Runaway effect in technological evolution: when sexual selection beats survival selection


Two selections exist in the natural world

Can human behavior be reduced to biology alone (no)?

“We are not a classic pair-bonded species. We are not a polygamous, tournament species either… What we are, officially, is a tragically confused species.”

“One could not imagine a higher contrast than between the Wise and the Prophet. Neither are gods, that’s all what they have in common. In all other respects they are opposed: the one chaste, the other powerful with his four wives; one androgynous, the other bearded; one peaceful, the other bellicose; one exemplary and the other messianic.”

Major biology principles can still guide our understanding

Indirect selection(s) of technologies?

An example of a powerful but resource-intensive boat (left) compared to Tara-Tari (right), low-profile and made of burlap

« ”We no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not buy just an auto, we buy prestige.” And so with all the rest. In toothpaste, for example, we buy, not a mere cleanser and antiseptic, but release from the fear of being sexually repulsive. In vodka and whisky we are not buying a protoplasmic poison which, in small doses, may depress the nervous system in a psychologically valuable way; we are buying friendliness and good fellowship, the warmth of Dingley Dell and the brilliance of the Mermaid Tavern. With our laxatives we buy the health of a Greek god, the radiance of one of Diana’s nymphs » [Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World Revisited” (1958)]

A technological show-off

Lycurgus cup (left) is aesthetic but a terracotta cup (right) is just practical and sober.

Maximum emPower or entropy production (MePP)

Application to low-tech

antique cabinet VS Ikea disposable

The sociological effects behind objects and brands is huge

“Going further, we could say that there is something religious in this technical type of participation, based on the link with the technical object only, without ethnic, professional or family community at the base. Using a scooter of a brand still rare in France, I have been greeted with a big friendly gesture by the driver of a similar vehicle. Generally, we would be more willing to render a service to the user of an automobile of the same type as ours; drivers of cars of different brands are more foreigners. As in this area there are no limits, we can suppose that the feeling of participation is the real basis of dangerous exploits. Similar to the driver who, in a 203 Peugeot, competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and managed to finish the race, and to be classified along with the competition cars. It is also probable that this zeal is at the origin of the tendency to “inflate” cars of reduced power: a true lover of speed or power could get a more powerful car; but then the feeling of effort and merit would be diminished; the driver would no longer feel the comforting impression of having covered with honor the brand in which he participates, and of having devoted himself to it.” ▪ [3]

Example of strong identification with brands: in personal objects and clothing. However they enter in a capitalist perspective, so other identifications e.g. linked to ancient cultures should be instead encouraged.


F. Zapata and his Flyboard Air: a runaway effect




« En allant plus loin, on pourrait dire qu’il y a quelque chose de religieux dans ce type technique de participation, fondé sur le seul lien de l’objet technique, sans communauté ethnique, professionnelle ou familiale à la base. Employant un scooter d’une marque encore rare en France, il m’est arrivé d’être salué d’un grand geste amical par le conducteur d’un engin de même espèce. Généralement, nous rendrions plus volontiers service à l’utilisateur d’une automobile de même type que la nôtre ; les conducteurs des voitures de marque différente sont davantage des étrangers. Comme en ce domaine il n’existe pas de limites, on peut supposer que le sentiment de participation est le fondement réel d’exploits dangereux. Comme celui de ce conducteur qui, sur une 203 Peugeot, a concouru aux 24 Heures du Mans, et a réussi à terminer la course, et à être classé avec les voitures de compétition.

Il est probable aussi que ce zèle est à l’origine de la tendance à « gonfler» les automobiles de puissance réduite: un véritable amateur de vitesse ou de puissance pourrait se procurer une voiture de cylindrée plus élevée; mais alors le sentiment de l’effort et du mérite serait moins grand; le conducteur n’éprouverait plus l’impression réconfortante d’avoir couvert d’honneur la marque à laquelle il participe, et de s’être dévoué pour elle. »



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