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January 30, 2009

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By far the most enjoyable writing of yours I've read. I'd pay to read the rest but since you're giving it up for free I'll make a donation to SIAI instead.

Just send the aliens a clip of Monty Python's "Every Sperm is Sacred" and convince them we're so advanced we kill thousands of children before they're even conceived. Problem solved! ;)

Stellar, quite literally. Cannot wait for the next installments. You must eat your babies.

It's good. Not baby-eatin' good, but good enough ;).

Amazing.

I wonder if they discovered libertarianism, and if they are able to think in alternative ethic systems.

Similar: how do they treat abortion, freezing of embryos and such.

Anyone see similarities to the mooties from 'The Mote in God's Eye'?

Martin

I was going to say that this (although very good) wasn't quite Weird enough for your purposes; the principal value of the Baby-Eaters seems to be "individual sacrifice on behalf of the group", which we're all too familiar with. I can grok their situation well enough to empathize quickly with the Baby-Eaters. I'd have hoped for something even more foreign at first sight.

Then I checked out the story title again.

Eagerly awaiting the next installments!

Martin, the Baby-eaters don't remind me of the Moties. I think it's Eli's use of the Alderson Drive that reminded you of The Mote in God's Eye.

1. Akon's first line is objectively the right thing to say in that situation. One might append "holy."

2. Akon's first line at the Command Conference is also pure gold.

I expect it would make writing the series vastly more difficult, but I so much wanted to see a group of choose-your-own-adventure options at the bottom, for what the crew should do.

Why didn't the Babyeaters develop the practice of separate pens for each family, with tribes redistributing common resources (e.g. erratic, potentially rotting, meat from hunts) among parents, and parents feeding children out of their share? Maybe their brains lacked the capacity to recognize so many distinct off-spring, but why not spray them with a pheromone? Producing vast numbers of offspring with big expensive full-size brains (which is itself implausible) makes the large numb to be destroyed immediately would impose huge metabolic costs relative to privatizing the commons and distinguishing between offspring, then adjusting clutch-size based on parental resources.

> Martin, the Baby-eaters don't remind me of the Moties. I think it's Eli's use of the Alderson Drive that reminded you of The Mote in God's Eye.
@Peter

Nope :-). I thought about the vast reproduction rate both species share.
And since the german title of the book and name for the Moties is different i had to look it up.

Martin

"makes the large numb"
Is obviously a result of an incomplete edit.

Eliezer: cool story idea. Wait, how did they manage to avoid developing a notion of forgiveness in some form? I mean, isn't that more or less required to stabilize out of sync tit-for-tat oscillations? Or am I completely wrong on this?

I wonder why the babies don't eat each other. There must be a huge selective pressure to winnow down your fellows to the point where you don't need to be winnowed. This would in turn select for small brained, large and quick growing at the least. There might also be selective pressure to be partially distrusting of your fellows (assuming there was some cooperation), which might follow over into adulthood.

I also agree with the points Carl raised. It doesn't seem very evolutionarily plausible.

Good stuff, Eliezer. You have no idea how happy I am that this is part 1 of 8. Eight!!

Patrick, the way I understand the aliens' psychology, it's not that they eat babies because their terminal value is "the group comes before the individual", it's that their terminal value is "it's good to eat babies". That this was good for their group(s) in the early history of their species is the explanation for why they have this terminal value, but it doesn't factor in their moral reasoning.

Is this a different story from the one that was supposed to make us go insane?

If the aliens' wetware (er, crystalware) is so efficient that their children are already sentient when they are still tiny relative to adults, why don't the adults have bigger brains and be much more intelligent than humans? Given that they also place high values on science and rationality, had invented agriculture long before humans did, and haven't fought any destructive wars recently, it makes no sense that they have a lower level of technology than humans at this point.

Other than that, I think the story is not implausible. The basic lesson here is the same as in Robin's upload scenarios: when sentience is really cheap, no one will be valued (much) just for being sentient. If we want people to be valued just for being sentient, either the wetware/crystalware/hardware can't be too efficient, or we need to impose some kind of artificial scarcity on sentience.

Kevin, yes, a different story.

Why didn't the Babyeaters develop the practice of separate pens for each family, with tribes redistributing common resources (e.g. erratic, potentially rotting, meat from hunts) among parents, and parents feeding children out of their share?

Why doesn't modern society securitize hard assets into money of zero maturity, instead of using a purely abstract debt-based currency to denominate debts? Because it would be slightly more complicated, that's why.

Evolution doesn't do a lot of stuff that you think is a good idea. Even somewhat-intelligent designers don't do a lot of things that would be good ideas.

Producing vast numbers of offspring with big expensive full-size brains (which is itself implausible)

It was specified that Babyeater brains are small by nature, so that children already have small cheap full-size brains.

If the aliens' wetware (er, crystalware) is so efficient that their children are already sentient when they are still tiny relative to adults, why don't the adults have bigger brains and be much more intelligent than humans?

Why don't humans have bigger brains and be much more intelligent than humans? Because (a) our brains don't scale that easily - if they did, we'd evolve to get around the hip size thing somehow, the selection pressures would be enormous. And (b) because as soon as we hit the minimum possible level to get by with, we erupted out into a technological civilization.

Assume the Babyeater crystal brains are small, but architecturally subject to the limitation that every other element be in fast communication with every other element (in the human brain, a neuron is within one clock tick of every other neuron at myelinated axon speeds). Or that it biologically can't scale without internal interference / noise crushing it.

See also: MST3K Mantra.

How is it that these aliens' anatomy is so radically different from humans', yet they have a word for "kick"?

WE WISH TO SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR NEWSLETTER

Laughed at loud at this point.

Great stuff, I was disappointed when I reached the end and realized I have to wait for the next day.

My only complaint is that this is apparently going to be only eight parts and not a full-length novel, but maybe you can be forgiven for that.

> Wait, how did they manage to avoid developing a notion of forgiveness in some form? I mean, isn't that more or less required to stabilize out of sync tit-for-tat oscillations? Or am I completely wrong on this?
@Psy-Kosh

They didn't stabilize tit-for-tat, they completely eliminated the other side in any dispute. I guess they could quickly repopulate even after the most devastating wars by just not eating so many babies. This kept happening until the scientist Babyeaters killed off all non-scientist tribes. The scientists aren't forgiving, they just understand that rational beings can make incorrect decisions when given incomplete information. Like the story says, "anyone who departs from the group norm due to an actual inherent flaw still has to be destroyed."

Does the Babyeater morality emphasize the consumption and digestion of babies or is it simply the winnowing that they value? If it's the latter our biologies are probably different enough that one could fudge the translation of some texts about contraception and abortion to make it look like we winnow. It just turns out that we destroy our young even earlier and do so by prohibiting them from combining another sort of baby- which they need to survive. Sometimes when they do combine we destroy them anyway.

Not to be crude, but maybe the aliens would enjoy some of our oral sex pornography.

Just as human individuals change their behavior and outlook when they are associating with different groups- you're an ass around your college friends but a gentlemen around the ladies- so it makes sense for the species to act differently around aliens with different cultural and moral norms. In this case we should exaggerate the role contraception and abortion plays in human civilization and fudge the language so it looks like we're killing babies rather then just sperm and zygotes. It is precisely because our biology is so different that such a mistranslation won't be caught. We might as well call our sperm "baby"- all the translation so far as been inexact enough to permit this, surely "baby" doesn't have to entail a fully developed brain.

Moreover, the aliens must still have some analogy for our love and to-our-deaths willingness to protect our young since any deaths AFTER the winnowing would likely be viewed as devastatingly unfortunate. Does the winnowing even coincide with the surviving babies immediately undergoing some drastic biological change? The only real sense in which Babyeater morality differs from ours is the time during the development of the individual when the individual is declared by society to be morally valuable.

Re: "MST3K Mantra"

Illustrative fiction is a tricky business, if this is to be part of your message to the world it should be as coherent as possible, so you aren't accidentally lying to make a better story.

If it is just a bit of fun, I'll relax.

"Why doesn't modern society securitize hard assets into money of zero maturity, instead of using a purely abstract debt-based currency to denominate debts? Because it would be slightly more complicated, that's why."
Eliezer,

I think you're mistaken about the relative complexity of parents selectively provisioning their own offspring, versus the baroque and complex adaptations for social intelligence and coordination required for this system to be stable.

"And anyone who tried to cheat, to hide away a child, or even go easier on their own children during the winnowing - well, the Babyeaters treated the merciful parents the same way that human tribes treat their traitors."

This means that the Babyeaters were capable of recognizing and preferring their own children after birth. Selectively provisioning your own offspring is an extremely common adaptation, as is allocating resources preferentially (e.g. starving runts) and most of the necessary complexity already seems to exist among the Babyeaters. Separate pens/nests are simpler than evolving a complex set of adaptations to manage and enforce an even-handed winnowing.

Consider that with pooled offspring in a single pen, we now have two commons problems, aside from even-handed winnowing, Babyeaters have strong incentives to shirk in their agricultural labor. For the Babyeaters to develop a set of immensely powerful adaptations for managing such conflicts of interest (exceedingly strong by the standards of Earth's biodiversity) is going to take evolution a long time, during which selective provisioning/penning/devouring would likely take hold in some groups and then sweep the population.

How can I put it? If I were to describe anything that couldn't happen from an evolutionary perspective, that would be cheating. At the same time, I needed baby-eating aliens for my story, so I wrote the bottom line first and then put the 'explanation' on the lines above. Though it's worth noting that cannibalism was the result of group selection in a laboratory environment; see The Tragedy of Group Selectionism. And it's also worth noting that the point I'm using the Babyeaters to make, is one that I happen to actually believe to be true.

There's a point up to which you can question the story and get back plausible-sounding answers that fit with everything that Eliezer Yudkowsky happens to know about evolutionary biology. I actually do think about the sort of questions that get asked here, in the unwritten backdrop of the story. The Babyeaters are, so far as I know, allowed; if I ran into them, I wouldn't point to any particular facet of evolutionary biology and say, "My gosh, this has been falsified!" But there's also a point beyond which the true causal origin of your observations is that Eliezer Yudkowsky wanted baby-eating aliens and then rationalized a plausible-sounding evolutionary history. This is the point at which you invoke the MST3K Mantra.

Re: "MST3K Mantra"

Very improbable evolved beings don't make for good warnings about the precious moral miracle of human values. It would be better to use an example of a plausible 'near-miss,' e.g. by extrapolating from something common in Earth species.

Carl, the essential premise of the Babyeaters is "among chimp-level creatures who've previously developed strong social recognition and reputation tracking, group selection can actually take hold via punishment of nonpunishers and extermination warfare between tribes".

Then you ask what kind of aliens you might run into as a result.

If you told me that this actually happened, I would not see it as contradicting any particular evolutionary biology that I know of. No, group selection doesn't usually happen in Nature, but you don't usually have strong reputation tracking and individual recognition and punishment of nonpunishers and extermination warfare either. Babyeaters can be stable against the kind of invasions you describe, I think, if they already have a punishment-of-nonpunishers system going, plus sufficiently frequent extermination warfare against other tribes. Note that the Babyeaters don't have bipolar sexuality, so defeated tribes really will be wiped out, rather than just the men being wiped out.

Even relatively strong social recognition and coordination systems, as in primates, leave plenty of opportunities to shirk and betray. Behaviors of selective provisioning and parental investment (the cheating that already sometimes occurs and is punished among Babyeaters) serves both group and individual fitness, reducing the strength of group selection needed to maintain the altruistic punishment of shirkers. It would thus be easier for it to evolve, and groups of selective-provisioners would on average have a competitive advantage (since the group-beneficial slow population growth would degrade more slowly) against groups with the dispositions in the story.

Now, if the social coordination mechanisms got absurdly strong, much stronger than in any human society ever, this would no longer be the case. Likewise, if the story's babyeaters became universal, selective-provisioners would not be able to arise among them. So there is no contradiction, but there is a probabilistic surprise.

Great bouncing Bayesian Babyeater babies Batman!

> This is the point at which you invoke the MST3K Mantra.

Eliezer I sincerely hope we dont chop up your story before its even completely posted.
A certain amount of Suspension of disbelieve is needed anyway.

And i sense a new inside joke coming up.

I can say thats: double-plus-baby-eating?

Martin

PS: there is no evidence for any kind of FTL actually working, *scnc*, argh, stop beating be with your narn bat squats aaaaaaa.-

Carl, why doesn't your logic rule out ant colonies of only 3/4 related individuals?

Given ant chromosomal structure, an ant is more related to her sisters than her offspring, and a single female can convert food/resources to offspring roughly as well as two females each with half the resources.

I think I remember reading once that ant colonies do, in fact, produce worker ants that "cheat" and attempt to reproduce, while other ants enforce the "cooperative" status quo.

I.e. sister ants with their parents alive don't need complex social recognition and punishment mechanisms to deal with conflicting individual and group interests, since their best outcomes coincide. That coincidence of interests can be almost as complete as for a group of clones.

Eliezer: with regards to the MST3K mantra, all I have to say is "But this way is more fun!" :)

As Doug observes, worker ants may indeed cheat and try to reproduce male offspring, to whom they are apparently more closely "related" for such purposes than they are related to the queen. Googling around on ant genetic conflicts also produced this paper on how even a group of clones apparently needed to police reproduction. That part I don't quite get, but the summary of standard relationships says:

In a society with a single, once-mated queen (monogyny and monandry), workers are more closely related (life-for-life relatedness) to their own sons (r = 0.5) or the sons of other workers (r = 0.375) than to males produced by the queen (r = 0.25). It is expected that workers favor male production by workers over male production by the queen. In contrast, in a society with a multiply mated queen (polyandry), workers are still more closely related to their own sons, but at an effective queen mating frequency above two, their average relatedness to other workers' sons is lower than to the queen's sons. In this situation, workers can increase their average inclusive fitness by laying their own eggs but preventing each other from reproducing through aggression or egg eating. Behavioral mechanisms, which in this way suppress selfishness of individuals against the group interest, are termed “worker policing” (3, 4).

If the tight but not perfect relatedness of workers in an ant colony can support cooperation and reproductive policing, I don't think I'm being that crazy for hypothesizing that chimp-level Babyeaters can do the same using punishment of nonpunishers. Of course I have not actually observed them. I am using the rationalizing part of my brain here. And I'm not sure I should ever dare attach any real credence to that. I am only saying that I should be able to get away with it as fiction. Real life? I'd have to rethink that from scratch.

Within the bounds of fictional rationalization, I obviously assume that there are economies of scale in Babyeater crystal-tending and child-tending to match the commons problems, as otherwise the group size would tend to shrink and eliminate conflicts of interests that way. Hence the lack of individually tended pens. Maybe then the Crystal Dragons come by and eat all the babies, or something.

Once you're in that equilibrium, though, spawning fewer offspring is an individual disadvantage even though it's a group advantage, and any move in the direction of selectively provisioning your own offspring will be treated as defection and punished. I don't understand why you think that provisioning your own offspring is a group advantage.

Actually, babyeating in the common pen isn't even internally stable. Let's take the assumptions of the situation as given:

1. There is intertribal extermination warfare. Larger tribes tend to win and grow. Even division of food among excessive numbers of offspring results in fewer surviving adults, and thus slower tribal population growth and more likely extermination.
2. All offspring are placed in a common pen.
3. Food placed in the common pen is automatically equally divided among those in the pen and adults cannot selectively provision.
4. Group selection has resulted in collective enforced babyeating to reduce offspring numbers (without regard for parentage of the offspring) in the common pen to the level that will maximize the number of surviving adults given the availability of food resources.
5. Individuals vary genetically in ways that affect their relative investment in producing offspring and in agricultural production to place into the common pen.

Under these circumstances, there will be intense selective pressure for individuals that put all their energy (after survival) into producing more offspring (which directly increase their reproductive fitness) rather than agricultural production (which is divided between their offspring and the offspring of the rest of the tribe). As more and more offspring are produced (in metabolically wasteful fashion) and less and less food is available, the tribe is on the path to extinction.

Groups that survive will be those in which social intelligence is used to punish (by death, devouring of offspring before they are placed in the pen, etc) those making low food contributions relative to offspring production. Remembering offspring production would be cognitively demanding, and only one side of the tradeoff needs to be measured, so we can guess that punishment of those making small food contributions would develop. This would force a homogenous level of reproductive effort, and group selection would push this level to the optimal tradeoff between agriculture and offspring production for group population growth, with just enough offspring to make optimal use of the food supply. This group is internally stable, and has much higher population growth than one wracked by commons problems, but it will also have no babyeating in the common pen.

"I don't understand why you think that provisioning your own offspring is a group advantage."
If parents could selectively provision their own offspring in the common pen, then the group would not be wracked by intense commons-problem selective pressures driving provisioning towards zero and reproduction towards the maximum (thus resulting in extermination by more numerous tribes).

Carl, it seems to me that a lot of what we're discussing here has analogues in human food-sharing. Babyeaters who contribute more food to the pen might have higher tribal status. Punishing low contributors to the pen doesn't force a homogenous level of reproductive effort, either. Suppose that all Babyeaters make equal contributions to the food pen; their leftover (variance in) food resources could be used to grow their own bodies, bribe desirable mates (those of good genetic material as witnessed by their large food contributions), or create larger numbers of offspring.

Under the circumstances, I also have to ask if you're personally alarmed at the prospect of running into actual Babyeaters some day, or the universe actually looking like that; or if you're just calmly picking nits.

Given that it's Carl, and that the nits sound pretty plausible, I'm guessing the latter.
Personally though, given the LARGE number of fantasy assumptions in this story, most importantly FTL and synchronized ascent sentience so perfectly timed that neither humans nor baby-eaters expanded to fill one-another's space first even given FTL, I think we have to assume the MST3K mantra is in fairly full effect.

Eliezer, you're right that the coordination mechanisms would be imperfect, so it's an overstatement to say NO babyeating would occur, I meant that you wouldn't have the 'winnowing' sort of babyeating with consistent orders-of-magnitude disproportions between pre- and post-babyeating offspring populations.

Nits. I'd say there are probably lots of at-least-Babyeater-level-abhorrent evolutionary paths (not that Babyeaters are that bad, I'd rather have a Babyeater world than paperclips) making up a big share of evolved civilizations (it looks like the great majority, but it's very tough to be confident). Any lack of calm is irritation at the use of a dubious example of abhorrent evolved morality when you could have used one that was both more probable AND more abhorrent.

Michael,

I guess it depends on whether the fantastic element can adequately stand in for whatever it is supposed to represent. Magic starship physics can be used to create a Prisoner's Dilemma without trouble, since PDs are well understood, and it's fairly obvious that we will face them in the future. No-Singularity and FTL, so that we can have human characters, are also understandable as translation tools. If Babyeaters are a stand-in for 'abhorrent alien evolved morality' to an audience that already grasps the topic, then the details of their evolution don't matter. If, however, they are supposed to make the possibility of a nasty evolved morality come alive to cosmopolitan optimistic science fictions fans or transhumanists, then they should be relatively probable.

Eliezer,

On the other hand, since you've already written the story, using one of your favorite examples of the nonanthropomorphic nature of evolution as inspiration for the Babyeaters, and have no authorial line of retreat available at this time, we can probably leave this horse for dead.

Michael, don't forget the "machine translation" algorithm.

I meant that you wouldn't have the 'winnowing' sort of babyeating with consistent orders-of-magnitude disproportions between pre- and post-babyeating offspring populations.

I fear that you have not managed to convince me of this. If the general idiom of children in pens is stable, then the adults contributing lots and lots of children (as many as possible) is also evolutionarily stable.

I'd rather have a Babyeater world than paperclips

You say this even after reading Part 2, about the Babyeater children - not infants, preteens, "Baby" is said to be a mistranslation - slowly dying in their parents' stomachs?

I'd take the paperclips, so long as it wasn't running any sentient simulations.

Any lack of calm is irritation at the use of a dubious example of abhorrent evolved morality when you could have used one that was both more probable AND more abhorrent.

(1) Name one (both more probable and more abhorrent).

(2) A basic technique in literature is that while a battle between Good and Evil can sometimes be made riveting, what can be even more involving is a battle between Good and Good - then the audience has to choose sides, and the "correct" side should not be made so obvious. If the Babyeaters were orcs the story would be simple: fight them, wipe them out! Because the Babyeaters are not orcs, the question of what to do with them is much more difficult. This is the true application of the principle that stories are about conflict.

I'd take the paperclips, so long as it wasn't running any sentient simulations.

A vast region of paperclips could conceivably after billions of years evolve into something interesting, so let us stipulate that the paperclipper wants the vast region to remain paperclips, so it remains to watch over its paperclips. Better yet, replace the paperclipper with a superintelligence that wants to pile all the matter it can reach into supermassive black holes; supermassive black holes with no ordinary matter nearby cannot evolved or be turned into anything interesting unless our model of fundamental reality is fundamentally wrong.

My question to Eliezer is, Would you take the supermassive black holes over the Babyeaters so long as the AI making the supermassive black holes is not running sentient simulations?

"I fear that you have not managed to convince me of this. If the general idiom of children in pens is stable, then the adults contributing lots and lots of children (as many as possible) is also evolutionarily stable."

I have a tribe of Babyeaters that each put 90% of their effort into reproducing, and 10% into contributing to the common food supply of the pen. This winds up producing 5000 offspring, 30 of which are not eaten, and are just adequately fed by the 10% of total resources allocated to the food supply. Now consider an allele, X, that disposes carriers to engage in altruistic punishment, and punishment of non-punishers, in support of a norm that adults spend most of their effort on contributing to the food supply (redirecting energy previously spent on offspring to be devoured with thermodynamic losses to the production and maintenance of offspring that will grow into adults). Every individual in the tribe will tend to have more surviving offspring, and the group will tend to be victorious in intertribal extermination warfare. Group selection will thus favor the spread of X, probably quite a bit more strongly than it would favor the spread of an allele for support of the babyeating norm (X achieves the benefits of babyeating while reallocating metabolic waste on devoured babies). The more closely X aligns offspring production and food contribution, the more it will be spread by group selection and the more it will reduce babyeating.

In a world with many groups, all engaging in winnowing-level babyeating, allele X can enter, spread, and vastly reduce babyeating. What is unconvincing about that argument?

"Suppose that all Babyeaters make equal contributions to the food pen; their leftover (variance in) food resources could be used to grow their own bodies, bribe desirable mates (those of good genetic material as witnessed by their large food contributions), or create larger numbers of offspring."

Different alleles might drive altruistic punishment (including of non-punishers) in support of many different levels of demand on tribe members. Group selection would support alleles supporting norms such that the mean contribution to the pen food supply was well-matched with the mean number of offspring contributed to the pen. Variance doesn't invalidate that conclusion.

Richard, I'd take the black holes of course.

Carl, one of the root assumptions here is that infants are much cheaper to produce than preteens are to feed. The Babyeater children are eliminated at just the stage before they begin quickly growing and consuming lots of food (but not, alas, before the stage before they become sentient). If most of the total cost of growing a child lies in feeding it past the rapid growth stage, rather than birthing 50 infants and feeding them up to that point, then tribes that birth fewer infants will not have much of an advantage. It's even possible that the reduced selection pressure (weeding out poor immune systems, dumb kids, etcetera) would become significant at this point in terms of both individual and group advantage.

Furthermore, to the question "Why didn't evolution make improvement X?", "It just didn't" is often a pretty good response. The mutation you postulate does involve more than one change - even if the Babyeaters seem well-predisposed to it in terms of preadaptation, it might just not happen. You're also postulating that a whole group gets this mutation in one shot - but even if you say "genetic drift", it seems pretty disadvantageous to a single invader. They'll just suddenly classify a bunch of others as evil, and so be cast out themselves.

"If most of the total cost of growing a child lies in feeding it past the rapid growth stage, rather than birthing 50 infants and feeding them up to that point,"

From their visibility in the transmitted images it seems the disproportion isn't absurdly great. Also, if the scaling issues with their brains were so extreme, why didn't they become dwarfs? One big tool-using crystal being versus 500 tool-using dwarfs of equal intelligence seems like bad news for the giant.

"You're also postulating that a whole group gets this mutation in one shot - but even if you say "genetic drift", it seems pretty disadvantageous to a single invader."

Altruistic punishers don't need to be common, one or two can coordinate a group (the altruistic punisher recruits with the credible threat of punishment, and then imposes the norm on the whole group), and an allele for increased provisioning wouldn't directly conflict with babyeating instincts.

And again, babyeating norms need to invade in a similar fashion, and without norms other than baby-eating, the communal feeding pen selects for zero provisioning effort.

I find the world of the uplift saga by Brin fairly abhorrent, if he had made it that the senior races weren't deceptive or otherwise evil except to the species that served them, it might have served your purpose. E.g. institutionalized slavery between species.

I would ask about the culture of the children. Intelligent minds don't do much in a vacuum. Is there any interaction of pre-winnowing children with adults or post-winnowing children? (Teaching, etc.) Do they understand the adults' society and reasons for winnowing? Do adults observe and study them? Are they used for experiments, perhaps, or other useful purposes unrelated to food?

Do children ever eat each other? There is surely selection pressure for children to form a social structure that helps high-status individuals survive the winnowing.

In the simplest case, if they just killed a high proportion of one another, would each survivor have a higher chance of surviving the winnowing? That is, does the winnowing result in a constant number of children left alive rather than a proportion? In that case there would be a great incentive for the children to kill one another at every opportunity.

Also, do winnowings happen every fixed time period, or whenever there are too many children in the pen? If it's not guaranteed that each child goes through a fixed number of winnowings before growing up (and that might be difficult to track in a pre-tech society with hundreds of children in the pen), then there's a pressure for children to grow up quickly. Eating other children would be a natural solution. And it should be a relatively easy adaptation to evolve, exhibiting existing behavior earlier than usual.

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