Is sexual selection a design agent, or means of another agent?

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Discussion by: This Is Not A Meme

Are female peacocks driven by genetics to select for colorful, patterned males? If so, how is that not orthogenesis? If it is not genetic, can we say complex (sentient?) organisms are designed not only by genes but by memes as well? Should we consider consciousness an environmental factor in terms of natural selection, or is it a primary design agent?

I've been trying to articulate this question for a while, and I realize it is still muddy. Basically, I realize there is no intelligence behind the design of most life, but do intelligent organisms demonstrate design from mind, with genes as a mere means of implimenting design? Does the Blind Watchmaker ever peek, or feel around a bit?

36 COMMENTS

  1. Female peacocks start with a genetic preference for feathers more colorful, more spotty, or whatever. More than the current average, that is.

    That preference arose in any number of ways, lost to history. It could have been random. It could have signalled something about diet or parasitism. It doesn’t matter. Once that preference starts, it runs away all by itself, without needing to be tied to any other effect.

    As males who happen to have more of what the females want successfully mate with those females, two things happen. First, the genes for having those tail feather traits are propagated. Second, the genes for being attracted to those traits are also propagated. To both sexes, too, other than those genes which happen to be on the W chromosome, which only female birds carry. As long as this initial preference was wide-spread, the result will be a runaway increase in genes for elaborate tail preference as well as genes for making more and more elaborate tails. They will stop only when the non-sexual selective pressure on the males prevents any more extravagance. Genes to suppress the tails in females will ride the wave forward as well.

    All of this is entirely without forethought on the part of any agent. It’s not a fad among females, but a built-in drive wired directly into their brains by the genes responsible for the preference.

  2. To all rational thinkers, please listen to my grevience and have the courage to support me, or if you feel my complaint has no merit, tell me why.

    The author of the discussion “the nature for miraculous claims”, “achromat666″, first had my account deactivated, then when I created a new account he had my ip blocked. I can only assume he complained of spamming or harassment, both of which are baseless accusations. Read the thread and you decide whether I was simply having a rational back and forth (meaning he was responding to me and so I responded to his response) or if I was spamming nonsensical posts with total disregard for rational discussion. Unfortunately, achromat666 also manipulated the thread by deleting several of my posts, which ofcourse does nothing to help his argument, but only shows his lack of respect for truth and debate. How is this not like the religious who resort to anger towards any challenges to their perspective. My point to archomat666 was to offer him a fresh perspective on the common assumption and claim made by many like him that evidence will convince him of the truth of a supernatural claim, which is the same as saying I don’t believe in the supernatural explanation for phenomenon x because there is no evidence. The perspective I was offering him was this:
    The unique property that real things have (which is the potential ability to be proven true or false because evidence and reason is capable of acting on it) should not be surrendered to irrational views and claims like the supernatural, which by very definition (one that is as intellectually vacuous as the definition of the trinity) claims that the validity to the truth of itself is outside of reason and evidence. What a fancy way to say made up purely from imagination. Are the convinced by the philosophical hogwash that anything imagined must possibly exist in reality? Aren’t we easily capable of stringing words together to conceptualize things that are completely irrational?
    Basically, asking for evidence for the supernatural reinforces the notion that rational evidence can act directly on their claims, thus affording the supernatural the possibility of truth and the weight of reality. What evidence can act on the supernatural claim that, for example, an old shroud somehow contains the physical spirit and healing powers of an ancient man-deity. How can we say, without denying everything we know about reality, that we have to wait for the evidence to decide if its true or not. Is that really a rational stance?
    I understand it is a fine line that separates the two perspectives, but it an important distinction to understand because much like how the general acceptance of faith by even the nonreligious undermines rational criticism of religion, the general acceptance that the supernatural could, with evidence, be true, undermines science by creating skepticism towards its position as the only method to understanding truth. If we allow for an alternative reality outside of scientific understanding, first its not a coherent concept, but more importantly we disempower truth and reason from claiming the unique status they deserve.

    All that being said,
    Please understand that I have to post this to discussions other than the one this is about because the author has proven that he does not have the courage nor ethical conviction to deny himself from acting on the urge to silence and reshape arguments that hurt his ego. Please consider again, whether I was spamming his discussion or engaging in a rational debate with the author. (Please forgive this one spam) Also, if anyone thinks I am misunderstanding his position please let me know how. I’m always open to rational debate as thinking rationally is more important than shielding my ego from the devastatingly shattering blow of being wrong.

    I’m not asking for a march or boycott, just please show support or tell me why you won’t. I just want to quiet that fear that any rational thinker has, that I am obliviously making some illogical leap in my reasoning that completely discredits my argument. If you have the power, please ask administrators to review the complaints of achromat666 towards me.

    Hey crookedshoes, notice how your post in support of my stance on the supernatural was deleted. I hope you or anyone else that is here to have a rational discussion, never has to feel the disappointment of being forcefully silenced by a site that champions free thought and debate.

  3. We have studied sexual attraction in humans. There are very specific desirable body shapes that are universal across culture. The ideal weight has changed over time. Obviously movies temporarily give certain appearances a boost. Females still prefer muscular males, even if a nerd could probably provide many times over. She is still looking for a protector and hunter as if she were still a hunter-gatherer. So in humans who is attractive is a mixture of genetics and culture.

    I don’t think we have seen any fads in peacock preference, so I presume they are genetic.

    Let’s say a female peacock ignored the usual selection criteria. Her chicks would not be considered attractive in the next generation bakeoff. Therefore there is natural selection pressure on her to use conventional mate selection criteria.

    • In reply to #3 by Roedy:

      We have studied sexual attraction in humans. There are very specific desirable body shapes that are universal across culture. The ideal weight has changed over time. Obviously movies temporarily give certain appearances a boost. Females still prefer muscular males, even if a nerd could probably pro…

      This is a male myth; we aren’t all built like Gorillas, I’d even put money on a Bonobo being able to beat most humans in a fight.
      Female choice is a lot more nuanced than you give credit for, and you have failed to identify the characteristics by which males are judged when the time comes.

      There is evidence to suggest that social position may play a role, or that making another female smile increases attractiveness.

      • In reply to #12 by Mr Greene:

        We have studied sexual attraction in humans. There are very specific desirable body shapes that are universal across culture… This is a male myth; we aren’t all built like Gorillas, I’d even put money on a Bonobo being able to beat most humans in a fight. Female choice is a lot more nuanced than you give credit for, and you have failed to identify the characteristics by which males are judged when the time comes.

        What exactly are you saying is a “male myth”? I just finished How The Brain Works by Pinker and he presented compelling evidence that supports this statement: “There are very specific desirable [female] body shapes that are universal across culture”

        • In reply to #13 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #12 by Mr Greene:

          We have studied sexual attraction in humans. There are very specific desirable body shapes that are universal across culture… This is a male myth; we aren’t all built like Gorillas, I’d even put money on a Bonobo being able to beat most humans in a fight. Female c…

          Sexual selection is a female prerogative, not male. Males will mate with any willing female.

          Females do not base mate selection on muscle mass (or body shape) despite what any adverts may claim.
          The markers of ovulation in other species are absent from humans. Males do not know when they are being judged, nor by what criteria they are judged.

          • In reply to #14 by Mr Greene:

            In reply to #13 by Red Dog:
            Sexual selection is a female prerogative, not male. Males will mate with any willing female.

            “Any” is kind of a stretch but I agree with your point. But that doesn’t mean men don’t have preferences for body type, the psychological research shows they do and that it is (contrary to some PC dogma) consistent across cultures and that it favors youth (which translates into more potential children) and body types indicating the women hasn’t been pregnant before (similar issue also an indicator that she is less likely to already be pregnant with someone else’s child).

          • In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

            “Any” is kind of a stretch but I agree with your point. But that doesn’t mean men don’t have preferences for body type, the psychological research shows they do and that it is (contrary to some PC dogma) consistent across cultures and that it favors youth (which translates into more potential children) and body types indicating the women hasn’t been pregnant before (similar issue also an indicator that she is less likely to already be pregnant with someone else’s child).

            quite. on the subject of the political correctness, most women will, quite correctly (in a socio-political sense) say “size doesn’t matter” yet the theory of sexual selection along with the comparative size of the human member to other apes suggests otherwise. Why it should matter is anyone’s guess, but something set that trend in motion

            Discussions on the nature of human sexuality will always degenerate into assertions that humans naturally conform to social norms, yet the very fact laws and taboos impose such conformity suggest nature cares little for “aught” when deciding what “is”. Humans are difficult to study as the subject always thinks it’s the observer.

            I must recommend “Homo Mysterious” by David Barash to anyone interested. it’s full of little gems of received wisdom about human evolution and sexuality which it soundly destroys under the cold light of science and reason, leaving the reader guaranteed to know less at the end than the beginning!

          • In reply to #14 by Mr Greene:

            Sexual selection is a female prerogative, not male. Males will mate with any willing female.

            A better way of putting this is “sexual selection is the prerogative of the individual who has the greater personal investment.” Often it’s the female because eggs are a higher energy investment than sperm, and pregnancy is an even greater investment, but this is not always the case.

            As an example, male sea horses, sea dragons, and other pipefish are very picky about the female they choose to mate with. Females dump the eggs into the male’s pouch (seahorses) or deposit them onto the tail (sea dragons) and leave. The male, as a result, is putting more of his resources into brooding the young and selects higher quality females for breeding.

            The aquarist trying to breed them is also under a lot of stress because the males sometimes just freak out and keel over, but I don’t think studies have been done on human caretakers and how it affects mate selection among sea horses. ;)

  4. It may be that sexual selection for things like male peacocks’ tails can be subsumed into the broader process of natural selection. Zahavi has some interesting ideas about such flamboyant features having the purpose of communicating to the female the true fitness value of the male, the very flamboyance meaning that the male is precluded from deceit in this regard (he can survive, forage, find partners, escape predators etc. while still dragging around such a burden). Obviously the female will want to select a mate of optimal fitness in the interest of her own genes.

  5. What tells a brain that this is a potential mate in front of you. You could go on for hours discussing symmetry or displays of health through various means but in the end it comes down to a switch flipping from off to on. Humans can control this switch to some degree but in my own personal experience there are times when a woman flips that switch for me and I can’t tell you what the difference is between one that does and one that doesn’t. Afterwards you can go back and retrospectively pick out certain clues to reinforce your opinion but there is no actual thought preceding that initial feeling. That’s just been my experience, your mileage may vary.

  6. There was something on the radio* about flamingos seemingly preferring to around flamingos that were pinker. That may not just be sexual, but maybe, since flamingos are pink through their diet, pinker ones are better at finding food. So the shade of pink could be a marker for better breeding success.

    (* the BBC, but I know it’s hardly a formal reference!)

  7. Are female peacocks driven by genetics to select for colorful, patterned males?

    Yes.

    If so, how is that not orthogenesis?

    There is no essentialism required. Sexual selection is completely natural.

    If it is not genetic, can we say complex (sentient?) organisms are designed not only by genes but by memes as well?

    I don’t like the word designed.

    Should we consider consciousness an environmental factor in terms of natural selection, or is it a primary design agent?

    Consciousness doesn’t actually do anything objective.

    • damn. I wasn’t posting in this thread when I thought I was. Derp. Much thanks for the content. Delicious thread.

      I wonder about orthogeneisis because if the genes drive selection, value judgments, preferences, responses, the relation between the genes and the conscious experience seems like an internal mechanism that pushes for the eventual development of certain traits, along a trajectory which is (up to a point) independent of natural selection (Irish Elk as the classic example).

      Another way to look at it, we can deduce the environments an organism has evolved in from its current morphology. However, Peackock feathers were not sculpted by the environment. Saying it comes down to the individual and not the larger family of genes is disproven with Kin-Selection, so the sexual mates one vies for are not considered environment/a seperate entity. It’s the genes determining their future development with the aid of consciousness.

      If we put the peackock’s ancestor in a different envionment, would the spots occur again? At what point does that become determined? If it is determined at any point, from an internal mechanism, wouldn’t that be orthogenesis.

  8. can we say complex (sentient?) organisms are designed not only by genes but by memes as well?

    maybe, but i guess it depends on why they select. an easy way to experiment on this would be to seperate a hen, from hatching, from any cocks. when she reaches maturity, let her into an enclosure with only cocks and let her select her mate.

    if she selects the most impressive tail display, it suggests a genetic mechanism. if not, there’s a possibility of a memetic process.

    I strongly suspect the answer will be genetic. for memes to replicate they need a social structure to work within so excuse me while I wiki…..

    Peafowl forage on the ground in small groups, known as musters, that usually have a cock and 3 to 5 hens. After the breeding season, the flocks tend to be made up only of females and young.

    ok this quote suggests to me that a memetic transfer would not survive. there needs to be an unbroken culture where hens can watch the bahaviour of other hens around a selection of cocks in order to learn that it’s all about the sexy feathers.

  9. A guy who can survive in the wild carrying a 4 feet wide colourful peacock tail is certainly a strong (if not subtle) partner. If an instinct drives the females toward the most colourful (surviving) males, it could lead to having fitter offspring.

    Well, that is a nice story, now. But show me the gene.

    • Do you have doubts that characteristics such as peacocks’ tails and the tastes of female peacocks are influenced by genes? I doubt anyone would suggest a single gene results in such characteristics, but these are certainly genetic traits.

      In reply to #10 by Ornicar:

      A guy who can survive in the wild carrying a 4 feet wide colourful peacock tail is certainly a strong (if not subtle) partner. If an instinct drives the females toward the most colourful (surviving) males, it could lead to having fitter offspring.

      Well, that is a nice story, now. But show me the ge…

  10. Red dog comment 15

    Any” is kind of a stretch but I agree with your point. But that doesn’t mean men don’t have preferences for body type, the psychological research shows they do and that it is (contrary to some PC dogma) consistent across cultures and that it favors youth (which translates into more potential children) and body types indicating the women hasn’t been pregnant before (similar issue also an indicator that she is less likely to already be pregnant with someone else’s child).

    Really? Doesn’t that kind of suggest all men would be just a little bit creepy as men showing a clear preference for younger body types are not very often selected by women at all, under any circumstances. Plus it doesn’t seem to apply, teenage boys seem to prefer slightly older women and teenage girls slightly older men. And men seem to remain attracted to their partners during pregnancy after they’ve had children – I can vouch for that – so how does that fit your theory? And men often raise children who they know are not their own as well.

    I think it is ridiculous to try and apply simple models of sexual selection to humans until we have clearer ideas of sexuality in humans. For every piece of research showing one thing there will be another showing exactly the opposite. We live in complex groups, we spend and inordinate amount of time learning and we form relationships that last well beyond our youths. And with the best will in the world – I (or you) could select the strongest, cleverest, bestest genes we could find from the most gorgeous looking male (or female) and at the end of the day unless there is a long period of care and input into the resulting offspring it will die. So sexual selection on just one thing will not work. It has to last throughout pregnancy, birth and beyond and it has to incorporate the intelligence to successfully rear an infant..

    Plus sexual choice seem to be very prone to society and economics. At one time people reported a trend for women to favour older males. Was that choice or economic necessity because as women have gained more economic freedom more seem to select younger males.

    • In reply to #17 by PG:

      Red dog comment 15

      Any” is kind of a stretch but I agree with your point. But that doesn’t mean men don’t have preferences for body type, the psychological research shows they do and that it is (contrary to some PC dogma) consistent across cultures and that it favors youth (which translates into mo…

      I never meant to imply that you could understand everything about male preferences by this data. In fact I think these kinds of preferences aren’t all that important at least for some men (me for example). Of course there are all sorts of other variables depending on personality, age, social status, etc. All I’m saying (and I’m just paraphrasing what Pinker said in How the Mind Works) is that when we talk about physical preferences of men regarding women there are certain traits that can be identified as more desirable to most men and those traits are common across cultures and can be summed up as traits that indicate the woman has the best potential for many children.

      I think it is ridiculous to try and apply simple models of sexual selection to humans until we have clearer ideas of sexuality in humans. For every piece of research showing one thing there will be another showing exactly the opposite.

      How are we supposed to develop complex models of sexual selection if we don’t start with simple ones? The preference for a body type (of course) does not even begin to fully explain sexual selection. But it’s one useful starting point.

      And what you said about the research contradicting each other simply isn’t true. Or rather it’s not always true. Of course some times research comes to contradictory results. That is a sign that at least one theoretical model is wrong or maybe they both are. But on this one the research is pretty unambiguous, again go to the Pinker book and check out the sources (I would give a quote here but it was a library book and I returned it). The evidence that Pinker presented on male preference was one example where the results are very consistent and support the hypothesis (which also makes intuitive sense from the standpoint of evolutionary psych) that men (not any specific man and not all men but on average) have a preference for body types indicating maximum potential to produce many copies of their genes.

  11. Red Dog

    is that when we talk about physical preferences of men regarding women there are certain traits that can be identified as more desirable to most men and those traits are common across cultures and can be summed up as traits that indicate the woman has the best potential for many children.

    Well what I tend to notice is that often these discussion tend to avoid the physical preferences of women which also exist. As for the research it often depends, like a lot of social psychology, on who is doing it.

    At the end of the day women (and men) come in range of shapes and most of us manage to mate quite sucessfully – including over periods where our body shape changes such as pregnancy and the few days after birth. Most people exist in couples and couples change in looks and shape over time. That is not explained by that one piece of trite research, which as I said applies equally to women and male shape when considered at such a basic level.

    How are we supposed to develop complex models of sexual selection if we don’t start with simple ones? The preference for a body type (of course) does not even begin to fully explain sexual selection. But it’s one useful starting point.

    Except preference for body shape doesn’t seem to even begin to remotely explain who we mate with at all even at that basic level. Smiles, flirting, talking and many other things are bigger predictors. For long term mating IQ, educational levels even religion are big predictors. And of course what you have to offer back. Body shape, it’s not really a predictor at all and in that research that non starter is all that is offered as a choice. Which does not mirror reality at all.

  12. Red Dog

    The evidence that Pinker presented on male preference was one example where the results are very consistent and support the hypothesis (which also makes intuitive sense from the standpoint of evolutionary psych) that men (not any specific man and not all men but on average) have a preference for body types indicating maximum potential to produce many copies of their genes.

    And if they produce one copy of their genes with that body shape, it will change before the child is even born. And after a couple of copies of their genes, especially in times gone by, it will change dramatically yet the male will have to stay around to help rear those copies of his genes or they will die without reproducing.

    And if the male does not offer a specific body shape in return, the one preferred by females which Pinker seems to have ommitted to mention, then what? If he’s that fussy his genes die out.

    I’m not saying you’re completely wrong just that with social psychology it often depends on who is doing the research. And if you are going to look at sexual selection, start with the weakest point. The helpless offspring we have! That is going to be the determining factor. Sex and pregnancy are easy to achieve – raising a child to reproductive age is the real difficult thing for both male and female genes and should therefore be the starting point for studies in sexual selection.

    • In reply to #20 by PG:

      And if they produce one copy of their genes with that body shape, it will change before the child is even born.

      True but totally besides the point. On all these issues if I say “there is an evolutionary predisposition to prefer X” you can’t say “But sometimes humans don’t choose X! Ah ha proof that you are wrong!” When Pinker says there is an evolutionary tendency for men to prefer women who look as if they could produce lots of children all he is saying is that among the many complex inter-connected network of influences that drive male sexual selection one influence is an evolutionary tendency for a certain body type.

      The way people do cognitive science research is that they try to craft experiments that isolate one or a few variables in what are highly complex inter-relations and test to see if we can learn something about those specific variables. Often the research is contradictory or inconclusive because it’s a lot harder to isolate the causes for human behavior than it is for sub-atomic particles. But I’m saying in this case, at least according to Pinker’s summary of the results, for once the results are pretty clear.

      Does that say everything we need to know about male sexual selection for modern males in industrialized nations? Of course not, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

      I’m not saying you’re completely wrong just that with social psychology it often depends on who is doing the research.

      If that is true (and I agree unfortunately it often is) then that’s poor research. I agree a lot of people in the social sciences start out with preconceptions that they don’t want to abandon and just set out to confirm their preconceptions. That’s bad science. But not all the research is like that and I think this is one case where the research is pretty high quality and unambiguous.

      And if you are going to look at sexual selection, start with the weakest point. The helpless offspring we have! That is going to be the determining factor.

      And IMO you are doing what I just said people shouldn’t do. You are placing constraints on research for emotional or moral reasons. Yes, raising children is morally about one of the most important things a person can do. That doesn’t mean we should constrain our research on sexual selection by assuming that everything has to be explained that way and only that way.

      I do agree that child raising is crucial and possibly the most important issue here as you said. That doesn’t mean its the only issue. To begin with you can’t raise children until you conceive them so there must be some factors worth studying related to how men and women make decisions about when and who to mate with.

      • In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

        I do agree that child raising is crucial and possibly the most important issue here as you said …

        I’ll refer you to Prof. Dawkins; The Selfish Gene on this point.
        A potential male breeding strategy to achieve the highest number of offspring with the best chance of survival would be to a have a long term partner with whom children are raised intensively, whilst simultaneously mating with as many other females as possible and having no further contact with those females. This provides both a small number of offspring with long term investment and a large number of offspring with little or no commitment. ie. The Crown Prince and Royal Bastards strategy.

        Or do you expect people to be faithful?

        • In reply to #23 by Mr Greene:

          In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

          I do agree that child raising is crucial and possibly the most important issue here as you said …

          I’ll refer you to Prof. Dawkins; The Selfish Gene on this point.
          A potential male breeding strategy to achieve the highest number of offspring with the best chance of sur…

          I’m not sure I understand what question you are asking. Are you saying that being polygynous is the best strategy for men if all they want to do is to have as many offspring as possible? I agree with that. I’m not sure what I said that would make you think otherwise.

          When I said that child raising was important I was speaking more from the woman’s point of view. For mammals females end up doing most of the child rearing. Also, for humans women are the scarce resource that men compete over. (BTW, in all of this I’m talking strictly from the standpoint of our primitive hunter gatherer ancestors not of course what I think is moral or even true for modern humans). So since the women are the ones who do the majority of the selection and since for the women what really matters is child rearing I can see the point that it is reasonable to hypothesize that child rearing is critically important for how humans choose a mate.

          Of course it’s just a hypothesis. I don’t know what the latest theories really are on selecting a mate or if there are any definitive conclusions on the general issue. But on the specific question of what body type do men prefer (which is a very different question than what mates they select) there is clear evidence and it supports the position I stated earlier.

          • In reply to #24 by Red Dog:
            >

            Also, for humans women are the scarce resource that men compete over…

            Males compete for the attention of females; to be selected.

            That is as true for tribal societies as it is for the student union bar on Friday night.
            So the question remains one of female choice. Though females themselves aren’t scarce, what is scarce is willingness.

            Beating the living daylights out of every bloke in a bar is unlikely to win any female attention.
            Showing off your torso will also also result in abject failure.
            You (or Pinker) concentrate on a presupposition that body shape is the determining factor, that physical attributes are paramount.
            However as every boy-band since the Beatles has demonstrated it isn’t physical ability that counts in humans.

          • In reply to #25 by Mr Greene:

            Beating the living daylights out of every bloke in a bar is unlikely to win any female attention. Showing off your torso will also also result in abject failure. You (or Pinker) concentrate on a presupposition that body shape is the determining factor, that physical attributes are paramount. However as every boy-band since the Beatles has demonstrated it isn’t physical ability that counts in humans.

            I never said anything about women preferring men with any kind of torso. In fact I never said a word about the type of body that women prefer at all. Everything I said about body type was the type of body that men find desirable in women.

            I also was trying to make clear that all I am talking about is just the body types they prefer (i.e. are most aroused by). The kind of woman one is aroused by is clearly only one factor among many for the mate one selects. For example, I find Emma Watson extremely arousing but I don’t think I have much of a chance selecting her for a mate. Also, even for men there are other issues besides body type although body type is far more important for men than women. In fact, I actually agree with you on that and so does Pinker. That is another question where there is pretty definitive evidence for once that when women select men they pay far more attention to issues such as status, wealth, etc. then to physical appearance. Which BTW, is also consistent with the child rearing hypothesis, the more status and wealth someone in the tribe had the more likely they would be to be able to provide for the children.

          • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            I also was trying to make clear that all I am talking about is just the body types they prefer (i.e. are most aroused by). The kind of woman one is aroused by is clearly only one factor among many for the mate one selects…

            So what is the strength of the selection factor?

            What proportion of men will reject a willing female on the basis of physical appearance?

  13. Mr Greene

    I’ll refer you to Prof. Dawkins; The Selfish Gene on this point. A potential male breeding strategy to achieve the highest number of offspring with the best chance of survival would be to a have a long term partner with whom children are raised intensively, whilst simultaneously mating with as many other females as possible and having no further contact with those females. This provides both a small number of offspring with long term investment and a large number of offspring with little or no commitment. ie. The Crown Prince and Royal Bastards strategy.

    And I’ll refer you to reality Mr Greene. Women would not choose that mate! End of simple as. In the great thing of sexual selection it is the sex with the most to lose that is the most selective. In human evolutionary terms – look at maternal death and neo natal death rates before the advent of modern medicine. So I’m the picky one and the minute the male strays most females leave or at least start looking to and preparing to leave.

    A female that see’s a male committed to raising his own offspring with another female would literallly risk her life and that of potential offspring to mate with him on the off chance he’ll abandon his original offspring? Why? And very likely abandon her and her offspring at some point? Why? Where is the attraction exactly. And don’t forget so much of child rearing relies on help from others. Do you think that would be forthcoming from females to a female mating indiscriminately? Really?

    Thats the problem with the old sexual selection stuff, it ignores the bleeding obvious.

    Only a very stupid female would do that, one who would be quickly removed from the older gene pool and only survives today thanks to a welfare state.

    Cos without intensive rearing which requires probably two people in the past, ,babies die. Only the stupidest would risk it.

    And cos such a male is considered deeply unattractive and any female that does remain is more than likely to be investing her genes elsewhere. You seem to be ignoring the very real issue of female choice!!!

  14. red dog comment 22 True but totally besides the point. On all these issues if I say “there is an evolutionary predisposition to prefer X” you can’t say “But sometimes humans don’t choose X! Ah ha proof that you are wrong!” When Pinker says there is an evolutionary tendency for men to prefer women who look as if they could produce lots of children all he is saying is that among the many complex inter-connected network of influences that drive male sexual selection one influence is an evolutionary tendency for a certain body type.

    I’m not questioning the reliability of PInkers claims merely their validity and his omissions. In the absence of all other cues if given a selection of body shapes men will choose x. Why omit that in the absence of all other cues, given the same experiment with a selection of male bodies so will women choose a specific body type?

    Secondly how is that related to mate selection? In real life we don’t sit down with a catalogue and go that one. Many other complex factors come into play, Personality, recipricol liking, correlations in IQ, education etc. Even immunity and exposure to past diseases. All far more relevant than Pinkers stuff. When people are shown identical pictures of a person where one has the pupils enlarged they find the enlarged pupils picture more attractive. Far more relevant.

    Plus choosing is a two way street for most of us, maybe Pinker needs to consider that.

    • In reply to #30 by PG:

      I’m not questioning the reliability of PInkers claims merely their validity and his omissions. In the absence of all other cues if given a selection of body shapes men will choose x. Why omit that in the absence of all other cues, given the same experiment with a selection of male bodies so will women choose a specific body type?

      Pinker was summarizing the research that other people did. And he actually did talk about those other issues as well. Doing research in the social sciences is difficult. Trying to craft a single experiment to give data about the general question: “How do people select a spouse?” IMO is probably impossible given the current immaturity of the social sciences. I know people do craft such experiments but they usually are filled with assumptions and/or are subject to various interpretations. One way to make real progress is to focus in on more specific questions, so rather than trying to understand how people select a mate see if you can at least determine do people have a preference for a specific body type? And for men there is clear evidence on that issue.

      Getting back to Pinker, he actually does go into most of the issues you raise. I was originally responding to a comment by Mr. Green where he seemed to say that it’s a myth that men prefer a specific body type and that is why I focused in on that issue. I would try to start explaining what Pinker thinks on the bigger questions but since I don’t have the book anymore and since there seems to be so much confusion just stating what seemed to me to be a fairly straight forward research conclusion I think I’ll just leave it.

  15. reddog comment 22 And IMO you are doing what I just said people shouldn’t do. You are placing constraints on research for emotional or moral reasons. Yes, raising children is morally about one of the most important things a person can do. That doesn’t mean we should constrain our research on sexual selection by assuming that everything has to be explained that way and only that way.

    Raising children is not an emotional nor moral issue it is a biological necessity. It is not morals to feed and protect a newborn it is the only way of keeping it alive and passing on genes.

    Sex and conception are easy, whatever drives selection there is irrelevant because anyone can and does manage to achieve that part. Passing on sperm is not passing on genes, passing on genes requires survival of offspring to reproductive age. And that is what mate selection on both sides has to ensure. So forget morals and emotions, they’ve evolved merely to ensure helpless offspring that need long periods of learning survive. And that difficult part has got to be the driver of sexual selection.

    No matter what body type you or I like, if the emotional input after sex does not ensure the survival of offspring it really doesn’t matter. And body shape really doesn’t.

  16. Red Dog comment 24

    I never said anything about women preferring men with any kind of torso. In fact I never said a word about the type of body that women prefer at all. Everything I said about body type was the type of body that men find desirable in women.

    And why did you say nothing about women preferring men with certain types of torso? After all sexual selection and attraction are two way things,so what you say about one sex usually applies across the board. Women given a limited choice will chose certain types of torso and height. Same indicators, good genes for their precious eggs..

    What Pinker says about male preferences in that limited experiment also applies to females in the same experiments. The fact Pinker omits it speaks volumes about his attitude to women I’d say. Far more than it does about his science.

  17. First of yes, this is something that is very well documented in the study of animal behavior specifically that sometimes the preference for a trait in one gender is expressed as the trait itself in the other gender, so lets say that a female has a gene that makes her prefer an on average larger male, then if that is linked or is the same gene that makes a male slightly larger , then this will generate a loop in which the species will be pushing the evolutionary sustainable threshold of largeness. This is actually more common than you would think. And yes, arbitrary preference clearly has an effect on evolutionary biology mor eso in humans however because we have a frontal cortex that allows us to override much of the rest of our brain to act in ways we think are ocietally acceptable, and thus we are more prone to social memes than aany other species, take for example the study performed on a group of people wherin they were hooked up to systems that would measure their sexual arousal, and asked them how aroused they were while watching vvarious types of pornography, what they found was that the straigth women sstematically lied about what they were aroused by in order to match their claimed preferences with what they though was the socially acceptable answer.

    Now to debunk any myth about human preference in a natural setting, It has been well documented that early egalitarian humans spent their lives as omnigimous species and thus generally did not even show any type of sexual preference, and had sex frequentyl with almost anyone from their social groups. Now adding on to that human biology responded to this by shifting from a focus on sexual selection to sperm selection, which is the purpose for not only the size but also the shape of the male penis and added on top of that itt explains much of the way females go through their reproductive cycle and they way they respond physiologically to sex and the way their body treats the incomming sperm. Not to mention the very large amount of self terminating pregnancies. Allf of these lead to the view that humans had little sexual selection and so mechanisms had to evolve around reproductive selection through biological limitations , and so you could say humans have a natural biological selection where our bodies have preferences regardless of our brains.

    • In reply to #35 by BenCarollo:

      First of yes, this is something that is very well documented in the study of animal behavior specifically that sometimes the preference for a trait in one gender is expressed as the trait itself in the other gender, so lets say that a female has a gene that makes her prefer an on average larger male…

      Feedback loops! Of course! That’s the term I was looking for. Thank you. That indeed would establish trajectory of evolution, and a kind of intenal mechanism indpendent of natural selection.

      I’m not resolved on the issue of orthogenesis, but I will be losing much more sleep over the matter.

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