Written by LW user lukeprog.

This is part of LessWrong for EA, a LessWrong repost & low-commitment discussion group (inspired by this comment). Each week I will revive a highly upvoted, EA-relevant post from the LessWrong Archives, more or less at random

Excerpt from the post:

Scientists have never observed a baboon troupe that wasn't highly aggressive, and they have compelling reasons to think this is simply baboon nature, written into their genes. Inescapable.

Or at least, that was true until the 1980s, when Kenya experienced a tourism boom.

Sapolsky was a grad student, studying his first baboon troupe. A new tourist lodge was built at the edge of the forest where his baboons lived. The owners of the lodge dug a hole behind the lodge and dumped their trash there every morning, after which the males of several baboon troupes — including Sapolsky's — would fight over this pungent bounty.

Before too long, someone noticed the baboons didn't look too good. It turned out they had eaten some infected meat and developed tuberculosis, which kills baboons in weeks. Their hands rotted away, so they hobbled around on their elbows. Half the males in Sapolsky's troupe died.

This had a surprising effect. There was now almost no violence in the troupe. Males often reciprocated when females groomed them, and males even groomed other males. To a baboonologist, this was like watching Mike Tyson suddenly stop swinging in a heavyweight fight to start nuzzling Evander Holyfield. It never happened.

This was interesting, but Sapolsky moved to the other side of the park and began studying other baboons. His first troupe was "scientifically ruined" by such a non-natural event. But really, he was just heartbroken. He never visited.

Six years later, Sapolsky wanted to show his girlfriend where he had studied his first troupe, and found that they were still there, and still surprisingly violence-free. This one troupe had apparently been so transformed by their unusual experience — and the continued availability of easy food — that they were now basically non-violent. (Full Post on LW)

Please feel free to,

Initially I talked about hosting Zoom discussion for those that were interested, but I think it’s a bit more than I can take on right now (not so low-commitment). If anyone wants to organize one, comment or PM me and I will be happy to coordinate for future posts.

For now I will  include an excerpt from each post, but if anyone wants to volunteer to do a brief summary instead, please get in touch.

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This particular quote really struck me!

Compared to situational effects, we tend to overestimate the effects of lasting dispositions on people's behavior — the fundamental attribution error. But I, for one, was only taught to watch out for this error in explaining the behavior of individual humans, even though the bias also appears when explaining the behavior of humans as a species.

It makes me optimistic for the future of humanity—perhaps we really can improve the moral arc of our species. Though it's unclear to me that the opposite can't be equally plausible, which just brings me to neutral I suppose.

I'm also not totally sure what the takeaway of this post is. 

Sometimes it's good to check if the chain can still hold you. Do not be tamed by the tug of history. Maybe with a few new tools and techniques you can just get up and walk away — to a place you've never seen before.

I am guessing that this is a prompt for individuals to try breaking from their habits/adopt growth mindsets, but I find the conclusion overly abstract.

Yeah, the nuclear example is definitely one way it could not be a good thing. Reading through the LW comments, (once you get past the 100s of comments tangent about killing males and radical feminism) a lot of people thought it was vague. The author said it was just intended as general inspiration.

Another commenter (Gwern?) made the interesting point that the analogy works better if we think of ourselves as the baboons and AGI as humans.