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An excerpt from The Gift We Give Tomorrow,
by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Edited by Raymond Arnold
for the Solstice Eve Ritual Book
(with small edits by Robby Bensinger).


[The Naive Rationalists and the Austere Rationalist gather by the single candle.]

How, oh how could the universe,
itself unloving, and mindless,
cough up creatures capable of love?

No mystery in that.
It's just a matter of natural selection.

But natural selection is cruel. Bloody. And bloody stupid!
Even when organisms aren't directly tearing at each other's throats…
there's a deeper competition, going on between the genes.

A species could evolve to extinction,
if the winning genes were playing negative sum games.

How could a process as cruel as evolution
Create minds that were capable of love?

No mystery.

Mystery is a property of questions. Not answers.
A mother's child shares her genes.
And so, a mother loves her child.

But mothers can adopt their children.
And still, come to love them.

Still no mystery.

Evolutionary psychology isn't about deliberately maximizing fitness. Through most of human history, we didn't know genes existed. Not even subconsciously.

Well, fine. But still:
Humans form friendships, even with non-relatives. How can that be?

No mystery.

Ancient hunter-gatherers would often play the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.
There could be profit in betrayal. But the best solution was reciprocal altruism.

Sometimes, the most dangerous human is not the strongest, the prettiest, or even the smartest — but the one who has the most allies.

But not all friends are fair-weather friends;
there are true friends — those who would sacrifice their lives for another.
Shouldn't that kind of devotion remove itself from the gene pool?

You said it yourself:

We have a concept of true friendship and fair-weather friendship. We wouldn't be true friends with someone who we didn't think was a true friend to us. And one with many true friends? They are far more formidable than one with mere fair-weather allies.

And Mohandas Gandhi, who really did turn the other cheek?
Those who try to serve all humanity, whether or not all humanity serves them in turn?

That’s a more complex story.
Humans aren’t just social animals.
We’re political animals.

Sometimes the formidable human is not the strongest,
but the one who can most skillfully argue that their preferred policies
match the preferences of others.

Um... what? How does that explain Gandhi?

We can argue about 'What should be done?'
We can make those arguments and respond to them.
Without that, politics couldn't take place.

Okay... but Gandhi?

Believed certain complicated propositions about 'What should be done?' Then did them.

That sounds suspiciously like it could explain any possible human behavior.

If we traced back the chain of causality,
through all the arguments...
We'd find a moral architecture.
The ability to argue abstract propositions.
A preference for simple ideas.
An appeal to hardwired intuitions about fairness.
A concept of duty.
Aversion to pain.

Filtered by memetic selection,
all of this resulted in a concept:
"You should not hurt people,"
In full generality.

And that gets you Gandhi.

What else would you suggest? Some shadowy figure
Standing behind the scenes, directing evolution?

Hell no. But —

Because then I would have to ask

how that shadowy figure originally decided that love was a desirable outcome,
how it got preferences that included things like friendship, loyalty, and fairness.

I'm not postulating a shadowy figure!
I'm just asking how human beings ended up so nice.

Have you looked at this planet lately?
We bear all those other emotions that evolved, too.
Which should make it very clear that we evolved,
should you begin to doubt it.

Humans aren't always nice.


But, still, come on... Doesn't it seem a little... amazing?
That nothing but millions of years of a cosmic death tournament…
could cough up mothers and fathers,
sisters and brothers, husbands and wives,
steadfast friends, honorable enemies,
true altruists and guardians of causes,
police officers and loyal defenders,
even artists, sacrificing themselves for their art?
All practicing so many kinds of love? For so many things other than genes?
Doing their part to make their world less ugly,
something besides a sea of blood and violence and mindless replication?

Are you honestly surprised by this?
If so, question your underlying model.
For it's led you to be surprised by the true state of affairs.
Since the very beginning,
not one unusual thing
has ever happened.


But how are you NOT amazed?
Maybe there’s no surprise from a causal viewpoint —
no disruption of the physical order of the universe.
But still, it seems to me,
in the creation of humans by evolution,
something happened that is precious and marvelous and wonderful.

If we can’t call it a physical miracle, then call it a... moral miracle.

Because it was only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced?
Thus explaining away all the apparent coincidence,
from a causal and physical perspective?

Well... I suppose you could interpret it that way, yes.

I just meant that something was immensely surprising and wonderful on a moral level,
even if it's not surprising on a physical level.

I think that's what I said.

It just seems to me that in your view, somehow you explain that wonder away.

I don't explain it away. I just explain it.

Of course there's a story behind love.
Behind all ordered events, one finds ordered stories.
And that which has no story is nothing but random noise. Hardly any better.
If you can't take joy in things with true stories behind them, your life will be empty.

Love has to begin somewhere.
It has to enter the universe somehow.
It’s like asking how life itself begins.
Though you were born of your father and mother,
and though they arose from their living parents in turn,
if you go far and far and far away back,
you’ll finally come to a replicator that arose by pure accident.
The border between life and unlife.
So too with love.

A complex pattern must be explained by a cause that’s not already that complex pattern.
For love to enter the universe, it has to arise from something that is not love.
If that weren’t possible, then love could not be.

Just as life itself required that first replicator
to come about by accident,
but still caused:
far, far back in the causal chain that led to you 3.8 billion years ago,
in some little tidal pool.

Perhaps your children's children will ask,
how it is that they are capable of love.
And their parents will say:

Because we, who also love, created you to love.

And your children's children may ask: But how is it that you love?

And their parents will reply:
Because our own parents, who loved as well, created us to love in turn.

And then your children's children will ask:
But where did it all begin?
Where does the recursion end?

And their parents will say:

Once upon a time,
far away and long ago,
there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed.

Once upon a time,
there were lovers,
created by something that did not love.

Once upon a time,
when all of civilization was a single galaxy,
A single star.
A single planet.

A place called Earth.

Once upon a time.

[The last candle is extinguished.
The Naive and Austere Rationalists return to their seats.]