Friday, July 10, 2009

The Future of Sex

I'm here on the Azores at the FQXi conference. It is a tremendously interesting meeting. For once, I don't get weird looks when I express my believe that Quantum Mechanics will turn out to be not fundamental or that our understanding of human consciousness will be relevant to avoid a stagnation of progress in science.

Yesterday we had an excursion and got to see some of the beautiful scenery of San Miguel. Our organizers, Max Tegmark and Anthony Agiurre clustered us in groups, and assigned us with the task of coming up with future scenarios, what is likely or unlikely to happen within 10 and 1000 years. They are still working on bringing the results into a useful format; I guess they will appear on the FQXi website sooner or later. I just want to pick out one of the more amusing points that was brought up by Paul Davies' wife Pauline (if I recall correctly): Will we get bored of sex? (Audience question: "Do you have any evidence for that?")

It doesn't quite fit into the category of "fundamental" questions one expects at a theoretical physics conference, but I think it's an interesting point. In times where more and more women make use of in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, when we have good chances of producing artificial sperm rendering men obsolete altogether, will we continue to have sex or will it become evolutionary redundant and, on the long run, uninteresting? Will this happen within the next 1000 years?

I think it is unlikely that within 1000 years such a dramatic change of evolution and natural selection would be completed. I find it possible however mankind will split into two branches, the one making use of biological and technological enhancements modern science is offering, the other rejecting these changes to human nature. In the long run, one of these will turn out to be more successful, but 1000 years are not sufficient to settle that. I generally think many people are underestimating the wisdom of Nature and overestimating human ingenuity, thus the probability something will go dramatically wrong when we start designing humans is pretty high.

See also: The Future of Rationality


Pope Maledict XVI said...

With a heroic effort I resist the temptation to ask how Stefan feels about *that* question and ask instead: have you written anything on this blog about your feelings regarding quantum mechanics? I searched but with no luck.

Bee said...

I found 1000 years is a safe distance to avoid a discussion about personal preferences. No, this blog doesn't contain much about my 'feelings' altogether, whether about QM or artificial insemination.

Seven of Nine said...

I am thinking of the Asgards when it comes to discussion like this. Yes maybe it will not serve as any reproduction advantage but it maybe will provide us some sort of social advantage just like the Bonobos... pleasure and peace.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

As with any aspect of evolution things continue to evolve. While sex may appear to only have utility to continue in the physical sense it has progressed to the point where in humans it’s becoming more of a cerebrally required activity. Perhaps in future all that will happen is the need for our interfaces may disappear to the point where this is more accomplished telepathic ly. It then brings one to wonder what will then correspond to being Viagra in such circumstance? :-)



CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I think that you greatly underestimate how fast things are changing. Technological evolution not biological evolution is in the driver's seat. The real question is whether humans will be obsolete in 20 -30 years. If humans are around in 200 years, then it will be because they have found out how to stop technological advance.

Anonymous said...

"Quantum Mechanics will turn out to be not fundamental or that our understanding of human consciousness will be relevant to avoid a stagnation of progress in science."

Yeah when you have a bit of spare time it would be interesting to develop those ideas on this blog; otherwise I'm gonna be stuck with a weird face for quite some time.

As for the sex issue, you kind of imply that people are mostly having sex for reproduction, while reproduction is usually the last thing on your mind when doing it. To quote Feynman :

"Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."

Bee said...

Anonymous: No, what I am saying is that the reason people do have sex even if not for reproduction is that at some point in our evolution having sex was an advantage for the survival of ones genes. If it however ceases to be necessary and possibly not even an advantage, there is no reason why it should continue to remain interesting.

Bee said...

CIP: Well, I think you vastly overestimate how fast things are changing. It will take a very long time until we manage to manufacture technological devices that are superior to Nature. (Of course I might be wrong.)

silagadze said...

Just for fun: Schrodinger's cat versus Darwin. (About quantum mechanics,
evolution and mating behavior of praying mantis).

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Pope and Anonymous, you just didn't understand the main idea of this advanced scientific community: “quantum mechanics”, “consciousness” and other pseudo-scientific discussions (with no real progress as we know) is but a pretext to gather in such a nice place and plunge into intense study of sex issues, including influence on sex of various fine drinks, meals, sea and sun, spa procedures and other “futuristic” factors (because today only such chosen science community can be paid for conducting those advanced studies). :) And everything shows that it is the female part of the community that leads that particularly promising research. :) Why do they say that women are under-represented in science? Depends in which science... :)

As to Feynman's citation about physics and sex, its modern version would be: “Modern physics is like sex with sterile impotents”... It has no practical results and nobody knows why we do it... :) Somehow it correlates with a major question of interest... :) Yeah, one should not underestimate how fast certain things are changing...

Exciting studies to everybody!

Uncle Al said...

Name one incentive for the productive to reproduce and one incentive for the Officially Sad not to reproduce. Through 1965 the First World was a Texas cattleman breeding the absolute best stock. Jackbooted State compassion transformed that into an African herder whose wealth was the number of ambulatory skeletons he could muster.

A Rome rises to transform the world. The mob inevitably tires of bathing and brings down the oppressors. The aftermath is historically called "bad luck" - the Dark Ages, the USSR, the Khmer Rouge, the Shining Path, the Great Leap Forward, the Department of Health and Human Services.

Plato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

I don't think that's enough time to lose the drive to have sex, but it's plenty of time to lose interest in having it with each other. If VR technology becomes sufficiently immersive, and robotic sufficiently convincing, machine-assisted masturbation could easily become the norm rather than the exception. My sense is we're not that far off from having the all the affordable technology required for someone to have a satisfying enough social and sex life via gadgets and avatars. Leaving the house for such stimuli, fulfilling the vestigial needs inherited from our pre-civilized ancestors, may some day be seen as hopelessly quaint, even perverse ("All that messy swapping of fluids, yech!"). In such a "society", would procreation even be desirable? Sure, we'll still have the instinctive urge to nurture, but virtual babies and pets perhaps could satisfy it. No gestational discomfort, ceasarian scars, postpartum depression, puke, diapers, backaches, chaffed nipples, sleepless nights, etc. All cuteness and baby-smell, and it never grows up into a teenager and makes you miserable. Why on Earth would anyone go through with biological reproduction? Next think you'll be suggesting is we give birth in a cave with no doctors or nurses.

Georg said...

man, as oposed to most other animals
(maybe some primates are man-like),
and domestic animals do mate at all
times of year, whereas other animals
have one or maybe two short periods.
(Konrad Lorenz named this as a part of
the "Verhausschweinung" of mankind)
So reproduction and "sex" (fun) are
partly decoupled since mankind exists.
Nature has implemented a very effective
impetus wich will compensate for
a lot of boredom.
Since the late eighties we know, that
this works with those endorphines,
same thing that makes some iron-men (and women)
run dozens of miles, is there
something more boring?

Low Math, Meekly Ineracting said...

I forgot: What science is telling us about one consequence of sex with humans...

Giotis said...

"rendering men obsolete altogether"

We will not let you treat us as the pariahs of life and evolution.

MANkind will fight back.

Bee said...

Hi Low Math,

I agree with you. I think there is a novel by Isaac Asimov where he describes a similar scenario, I can't really recall which one though. Best,


Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Sure, even if we'd lose interest in sex it might remain a tradition for some time, but traditions are not infinitely stable. Trends change, philosophies come and go. Name one evolutionary useless tradition that the vast majority of the adult world population engages in today that they also engaged in 1000 years ago. (I'm adding evolutionary useless to exclude eg toothbrushing etc). Best,


Nero 9 Serial said...

I am already 19 years old but I haven't experienced having sex with my girlfriend. It is really difficult to convince a girl to have sex here in our country. the girls are so religious :)

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I don’t see sex in humans as so much as being a tradition, yet rather how intimacy is related and serves as being a unique and important aspect of the species. That being when reaching its higher plane, one loses a sense of self to attain the benefits that can be gained in a union. For lesser beings, this serves to assure simply for the most part continuance and yet in some humans its leads at times to an expansion of self, which could have not been so easy attained otherwise.

I then find it almost ironic that although we live in a world where the self seems to be the character so strongly revered, while the true strength of our species rests with at times being able to surrender it to become something more. You might say that the very conference you are attending to be an example of this, as to what sex in the future might more relate to as being, rather than simply physical continuance further to have us expand beyond what a single individual might be capable. This may all sound somewhat romantic, yet this to is part of our strength in such regard.



P.S. I'm sorry about all the corrections, yet it appears that when discussing sex, I still get a bit flusttered at times:-)

Arun said...

"Quantization is not fundamental" has been bugging me ever since you wrote it. Having a hard time imagining what route might have us produce quantum theories directly that have some relevance to experience. Say some more!

Aaron said...


"I think there is a novel by Isaac Asimov where he describes a similar scenario, I can't really recall which one though."

Arthur C. Clarke has a short story---I think it's "The Parasite"---that involves a vaguely related premise, although it isn't really the focus of the plot.

Anonymous said...

"Nero 9 Serial said...I am already 19 years old but I haven't experienced having sex with my girlfriend. It is really difficult to convince a girl to have sex here in our country. the girls are so religious :)"

LoL !!! That's fine, as long as you don't mind not talking about it ! (especially on this blog ! hehe, so not relevant !)

Bee, if you haven't seen the movie Gattaca I would highly suggest it to you.

Bee said...

I know the movie. Quite scary future scenario.

Per said...

What a nonsense conference.

Physicist speculating about the state of mankind in a thousand years. You might as well ask a person on the street about the current state of LHC.

Well. Perhaps not all nonsense. Barbour was there. After 4 years of phd studies his research is perhaps the only thing thats gotten me excited research wise.

I bet the scenery was nice tho...

Best. And welcome to Sweden.

// Swedish Ph.D student in Germany.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Per,

“What a nonsense conference. , Physicist speculating about the state of mankind in a thousand years. You might as well ask a person on the street about the current state of LHC. “

Yes this would be almost as preposterous as the speculations of a teenage boy about what it would be like to catch up with a light beam being expected to amount to anything useful ;-)



Bee said...

Isn't it amazing? One participant of a conference writes two paragraphs about a particular joke that was made in an evening discussion and some people conclude the conference is nonsense?

It is of course nonsense trying to "predict" the next 1000 years. If we agreed on one thing it's that all our "predictions" would turn out to be wrong. I find it a very useful exercise thought to find out what people think are the areas of physics that will become more relevant.

Giotis said...

I'm not surprised. It's in the nature of humans to criticize everything even if there is no ground for criticism. It's an ego thing. By adopting a negative attitude towards actions and thoughts of other people or of a group of people you are implicitly implying that you are better and this way consciously or subconsciously you feed your glutton ego. But you can never feed enough this monster. It's human nature after all, what can you do about it?

Bee said...

you tell them occasionally you're perfectly aware their "criticism" is just badly concealed envy ;-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

So the conference is not about sex in a thousand years, damn. I had gotten my hopes up that the whole thing had been recorded for the PIRSA archive :-)



Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Giotis and Bee, now it shows how far your ideas about science and scientists are from what real search for objective truth is supposed and sometimes even used to be. For far beyond those particularly low features of certain though maybe currently dominating “humans” which you accentuate and incorrectly generalise to universal “human nature” is the objective nature of genuine scientific quest , with the main criterion of the most consistent over-all, unified description and most complete understanding of unreduced reality and the main subjective motivation of understanding ever more of that unreduced reality (as opposed to any abstract, flagrantly incorrect and simply lying but subjectively promoted “models” around it).

You are right however in that it is that purely subjective, extremely low-level tendency of pseudo-scientific lie that dominates in modern official “research”, but it is also that domination of that destructive tendency that underlies today's ultimate decline of officially dominating science correctly called “the end of science” (in reality, again, only of that, very special, totally perverted kind of science). It is only that kind of illusive development bubble totally based on lie that involves dominating purely subjective egos, selfish interests and mafia methods of “research” organisation. But it has nothing to do with either “human nature”, or with “science” in general, especially in their genuine version. It has already burst, that ephemeral bubble of lie, and all what we see now, all that ugly degradation in science and elsewhere is the inevitable result of that illusive domination of evident lie and fraud. And it's far from any “joke”, it's all real.

Giotis: “It's human nature after all, what can you do about it?” As it's not human nature and has nothing to do with genuine human nature (if humans are understood as genuine intelligence-bearing species), what one can - and should - do about it is to develop and adhere to genuine human nature and genuine intelligence development based quite naturally and uniquely on truth, the provably, objectively complete and unified truth about the entire unreduced reality. Who want to and can actually adhere to it, ah, that is a much more subjective question, inevitably... But that is a good subjectivity as it emphasises the irreducible individual basis of any such development and transformation.

Bee: “you tell them occasionally you're perfectly aware their "criticism" is just badly concealed envy”. How can anybody interested in and motivated by genuine, provably consistent, objective truth about unreduced reality have any envy of obviously inconsistent, ugly lies driven by ugly fuss of low-level, selfish motivations? It's even more absurd than having envy of “well-settled” microbes in a pile of shit. It's true that one may have deep regrets that the whole this “developed” world and its entire official “science” is dominated by the latter kind of tendency, when it could be quite different, superior (and quite real) former tendency of truth, solving all those accumulating “unsolvable” problems, etc. But it's rather a problem of creators/governors of such a world, while having anything like “envy” of them and their ugly puppet-show ... one should be one of them for it!

Nice amusement to everybody!

R2K said...

Wow that must be a great place to visit. Some day!

estraven said...

The book you mean is I think The Naked Sun.

And pregnancy can actually be pleasant: I felt physically much better than before or after.

Nursing a newborn is like having a passionate lover that wants sex 6+ times a day (good nursing is physically plasant folks).

Nursing twin newborns is EXHAUSTING.

Neil B ♪ said...

Here's one take on the, uh, logical issues about the future of sex!:

X said...

Evolution mostly expands successful designs it very rarely revisits fundamentals due to very high costs (and low chance of success). Sex drive is such a fundamental aspect of animal brain. Even if our sexual drive becomes useless for whatever reason it certainly won't be enough for it to go away. We would have to experience a very strong selection pressure acting against it for a considerable time (probably at least many thousands of years). This however is extremely unlikely since we now have enough control over our environment to remove any such pressure before it has a chance to act. So the sex drive is here to stay. The only potential source of change is our deliberate manipulation.