The theory of evolution predicts that different brain-mutations must exist within the human population. The pomo debate illustrates it.

October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Foreign languages add perspective: sometimes they let you see something that should otherwise be obvious but in your own language remains occluded by customary usage.  A Polish pomo debate (here) turns out useful in just this way, casting new light on the entire pomo debate:  not because of what the poster said (after all, what she said was the usual attack by one of us on what we perceive as nonsensical statements emanating from pomo:  nothing new in that, we already know pomo is nonsense) but because of something one of the pomo-defenders said in the discussion section:  “It is OK to be critical of pomo, but why castigate it?” (Można krytykować ale po co zaraz zjeżdżać?)

Because Polish debate usage allows this kind of friendly appeal to sense of fair-play, it also allows the appealing side to expose itself.  In this case, the defender reveals that he thinks that the the attacker’s act of holding up a pomo statement to ridicule as pure nonsense is an act of “castigation”.  He thinks that because, either:

— the defender does not think the statement in question is nonsense;


— he admits that it is nonsense but thinks nonsense is perfectly admissible in debate.

Whichever is the case, the defender does not think what we think:  that nonsense offends.

This raises an interesting question:  why does nonsense offend us and not them?  I feel that the correct explanation must be architecture of the mind.  We simply have different heads.  Our model of CPU does not allow certain kinds of computing, while theirs does.  The result is mutual incomprehension.

This is as it should be:  the theory of evolution predicts the existence of different minds: if the human mind is the result of evolution, it is the result of the rise of mutations and competition between them.  If the human mind has not somehow magically stopped evolving but continues to do what it has done for the past two million years, then different mind-mutations must exist within the population.  And they do:  the pomo debate illustrates it.


Further thoughts on people at the beach

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I wrote recently about my experience at the beach — the occasion on which I (re?)-discovered how badly we were made.

This only confirmed something I had known already from ornithology:  bird atlases prefer to use artists renditions (drawings/paintings) than photos of the actual birds because the artist rendition can picture the idealized, perfect bird of its species (Plato!) while the actual photo will show an actual bird, which is more likely than not to be somehow different from the mean — i.e. not representing the “correct look”.

Think about what this means:  whenever you take a photo of a specimen in nature you are more likely than not to be photographing a mutant — a reproductive “mistake”.  These mistakes are a necessary part of nature, of course, without which (“mutation”) there can be no “selection” — i.e. no improvement, everything will be static, we will all look the same, and probably will be exterminated by the next common cold virus; but they are mistakes all the same.

Ergo, my observation at the beach was right on.

Now, here comes an article in The Economist:

“The latest study to this effect has just been published in Nature by Kari Stefansson and his colleagues at deCODE Genetics, a genetic-analysis company based in Reykjavik that was founded to take advantage of Iceland’s excellent medical records and its unique genealogical history. Recent immigrants apart, the relationship of almost everybody on the island to everybody else is known back as far as the first census, in 1703. In many cases it is known back to the first human settlement of the island, in 874.

Dr Stefansson’s study does not reach as far back as that. He and his colleagues examined 78 trios of father, mother and child who are all still alive. In some cases they looked at grandchildren as well. Their goal was to examine the number of new mutations—traits not found in the normal body cells of either parent—in children.

The average answer is about 63.

The average answer is about 63. That number, however, varies widely—and the main factor involved in this variation is the age of the father. Mothers transmitted an average of 14 mutations to their children, regardless of age. Fathers showed a much wider range: 20-year-olds passed on an average of 29 mutations; 30-year-olds (the average age of fatherhood in Dr Stefansson’s sample) passed on 49; and 40-year-olds passed 69.”

Think about it:  there are at least 63 mistakes (on average) in the way your genome has attempted to reproduce those of your parents.  Sixty-three!

And here is a further complication:

“According to Alexey Kondrashov of the University of Michigan, an expert on the matter who wrote an article in Nature to accompany Dr Stefansson’s study, about 10% of mutations are damaging.”

On average, each of us carries 6.3 damaging mutations — ways in which our genome has changed in reproduction for the worse; ways in which it differs from that of our parents to our detriment.  I have 6.3 times as many faults as my father!

The ancient sages were right:  each successive generation is worse than the one before!

More concering the female ankle — or what Evolutionary Psychologists and Aesthetic Theorists could learn from Marketing Research

June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

This research paper says ankles are among the body features least paid attention to by potential sexual partners.  Like all such papers by evolutionary psychologists, it fails to address the question no marketing researcher would ever overlook:  does the aggregate data in fact obstruct the structure of the phenomenon (“market”)?  That is to say, does aesthetic interest in ankles define a certain population — one among whom the ankle is a significant item?  (Perhaps even “the most significant”?).

This writer’s self-observation suggests:  yes.

If so, then comes the crunch question: if so, then what else is unique about this sub-group?  Surely, they are not all balding six-foot-five, paper-skinned descendants of East European gentry with a strong interest in martial arts, European opera, glazed pottery, and Japanese classics?  And if not — are there any features they share?  And significantly:  not just taste features — i.e. “all ankle lovers prefer blonds” (clearly not true)– but “do all ankle-lovers have ankles themselves?” or:  “do all ankle-lovers happen to have an extra-long middle finger in the right hand?”) The marketer will also want to know — I should say chiefly want to know — how to reach them — what media they watch, what magazines they read, etc.

Can you see what I am driving at?  Taste as a hidden structure of humanity!

In my view, Evolutionary Psychologists, like aestheticists (and all academics in general), would benefit greatly from courses in marketing research.  For instance, publications of the World Coffee Council would teach them that:

a) the entire coffee-drinker population in the world can be divided into several very specific groups (fewer than ten) — with respect to the particular coffee flavor they prefer;

b) that the populations of those groups are spread across the globe — but not evenly; they are in fact spread lumpily:  for instance, the preference for a coffee taste described by professional tasters as “burnt rubber” shows up all over the globe, even in (still) mostly coffee-less China, but is a significant plurality in only two nations on earth:  Poland and the UK;  not the majority, mind you, as in “50% +1”; but significant plurality, meaning the largest of the many minorities, and one large enough to dictate its tastes to others (it determines what gets put on supermarket shelves);

c) each such group consists, in different proportions, of a hard-core (can’t sell them a milky cappucino if their life depended on it) ; and hangers on (can drink any coffee, generally prefer burnt rubber, but happy to try whatever everyone else is having at the moment);  the hangers on can be sold a different product, the hard-core — only once;

d) the special gifts required to make a coffee-taster (a natural gift is required followed by intensive training) disqualify a person from telling you what they like:  people who have tasted a great deal of coffee often can’t make up their mind and, in private, actually turn out to be tea- or juice-drinkers; or else consume such a wide variety of coffees that they do not fall into any of the broad categories themselves; in other words, the process of training an expert, both sharpens ones taste and, in a sense, ruins it.

It is my hunch, based on years of conducting marketing research, that not only does the taste in ankles, but the tastes in opera and painting and architecture run the same way:  many islands of mutually incompatible, probably hard-wired taste-preferences; and between them a sea of hangers on, who happen to say they like X because their mother did, or their girlfriend does, and have some familiarity with it and some sentiment for it, but who really don’t have anything that could be called taste of their own; and swimming within that sea are — “experts” — near-omnivores, seeing everything, understood by the blind who see less and, in a sense, baffled by everything.

[Next lecture:  taste as a speciating factor]

The remarkable disappearance of the female ankle

June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The sudden arrival of summer has caused the fair sex to drop excess clothing and appear before us (nearly) as nature has made them.  And nature has made them, it would appear — incredibly! — without the — talocrural joint — sans the synovial hinge — sine angulus, in short — nature has made them — ankleless!

The aesthete’s eye is amazed to see that by and large the human female’s leg does not, after all, appear to sport the narrow waist of his imagination — as the porcine trotter does; but instead the female foot appears to connect directly to the calf, without any attempt at defined ligature, or modulation; in the style of the Doric column, the Egyptian pylon, or the pachyderm support column.  Can this be possible?  To explain his misconception, the aesthete has gone back to search the various Roman and Renaissance Venuses and to his surprise has discovered that among them, too, the ankle is — notably missing.  (Unbelievable, but true).

Now, the aesthete knows form personal experience — observation of several significant others — that, in principle, the female ankle does exist; but he is now compelled to admit that it would appear to be a commodity in severe shortage.

His fetish — if that’s what it is — the aesthete does not spend excessive amounts of time slobbering over his significant other’s ankles; but he will generally and instantly lose interest in anyone shown to lack a well-turned one — isn’t his alone:  he remembers others  commenting on women’s ankles — fine-ankled Rajasthani upper-class women; Edo-era floating-world habitues — and wonders why such an interest should exist.  Clearly, fine ankles are far more rare than agreeable faces — could it be that a good ankle is harder to make?  Is a fine ankle and indication of good carpentry — a better tool for running and jumping?  (Desirable for one’s offspring).  Or is it the opposite — that an unsightly ankle is an indication of bad health?  (A swollen ankle is the one most obvious indication of circulation problems).

As many aesthetic preferences do, the ankle-interest appears to have speciating effects:  those who pay attention to ankles appear to have good ankles themselves.

[Incidentally, while looking for an illustration for this post I discovered that female ankles unuglified by some sort of an ill-conceived tattoo appear to have gone extinct; closer inspection shows all those photos sport non-ankles; presumably the tattoo is there as a form of disguise].

In defense of being smart

June 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

Not having seen the original work of Santoshi Kanazawa, I can’t tell whether my objections apply to his work or only to the report on it in The Economist (“The disadvantage of smarts”), but they are strong enough to convince me not to try reading Mr Kanazawa himself — after all, if an otherwise intelligent reporter can get things this wrong, there must be a problem with the original.  Here are my objections:

1.  The arguments do not appear to support the title claim that being smart is disadvantageous:  they do appear to establish that being smart is not conducive to reproductive success — e.g. smart mothers certainly are bad mothers (they have far too few children, for one thing; etc.); but there is no indication at all that that is bad for the un-reproducing individual personally.  If my own life is anything to go by, I have saved myself untold amounts of pain, suffering, labor, exhaustion, and grief — not to mention expense — by not reproducing.  Nor have I ever felt that I missed out on any of the supposed rewards of parenthood (“the birth of your first child changes you entirely”) — these mythical benefits seem to me a kind of ideological smoke-screen (hate is love, war is peace, lie is truth and — children are a source of happiness). Myself, I can’t see any disadvantage to not having reproduced.   (No, my DNA won’t be around once I’m dead, but — vide Epicurus — by definition I will be past caring myself).

2.  The imputed correlation between some kinds of reproductively disadvantageous behavior/ non-mainstream behavior on the one hand and general intelligence on the other isn’t clear:  I have known a great number of “night-owls”, homosexuals, and monogamous males and honestly cannot say they struck me as above-average in intelligence (or above average in anything, for that matter).  These characteristics could well be subject to their own evolutionary selection, unrelated to general intelligence.  (It’s hard to establish — without resorting to some ad hoc principles — that homosexuality is caused by intelligence — arguments of the “are you intelligent enough?” variety and such).  They need not be counter-reproductive, either — there is no evidence that staying up at night is bad for reproduction or that homosexual men reproduce less than heterosexual men.

Indeed, the list of non-mainstream behaviors the article associates with intelligence appears to be no more than a list of personality traits to which the author (no doubt an intelligent man) is positively disposed.  (Perhaps they being his own).

If there is a danger to happiness in intelligence, it lies in the fact that intelligence delights in its own exercise.  Intelligent people often allow themselves to be carried away by “ideas” — join monasteries, become revolutionaries, die for their country, or just end up wasting their time on mind-boggling puzzles (the Cretan Liar Paradox, say).  Intelligence is also very good at fooling itself:  very many intelligent people manage to convince themselves (as less intelligent people generally do not) that personal happiness is not important (but Jesus is, or social justice, or national independence, or logic).  Though in all these cases, it is not clear if the fault lies with intelligence or with something else — a kind of emotional proclivity to respond to ideas with enthusiasm — or to the feelings of happiness with distrust.  (Some people are wired backwards — and delight in misery — but that is not the same as intelligence).

On sex, women, and divine beauty

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Or:  further reflections on Jerome Robbins’ En Sol

But Gillot is divinely graceful and otherworldlily beautiful (all impossibly long arms and legs, a beauty so unusual, so striking as to be un-sexual, positively… seraphinic, powers and thrones, powers and thrones, I kept thinking — see this post)

Either most evolutionary psychologists are wrong in suggesting that our perception of beauty in members of opposite sex is sexually driven (being in their view  recognition of a good breeding material); or I am a cross-wired mutant:  my greatest loves have hardly been the most beautiful women I have known; and when faced with some types of beauty I am moved but — not attracted.

Agnes Gillot, and the Paris Opera Ballet in general, are case in point:  I find them very beautiful and can stare at them for hours (usually hitting the replay button twice), but I am neither in love, nor sexually stimulated.

And while this could be a matter of intimidation (very beautiful women are often not courted precisely because they are in the opinions of men too beautiful for them to stand a chance), it seems, in my case, very well hidden indeed:  I seem unable even to fantasize about these girls.  (Bah!  I am… uninterested in fantasizing!)

As beautiful as I find these ideal athletes, for pleasure I seem to prefer girls with… more flesh on them. An Evolutionary Psychologist might explain that:  slightly chunkier girls are better breeding material, all that flesh — evidence of good feeding.  But if so then why do I find the Opera Ballet girls beautiful?  What could possibly be the point?  Atavism?  A throw back?

Nor is this a case of intimidation (i.e. preferring easier girls):  while I have noticed — with great surprise — that trashy/easy looking girls get a lot of attention from men — perhaps because seeming cheap they do not intimidate; or perhaps because their unkemptness suggests general laxity (hair refusing the control of the comb being symbolic of a… shall we say, more general lack of control), the girls I have loved have all been prim and rather severely controlled.  (Such girls can turn out to be surprisingly adventurous lovers – ease (or difficulty) of getting isn’t in any way indicative of the quality of the food).  This, too, is straight Evolutionary Psychology:  girls who are hard to get pose less risk (of infection); but even folk psychology can explain this:  when a reserved girl loves you, you feel singled out for special treatment.  Such love seems more… personal, more precious.  (And it strokes your vanity).

OK, so evolutionary psychology explains perfectly my sexual conduct to-date: I prefer healthy looking (good breeders), well groomed, self-controlled (safe) girls.

It does not seem to explain why I find Agnes Gillot divinely beautiful.  Why thrones, powers, principalities and dominions come to mind.  Or why there should be such a thing as divine beauty:  things so beautiful as to make us think of them as supernatural, greater than life, worthy of worship, and — unsexual, pure.  Atavism?  Or — faulty mutation, a mistake in the cognitive apparatus?

The ability to sense this divine beauty may be a minority phenomenon (I am surprised by how many people seem not to… — er — divine it); but one sees it frequently enough:  there exist whole branches of mysticism — in otherwise unrelated religious traditions — whose whole point is the contemplation of divine beauty.  Ergo, if it is a mutation, it is a fairly common one.  And if it is, then it is there for a reason.

What reason could that be?


Hey, let’s have fun with this:  here’s a poll: Do you experience divine beauty?  By which I mean:  if you are religious, do you find God beautiful?  If (like me) you are irreligious, are you sometimes faced with experiences of beauty that make you think of God/ things divine/ transcendent/ otherworldly?

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