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.

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 [here].

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.

Consciousness helps

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 effectively.

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 over.

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 overrule them. 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.

Nietzscheanism's opponents

Critics of Nietzscheanism often paint natural selection as morally horrific. My perspective on this issue is quite different. However, here is what they have to say:

  • Richard Dawkins

    Richard Dawkins is probably the best-known public opponent of Nietzscheanism.

    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.

    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 eternal damnation.

    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 roots.

    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 [3] - 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 behaviour.

    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 offspring.

    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 [5] in which he advocates not following your genetic program, and instead working for the benefit of your vehicle - i.e. your body.

  • Daniel Dennett

    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 benefit'?


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 winning.

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.

Group selection

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 fitness maximisation.

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.

Cultural evolution

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 groups.

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 motives are.

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 means.

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 lying about?

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 enforcement.

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.

The future

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 negative light.


Frequently Asked Questions about Nietzscheanism.

In their own words

In an attempt to give the Nietzscheans a voice, there's a section from one of the Andromeda scripts here.

Looking for Nietzscheans

A video of mine describes the search for proud Nietzscheans.


  1. - Interview with Andromeda series head writer, Robert Hewitt Wolfe

  2. - The Nietzscheans in a nutshell

  3. Tim Tyler - Bright Light

  4. - Andromeda series web site

  5. Keith E Stanovich - The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin - anti Nietzschean propaganda

  6. Tim Tyler - Evolution is Good

  7. Richard Dawkins - Rebelling Against Our Selfish Genes

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