Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Multiple Pathways to Idiocracy

Idiocracy has been bestowed a dictionary definition, meaning, primarily, a government by idiots. In this blog we have been using it in a slightly different way, meaning, a society populated by idiots or at least by people whose genetics, training or education are not sufficient to maintain the society, leading to a regression. It stands to reason that if the population doesn’t have the intelligence to maintain the society, that the governance they would have would be not very bright as well, so the more general definition implies the more specific one. Our use does an injustice to the roots of the language, but there isn’t a substitute.

This blog discusses the routes that might lead to this situation in an alien civilization. Here on Earth we haven’t yet developed any good metrics for intelligence, so the discussion has to be a bit vague on that point, but in general intelligence is used here to mean problem-solving ability. It does not mean formal test-taking ability or its variants, except to the extent that taking tests well can be taken on as a general problem to be solved, and the intelligent alien, who has the ability to solve problems, can figure out what has to be done to allow him/her/it to take tests well and then implement these ideas. However, it an intelligent alien does not choose this task as important, it will not happen, so test-taking ability is far from synonymous with intelligence. Probably in any alien civilization, test-taking ability can be inculcated into an alien without general problem-solving abilities.

For intelligence to occur in any individual alien, there has to be three predecessor events. One is that they must be conceived of with the genetic complement necessary to allow learning problem-solving. The second is that they must receive training which motivates them to do problem-solving. The third is that they must obtain the necessary education to equip them with the intellectual tools necessary for problem-solving. If any one of these fails in the alien civilization, then idiocracy can result.

For any complex skill, there is a distribution of attainments. By complex skill, we mean one that is underpinned by multiple distinct capabilities or attributes. Consider size for aliens. If they are anything like us, and the concept of convergent development implies they would be, there would be multiple genes that dictate what size an individual alien will attain. If, for each of these genes, the population has a distribution of variants, then when put together, a smooth distribution would occur. For any one of the genes, there is simply a percentage for each of the variants, and if there was only this one gene to affect size, the population would be divided into groups according to which variant of the gene they received. If there were multiple genes, and importantly enough, if they were independent, the laws of statistics can be used to show that a Gaussian distribution, often nicknamed a bell curve, must result. It doesn’t matter if the effects of the different genes were different in magnitude, for as long as none of them were responsible for most of the variation, there would be a Gaussian. In the case where one of them contributes, say, 50% of the variation, then there would be a distribution that looked like two Gaussians next to one another, where the spread comes from the genes which contribute small contributions and the difference between the centers of the two distributions comes from the single gene which dominates size.

If there is correlation between the genes that control size, then the distribution would not necessarily be Gaussian, but something else smooth and with a central median and a width, both of which can be measured statistically. This conclusion finally allows the discussion to continue. For a distribution for either of the three necessities for an intelligent alien to arise, genetics, training, and education, there is a median and a width.

In an alien society that is approaching idiocracy, it is possible that the median of either of these three is being lowered and it is alternatively possible that the width of the distribution is being shrunken. The median-lowering effect happens if there is a correlation between reproduction rates and position on the distribution. For genetics, if parents, or whatever predecessors contributes genes to a future generation, with good genes produce less descendants than those with worse genes for intelligence, then the median drops. For training, if parents, or whoever in the society trains young aliens, in successive generations provide less motivational training, then the median drops. For education, if parents, teachers, mentors, or whoever is responsible for education of each younger generation, in successive generations provide poorer education, then the median drops. These represent three distinct pathways to idiocracy.

If the alien society needs very intelligent members to continue to function, as it would in the earlier periods of the civilization before some artificial intelligence was developed to an extent sufficient for it to fill in for a lack in the population, and the width of the distribution of intelligence drops, then the society would again drift into idiocracy. Again, there are three distinct pathways. There could be a reverse correlation in mating, where those with good genes couple with those with worse genes, shrinking the width of this distribution. There could be a negative correlation in the training arena, where those who support proper training are marshalled into allowing and accepting poorer training, and the motivational training becomes more and more uniform and average. And lastly, there could be a negative correlation in the educational arena, where those who could provide proper education are convinced to provide successively poorer education in order to follow some poorly-conceived guidelines or to support some non-educational goals which conflict with the provision of top-notch education.

Thus, we have here at least six pathways to idiocracy which any alien civilization might fall into. How is it possible that an intelligent alien society could make such seemingly obvious and disastrous errors in managing itself? One would be that the lack of a metric means that the falling of capability is not clearly demarcated. Another would be that the society is simply absorbed with other questions and pays very little attention, as a whole society, to the importance of maintaining intelligence in the population. Certainly there are others, and each of the six pathways might be further subdivided as to the mechanisms by which they could occur. As noted elsewhere, idiocracy is a major peril that any alien civilization that achieves affluence, at least in a faction, will face. It could be one of the principal factors explaining why there is no noticeable alien travel in our galaxy, although there are many competitors for that distinction.

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