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Robert Trivers

least, to get some natural selection going that’s going to show up with something.

While at the same time, we know that in the next couple of hundred years we’re going to see radical changes, I think, in our environment, including our medical environment, including this bio-engineering business. Because bioengineering starts to get into conflict with natural selection if we start talking about changing our genome, the genome that’s in our gonads. A small amount initially would create only a small effect, so we’re going to go in, and we’re going to get rid of my bad eye genes, and a few other bad genes. That’s very minimal.

More extensive revision of yourself is like almost interfering with personal genetic reproduction, and I think those forces are going to be large and looming before regular old natural selection has had time to produce a human that’s much different than ourselves. An issue that I cut myself off from has to do with social cost. Normalizing selection chops off the extremes all the time, and keeps the species close together.

Right now there’s three percent mortality in our society between age zero and age twenty-five. That’s very very small. Next to no variance can be generated by that small a selection. So then let’s assume ninety-five percent of individuals couple up, or marry, and it isn’t too far off from that right now. And let’s assume everyone has two children, and let’s assume you’re supposed to have two, and you’re not supposed to have any more than two, and if you lose one, you replace it.

Well, an intriguing argument that was published a few years back said after awhile the species will start coming apart, because you’ll no longer have normalizing selection. So, in the extreme case, after fifty generations of this or something, your baby will require a certain kind of pills to keep it from having trembling spasms, and my baby will require that it keep it’s left leg in warm water for a half an hour at night, and all of us will grow up with these environmental demands that are necessary to compliment what normally would just have been taken care of genetically.

So the social costs begin to go up, but right now we already have so many social costs from related biological things that don’t have to do with natural selection. I’m thinking of matters like the elder generation and the result of medical advances. Now we have people who can live miserably between eighty and ninety, just dreadfully. I don’t know if you all have been into any of these nursing homes. My wife worked in them and I used to pick her up. I couldn’t take it. I’d wait outside. There were people screaming all night long. You know, they’ve been in there for six years screaming, and they’ll be in there for five more screaming, and that’s it. They’re looking forward to death, because the screaming is all they’re doing.

So, there is a case where suicide, I think, can be adaptive in several senses of the word. It certainly makes some sense if there was a dignified, good way to do it. I’d just say well, Dave is eighty-three now, and he’s not taking care of himself, and he’s going to have this farewell party, and we’re going to say good-bye.

RMN: It’ll be a happy occasion.

ROBERT: Yeah, something like that–a happy occasion. His relatives and friends gathered around.

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