They had never seen his buildings; they did not know whether his buildings were good or worthless; they knew only that they had never heard of these buildings

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand:
When [Roark] went up to his office, the elevator operators looked at him in a queer, lazy, curious sort of way; when he spoke, they answered, not insolently, but in an indifferent drawl that seemed to say it would become insolent in a moment. They did not know what he was doing or why; they knew only that he was a man to whom no clients ever came. He attended, because Austen Heller asked him to attend, the few parties Heller gave occasionally; he was asked by guests: “Oh, you’re an architect? You’ll forgive me, I haven’t kept up with architecture—what have you built?” When he answered, he heard them say: “Oh, yes, indeed,” and he saw the conscious politeness of their manner tell him that he was an architect by presumption. They had never seen his buildings; they did not know whether his buildings were good or worthless; they knew only that they had never heard of these buildings.

It was a war in which he was invited to fight nothing, yet he was pushed forward to fight, he had to fight, he had no choice—and no adversary.
This is how most people treat my philosophy.

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Rule Breaking

people routinely break rules on purpose in games. for example basketball. people foul to stop the clock near the end.

in hockey you can get thrown out of the rest of the game for fighting. but people still fight on purpose sometimes.

if you have any way for people to break rules on purpose and get any advantage, they will.

why do they make rules with weak enough penalties that any good can come of rule breaking?

i think a big part of the issue is the fans want to see a good, competitive game. if you penalize a team a ton for breaking a rule, resulting in a very lopsided game and making the ending result no longer in doubt for the rest of the game, then the fans won't like that. it'll be boring to watch.

so there's this tension. on the one hand, they want to stop people from doing certain things. but on the other hand, no matter what anyone does, they don't really want to mess up the game. they want to play on and have it still be exciting, not have one team (or individual player) too handicapped to compete.

plus, the bigger the penalties are, the harder it gets to call a penalty. the more effect calling penalties has, the more referees will have to let small stuff slide. so then players figure out where the line is. and now you have players trying to get as close to the major penalty line as they can without crossing it, and if they slip up just slightly then they get a BIG penalty for doing something slightly on the wrong side of the line. tiny change in behavior, big change in consequences. that's a really bad system. and much worse given the human error factor – people are trying to play just up to the limit of what the ref won't call a penalty on, but have to account for the ref's judgments on each play being randomly wrong by a significant factor in either direction. so it's not just pure skill to go near the line without crossing, it's also luck. you have to figure out the normal range for ref judgements (like judges stuff between 20% more or less severe than it actually is) and then account for that, but then you can be screwed by a random outlier judgment. (i'm thinking the ref judgments are basically what you actually did, modified by a random factor that's on a bell curve).

oh and to make matters worse, most people don't draw a clear line between violating the spirit of the game (good sportsmanship) and the explicit written rules of the game. so there's fan pressure to judge things like intentions of actions, and whether coming near violating a rule repeatedly without actually violating it is bad sportsmanship that should be punished, and so on.

most people see all kinds of misbehavior as on a continuum and don't actually care all that much about the written rules. refs and court judges are supposed to be better than that and go by the actual rules, and do so with very variable success. (even the supreme court is pretty crap at it, especially the lefties)

this kinda stuff affects all types of games, including board games and video games. it varies though, e.g. if there's no fans watching to worry about.

some of it's also an issue for social news sites. for example, reddit tries to have rules to limit ways of getting upvotes. people who do everything they can to get upvotes just shy over breaking the rules will be most effective at getting upvotes.

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They simply did not care to find out whether he was good

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand:
The architects he saw differed from one another. Some looked at him across the desk, kindly and vaguely, and their manner seemed to say that it was touching, his ambition to be an architect, touching and laudable and strange and attractively sad as all the delusions of youth. Some smiled at him with thin, drawn lips and seemed to enjoy his presence in the room, because it made them conscious of their own accomplishment. Some spoke coldly, as if his ambition were a personal insult. Some were brusque, and the sharpness of their voices seemed to say that they needed good draftsmen, they always needed good draftsmen, but this qualification could not possibly apply to him, and would he please refrain from being rude enough to force them to express it more plainly.

It was not malice. It was not a judgment passed upon his merit. They did not think he was worthless. They simply did not care to find out whether he was good.
This is how most people treat my philosophy.

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Ambiguous Feminism

Look at this tweet:
if a dude sleeps with hella women YEAH BRO. if a girl shows her shoulder in public WHORE.

double standards. IT STOPS TODAY.
it stops which way? which standard should change in what way? what do you actually want me to do?

do you think women who sleep with hella people should be cheered? or that men who sleep with hella people should be booed?

or that women who show their shoulders in public shouldn't be booed, just change that? but booing women who sleep with hella men is fine?

or maybe men should be booed for showing skin in public?

why didn't it occur to the author to say what change he wanted? is it implied or obvious specifically what change he advocates? i don't think so. there are lots of competing popular ideas about how to change this stuff.

if this double standard ends, what single standard should replace it? people agree there shouldn't be a double standard, but disagree about what the right single standard is.

people who want change today, but don't care to say what to change to, are not reformers. they are idiots.

The tweet has 217 favorites, 81 retweets, but only 2 replies. lots of people think they liked it, none of them noticed that it's ambiguous. what did they like? what do they think it says?

they seem to want reform of some kind.

"make it better."
"how? what would be better?"
"i don't know, but we're fixing it TODAY!"

this is very immoral.

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All Authority is Social Authority

People think there's different types of authority. One guy might have high social status, be a leader of a social group. He has social authority. Another guy might be a "leading intellectual" with "intellectual authority".

But "intellectual authority" is a contradiction. Reason doesn't work by authority.

What's actually going on is that all authority is social authority.

That "leading intellectual" has a type of social status. It comes from his socially-accepted reputation, which comes from things like socially-accepted reputation-deciders. Like the people who are socially anointed as legitimately able to decide who is worthy of a Ph.D. or a (socially) prestigious award.

(Similarly, there is no intellectual prestige. All prestige is social prestige.)

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I Am Not A Serial Killer

I Am Not A Serial Killer is a fiction novel. I've got comments on two parts.
"... I was really hoping you'd grow out of this obsession with murderers."

Not murderers," I said, "serial killers."

"That's the difference between you and the rest of the world, John. We don't see a difference."
(By "we", the speaker means normal people.)

What the character says is, from a logical perspective, extremely stupid. There are different terms because people do see a difference. Everyone knows the difference. Serial killers kill multiple people at different times. Murders often were angry or drunk, or had something to gain, and kill one person.

You can go up to anyone and ask them how a serial killer is different from a murderer and they'll tell you. Everyone sees a difference.

The dialog makes sense from a social perspective. It's not a logical claim. It's a snappy retort. It doesn't actually work, but the intention is clear enough. And what does it matter if something works logically when it's adequate to communicate what a person cares about? The speaker doesn't care about logic, she cares about emotions and putting down John's deviance.

That's bad. It's irrational to focus on communicating emotions and allegiances, rather than ideas than make sense. It's not a truth-seeking way of life.

Going to the next step in the analysis, what does this passage reveal about the author? Well he could be stupid and not have noticed how illogical the claim is. Or he could be irrational and be the type of person to make statements like that for emotional and social reasons. Or he could think it's common and have written a flaw into the speaker on purpose.

The book is fiction. But the author either provides a real life example of an irrational character trait, or else he believes it's reasonably common (enough to make sense to readers) in real life.
That's exactly what we have to talk about," she said, watching me from the couch. "Your best friend's dad was murdered--seven people have been murdered in four months--and you're obviously not dealing with it very well. You've barely said a word to me since Christmas."

"I've barely said a word to you since fourth grade."

"Then isn't it about time?" she asked, standing up.
This is the main character speaking with his mother. And it's another illogical statement.

Initially, her argument is that he's changed since Christmas. During the last four months of murders, he's been dealing with events poorly. Something changed, recent history is bad.

He makes a counter-argument that actually what she views as him coping badly is actually not a change. It's the status quo for years and years. It can't indicate some particular problem in the last four months. She's mistaken. Her argument is bad.

Then she drops the context. She ignores what she'd been saying and acts like his last statement was the beginning of the conversation. She takes it out of context and treats it as an isolated statement. Instead of treating it as a counter-argument, she fakes reality by pretending it was a general statement about his life. Instead of conceding the argument, she starts a new ad hoc argument. She has no respect for truth. She's just trying whatever angle she can think of to see if it works, without caring if she contradicts herself or changes her story midway.

She makes an abrupt topic change. First, he was supposed to talk to her more because of the last four months. Now, he's supposed to talk to her more because of the last five years. And her new claim doesn't make sense. During a time of turmoil, murders and temporary problems is not "about time" to change their status quo and break their routines. That's a terrible time to do it.

And, again, connecting this to real life: basically either the author is a bad person (the type to do this, or to think it's OK to do it), or he thinks tons of other people are bad people.

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Social Memes and patio11

patio11 is a frequent commenter on Hacker News. I like some of his writing, e.g. about bitcoin and consulting. Sadly, he advocates irrational social memes. But it's still more interesting than usual because he understands them more clearly than others.

Regarding, WSJ: Can 'World of Warcraft' Game Skills Help Land a Job?, patio11 writes:
Running a WoW guild is pretty good preparation for having to manage a fairly large group of employees with wildly varying levels of skill, attention to detail, ability to follow-through on commitments, intrapersonal conflict resolution ability, and the like.

That said: it is almost crazy to have on a resume, 99.54% of the time. It doesn't by itself persuasively say "I'm going to make you more money" and unless you have a very good read of the cultural background of the person reading your essay has a high risk of reading "I have low status hobbies. Please judge me for them!"
This is about how to meet social expectations, and be socially effective, rather than be logical.

Regarding, Guide dogs and guns: America's blind gunmen, patio11 writes:
This is one way in which a large portion of America is culturally distinct from Britain in a way which many people do not appreciate white people being capable of being culturally distinct. In much of America, use and possession of firearms is a strong cultural marker, like ear piercing or playing football or driving cars. Perhaps it is not obvious at the BBC, where this looks like "Crikey, that's the only way to make guns MORE dangerous," but for people who are in that culture, it reads more like "Blind man triumphs over adversity to claim his rightful place in the civic life of his community."
This is about social groups. It treats them as very important, and understands how much work people will put into gaining social acceptance.

Regarding, Why are some people so much luckier than others?, patio11 writes:
I rather like the Techzing guys' take on this, called "luck surface area," because it tracks with my experience and is actually weaponizable in a way that "be more observant" is not.

If you for some reason want to get into a guild protected by a scouting system, then your priorities should be a) identifying what the scouts are looking for and getting good at it and b) getting in front of as many scouts as possible as often as possible.

There exist many opportunities which HNers want which resemble "a guild protected by a scouting system" if you squint at them, by the way.
This comment has good insight into the social systems surrounding many Hacker News type activities. patio11 is vague about what he means, but I think that's on purpose. (Perhaps to avoid avoid offending people by saying what they are doing clearly and truthfully?)

Social Advocate

In each case, patio11's advice advice is approximately: obey social rules. Understand social rules, act accordingly, and you'll get ahead in life.

He's a little vague about recommending this. I read this vagueness as him not considering any alternatives. I think he takes it for granted that this is how life works.

He assumes if he tells people how to follow social rules better, and what the rewards are, they will want to do it. It's unnecessary to persuade people to live this way. It's life, and the issue is merely skill at doing it. patio11 has more skill than most, and he's sharing some.


It has never crossed patio11's mind that he's promoting irrationality. He's teaching people how to better conform the externally-determined rules for their lives. He's encouraging people to pay more attention to social issues, and develop more effective social skills, and live by them (which, like it or not, means less attention to reason, science, programming, etc)

He's encouraging people to be more social – and obedient to social expectations. He's encouraging them to learn how to deal with social issues more skillfully, like he does (rather than find a way of life in which one doesn't have to).

Social rules are not rational. Everyone knows this, but at the same time few people will admit it when they are on the defensive. They don't like the implication that their decision to learn and follow many social rules is irrational.

Let's look at the three examples above. The first rule is about not writing about "pretty good preparation" on one's resume. Instead of making the best rational case in one's resume, one is supposed to obey unwritten social rules about what to write or not write.

The second rule is about having to shoot guns for people to be more friendly with you. It's about pressuring people to share the same interests, instead of being happy for everyone to make their own decisions and choose their own interests. The gun shooting is a required social ritual, similar to prayer. You can tell because there's no flexibility to adjust it when it doesn't make much sense (as with a blind person). It's not about making rational sense, it's about social signaling.

The third rule is about guild systems. patio11 advises become skillful at what certain other people want, to please them, instead of figuring out what skills are the most rationally useful and pursuing those.

By learning and following social rules like these, patio11 has gotten ahead in life and received various rewards. At a cost to rationality. He's gotten better at pleasing others, but worse at figuring out what is an objectively good life and doing that. Instead of focusing on his own values, he's learned all kinds of ways to get along with people socially and please them.

Rather than openly acknowledge the tradeoffs, people view learning and meeting (and exceeding) social expectations as life effectiveness. They sacrifice their individual soul to the group, and don't even realize there is a question to consider about what to do.

Most people muddle through their life, including social life, without understanding what's going on very well, or why. patio11 understands how the social rules work more clearly, but still doesn't critically question them.

I find this all very sad. Smart people live bad lives, wasting so much potential. And even go around advising others to do the same. Well, I advise the opposite. Don't focus on pleasing others. Focus on pleasing yourself. No they aren't the same thing. Your personal preferences don't just happen to coincidentally match the intrusive preferences others have for you.

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Review: The Best American Science and Nature Writing

I read, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2003. Mostly, it sucks.

One of the good parts is variety. There's a lot of short chapters. You get to read about lots of different things.

A bunch of them are unreadable though. But usually the next chapter is completely different, so that helps. One of or two or three is readable. A few were pretty good, and there was one that stood out as not having a blatant huge flaws.

Why are some of them unreadable? Well, a fair amount of them are politics. There was one promoting leftwing anti-American views about 9/11. There was one (by a famous physicist, Steven Weinberg) giving very stupid leftwing political arguments against missile defense technology (yes, it was kinda anti-technology in this science book, from a scientist. though it was more about politics). And there were a bunch of environmentalist articles, including one by Bill McKibben (one of the worst people in the environmentalist movement, and that's saying a lot!).

So I skipped over a bunch of leftwing politics and environmentalism. It was as dumb as always. Sometimes I tried to look through it. The article trashing DDT – because leftwingers don't care if black people die over in Africa – I actually looked through page by page, the whole way. I was curious if it would have any science or scientific argument. It did not.

Most articles had shamefully bad arguments. Or lack of arguments. Even if they were actually about science, the quality of argument was still terrible. I don't really want to type in a bunch of examples, that doesn't sound like fun.

The article I liked the most was about elephants. It was saying how they communicate over long distances. They can make sounds that travel for miles which are at a frequency humans can't hear. And then, at the same time, they can stomp their feet and send vibrations in the ground. The ground vibrations go slower and further. And then the elephant getting the message can tell where the other elephant is, because the vibrations in the air and sound go at different speeds, the time between them tells the distance. So that was pretty cool and that article didn't have any huge mistakes that stood out on one reading. I wasn't really looking for mistakes while reading, they just kept jumping out in every single other article.

Some other parts were pretty cool. Like it talked about drilling ice cores from glaciers on Greenland. And they can learn about old weather because it just kept building up a year of snow at a time, so they can get year-by-year data. Ice preserves stuff well, even little air bubbles.

The style of the book is terrible. It's always trying to humanize and personalize stuff. Instead of telling me about science, it'd tell me about how some guy with a beard felt on a particular day when a breakthrough happened. Or the history of a person dealing with some scientific issue. Or how the article author went and visited a scientist, saw where he works, and talked with him.

All the articles have the same style. It's not like some people do it and others don't. It's consistent throughout. The article were gathered after being initially published at a variety of places. But they all read the same way. It's awful.

They're full of prestige too. They'll always say what awards some guy won. Or they'll quote a famous guy. But they don't follow up. They just say something, then quote a famous guy saying something similar. They never analyze the quote, or quote the argument or reasoning. They just quote his conclusion and move on. It's really unintellectual. And they use fancy words and sentence structures to try to impress people. They're always trying to set a tone of fancy important prestige stuff, instead of just telling you the science and letting you judge it.

The worst thing is there's rarely many details. It's so much overview. It's all talking down to you, and kinda summarizing vaguely. They could just write these short articles saying how something works. The elephants one was the best about this. It was a little vague but it suggested that was because they don't know everything about elephants yet. Most of them are intentionally not trying to really explain much.

Instead of scientific details they're always throwing in prestige and irrelevant human details. So it's not exactly a science book, or an intellectual book. Not really. It's pretty sad. As much as I'd like to blame the editor, Richard Dawkins (since he's a horrible leftwing anti-human fool), there's tons of other people who are also at fault here. He may have made it worse than usual though.

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Worse Than a Mary Sue

a Mary Sue is an idealized or perfect character in a fiction story, often a fan fiction.

Mary Sue's have lots of amazing traits and success, and often are the author inserting themselves in the story (falsely).

the TV show Royal Pains is similar to many, many other TV shows. the main character doesn't really do things wrong. he's a doctor, he always solves cases, usually with hardly any bumps along the way. (compare with House M.D. where there were always a bunch of mistaken guesses before the correct answer)

but it's not really that Mary Sue. he's not perfect. he doesn't have a million good traits. he's just a doctor and when it comes to the medical cases he always cures his patient. it's kind of like a lawyer show where he always wins his cases. it's kind of an optimism and happy endings thing. and anyway it's a social show more than a medical show, so they focus on that. girls do kinda fall into his lap in the first episode. but the rest of the season 1 isn't especially like that, he mostly tries to date one girl and there's ups and downs.

and i don't think the writers are trying to insert themselves into the story.

but i think the show is worse than a Mary Sue. and many other TV shows work in a similar way.

he's so damn passive and generic and everything happens to him, without him having to go get it. he gets all this success with very little initiative.

the first episode actually starts with him getting fired (unfairly is the narrative, but it's not actually obvious and the show doesn't bother arguing its point there). and then his fiancé dumps him because she wanted to marry a successful doctor (actually that was a bit ambiguous too). and then the hospital that fired him supposedly makes it impossible for him to get any job in medicine. and he bums around his apartment and watches Netflix.

so then his brother comes and gets him to go outside and go to a party in The Hamptons. and then success promptly happens to him. a person at the party has a medical problem. and the rich dude throwing the party has a doctor on call, who misdiagnoses. so the main character gets it right and ends up taking over as the rich guy's doctor. and word immediately spreads so other people start hiring him. a career just falls into his lap. and then someone knocks on his door asking to be his underpaid top-quality physician's assistant, before he's even decided he wants to stay in the area and be a highly paid doctor for rich people.

off topic, the show really tries to avoid the issue of money and payment. and kinda treats him like a regular guy dealing with rich people, kinda ignoring how much he could be charging and how much money he could have how quickly in his position. and lots of services he provides it's kinda ambiguous if he's even charging for them (this is extra problematic because the people receiving the services would want to know that clearly).

i think all the TV shows that portray success as happening by luck to passive characters are really bad. it's doing such a disservice to the world, and their viewers, to fake reality so badly. real life requires initiative. real success requires a go-getter attitude. real success requires effort, it doesn't just come to you.

It's worse than a Mary Sue because he isn't perfect, but the writers give him the benefits and rewards a perfect person would earn.

Edit: Another point I want to add is how the world keeps acting in unrealistic ways convenient for the main character. I have a good example. The main character often takes patients to hospitals, or calls ambulances with EMTs, or otherwise is around other doctors. And they basically always just do whatever he says, immediately, as if they were his assistants.

The main character has none of the traits that could make this conceivable. He doesn't have amazing charisma and leadership skills. He doesn't do anything awesome to make people react this way. They just do, contrary to reality.

Another example of faking reality is how he gets hired by Boris, a rich guy with a serious medical problem. He basically does a bad job, is annoying to Boris, has nothing special to offer ... and is hired anyway, and then repeatedly (informally) promoted, for no apparent reason.

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Knowledge is not justified, true belief. What is it?

David Deutsch has said that knowledge is, loosely speaking, useful information.

I propose, instead, to think of knowledge as problem-solving information.

Knowledge is information adapted to a purpose. In other words, it solves a problem.

Knowledge is information with the appearance of design (for a purpose). In other words, it solves a problem.

What kind of information is useful? Information which solves some problem worth solving.

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JEFF: Do you ever want to unplug?

JUSTIN: That's a very common question. It's just like anything. There are times you want to and times you don't.
He's saying that everything in life involves compromise.

Justin wore a camera on his head and live-streamed his entire life to the internet for months. Did he like having the camera filming at all times? No. Sometimes he didn't. But, he says, that's just how life is. Whatever he was doing with his life, sometimes he wouldn't like it, just like everyone else. He's saying his problems weren't worse than regular life.

He doesn't think that all problems are solvable. He thinks you just have to put up with bad stuff in life. And what he's expressing is the dominant, mainstream view. Everyone believes it.

You can't get everything you want in life, people say. You have to compromise.

I disagree.

Most things are within human power to improve.

There are some things people cannot control or change. Like the speed of light in a vacuum. Or that non-genetically-modified roses need to be watered to grow.

But if we can't change something, that doesn't mean we have to put up with unsolved problems. Why are these things problems? Why do we want them to be different? Why not adapt ourselves to the few parts of reality which are actually completely unchangeable? What's bad about that?

A compromise involves accepting something bad. That's why compromise is bad. But if a person is wise enough that he doesn't have an impossible preference (or changes one), there is no compromise there, nothing bad is happening.

If someone wants to have live roses and have them grow, but not water them, and not have anyone else water them (including not using automated sprinklers), and doesn't want genetically modified roses that don't need water, and so on... That is their own fault. They are created a problem out of nothing by having a bad preference.

If people don't form bad preferences (or change the ones they do form), then no compromises are necessary. Compromises like, "I guess I'll put up with watering my roses" aren't necessary. The compromise comes from blocking all solutions (sprinklers, hiring a gardener, not wanting live roses, etc).

There is no need to want the impossible. And anything besides the impossible is possible. So all problems can be solved. Either there is a possible direct solution, or there is a possible solution of not wanting to do the impossible.

Sometimes the only possible ways to accomplish something are immoral, but it's possible. The solution here is to change one's mind about wanting accomplish this. People don't have to have immoral preferences, and if they do they can solve the problem by changing their mind.

Compromises are non-solutions to problems. They are ways that no one involved gets what they want. Compromises are ways of proceeding which no one thinks is a great idea. Most people accept this terrible concept, compromise, as a routine part of life. It shouldn't be, and doesn't have to be.

If you recognize all compromises as areas to improve, instead of accepting them, then you can have a better life.

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I think evolution is true. But many of its fans don't understand it very well (and some are mean to people with doubts). So I'm going to help explain it, from a philosopher's perspective.

Evolution is a general purpose idea about how knowledge can be created. Think of knowledge as useful, good information.

When something appears to be designed for a purpose, there is knowledge there. For example, hawks' eyes can see far – they seem designed for the purpose of long range vision; there is knowledge in a hawk's eye. And a wrist watch keeps time; it seems designed for the purpose of keeping accurate time; there's knowledge there.

There used to be a great mystery about how knowledge could be created. Some people thought the answer must be a designer. It's easy to understand how knowledge can be created by a designer because he already has knowledge and uses it for his creation. A watch does have a human designer, and that isn't mysterious. So people thought hawks were designed by God.

But where does a designer's knowledge come from? Even if you say human designers were designed by God, then where did God's knowledge come from? If designers are the only source of knowledge, God must have had a designer, and God's designer must have had a designer, and so on. Which doesn't work.

Evolution solves this mystery of where knowledge can come from without a designer. It's the only idea which has ever solved this mystery.


A big idea of evolution is replicators. Some things make copies of themselves. It's in the context of this repeated copying that evolution happens.

Replicators aren't simple, but they aren't a huge mystery like knowledge creation. It's not that hard to imagine building a robot which is programmed to construct more robots using the same design as itself (assume that people come by periodically and give it raw materials).

Some types of crystals, placed in the right circumstances, create more crystals of the same type. If there was no crystal there, none would be created. But if the wind blows a crystal to a place with the right circumstances, or a human places one there, then it creates more crystals. (If you're curious about this, look up the idea of a "seed crystal" to get started.)

Variation and Selection

Replicators aren't enough for evolution. Variation and selection are also needed.

Variation is easy. Replicators aren't perfect. Errors happen. Some copies are a little bit different. This can be random or accidental. The result is some amount of change, some new things are created.

Selection is more interesting than variation. The general principle is that replicators which are better at replicating end up existing in larger numbers. Replicators which are inferior end up existing in smaller numbers, even zero.

The better something is at making copies of itself, the more copies of it will exist in the future. (On average. It could get unlucky.)

When you put variation and selection together, evolution happens. Lots of different replicators get made (due to copying errors). Because they are made randomly, not designed, most of them are inferior replicators. They make fewer copies of themselves. But a few variations happen to be improvements, and make more copies.

Inferior at what? An improvement by what standard? The standard of making more copies.

And not just immediate copies, but also copies of copies. And copies of copies of copies. In other words, great grandchildren count. In fact, it's better to look at great grandchildren than regular children. That's a good rule of thumb: the more great grandchildren a replicator creates, the better a replicator it is.

What if we aren't dealing with people or animals? Then instead of "children" think "copies". And instead of "great grandchildren", think "copies of copies of copies". I'll speak of great grandchildren for convenience, but the more general concept is copies of copies.


With genes and animals, the replicators die off regularly, and decompose, and the resources (like the atoms they are made out of) get reused. So a replicator which doesn't do very well ends up at zero copies, and better replicators use its resources. But this is just one possible scenario.

We could also imagine replicators which aren't living creatures, which don't die, and which don't have the ability to take resources (like building material) from other replicators. Then the inferior replicators wouldn't die off, there'd just be fewer of them compared to superior replicators. Over time, better replicators will create way way more copies.

Suppose a replicator is able to create 10 copies per year (they all take the full year to be created). But another replicator can do 20. After 20 years with no replication errors, do you think the better replicator will have twice as many total copies?

It's actually far more. The better replicator will have 413,554 times as many copies after 20 years. Over time, better replicators dominate, even if they're only a little better and nothing ever dies or runs out of resources to keep making copies. Direct competition between replicators is not required.


So, replicators have copying errors and then over time there are more replicators that are better at replicating, and fewer that are inferior at replicating. Where's the knowledge? Where's the useful information, the appearance of design?

Well, over time these replicators get good at creating lots of great grandchildren. So, they appear designed for (approximately) the purpose of creating lots of great grandchildren. So there is knowledge there. There is useful information that's able to achieve a specific purpose.

It's not just any purpose. It's not knowledge about anything. It's knowledge specifically about (roughly) replicating great grandchildren. But that is knowledge.

So how are other types of knowledge created? Like a hawk's eyesight.

Knowledge About Other Topics

So where does knowledge of a hawk's long distance eyesight come from? Or a tiger's sharp claws, an ant's scent trails, a cow's ability to create milk, a fly's ability to land softly.

The general principle is that creating knowledge about one topic often creates knowledge about other topics too. If I want to be a good physicist, I'll have to learn some math too. If I want to be a good doctor, I should know some chemistry. If I want to be a good lawyer, I should learn how to read. Pursuing one topic leads to knowledge about many topics.

Getting great grandchildren is a complicated problem. Let's consider animals. They don't just have to have babies. They also have to get food, and not become food. Animals do not have knowledge about just anything. But they do have knowledge about many things relevant to having great grandchildren besides fertility.

Hawk eyes and tiger claws are relevant to their survival, and survival is relevant to having children. That's why evolution was able to create these eyes, claws, and so on.


Some critics portray evolution as randomness, and question the ability of randomness to create knowledge. And some of their opponent's laugh in their faces and call them ignorant. But, actually, there's an interesting issue here. It's a good topic to bring up.

The variation part of evolution is random. (Actually not exactly, but that's complicated, I'm not going to get into it.) And randomness doesn't create knowledge. Randomness doesn't design things (like eyes) for purposes (like seeing).

Although part of evolution is random, part isn't. The selection part of evolution isn't random. It designs replicators (like genes or ideas) for a purpose. What purpose? Roughly, to have a maximum number of great grandchildren.

How can something designed for one purpose (great grandchildren) be good at other purposes? This is an important question which some intolerant anti-religious evolution-proponents do not understand, let alone have an answer to. I discussed it above.


Animals are not replicators. And an animal's offspring are not copies of the parent animal.

What's actually copied are genes. Genes are tiny little sequences of information (made out of DNA). What they mainly do is something like control proteins to build baby animals. Genes are copied to child animals pretty much perfectly (except for infrequent tiny errors).

If you want to know more about genes, a good place to start is by reading The Selfish Gene.


A "meme" is a word that means an idea which is a replicator. It's used for talking about the evolution of ideas.

If you want to know more about memes, you can look at my archives, or ask at the Fallible Ideas discussion group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)