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« Can We Envision Future Homo eusapiens? | Main | Update: Book Project and the Evolution Hierarchy »

May 07, 2013


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I'm sure there is more wrong with civilization today than just our economic frameworks, but responding only to the "capitalism is evil" meme I have to somewhat disagree. The success of capitalism is due to the - very necessary, IMHO - attribute of rewarding the creativity and initiative of the individual. Where capitalism fails is when that reward mechanism is subverted by the sociopaths for personal gain at the expense of the rightful recipients of the individuals' efforts.

I have absolutely no problem with people getting wealthy off their own hard work and creativity. I do take exception to people (to abuse the definition) like Jamie Dimon or companies like Goldman Sachs or AIG amassing indecent amounts of money at the expense of everyone and everything else. To say this is simply a result of "capitalism" is to disregard the failure of various other regulatory mechanisms that are (were?) available to society to limit such extremism.


I am greatly impressed that you identify capitalism as the central culprit in the current dis-ease of mankind. Even without a belief in any good versus evil narrative, I can't think of any word more evocative of "the evil that men do". Especially in the name of 'progress'.

And what a conundrum you have set out: Could eusapience evolve without that "collateral damage"..? I expect the jury will be out for a very, very long time.

In the meantime, I am somewhat saddened by the idea that there is/was an inevitability to the mess we are in right now. Somehow, I sleep better believing it didn't have to be like this in the long road from single cells to complex sociality.


@John - I feel it is wishful thinking to propose that capitalism is good/successful if only it could be properly regulated. It is part and parcel of capitalism to fete the erroneously named 'free market' and resist and actively subvert regulatory control. What you are lauding appears to be some form of benevolent capitalism - i.e. a meritocracy of reward-for-effort. But this has never applied to more than a minuscule fraction of human history, and in the USA has existed only in the fantasy of the American Dream.

I would commend and respect your description of capitalism - if only it matched reality.


I was once involved in a cancer project. I would process eighty or so cancerous samples with normal nearby control tissue in a single day. I can tell you that when looked at dispassionately without the context of the human they were from, the cancerous tissue was always more beautiful. I can remember this dark blue one with red coral shaped streaks through it. And one of the findings of the study was that cancerous cells have more DNA and hence carry and made more information. It is amazing what can be created when you over utilize energy from your environment. Use the elephant's tusk so Mozart can make music. On ivory keys. Capitalism is just the form humans took to use available energy. When it is gone we will switch modes. We saw how fast humans can switch modes in the 70s. And I would wager that cancers try to switch modes when energy in the tissues they are stuck get low, just like we see Ebola get less virulent through time. There is even some evidence that a majority of cancers resolve themselves. We have just begun to see the full power of our sapience, but we want to see it all right now and it to be a completely happy story.

Robin Datta

Speculations about "what might have happened" are exercises that serve a variety of purposes from constructing theories to punishing wrongdoers. But in the end they are all speculations.


The sun will come up over the horizon for many more years, but will any remnants of homo sapiens live to see it? I give the species about 20-40 years max.

Ron Patterson

George, I agree that cancer is not the right word. The more correct term would be: Plague Species.
Paul MacCready pointed out in a Ted Talk that 10,000 years ago humans and their animals represented less than one tenth of one percent of the land and air vertebrate biomass of the earth. Now they are 97 percent.

George Mobus


I can't say it had to be this way. There may be many paths to the point of the emergence of eusapience and resulting eusociality in humans. My point is more that given how sapience and cleverness did evolve on this globe, the ensuing over expansion and overshoot were probably inevitable. But, like you, my thinking often goes to contra-positives that ask what we might have been like if only. That train of thought is what led me to consider sapience in the first place.


My approach is biophysical. Capitalism is based on a false premise about the nature of profits, namely that they can grow infinitely as the capitalized engine so-grows. But this is not possible in a finite world. No matter how good it sounds or feels, you cannot change the laws of nature, especially not on a wish.


Thanks for the observation.


Don't forget, though, hypotheses are also a form of speculation.


Regardless of the time scale, Homo sapiens is guaranteed to go extinct. For me the real question is: What about the genus?

@ Ron,

I will have to watch that one. I would have thought that the biomass of bacteria (even just land-based) would have exceeded that of humans let alone the biomass of all land-based plants and animals. But his point is certainly taken. Thanks for the link.



Malthus put the question as to how to make two distinct classes of people contribute to the capitalist system: the rich man, who had more than enough of everything and would prefer to sit back and enjoy it all; and the poor man, who sensibly wanted only to labour until he'd fed and clothed himself and his family.

The answer: tax the rich man heavily, and pay the poor working man just too little to live comfortably - and so both would, respectively, invest and labour to grow wealth.

He also recommended inspiring both classes with a conditioned and irrational desire for more unnecessary goods.

It's obvious that the basic assumption to be inculcated in order to prime this system must be that of infinite growth and expansion, in order to be able envisage these artificial wants being satisfied.

An evil system? Hardly. But profoundly out of line with earthly reality, and a distortion of certain aspects of human nature.


Hello again George

I thought you would be mildly amused by this 'news' article that features an Oxford University luminary who applauds psychopathic behavior in politics and commerce.

Have we got to such a low point in public discourse that this non-sapient behavior is considered a good trait?


Hello again George

I thought you would be mildly amused by this 'news' article that features an Oxford University luminary who applauds psychopathic behavior in politics and commerce.

Have we got to such a low point in public discourse that this non-sapient conduct is considered a laudable trait in the 21st century?

St. Roy

Hi George:

What you are saying in this post reminds me of Ernst Mayr's contention that superior intelligence is a lethal mutation. Have you read Paul Chefurka's two May posts on the same? (

George Mobus


Thanks for the link. Just with a broad brush, quick reaction, it seems to me he might be right, if the world you want is the one we have! Also I think he may be playing a bit fast and loose with the definition of psychopathy. Other than that, I think yes, these are the depths.


Brooks Bridges

A thought provoking article that I must re-read.

But, as I'm right now reading EOW's "The Social Conquest of Earth" I find there is a caveat to your statement:

"Variation in the gene pool is a function of size of the population......."

This is basically true for most of planet but NOT for "native" South Africans.

Wilson says a study in 2010 found more genetic variation between 4 bushmen (San) than between an average European and an average Asian. "They (the South Africans) possess our species' greatest reservoir of genetic diversity" page 80.

George Mobus


TSCOE is a great book. E.O. is one of my all time heroes and a personal model of high sapience in my view.

I have not read the study first hand but have read a synopsis of it in Science (or Nature possibly). As I understand it the variance they measured was not global for all of the genes, just a few. The higher variation of alleles as specific sites might be due to two factors. First the populations in Africa are the oldest ones on the planet so they have had more time to acquire variants. Second, this could be evidence of a relaxation of selective forces that had been the result of the glacial retreats and a return of more "nominal" conditions in the African climate. Strong selection forces tend to promote conservation of working genes, whereas relaxation allows gene variation to accumulate.

So the African populations may indeed possess our greatest reservoir of diversity it has to stand the test of selection. Diversity, by itself, is a neutral thing. It comes in handy when selection goes to work; presumably some individuals with the right combination will be more fit.

Enjoy the book.


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