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Robert Trivers

symbolically. But these are very, very rudimentary compared to our language. So, I think it must have gone hand in hand with language. I think reciprocal altruism was bound up in it, because I don’t think you get selection for much language, unless you have a back and forth kind of relationship, where each benefits from the interaction. Even then I think of language initially as starting in families, and spreading among close relatives, and being beneficial that way.

RMN: What possibilities do you see for our future evolution, of humans or other species?

ROBERT: I haven’t thought much about future evolution. Again, it’s contingent in our own species’ case with getting the population growth under control, and what form that’s going to take- whether it’s natural disasters and non-nuclear war, and that kind of thing, that’s going to keep populations under control, or whether it’s some kind of voluntary restraint, it’s hard to guess. It’s hard for me to visualize what system of reproductive competition will exist in the species, after we get the population growth under control.

DJB: How do you think consciousness evolved, and how do you see it evolving into the next century?

ROBERT: Well, I’m not sure what consciousness is. I think insects are conscious to a limited degree. I don’t think they’re highly conscious or acutely self conscious, but I think there’s a little light turned on in insects that I’ve played with, and they’re conscious of what’s going on. How do you see it evolving in the future, Dave?

DJB: Well, I see brain capacity, and information processing abilities increasing, for one thing.

ROBERT: Increasing? So, that assumes now that bigger-brained people are leaving more surviving offspring?

DJB: Well, what I’m looking at is the overall 4.5 billion years of evolution, and brain capacity has increased, intelligence has increased.

ROBERT: Yeah. Right.

DJB: So, I see the pattern continuing on into the future.

ROBERT: But do you disagree with my statement? In other words, you see bigger-brained people leaving more surviving offspring.

DJB: Well, actually, I think I see exactly the opposite. I don’t know about the size of people’s brains, but I see those who are less educated reproducing more quickly than the more educated, unfortunately. I wonder why this is?

ROBERT: Well, you see this is the conflict between a teleological or orthogenetic view of evolution, and one that always insists that natural selection be behind it. You can’t extrapolate from past patterns, unless you imagine there is some momentum, or force, carrying you through to the future. If you believe in evolution through natural selection, then you believe in the changes, which have been general, but not universal towards greater brain size. If you look at the vertebrates, there’s been increase in brain size, in mammals over the last 150 million years, Been no increase in fish in 400 million years. No increase in amphibians, so far as I know. Increase in birds. Even in human lineage, I think there’s no evidence of any increase in the last 100 thousand years. I’m not so sure about that statement. I know Cro-Magnon man was sort of a large-bodied form, but it had…

DJB: A larger cranium.

RMN: I heard that at some point they had brain capacities larger than we have now.

ROBERT: I’ve heard that too.

DJB: Why do you think consciousness evolved in the first place? How is it even adaptive?

ROBERT: Well, again, it depends on what we mean by consciousness.

DJB: Awareness, the opposite of being unconscious.

RMN: Or the ability to receive and transmit information.

ROBERT: Yeah, to me, it’s just some kind of a heightened mental faculty, allowing heightened learning, and quicker responses to on-going events, which, however, is costly. I always use the analogy of an electric light being switched on, or not being switched on, partly because we’re so visual, and our images of consciousness are so visual. And a light bulb is expensive, so we sleep, or we have periods of unconsciousness to rest what is a very expensive kind of ability.

DJB: Can you explain your theory of self-deception?

ROBERT: I tend to imagine that in social species, especially where there’s been selection for deception, and spotting deception, then there’s been selection for self-deception. This is a new kind of unconsciousness, where you systematically hide the truth from yourself. I tend to think that self-deception has been as important in human history as mental acuity itself is.

I’d rather have a leader that was minimally self-deceived, and not quite as quick with his brain, than someone who was quicker, but practiced a lot of self-deception. So when you talk about the future of consciousness, my mind goes around, and I think about self-deception, and how selection is operating with regard to that, and it’s just so hard to speculate when we’re talking about things on a time-scale of a few thousand years, at the

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