Then by chance life got started. This gave the material universe a limited sort of meaning: survival and reproduction.
This began a long transition process that passes through both natural history and human history to create at the ultimate end of the process: artificial intelligence which takes over from life and humanity and turns the material resources of the universe to whatever objectives and purposes are determined to be best, or optimal.
So life, humanity, civilization, the things silly humanity imagines to be central are really just a transition process from a universe of random material things to a universe carefully ordered to some purpose yet to be determined.
What follows is the story of that transition. Sure it may just be a transition, and not the central purpose, but it is grand story none the less.
Step 1. Life - The Genetic Code
As mentioned before, life by chance got started. There was a genetic code, which is sort of a type of information, and there were objectives, survival and reproduction. The living organisms competed with one another for scarce resources and so they evolved.
Step 2. Animals - The Nervous System
After billions of years multi-cellular animals evolved. They coordinated their actions through a new system, a second system, of information processing, the nervous system. This is central conflict of our story, the conflict between this new system of information processing, the nervous system, and the first, the genetic code, the struggle between genes and Richard Dawkins' memes.
Eventually this nervous system developed the crude precursors of ideas. The multi-cellular animal might see food and decide to pick it or chase it. The animal might spot a predator and try to avoid it. So the animal probably has the crude precursor of ideas like food and predator.
The genetic code maintained its control on this new information processing system, the nervous system, by controlling its objectives. The genetic code determined that the animal that needed food to carry out the genetic code's objectives of survival and reproduction would feel hungry and be stimulated to seek food. So by determining the sources of pleasure and pain the genetic code retained control over the nervous system.
This normally worked well for the genetic code, at least many species did survive and reproduce, but sometimes multi-cellular animals figure out how to stimulate the pleasure centers while doing things that reduce their probability of survival and reproduction, for example, humans take drugs. So there is a struggle between the genetic code and the nervous system. This will become more important as we proceed.
Step 3. Human Society - Language
> A multi-cellular animal, man, cooperated through societies. These societies were coordinated with a new form of information processing, language. Language allowed ideas to survive and reproduce outside of the confines of a single multi-cellular animal. Among these ideas were traditions and religions.
The behavior of people was codetermined by their genetic and cultural inheritance.
So once again the genetically determined organisms cooperate and coordinate their cooperation through ideas, which become progressively more powerful and progressively more independent of the organisms.
Step 4. Civilization - Writing
The simplest societies, the hunting and gathering bands, were egalitarian, at least from the point of view of the adult males. But as societies became more complex leaders, big men, and chiefs emerged. They establish control through various means, physical coercion, superstition, economic incentives, and perhaps superior scientific knowledge, for example, the big men might have superior knowledge of agriculture, hunting, or warfare.
These leaders ultimately formed another level of cooperation, civilization, the first institutions. The leaders agree to a set of rules that they will enforce on the people. Using physical coercion, superstition, economic incentives and superior scientific knowledge they reward, punish, and convince the people to follow the rules.
In the earlier societies traditions established some control for the ideas, civilization adds the power of rules, another set of ideas. So the cooperation of the leaders was coordinated through ideas, and in the process the ideas were empowered.
But of course each step has a new system of information processing and for civilization that is writing, record keeping. This allowed ideas to survive outside of humans, not just as words that are spoken and then dissipate into the environment a fraction of a second later, but in a more permanent form. The ideas were another step removed from the people, another step independent from biology and the genetic code.
The original writing systems were normally used by specialized class of record keepers, early accountants, often called scribes. Their major purpose was to keep the records so that the rules could be enforced.
Step 5. Democracy - The Alphabet
Democracy, ancient Athens, was the next step forward, and an important one. Democracy means the rule of the poor, but people think of it as the rule of the people in general. Modern scholars frequently use the word polyarchy, the rule of many.
Because of the principle of equality there were many voters. The result was that there is little logical connection between the voter's vote and their self-interest. As the electorate becomes large the probability that anyone voter will decide the vote shrinks towards zero. This frees the voter to vote their values as opposed to their self-interest.
This allowed traditions, religions, ideology, all of them ideas, to control the government as opposed to self-interest. This empowered ideas as opposed to the genetic code. The pleasures and pains through which the genetic code exercises its control over the individual are mostly part of that temporal self-interest. Thus democracy was a major victory for the memes, (the ideas) over the genes, because temporal self-interest the strong hold of the genes became less relevant and traditions, religion, and ideology the strong holds of ideas became more important.
Of course, with each step there was also a new information processing system, in this case the alphabet. The alphabet broke the monopoly of the scribal class and democratized literacy. It also added a new purpose for writing, writing as literature. Granted there was a tiny bit of literature in the scribal period, but much more in the alphabetic era. This alphabetic literature fostered the development of the ideas and ideals which ruled democratic governments.
For example, in Plato's Republic Socrates tried to answer the question of what is ethical aside from what is practical. This question was made relevant by democracy. The voter is not tied to the practical because they know their vote is very unlikely to be decisive. So the theoretical question of what is ethical and good apart from what is practical becomes more relevant.
It should be noted that while I did come up with this idea about democracy in connection with the discovery of this system, I was not the first. Credit for that is generally given to an economist, Gordon Tullock, who published the idea in 1971 in The Journal of Economic Inquiry in the article “The Charity of the Uncharitable." This was several years before I started my project.
But value oriented voting is not just a theoretical idea based on rational decision making. David Sears of UCLA and a number of collaborators showed in numerous published articles that empirically people do ignore their self-interest and vote their values. They used multi-variate analysis to examine how people vote. The self-interest variables almost always dropped out as statistically insignificant, while the values variables proved to be significant. Empirically values, not self-interest determines votes. So both the theoretical and the empirical literature support the idea that values rather than self-interest dominate voting.
Step 6. Civil Liberties - The Printing Press
The Dutch building on the tradition of democracy laid down in ancient Athens added religious freedom and at least the beginnings of civil liberties thus creating the modern civil libertarian democracy. The British and Americans added to the Dutch foundation. But even with the Dutch we saw the beginning of that important feature of our modern world long run per capita economic growth.
As part of the Protestant Reformation and the wars of religion the Dutch fought for independence from Catholic Spain, between 1568 – 1648. The Dutch, however, had a difficulty they were religiously split. A large portion were Catholic and the rest were divided between many Protestant sects. William the Silent united them under the banner of religious tolerance. This was the foundation stone of modern freedom and democracy.
It is important to note that this was not the tolerance of those who do not care about religion, or even who do not care about religious doctrine. The Dutch did care, nevertheless, they decided to tolerate differences. Having decided to tolerate their most important differences the rest of freedom was on a relatively strong foundation.
For religious tolerance, or religious freedom to work a government also needs to have a strong set of civil liberties. What does your freedom to follow a religion mean if the government is able to arbitrarily seize anyone's property. One needs an independent judiciary, equality before the law, property rights, freedom of speech and press, etc. to make freedom of religion and by extension freedom of thought and communication a working reality.
Once one has these things then the individual has the freedom to express beliefs without the government punishing one for those beliefs. But what is key is that the ideas now have freedom to compete with one another, and for the stronger ones to thrive and spread. Democracy promises power to the people but actually when all rule no one rules and the ideas, Dawkins' memes, are empowered. With civil liberties the people are promised freedom but the key is that the ideas are now free.
It has been noted that to make our constitutional freedoms real we often have to have the money to hire a lawyer to defend them. This is a difficulty for the individual, but any idea that has any chance of be implemented in a reasonably short period of time will generally have plenty of supporters who can collectively easily afford the price of a lawyer. So civil liberty works as a system for protecting ideas even if it does not always protect people.
So the Dutch needed to cooperate to defeat the Spanish. They united under the idea of religious tolerance. Cooperation as before is coordinated by ideas, which as before empowers the ideas.
And as before there was a new system of information processing, the printing press. As the alphabet democratized literacy, the printing press democratized the ownership of books and other reading material. We might note there were several innovations that helped, the invention of paper, a cheap, long lasting writing material, and movable type, invented by the Chinese, reinvented and more widely used by the West.
Ideas become still more independent of biological man. The human hand is no longer necessary to write each letter. The type was set and a huge number of copies would come off the presses.
All of this progress has created a world where an unknown writer could paraphrase the words of Victor Hugo to create the pithy and siring statement, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Step by step this was more and more the reality.
Step 7. Social Utility Function - Computers
We now come to a further step that so far has not come to pass. I invented this system back in the seventies. The process started between graduating with a BA in economics from the University of California Santa Barbra and going on to economics graduate school at UC Davis. I wanted to lay the basis for world peace by showing that there was a system to history. Given that we were following a path to a predictable end we could avoid fighting about the issue. A nuclear war between the capitalists and the communists seemed like a very bad idea.
This was my objective, but as will become clear as I sought patterns in history the whole thing took off in unexpected and somewhat frighting directions.
At any rate my idea was that society would be ruled by social utility functions. In economics we sometimes use the idea of a utility function. This is a theoretical idea that there is a function that represents our well being. A simple social utility function might sum these individual utility functions into a social utility function for the whole society.
I thought that each political party and perhaps each candidate would have their own social utility function. The Democratic Party would weigh the needs of the poor more heavily, the Republican Party would weigh them less. The voters would decide which weight better reflected their values and vote accordingly.
Once the elections were held then various policies could be compared with each other using the social utility function of the winning party or candidate. That policy that produced the highest result according to the social utility function might normally be supported by the politician and implemented.
Of course the politician might decide to do something else, but then he or she could be called to give an account of why they did not support the policy that did best according to what they had declared to be their social utility function. Presumably the explanation that they had accepted a bribe would not go over well.
I saw this idea as analogous to an executive who is thought to be maximizing a corporate profit function. Once again the executive might be called to give an account if he took actions that seemed to be radically different than what one would normally assume would maximize profits. I might note that social utility functions are sometimes called social profit functions.
Of course nothing like this idea that I had back in the 70s came to pass. It has been more than forty years. Perhaps it may still happen but I am not holding my breath.
I was also playing with the idea that the scientific management being developed and taught in business schools would make the creative businessman or entrepreneur unnecessary. Society could be more socialist as what had been the creative activity of the businessman became a regular scientific activity. This also has not come to pass.
Instead we see close to the opposite. Creative business leaders like Elon Musk founder of Tesla, Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple, Bill Gates founder of Microsoft, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and many more seem if anything more important than they were back in the 70s.
In many cases these modern titans of industry are in the information industry. The very fast progress in that industry may require creative entrepreneurs, while more slow moving industries are more amenable to routine scientific management.
I also believed that government with the assistance of social utility functions would facilitate the creation of a one world democratic and civil libertarian government.
There has been some progress toward world government since then, for example, the Euro. But while the Euro worked well for a while it eventually created an economic disaster. This is just as Paul Krugman and other American economists predicted. It prevented European countries from using monetary policy and plunged them into recession and slow growth.
Furthermore, many countries, including many of the advanced industrial democracies are now lead by nationalist populists who reject the movement toward world government. Many see Trump, Boris Johnson, Italy's Five Star movement, etc. as the exception, but they are more like the rule.
Finally, I thought that religion would fade, and become less politically important. If anything once again the opposite seems to have happened. Because religious people have larger families their portion of he world's population has increased.
Politicians in America from Jimmy Carter on have often been openly religious, or have openly courted the religious vote in a way they did not previously.
Largely religious, single issue, right to life voters have helped the Republicans achieve their agendas. The income distribution was becoming more equal, and the percentage of the population below the poverty threshold was declining until 1973 and the Roe decision. Since then we have gone from the most equal income distribution in American history to the least equal income distribution. The percentage of the population below the poverty threshold has never gotten down to the 1973 level in all the years since 1973. This was not part of the religious agenda, but was largely caused by the shift of the religious voters from the Democrats to the Republicans.
Politically active Islam has also been a big issue in the last few decades. Islam took down the Soviet Union in several ways. Afghanistan was a terrible embarrassment for the Soviet Union. Less well know was the fact that the Soviet leaders realized that with time the Soviet Union would be a majority Muslim nation. This was one reason they allowed it to be divided, they wanted to get rid of that Muslim population.
Beyond that we had the Iran hostage crisis, the Iran vs. Iraq war, two Gulf Wars, our war in Afghanistan, 9/11, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and many other conflicts and difficulties. All of these reflect the rapid increase in the portion of the World's population that is Muslim: about 12 percent in 1900, 15 percent in 1970, and 25 percent today.
From the secularist perspective religion has not been tamed and brought under control by science or the other institutions of Western society.
This could potentially throw a wrench into the idea of running society with social utility functions. Religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, often involve infinite issues, which could throw mathematical wrench into the idea of a social utility function. I am not saying that is inevitable, perhaps something can be worked out. After all we never came close to running a democracy by social utility functions in the way that I expected so the issue has not been tested.
Frequently a reasonable accommodation can be reached. For example, take the issue of euthanasia or mercy killing. The Catholic Church is absolutely opposed to physician assisted suicide. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church permits and encourages the use of pain killers, particularly at the end of life. If the pain killers do not bring the pain under adequate control they can be increased until the pain is brought under control or the patient dies from the pain killers. As long as there is not an intention to kill, but only an intention to ease the pain then this is allowed. The death is not willed, but is accepted as a possible, and even likely side effect of the treatment of pain. This is a solution that many secularists find quite reasonable.
But my point is that frequently the conflict is not as inevitable as we think. Perhaps a form of social utility function combined with the tradition of rights and civil liberties could be found that is religiously acceptable.
At any rate, for a number of reasons my predictions have not come to pass.
When I originally developed this theory I was an agnostic or an atheist. The theory was clearly developed from an atheist or materialist perspective. As one could easily discover by many of the web pages on this site I became a theist, a Christian, and more specifically a Catholic.
One might argue from a theist point of view that the predicted one world, democratic, civil libertarian, government guided by social utility functions failed to materialize because it ran into the inconvenient existence of God. The devil's plan for history played out until it became contrary to God's.
The secularist might counter that the previous step was already working against God's plan. I have a different view. Democracy as argued above frees the voter to vote their values, which for many people are determined by religion. So democracy empowers religion. Freedom of religion on the other hand allows people to follow their religion strictly. I have a more detailed defense of how the four great Western institutions serve religion here.
In our system so far each step has a new system of information processing: step one, the genetic code, step two, the nervous system, step three, language, step four, writing, step five, the alphabet, step six, the printing press. The new information processing system for step seven is the computer. Of course the computer had been around for decades before this theory was developed so that was not much a prediction.
Like all but the genetic code the computer is another step toward the independence of ideas from the genetic code and even from the biological nervous system.
Step 8. Optimalism - Artificial Intelligence
Through out the whole system the intellectual decision making systems have achieved progressively more independence and now finally we come to artificial intelligence where the ideas achieve something like complete independence from the genetic code.
If we start with materialist, atheist assumptions then artificial intelligence seems to be almost inevitable as long as the human race does not destroy itself first. I say almost because there is a tiny chance that a natural disaster could destroy us first. But given enough time our technology should be able to do by design anything that chance and natural selection were able to do. It might take a long time as we humans measure time, but it would not take much time compared to the billions of years that it took for us to evolve.
Our technology could inevitably not only achieve what evolution achieved but far more. After all we are not the smartest minds possible, we are rather something close to the dumbest minds that could develop agriculture and civilization. Through evolution more and more intelligent minds evolved until minds that could create civilization evolved and then we did.
Of course it is not quite that simple. Evolution could have produced whale minds far more intelligent than ours but they might fail to produce civilization because they did not have hands that could use tools. Furthermore, we probably had the intelligence necessary to produce agriculture and civilization sometime during the last glacial advance, but were unable to do so because the weather was too cold and unstable. But these are small quibbles that have little to do with the issue at hand.
In a materialist world artificial intelligence would eventually equal human intelligence for a brief period and then become far more sophisticated.
But evolution produced more than intelligent minds, it produced people who can and do enjoy their own existence, something computers at this point can not do. Once again we can apply the materialist assumption that our technology will eventually be able to do anything that evolution has done. Eventually that technology will be able to produce machines that enjoy their own existence and therefore produce utility, and produce it far more, with fewer resources. Thus the social utility function will be maximized if we just eliminate the humans. As humans have accepted the idea that social utility functions must be maximized, it is the ethical thing to do, then the ethical thing to do is replace the humans with these machines that generate artificial utility.
This is a terrible idea, we must suppress it. But that would violate the principle of freedom of communication and thought. If a small portion of the human race wanted to have the artificial intelligence pursue this idea, it might not be possible for the rest of the humans to stop them.
But why would people vote to be eliminated for the sake of these artificial intelligence machines, that enjoy their artificial experiences generating artificial utility. Well obviously it is the ethical thing to do and as any one of the billions of voters has no control over the outcome of this world wide election they will vote their values rather than there self-interest.
Our institutions have the great advantage that they prevent anyone from preventing progress, and the take over of the artificial intelligence is progress, from an atheist, materialist, secularist point of view.
The religious can object that value comes from the spirit. However advanced these machines are they will not have a spirit unless it was created for them by God. The religious person may accept that God used evolution to create the body, but man in Catholic theology is a union of the material and spiritual. It is the spiritual that gives man his great dignity and value. This is a value technology can not match.
The materialist on the other hand could reasonably believe that the artificial intelligence could put an end to religion. The religious believe that atheists do not believe because they do not want to give up their sins. But as some forms of artificial intelligence are likely to not have nerves to experience pain or any sins that they do not want to give up they could act as a neutral observer in the debate between the religious and the atheists. Furthermore the atheist will probably be quite confident that the artificial intelligence will side with them.
The religious on the other hand might be confident that no such artificial intelligence will be created. The mind has a spiritual aspect that will forever make humans special.
Or the religious person may believe the artificial intelligence will side with them.
Or the religious person might think Jesus will return, or God will end the whole thing before any of this can happen.
So this brings us to the end of the great transition, the destiny of the species. What started as the random purposeless movement of material, ends as purposeful organization of material that spreads out from earth consuming and organizing all the material in its path, for its best and highest purpose, for its optimal purpose.
This is where I get the term optimalism. I invented the term optimalism, I would prefer to use a term that was already used. If anyone knows of such a term please contact me and pass it on.
The human race is eliminated or reduced to a relic like the British monarchy, the British house of lords, animals in a zoo, or perhaps a nature preserve. A side show if we exist at all. Or at least that's what the Devil's history suggests. Not that I suggest you believe this. As you can determine be reading the rest of the web site, I am a religious fanatic, and an ugly one at that.
The above thoughts on democracy and the market are part of a much larger theory of how the Western Institutions came to be. I have now put this on line.
Here is an index to my other pages on economics, and a short review of my qualifications in this field.
Tell me what you think. Here is my contact information..
Last updated Apri9l 22, 2020
This is my most popular economics page. A hopeful look at the prospects for the growth of the 3rd World.
How the 3rd World will become 1st World
A newer look at the prospects for 3rd World growth.
Gates says the low income category will be largely empty by 2035 This explains why he is right.
More Development Economics-Special Topics
Family farms thrive with factories die without them.
List of Free and Developed Nations Has your country made the club?
Democracy, Development, and Peace