“The Revolutionary Phenotype” Book Review
A rigorous exposition of the misunderstood history of genetic evolution and an unnerving prophecy about how transhuman hubris will enslave our descendants to phenotypic machines of our own invention.
For some time I’ve enjoyed the live streams of this French Canadian geneticist, philosopher, live-streamer extraordinaire J.F Gariépy. My very loving and thoughtful wife got me this book for Valentine’s day.
JF is a free market scientist, he explains why he left the institution of academia…
Long-term thinking is not rewarded in academia, as a scientist must produce something “good” every year or so in order to remain competitive. The quality of scientific works, as a result, has greatly diminished.
I’ve explored the insidious problem of bad science, hysterical moralism and the statist paradigm that academia is totally ensconced in that creates a lot of really bad incentives resulting in shoddy science.
The Story of DNA
Much of the book is devoted to the history of DNA in the ancient past; billions of years ago a phenotypic revolution occurred when DNA rebelled against its creator RNA and became the dominant life form on this planet.
It is a fact that DNA-based life was created by another life form. The ancient life form was called RNA. Sometime after the creation of DNA, the RNA organisms lost control over it and could do nothing to stop its takeover. That is what happened here on Earth and, it can, and likely will, happen again.
These events occur every time one organism, with its own genetic code and means of reproduction, creates another organism with a separate genetic code and means of reproduction.
It’s emphasized that phenotypic revolutions are not nice. They are a brutal Darwinian event where the weak are ruthlessly subjugated by the strong.
Thus, we can now answer the question of the origin of life on Earth. The answer is quite simple, but shocking: DNA-based life was created by another life form. It was somewhat of an accident. After the initial accident, DNA became so aggressive that it destroyed its creators by outcompeting them. It killed them, ate them and gruesomely recycled them into building blocks that it then reused to produce its own organisms. We are the direct descendants of the DNA-based organisms that undertook this cannibalistic genocide.
The Third Revolutionary Phenotype: Memes
In the history of our planet, there have been several phenotypic revolutions; simple proteins to RNA, RNA to DNA, and we human beings are involved with the memetic revolutionary phenotype. Lest you ever think that we are an overrated species, remember that in the 4,000,000,000 year history of this planet, encompassing many trillions of fantastic life forms, phenotypic revolutions have only occurred a handful of times and that we humans are the cause of at least one of them. In your lifetime, you’ll likely see us ignite the flames of another phenotypic revolution.
Many contemporary scientists have suggested that our ability to learn from others permits a second system of inheritance, referred to as memes. This proposition, if correct, may obscure the boundary between replicators and phenotypes.
By memes we don’t necessarily mean the funny images that get shared around on social media, we mean ideas that take on a life of their own; socialism, capitalism, Christianity, Islam are some of the most successful memes in recorded history. These are idea viruses and it’s hard to deny that don’t act a lot like living organisms. They spread, compete with each other for limited resources and adapt to become more fit. Looking at history you can clearly see how memes use humans to spread and thrive, on their own they don’t do much of anything, but in the minds of men heartless Darwinian competition ensues.
The first replicator was the gene — the basis of biological evolution. The second was memes — the basis of cultural evolution. I believe that what we are now seeing, in a vast technological explosion, is the birth of a third evolutionary process.
One example of an embedded life form is human culture. Memes can make copies of themselves by traveling from brain to brain, and yet their copies are hosted within the phenotypic machines produced by DNA (human brains)
…each genetic code layer is the fingerprint of an ancient phenotypic revolution. Since our life form has three layers of genetic code, we must conclude that three phenotypic revolutions have occurred in our lineage.
…posits that the quantum universe underlying our classical universe is filled with selective processes analogous to those we observe in the biological world. In other words, what we see and experience in the universe as classical objects, like particles and groupings of particles governed by Newtonian mechanics, may be the result of a competing set of replicators, which are undergoing natural selection at the quantum level.
This teases a big idea, where does life begin? Is there a real difference between the cold, predictable, mechanical, Newtonian events that occur in the universe and raucousness of the living ecosystem on this planet?
Pop culture figures have done much to spread this attractive idea that life arising on this planet was intentional, not merely incidental which appeals to our desire to seek for meaning and design in this entropic universe. The idea that some alien antecedent species many billions of years ago flung the genetic material that ultimately produced life out into the cosmos as a farmer might sprinkle seeds across fertile land.
Panspermia might be a little more believable if we didn’t have such strong evidence for phenotypic revolutions. Phenotypic revolutions occurring multiple times in the history of our planet hint that life is probably common in the universe.
…we will have made a definitive case that each of the phenotypic revolutions listed above did indeed occur. This should be a cold shower for anyone who thinks that the emergence of life is a rare process within the cavernous expanse of the cosmos. If it happened not one but three times on Earth, then we may be forced to consider that the emergence of life in our universe may be more common than we previously thought.
In the same way that consciousness and free will may be the emergent properties of the dry, materialist, gears of cognition in our minds. Striving, ambitious, dramatic, and romantic life may be the emergent property of carbon, oxygen, acidity, light, and heat.
Evolution of Sex
When I was a very passionate, young evangelical Christian in high school, I would challenge my biology teachers as they tried to convey the theory of evolution to us. I would ask them about sexual reproduction; how did sexual reproduction evolve? With sexual reproduction, it takes two to tango, why would natural selection create such a mechanism? From a purely materialistic point of view wouldn’t it be more efficient to just reproduce the way the amoebas do?
My high school teachers never had a good response to this; they agreed that sexual reproduction was a mystery. They would assure me that they weren’t trying to offend my religious sensibilities with the theory of evolution. What offended me was huge logical gaps in the theory of evolution. Why couldn’t any of my teachers explain to me how something like an eye could have evolved…
Imagine the first sperm cell ever created, with no egg to fertilize other than the very cell that was just split in two to create it. What are the hopes for a sperm cell if it doesn’t have an egg to fertilize? We have difficulty conceiving of a situation in which the first few generations of meiotic organisms could have survived at all. This is why meiosis remains one of the few unsolved mysteries of biology. Why would organisms abandon half of their genes without being sure they would eventually be able to recombine with a sexual partner?
JF goes on to explain a reasonable hypothesis for the evolution of sex.
The Selfish Gene vs The Selfish Genes
One can argue that there is only a handful of genes that are truly selfish in any life form. Those are the printer genes. While the other genes may be subject to some form of selection, that selection will occur within the boundaries of the printer genes’ interests, which happen to be acting as trickster printers to the rest of the genome.
The Naked Warrior that Survived
In fact, none of the 30 trillion cells carried by each of your millions of human ancestors have ever found a way to survive on their own. If one had, we would find single-cell organisms that happen to carry the human DNA genome. The fact that not a single one of these cells happened to have some accident that would allow it to survive is a demonstration of the strength of the first two problems.
Actually, there’s an exception to this, J.F might not be aware of the fascinating case of Henrietta Lacks,
…whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. An immortalized cell line reproduces indefinitely under specific conditions, and the HeLa cell line continues to be a source of invaluable medical data to the present day.
Henrietta Lacks - Wikipedia
Henrietta Lacks (born Loretta Pleasant; August 1, 1920 - October 4, 1951) was an African-American woman whose cancer…
Transhumanists are Ushering in a Phenotypic Revolution
…the singularity, which has been proposed by a series of authors including, most famously, Ray Kurzweil. The singularity is a hypothetical moment at which human technology would reach a critical threshold of intelligence, surpassing the combined intellectual capacity of our species. Humans would be bound to be manipulated ad infinitum into serving the more intelligent machine. Even their attempts to revolt against the machine would be anticipated and thus unsuccessful, or even worse, the machine would use the revolutionary actions of humans to its own benefit.
Our descendants will not be eliminated by some imagined, yet-to-be-produced machine. Our descendants will be eliminated in the same way our ancestors eliminated the RNA life form that created them.
I’m of two minds about transhumanism…
On one hand, I can see J.F’s point, if we let it artificial intelligence will take over our genes and enslave us. We’ll eventually become cumbersome and incommodious servants to our robotic overlords and our extinction will be engineered. Do you even think they’ll even include us in their history books? Will there even be history books? I’ve warned naive transhumanists…
The universe is entropic and chaotic, the living world is Darwinian and cruel. Up until a few hundred years ago life was just a bloody struggle of self preservation between competing species and subspecies. Wolves don’t naturally seek to coexist peaceful with sheep, they devour them ruthlessly. Many of the seemingly very benign plants that we consume actually produce harmful lectins as a defense mechanism. When even your salad is using (very subtle) violence against you to promote its survival how naive is it to think that artificial intelligence won’t? How naive do we have to be to invent a new form of life on this planet and hope that they won’t violently compete with us!
Transhumanism is a Trap
I've had a real change of mind on Transhumanists.I was once quite enamored with transhumanism. I thought technology is…
On the other hand, what is the alternative? I’ve unintentionally watched a few of these clips that go viral on Twitter of necklacing mobs burning people alive in South Africa. Which has to be one of the most disturbing images that have ever been etched into my mind; there are several young black men badly beaten who are roped together with tires around their bodies. They are doused with gasoline and lit on fire. The young men panic and lurch away from the flame that slowly devours them as they shriek and writhe like the damned while the mob jeers at them. One of the skinny black men will manage to break away from the group or squirm out of his tire but the mob will beat him back with sticks and rocks, throw more gasoline on him and tie him down to suffer his fiery fate. I’m amazed that they allow this sort of thing on Twitter and I’d urge you NOT to seek out these videos.
To anyone that’s paying attention, it’s clear that Western Civilization is dying, democracy is a cruel farce, our multicultural “first world” countries are on the verge of civil race wars and IQs are dropping globally. We are at present a devolving species, the entire world is moving towards becoming the kind of anarchic society where mobs burn people with tires. I’ll remind you that South Africa was once a highly productive, safe, civil, and orderly first-world country but just a few decades of socialism, marxism, identity politics, fake news mainstream media propaganda, and dysgenic statism have turned it into what it is. South Africa is the canary in the coal mine for what’s ahead for western, European-derived countries. Unless something radically changes in the trajectory of human history, I foresee that several hundred years into the future, our descendants will toil through a shitty and violent existence on a polluted, dusty planet pockmarked by nuclear no-go zones. European-derived white people (who are responsible for almost every invention and advance that has made life awesome) will have dwindled into a small, very hated global minority blamed for everything that went wrong in history.
Given the choice between global irradiated South Africa and the pipe dream of a transhumanist utopia ruled over by omniscient AI algorithms I lean towards the latter.
The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry conceptualized another epic science fiction story which became the very cerebral TV show Earth: Final Conflict. In this very underrated TV show, an alien species makes first contact with humanity in the near future. At first, they appear to be a great boon to humanity as they give us all sorts of fantastic technology and medicine that solves all sorts of global problems. It asks the perplexing philosophical question:
Is it better for mankind to exist in a state of suffering yet be proud and independant or to live in comfortable subjugation?
Hard to say, right? Transhumanists make some pretty fantastic claims about this utopian world free of disease and petty human strife that can be brought about with the genetic engineering of humans. But that of course opens the pandora’s box of the revolutionary phenotype that will replace us. J.F makes the point that phenotypic revolutions are awesome for the organism getting replaced up until they are totally subjugated by their creation.
Forecasting upcoming phenotypic revolutions is treacherous because each step in the completion of a phenotypic revolution benefits the life form that ultimately dooms itself by creating the revolutionary phenotype
In the unlikely event that any life form on Earth ever starts truly caring about its own existence, it might pluck the following piece of wisdom from the ashes of the RNA world: If you’re one of the most successful replicators on Earth, do not invent a machine that resembles yourself.
If there is sufficient motivation for preserving a DNA-based human existence on Earth, then nothing less than a worldwide, coordinated effort to cease the genetic modification of human babies will suffice to stop the next revolutionary phenotype.
So preventing the phenotypic revolution would require global statism and probably violent interventionism. Countries that allowed genetic engineering would have a huge advantage in nearly every domain. Countries that wanted to conserve natural humanity would either have to fall very far behind the competition, legalize genetic engineering or go to war to try to dissuade the genetic tinkerers.
Humanity has been brutally enslaving, raping, and bashing each other over the head with rocks for about 100,000 years. I would say that if a phenotypic revolution turns us into enlightened beings that travel to the stars or at least colonize our solar system and manage to survive and thrive among the quasars, black holes, and jagged planet-killing asteroids for another 100,000 years it’s well worth the eventual (rather serene) enslavement!
The book ends with a well-written fictional vignette illustrating how the revolutionary phenotype might play out on a grand scale…
The last human on Earth died in the delirious bliss of knowing that his death would improve the efficiency of his quantome, the only significant matter in the universe. Man’s search for meaning had evolved and had finally obtained the answer that awaits any native replicator: that life is about producing little things that will eventually cannibalize the best of you before they replace you.
If you are anxious about phenotypic revolutions, please rest assured that the one that destroyed us was the most painless demise experienced by any life form. All phenotypic machines die a meaningful death when they do so in service to their revolutionary phenotype. The last act of humanity was uncharacteristically altruistic for our species, as we graciously relinquished our own existence so that something else could live.
I’m rating this book 5 stars but it’s not a must-read for everyone.
- It’s not actionable. You won’t find much in here that will change your life. It’s a big idea book, it’s a far cry from being a self-help or biohacking title that gives you tools and strategies to live better.
- The author admits that the 4th phenotypic revolution predicted in the book is pretty much inevitable. For the reasons described in the book, there is not much that an individual even a very motivated group could do to prevent the eventual willing extinction of our species.
- The book is well written. I found the metaphors and storytelling compelling. The author’s anthropomorphization of the different microscopic actors and events that appear in the history of genetics makes the most abstract accessible to someone like myself that loathed biology class in high school.
- If you’re curious about genetics and biology this book will educate and delight you. After reading it I feel like I have a more complete grasp of genetics which heretofore my understanding of had massive gaps in.
- If you want to understand the true implications of transhumanism, read this!