Changes in Reality

[Some short thoughts I just wanted to get out of my brain; bul­let-points in­stead of well-struc­tured prose. This is en­tirely ran­dom spec­u­la­tion, and not well-ex­plained. Cross-posted from Grand, Unified, Empty.]

  • So­cial sys­tems (laws, cus­toms, memes) are sub­ject to evolu­tion­ary pres­sure from the dy­nam­ics of re­al­ity; when re­al­ity changes, ex­ist­ing so­cial sys­tems are typ­i­cally no longer in equil­ibrium and have to evolve, or col­lapse and be re­built. Con­sider for ex­am­ple the in­ven­tion of the birth con­trol pill and the re­sult­ing im­pact on fam­ily struc­ture, gen­der re­la­tions, etc. Pre-pill so­cial cus­toms around mar­riage and fam­ily were no longer in equil­ibrium in a world with re­li­able fe­male birth con­trol, and so so­ciety shifted to a new set of cus­toms.

  • “Change in re­al­ity” largely means eco­nomic and tech­nolog­i­cal change. New wealth and new ca­pa­bil­ities.

  • “Change in re­al­ity” has been ac­cel­er­at­ing for a long time as new tech­nolo­gies and dis­cov­er­ies un­lock new eco­nomic pros­per­ity which en­ables more dis­cov­er­ies, in an ex­plo­sive feed­back loop. Some ar­gue that tech­nol­ogy/​sci­ence have slowed down a lot re­cently, but I think that’s mostly be­cause our best and bright­est are too busy ex­tract­ing eco­nomic value from our re­cent in­no­va­tions (com­put­ers and, sep­a­rately, the in­ter­net). Once that bounty has been con­sumed, more gen­eral tech­nolog­i­cal progress will re­sume its pre­vi­ous course.

  • There is a nat­u­ral limit on how fast so­cial sys­tems can evolve. Hu­mans can adapt to liv­ing un­der rad­i­cally differ­ent meme­plexes, but not in­stantly, and some­body has to in­vent those memes first. When re­al­ity changes slowly this is fine, as it leaves plenty of time for a mul­ti­plic­ity of ex­per­i­men­tal memetic shifts in differ­ent groups, let­ting the best adap­tion dom­i­nate with high prob­a­bil­ity.

  • At some point in the fu­ture (pos­si­bly soon?) re­al­ity will start chang­ing faster than our so­cial sys­tems can adapt. Our ex­ist­ing laws, cus­toms, memes, and gov­ern­ment will be out of equil­ibrium, but we will not have enough time to con­verge on a new so­cial sys­tem be­fore re­al­ity changes again. So­ciety will frag­ment and hu­man cul­ture will un­dergo an in­tense pe­riod of adap­tive ra­di­a­tion.

  • The coun­ter­vailing force is tech­nol­ogy’s abil­ity to con­nect us (the “global village”) and equiv­a­lently the law of cul­tural prox­im­ity.