Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Sex should not be too much fun - the Evolutionary argument

Evoanth has posted The Evolution of Infertility in Humans suggesting that in evolutionary terms successful reproduction is more important than maximising the enjoyment of sex. I commented:

It clearly helps, in evolutionary terms, to have a loyal supportive male to help rear his children - so the priority must be pair bonding and not "sex is fun." Make sex too much fun for the male and he may put fun with new partners above loyalty - which means less support for his children - and more venereal disease. If all males do it all the time the overall effect is less stability for the children, more venereal disease and definitely no advantage for the female genes.

If a few males spread their oats widely there could be a statistical advantage to them -  but if a female is in a more or less stable relation with a male who has just enough sexual capability to keep her pregnant he will still be the father of most of her children - even if a randy male gets in a poke or two.

Overall the balance could be that overall breeding success is highest with stable couples, supported by grandmothers, than , for example, a harem system where the male spends much of his energy defending his status rather than directly supporting his children - and where it pays any usurper to kill the harem's youngsters because he is not the father.

What I could have added is that team-work between males in small hunter-gather groups could also increase the survival chances of the group - and the genes of the individuals - and good team-work means trust - with minimum energy being expended in rivalry.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Limits of Critical Thinking

In considering the evolution of the human brain a critical point comes when the quality of cultural information is such that it has more survival value than working things out from first principals. AT this point it pays to learn by following the best teacher (initially the parents) to maximise the speed and efficiency of learning the culture. This process will enable more and hopefully better culture to develop - so evolution will strengthen the tendency to follow the most charismatic teacher . This may have been fine when we were hunter gatherers in the woods but can go wrong in modern times, where a charismatic leader may have the power to influence large numbers of people for god or ill.

An article "The Limits of Critical Things" has just appeared in the online magazine "Skeptic" which examines what happens in practice. It is by Jamy Ian Swiss, a professional magician. He writes:
My experience with deception has proven to me that the human brain is evolutionarily programmed to be readily manipulated, whether by the likes of itinerant conjurors like myself and James Randi or by virulent megalomaniacs like Marshall Herff Applewhite. The human tendency to organize information even where no useful information exists appears to be hardwired into our brains. It was there for the first aboriginal rain dance, and it’s here today for the most contemporary forms of magical thinking. That tendency to organize, to look ahead and be creative and surmise from thin evidence is a distinctly human trait, as responsible for the greatness of the human condition as it is for its follies and failings. Our human “big brain” is an accident of evolution that may well be our salvation or undoing as a species, with its abilities to invent, create, explore and imagine, or to become addicted, depressed, or believe incredibly dangerous ideas in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
When we see the apparently placid willingness of the [Heaven's Gate] cult members to fulfill their grisly task of self-destruction, it is difficult to view them as victims. Considering the patently ludicrous ideas the cult based its belief system on, it’s tempting to write the followers off as cranks who were victims only of their own willful stupidity. But the phenomenon of cultism is characterized by distinctly manipulative practices of recruitment and maintenance that must be considered independently of the particular belief system they happen to be promoting. Toxicly effective cult leaders like Herff Applewhite will always produce followers who swear to their willing allegiance and free choice just as the observer of a magic trick will swear he never looked away the whole time the magician’s spoon was magically bending. Both victims are certain they had all the information necessary to make a capable judgment.