In the pulp-SF series Andromeda
there's a species known as the Nietzscheans (Homo sapiens invictus).
They are a race of genetically-engineered supermen - with
great strength powerful immune systems and acute senses.
Their society is founded on the philosophies of Friedrich
Nietzsche believed that men would reshape themselves into
better and stronger creatures.
He referred to these as "ubermenschen" - or supermen.
The Nietzscheans took his words to heart - and used genetic
engineering and nanotechnology to reshape themselves into
literally superhuman organisms.
There's a summary of the species' characteristics
The Nietzschean nature
Nietzscheans are characterised by a passion for
reproduction. Indeed their existence revolves completely
around self improvement - and the propagation of their genes.
They don't profess to other motivations - and deliberately
and consciously embrace propagaing their germ line as their
primary purpose in life.
A video from the series illustrates the phenomenon. Probably skip to
six minutes in to get to the relevant section.
The Nietzschean difference
Evolutionary biology tells us that most of the
creatures seen in the modern world are likely to spend most
of their lives attempting to propagate their genes. We can
expect such behaviour since modern organisms are descended
from a long series of ancestors who propagated their genes
slightly better than their peers did.
However, the Nietzscheans are a bit different from
most other creatures in this regard - because they engage in
this activity consciously and deliberately.
Rather than blindly following the program of their genes,
the Nietzscheans recognise the existence of their
genes' purpose in life - and consciously adopt it
as their own.
One of the lessons I think we can draw from humans in
biology is that consciousness works.
Having a rich model of the environment that includes
representions of yourself and those in your neighbourhood
really does pay off when attempting to predict how
others will behave in response to your actions.
This sort of prediction allows actions to be chosen more
Consciousness doesn't just help a bit. In humans
it is important in determining action, and - if the results
are anything to go by - it pays for itself many times
Conscious gene propagation
With this in mind I would like to suggest that - in the future,
most large, complex living orgainsms are likely to have
consciously embraced propagating their genes as
their purpose in life.
Those who consciously propagate their genes are likely to be
more effective at performing this task than those who merely
unconsciously follow their natural inclinations.
As a result of this they will be rewarded by an increases
probability of leaving long term descendants - and
eventually the world will fill with their descendants -
who will inherit their ancestors intentions.
The brain serves its creator
Genes are primarily responsible for the brain's
construction. In the face of a varying environment it makes
good sense for the genes to give the brain the power to
This is because there may be specific cases where the genes
are saying something outdated or inappropriate - and it
takes intelligence to see where.
However, a brain that fails to propagate the genes that made
it has not done a very good job - so we can expect there to
be limits placed by the genes on the extent of the rebellion
that it is possible for the brain to make.
The idea of consciously propagating your genes will
be referred to here as Nietzscheanism - since the
Nietzscheans have been its best-known exponents.
Critics of Nietzscheanism often paint natural selection
as morally horrific. My perspective on this issue is
However, here is what they have to say:
Richard Dawkins is probably the best-known public opponent
In 1976 he wrote:
We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines,
but we have the power to turn against our creators. We
alone on earth have the power to rebel against the tyranny
of the selfish replicators.
Since then he's continued his crusade against the
wishes of the gene:
In the title piece of "The Devil's Chaplain", he
describes nature as "the ruthlessly cruel process that gave
us all existence", speaks of "revulsion against
[evolution's] implications" - and describes the process that
made us as "wasteful, cruel and low".
He says that nature gave us a brain capable of
"underdstanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral
implications and of fighting against them".
He says that "if selfish genes are Frankensteins and all
life is their monster, it is only we that can complete the
fable by turning against our creators."
He describes humanity as "the only potential island of
refuge from the implications of [evolution]: from the
cruelty, and the clumsy, blundering waste."
He says: "[Selfish genes] are not models of how to behave -
but the opposite."
Of course, this is all the exact opposite of
Nietzscheanism suggests cooperating with your genetic
program - not rebelling against it.
It points out that those who rebel will not be favoured by
natural selection - and the only part of them that is
potentially immortal - their genes - will thus be assigned
to eternal oblivion - the nearest Nietzschean equivalent of
Over time evolution will weed out the non-cooperators,
and reward those who go along with the genes' wishes.
It's a shame Richard holds this view - I'm sure he would
make a good Nietzschean. In fact he has had some
kids - so he may be a secret Nietzschean - or
maybe his rebellion against his genes is a bit subdued.
Nature is beautiful - and Richard should be proud
to be a part of it - rather than being embarassed about his
In the future, nature will find ways to avoid some
of the waste that he is blaming it for.
In particular it will manage to perform some fitness
evaluations under simulation - where failures do not make
such a mess.
Also - rather than using random mutations - nature will use
intelligent design to develop new types of organism.
However these processes will still be part of
evolution - and natural selection will still rule over
everything - for the forseeable future.
There is no need to advocate rebelling against the system if
you merely want to change parts of it.
In this case, evolution appears to be a fundamental part of
nature's thermodynamic laws  - and so
attempting to "rebel" aganist it looks worse than the
actions of King Canute.
W. D. Hamilton
Hamilton has suggested that the best way for selfish
individuals to fool everone into thinking that they are nice
is to actually belive it themselves (and practice a
sort of hypocritical double-think to either self-justify or
forget about any non-nice behaviour:
A world where everyone else has been persuaded to be
altruistic is a good one to live in from the point of view
of pursuing our own selfish ends. This hypocracy is even
more convincing if we don't admit it even in our thoughts -
if only on our death beds, so to speak, we change our wills
back to favour the carriers of our own genes.
- Discriminating Nepotism - as reprinted in:
Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 2 Evolution of Sex, p.356.
Definitely on all fronts is has become imperative not to
bristle with hostility every time you encounter a stranger.
Instead observe him, find out what he might be. Behave to
him with politeness, pretending that you like him more than
you do - at least while you find out how he might be of use
to you. Wash before you go to talk to him so as to conceal
your tribal odour and take great care not to let on that you
notice his own, foul as it may be. Talk about human
brotherhood. In the end don't even just pretend that you
like him (he begins to see through that); instead, really
like him. It pays.
- Discriminating Nepotism - as reprinted in:
Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 2 Evolution of Sex, p.359.
Here, Hamilton is suggesting that merely pretending
to be a selfless altriust is not good enough - you actually
have to believe it yourself to avoid being detected by
all the smart psychologists in the rest of society - since
they are experts in looking for signs of selfishness.
How does all this bear on Nietzscheanism? Hamilton's line
of thought raises the possibilty that a barrier may exist to
the idea of gene propagaiton becoming conscious - if
sociological forces mean that the resulting behaviour
patterns are not widely regarded as being acceptable social
If Nietzschean individuals have to pretend not to
me Nietzscheans in order to get on with their social lives,
woo their mates and operate in business, then it may be to
their advantage to actually come to believe themselves not
to be Nietzscheans any more. Because Nietzscheanism is
defined in terms of a conscious intentional stance, a
Nietzschean who doesn't think he's a Nietzschean isn't a
Nietzschean at all.
To give a concrete example:
It is generally in a man's genetic interests to maximise his
number of descendants by maximising the number of his
immediate offspring - by techniques such as impregnating as
many females as possible, and skimping on parental care of
However, this is not something prospective mates are
particularly keen to hear from males. Instead females
prize traits such as fidelity. They generally prefer
monogomous relationships, which allow the most scope
for males offering parental care.
Consequently males interested in pusuing this sort of
strategy (which evolutionary theory suggests are most
males) are put into a position where they have to deceive
their prospective mates about their intentions.
Hamilton suggests that they may do this by employing
double-think - actually believing themselves to be whatever the
females desire them to be - while not necessarily acting
according to those beliefs.
If Hamilton is right about all this then it seems possible
that Nietzscheanism will never become very
widespread - because too many people will spend too much
time pretending not to be Nietzscheans -
in order to better pursue their own selfish goals.
I think Hamilton's points are good ones - and that his line
of argument represents an interesting case for avoiding
Nietzscheanism today - at least for those who feel
unable to lie convincingly.
Keith E. Stanovich
Keith Stanovich has written a book called The Robot's
Rebellion  in which he advocates
not following your genetic program, and instead working for
the benefit of your vehicle - i.e. your body.
Some quotes to illustrate Daniel's position:
There is a persisting tension between the biological imperative of our genes on the one hand and the cultural imperatives of our memes on the other, but we would be foolish to "side with" our genes; that would be to commit the most egregious error of pop sociobiology.
Hardly anybody would say that the most
important thing in life is having more grandchildren than
One's rivals do, but this is the default summum bonum of
every wild animal. They don't know any better. They can't.
They're just animals.
T. H. Huxley
A famous quote illustrates Huxley's position:
Let us understand, once and for all, that
the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating
the cosmic process, still less in running away from it,
but in combating it.
G. C. Williams
With what other than condemnation is a
person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system
in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than
your neighbor at getting genes into future generations, in
which those successful genes provide the message that
instructs the development of the next generation, in which
that message is always `exploit your environment, including
your friends and relatives, so as to maximize our genes'
success', in which the closest thing to a golden rule is
`don't cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net
There is an economic framework which is relevant here
expected utility maximisers.
An expected utility maximiser is a theoretical agent who
considers its actions, computes their consequences and then
rates them according to a utility function. Then it
performs the action which it thinks is likely to produce
the largest utility - and then iterates this process.
For an example, consider a computer program that plays the
game of go. Such a program considers its possible moves,
calculates their possible consequences, and then performs
the move that it thinks gives it the best chance of
Expected utility maximisers are a common model used in the
context of constructing artificial intelligences.
In this framework, a Nietzschean represents an agent whose
utility function is based on their inclusive fitness.
Individual maximisation of reproductive success in only one of the
forces going on in modern human societies. Between-group selection
doesn't necessarily favour the groups with the best individual
In practice, group and individual fitnesses are often correlated.
A group of very fit individuals is itself often fit. If your group
dies, then often you and all your relatives die.
However, there can be conflicts between individual and group-level
fitness. The optimal strategy from the perspective of a group would typically
different from what would be produced by maximising individual fitness.
Nietzschean's don't maximise individual fitness - and instead maximise
inclusive fitness - a perspective theoretically equivalent to modern
conceptions of group selection.
Memes attempt to manipulate humans into more sociable groups - since
memes depend on human contact for their transmission. In doing so they
promote cooperative group behaviour which is probably good for human
In the Andromeda TV series,
the Nietzscheans seem to lack memes that suppress individuals and
promote groups - since they are selfish and back-stabbing bunch - who
constantly betray each other and double-cross their allies. They
often don't seem very conscious of their reputations.
The form of Nietzscheanism on this page doesn't advocate such
a culture. A society that promotes altruism between its members is an
expected outcome of cultural evolution.
Will such a society hunt down the Nietzscheans and treat them
like cancer cells?
Will the Nietzscheans respond by keeping their Nietzscheanism
secret - or even abandoning the faith entirely, so they are not caught
out by lie detector tests?
These are all possible scenarios. Readers can judge for themselves the
extent to which they play out in modern society.
A reason for expecting dominant organisms in the future to
be Nietzscheans involves the idea that they will be
expected utility maximisers - who display their
utility functions in public.
A public display of your utility function shows everyone
where your loyalties lie.
A failure to display of your utility function will
probably mean that no one trusts you - because they
don't know what your motives are.
A public display of your utility function is analogous to a
company displaying its charter. People often want
to know who they are dealing with - and what their
A display of your utility function could be faked.
But there could be penalties for deceit - and utility
functions could be incorporated into tamper-proof hardware,
signed by a trusted authority, or authenticated by other
Also, displaying an inaccurate utility function may lead to
a reputation as a liar, if your actions
are shown to be inconsistent with your stated motives. If
you lie about your utility function, what else might you be
Deception and self-deception muddy the waters. Who would
you rather trust: someone who is lying to you - and to
themselves about their motives - or someone who is up-front
about their actual agenda? If an agent is prepared to lie
to you about their motives, what else might they be lying
about? The claim that you are not lying - and that you
actually believe what you are saying because you have
used double-think on yourself would not stand up
too well in a court.
I think the deception and self-deception used by organisms
today essentially represent forces of darkness and
ignorance - and that they will be banished in the future by
increased honesty and transparency.
If Hamilton's argument is portrayed as a reason to avoid
Nietzscheanism, it should be noted that it depends on
conscious deception being difficult.
While detecting deception about what someone is thinking is
currently a practical art, there are reasons to believe that
this is a game where the cards are stacked in favour of the
one doing the deception.
I see an analogy with cryptography here - where the
agent who wants their secret concealed normally has a
substantial advantage over eavsdroppers.
However, as with cryptography, it may be that the opponent
has more resources - because they are the government.
Assuming that misinformation and lying become bigger moral
issues over time, the government may get more involved in
Today, if you lie, few people find out about it. However,
in a future where reputation systems are more
ubiquitous, your lies may follow you around, and so there
may effectively be greater penalties for deception.
IMO, Hamilton's argument seems destined to eventually
collapse, not because concealing deception becomes more
practical, but because the government will shine light
into its citizen's minds, and will make them
not want to deceive each other - much as
worker ants have no need for lies.
I don't think being a Nietzschean is inevitably going to be
socially unacceptable in the future:
It doesn't require much suspension of disbelief to imagine
a society of proud Nietzscheans - simillar to that portrayed
by the Andromeda series.
In some respect, humanity still exists in the dark ages
at the moment.
Many individuals live in societies dominated by backward
archaic religious cults.
Once humanity becomes a little bit more enlightened, things
like recognising your nature and aspiring to fulfill the
potential of your genes may not be regarded in such a