The Evolution of Evaluators

We have values and aspirations. What of other animals? Are their "values" different from ours? Animals manifestly prefer having plenty of food to starvation, and comfort to pain, and they will work hard to obtain a mate. But beyond these "creature comforts," they seem to be largely indifferent to the prospects and anxieties that make up human life. A suitable coverall term for human aspiration would be the pursuit of happiness, bearing in mind that happiness is many different things to different people. This already sets us aside from our fellow creatures. To put it vividly, Mother Nature doesn't care whether we are happy--but we care (and Mother Nature doesn't care that we care). That is, it would be naive to suppose that the process of natural selection has somehow endorsed our pursuit of happiness as the proximal mechanism for maximizing our genetic fitness. It is consistent with what we know of evolution to suppose that the process of natural selection--Mother Nature--would design us to experience however much anxiety and torment is consistent with making more grandchildren. Our values are, like everything else in our extended phenotypes, products of evolutionary processes, but we misread them if we see them to be just like the "values" of other animals, which can indeed be viewed as the straightforward result of Mother Nature's project of installing an optimally reliable fitness-enhancing set of preferences. The difference arises, I will argue, from the fact that we have culture, and culture provides a medium in which a radically different--indeed, orthogonal--set of selection pressures can re-direct evolutionary processes into unprecedented channels.
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