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Hi, dear EAs

I acknowledged the EA community last year in 2022, and to my fortune, I attended the EAGx in Berlin last September. From these that I know, the EAs are really of a diverse composition with people focusing on diverse tracks to the end of effective altruism.

Here, I want to introduce my premature attempt in academics to propose a new hypothesis in evolution that seeks to counteract the 'survival of the fittest' that has crept into popular culture and monopolized our understanding of evolution for centuries. I will briefly explain the implication of the new hypothesis and why it matters to the EA community. In the end, the pre-print link for the paper presenting the hypothesis will be provided. 

Part 1: Expansion or survival doesn't capture the whole picture. There has been another piece in evolution that is welfare-oriented. 

To explain the idea in the hypothesis, a contrast existing between natural and sexual selection has to be noted. It's well known that natural selection is the evolutionary force theorized to enhance the effectiveness of adaptive traits and eliminate the non-adaptive ones of the organism. For example, the beak of birds will be lengthened when they need to dig deeper into the soil to find seeds as food. However, in sexual selection, the preferred traits are against the trend of natural selection. For example, the elaborated long tail of the peacock is a very decorative trait that is the basis for competing for admiration from the female peacock, but meanwhile, it exposes the owner to a greater danger of its survivorship by hindering its escape from a predator. 

Is the contrast between natural and sexual selection an inherent imperfection in nature? Or does the divergence of sexual selection have a merited purpose? As I explored the bioscience literature, I was able to find a path to the suggestion that the trend of sexual selection is towards shifting the species to the status of well-being rather than to be under constant survival mode, which has been little revealed in the evolutionary literature. To put in other words, while the job of natural selection is to make sure that the individual is designed effectively for being able to survive, sexual selection wants to select the individuals which sustain themselves in the most burden-free manner and then help to amplify their reproductive success.  

***Supplementation of some academic details below***

To illustrate the above points, I inevitably borrowed a physiological concept termed 'allostasis'. Allostasis describes the capability of the organism to change its internal parameters (i.e. heartbeat, adrenaline, cytokines...) to adjust itself to the new life situation. Basically, all organisms can achieve the adjustment with varying flexibility; those with less flexibility, however, will be more susceptible to finding the process of change costly. But surprisingly, sexual attractiveness is founded upon the low cost of the change process. And the burden cast by the past attempts for change is prohibitive for the burgeoning of attractive secondary sexual traits.

Part 2: Evolutionary theory has a potentially high impact on decision-making at all levels.

Survival of the fittest, the phrase perhaps, is the best-known synonym for the evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin. However, it has lent insidious endorsement for a world in which unchecked growth and exploitation of peers are morally justified; It's a cryptic ideology that fuels the many things that shape existential problems.

The recognization of the influence of welfare states in evolution will also likely evoke our reflection on the assumptions of longtermism...


Part 3:

Access to the pre-print academic paper (warning: jargon-laden) talking about the hypothesis here: 


(I'll keep updating the latest version until it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal)


Open opportunities:

For biological academia: The hypothesis is still a hypothesis today, and the validations from computational and field experiments will be appreciated. 

For other engagement: If you're interested in learning the idea in more depth, you're very welcome to leave me the questions, and I will answer them as soon as I can. 





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Just saw this on my feed. I'm not sure if you've already read this, but the book Does Altruism Exist? by David Sloan Wilson is about this exact premise: altruistic/pro-social behaviours and the conditions under which it comprises a successful evolutionary strategy, both for individuals and groups. It's written by a biologist, so I think you might find some use out of it!

Personally, I like the book and I think EAs would find it interesting. Effective Altruism has a ton of research examining the Effective part, but far less on the Altruism part. The book rigorously defines definitions such as altruism, and examines the contexts under which altruistic individuals and groups can thrive, as well as the risks that could undermine such behaviours.

If I understand you:

Survival (resilience) traits and sexual attractiveness (well-being) traits diverge. Either can lead to reproduction. Selection for resilience inhibits well-being. More selection for well-being implies less selection for resilience. Reproduction implies selection for resilience or well-being but not both.

There's some argument about specific examples available like attractiveness of peacocks:

Surprisingly, we found that peahens selectively attend to only a fraction of this display, mainly gazing at the lower portions of the male train and only rarely at the upper portions, head or crest. ... These results suggest that when the lower train of the peacock is not visible, peahens direct more attention toward the upper train and use it as a long-distance attraction signal to help locate mates for close inspection.

There's also some evidence that the peacock plumage does not affect flying to escape predators:

After analyzing the video, they found that there was no statistically significant difference in flight performance of peacocks with intact tail feathers and those without, they report online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology. This research complicates the common assumption in evolutionary biology that elaborate sexual ornaments must come at a cost to the animal. But although peacocks' elaborate feather trains don't impede speedy takeoffs, the researchers note that they may pose other burdens to the birds, such as compromising their flight control, stability, and ground running performance.

I think you got it if you meant that either resilience or well-being could lead to the selection, and it's well-being that amplifies reproduction. Thank you for the feedbacks

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