful now. The one who is better at fast reproduction is ideally suited for the new affluence situation. Thus, it makes sense to assume that there is a negative correlation between externally directed skills, also known as intelligence, and reproduction rate. What this sums up as is that under the conditions of affluence, idiocracy is the direction the population heads in. This is a situation for all mobile organisms, not aliens. It is almost a basic unavoidable result of evolution working the way it does.

There is a time rate question here. If the limitation which most severely affected a species very slowly and gradually lifts, evolution still remains in charge and the individuals who are more capable of dealing with the environment are not left with nothing to do. In the very slow change situation, the same competition between the two classes of individuals, those whose genes favor survival and those whose genes favor fast reproduction, continues to exist and keep the two in balance. Only in situations where there is a rapid change, over only a single generation or a small number of generations, does the affluence model hold sway.

Now consider the alien species which achieves intelligence, an associative neural network or some equivalent of it. That intelligence is equivalent to the opening up of new resource after new resource, bringing on a sequence of affluence situations. Once the technology curve ramps up enough, there is nothing but new resources being made available. If there is a segment of the population still malthusian, there is going to be a population explosion. This is likely on any alien planet, on their way to star travel.

In this blog, the hero that rushes in to save the situation and rescue the alien species is the genetic grand transition, which is assumed to allow all of the alien species to take advantage of it over some short, in generations, time, so that intelligence becomes universal, and intelligence is the antidote for malthusian procreation. One alternative which has been booted around is that the dispersal of the genetic improvements for intelligence do not become universal, and there are some 'left-behinds' on the planet, who simply, for one reason or another, do not participate in the upgrade of intelligence.

If the left-behinds amount to ten percent of the total population, there would seem to be no significant effect on the alien civilization moving forward to asymptotic technology and eventually to the capability for star travel, if that is their goal. On the other hand, if they represent fifty percent, or ninety, or ninety-nine, then their effect may be to quash technological progress. It would appear incumbent on anyone purporting to study the advance of alien civilizations to dig more deeply into this numeric ratio, and the implications of it being rather high.

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