7. The Evolutionary Optimality Challenge (2021)

By Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg, and Matthew van der Merwe

This is an updated version of The Wisdom of Nature, first published in the book Human Enhancement (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Human beings are a marvel of evolved complexity. When we try to enhance poorly-understood complex evolved systems, our interventions often fail or backfire. It can appear as if there is a “wisdom of nature” which we ignore at our peril. A recognition of this reality can manifest as a vaguely normative intuition, to the effect that it is “hubristic” to try to improve on nature, or that biomedical therapy is ok while enhancement is morally suspect. We suggest that one root of these moral intuitions may be fundamentally prudential rather than ethical. More importantly, we develop a practical heuristic, the “evolutionary optimality challenge”, for evaluating the plausibility that specific candidate biomedical interventions would be safe and effective. This heuristic recognizes the grain of truth contained in “nature knows best” attitudes while providing criteria for identifying the special cases where it may be feasible, with present or near-future technology, to enhance human nature.

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(00:31) Abstract

(01:58) Introduction

(07:22) The Evolutionary Optimality Challenge

(11:13) Altered tradeoffs

(12:18) Evolutionary incapacity

(13:33) Value discordance

(14:47) Altered tradeoffs

(17:50) Changes in resources

(23:24) Changes in demands

(28:44) Evolutionary incapacity

(30:54) Fundamental inability

(32:54) Local optima

(34:17) Example: the appendix

(36:37) Example: the ε4 allele

(37:52) Example: the sickle-cell allele

(42:33) Lags

(45:51) Marker 17

(46:26) Example: lactase persistence

(47:18) Value discordance

(49:05) Example: contraceptives

(50:55) Good for the individual

(55:22) Example: happiness

(56:40) Good for society

(58:18) Example: compassion

(01:00:03) The heuristic

(01:00:30) Current ignorance prevents us from forming any plausible idea about the evolutionary factors at play

(01:01:43) We come up with a plausible idea about the relevant evolutionary factors, and they suggest that the intervention would be harmful

(01:02:31) We come up with several different plausible ideas about the relevant evolutionary factors

(01:03:26) We develop a plausible idea about the relevant evolutionary factors, and they imply we wouldn’t have evolved the enhanced capacity even if it were beneficial

(01:08:23) Conclusion

(01:09:11) References

(01:09:18) Thanks to

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