Saturday, March 21, 2015

Life as an Optimizer


150 years ago, Darwin presented his theory of evolution and natural selection to the the world, and it was met with shock, indignation, curiosity, anger, excitement, and a slew of reactions from both the scientific, as well as the theological, communities.

This theory may have more implications in philosophy than people recognize.

In my previous post about Greed, I discussed about how life itself is pushing its boundaries past our atmosphere. But what is the purpose of life?


I'm fairly convinced that one of the reasons life exists is as a giant optimizer. There is a battle of epic proportions between life and the elements of the universe. Let's look at the evidence.

For millions of years, bacteria thrived on earth. Then came the dinosaurs, with their brute strength and ferocity. Yet an asteroid wiped out millions of years of evolution, with very little to show for it. So ferocious brute strength wasn't a selected trait.

Now we have humans, who have several highly selected traits such as language, intelligence, deceitfulness, compassion, etc.

If another asteroid came to earth, akin to the one which killed out the dinosaurs, several of our traits may be sufficient to maintain our species. These include:

  • Our language, to communicate with each other about the eminent disaster.
  • Our intelligence, to come up with ways to divert the asteroid and science to understand it.
  • Our creativity, in coming up with movies such as Armageddon, in order to hypothesize, via Hollywood, how we as a species might overcome this disaster.
  • Our cohesiveness, to join together between nations if necessary against the universe.
  • Our competitiveness, which caused USA and Russia to enter into the Space Race, and allowed us to push for development of spaceflight quickly.
  • Our compassion, which will help survivors get back on their feet if we end up failing to divert such a disaster.

As such, it's likely that if an asteroid came, we as a species would be able to survive, unlike the dinosaurs. In addition, it's likely that several resilient microbes, which have survived multiple natural disasters and can even live in a vacuum or extreme conditions, will also survive.

The universe is going to keep hitting life with asteroids, an expanding sun, climate change, super-volcanoes, etc., and will see which genes can survive. Whether it's small resilient microbes, or ferocious dinosaurs, or intelligent humans, or radiation resistant cockroaches. Or even cute snuggly dogs whom we'll ensure survive with us during the next natural disaster, for companionship.

This trend will continue, and after several more billion years of iterations, a lean, mean genetic code will emerge. Such a fit organism, or collection of symbiotic organisms, will be able to deal with the universe's challenges. In addition, such organisms will also have to not have internal struggles which can possibly wipe itself out (the way we fight against each other, or deal with mental illnesses, or bigotry, etc.).

One of the main purposes of life is as a giant optimizer, to see what genes, or combination of genes, are most suited for the universe's trials.


An additional point is that these are systems of genes, working together symbiotically. 

Society would likely not reach its full potential with only leaders, or only workers, or only creative people, or only strong people, or only smart people. It's entirely possible, and even likely, that a symbiotic relationship between different genes is better than any one gene (we need the plants and animals to eat, we need to bees to pollinate, etc.). Life selects genes which work well together, in addition to individual useful genes.


We obviously can't see much farther past the present besides wild conjecture. But my guess is that in billions of years, the true purpose of life will emerge, as an extremely fit organism. Such an organism will have either resilience, or adaptability, or intelligence, or whatever trait comes next, in order to handle literally any event the universe will throw at it, including hypothesized challenges such as heat death or the big crunch.

A Moral Warning

This theory can easily be misconstrued as an excuse for eugenics, or heinous acts in the theory that it's good for the gene pool.

Firstly, morality is an important piece of life which I'll be covering in another post, but suffice it to say that us humans are not intelligent nor wise enough to know which genes are "best" for the gene pool. Committing murder or genocide discounts the possibility that such genes may have dormant potential for humanity.

Most importantly, we should want as many genes to survive, to give the random selection of codons the best chance to determine what's most fit. If we don't all fit onto earth, or fight over limited land, we need to expand outwards to new planets (as I discussed), rather than try to optimize earth's gene pool by immoral acts such as eugenics.

In addition to our internal empathy (which not everybody has), logically, giving the most number of random genes a chance to prove themselves (against the universe, or as a member of a society, not against one another) is the real moral incentive not to murder or hurt others. We're going to need every possible codon combination possible when the universe starts hitting us with real issues, such as a dying sun.


Darwin's theory shook the scientific community, but it was the theological community which quickly realized how one simple thought could change our entire understanding of our place in the universe, and philosophy in general.

This understanding of life was simply not possible pre-1850's. Seeing the evidence of natural selection has opened a new door into our understanding of ourselves.

Future posts are going to tie in this theory of humans as just another cog in the evolutionary optimizer machinery, with the idea of consciousness, willpower, rational thought, and self-awareness, several of the big mysteries of our time.

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