pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Another interesting point for Perv is that individual men tend to have much narrower sexualities than individual women. This fits with my personal observations: women are more like to be bisexual, more like to switch in a BDSM sense, less likely to have a true paraphilia (something they cannot become aroused or orgasm without. As opposed to a kink, which is a non-standard sexual interest that someone enjoys but does not require for every sexual encounter). Of course, it's impossible to determine the extent of cultural influence from observation alone, but Perv introduces some animal evidence that males fixate to a narrower range of targets.

You might think that supports the idea that it's genetic, but it doesn't. The experiment in question swapped baby goats and sheep with each other, and observed the sexual behavior of the adoptees. Males of both species pursued females of their adoptive species, females remained receptive to both (book didn't mention the behavior of females adopted by the same biological species and I can't find the cite). Male goats do not have a sheep-fucking gene. What this actually shows is not that courtship targets are inborn, but learned from the environment, and that males narrow down their target in the time between birth and puberty in a way females do not.

This offers a really satisfying explanation for the range of human male sexual behavior. Most obviously, the wide range in beauty standards between cultures but narrow range within cultures, and in what an individual man finds attractive. Young male brains have the capacity to learn from the culture what is most advantageous to impregnate, and work with that, but have a hard time shifting targets later in life. It works for non-reproductive sex too: Pederasty will never result in a pregnancy, but if sex with young boys is correlated with gaining resources that will aid in reproduction (e.g. status in Ancient Greece), and the relevant section of the brain is taught that while young, it will find the idea exciting.

So once again, the answer to the question "what are humans programmed to do?" is "be astoundingly adaptive to local conditions."
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Okay, new rule: I'm not allowed to discuss behavioral biology on a first date, and I am especially not allowed to discuss Sex at Dawn. In fact, I should probably avoid either topic until I'm officially friends with someone.

The problem I run into is that behavioral biology was My Thing for 10 years. I didn't work in it after college, but it's a systemic way of thinking that has never left me. Citing homosexuality as evidence evolution's powers are limited hurts me almost physically, like telling a physicist that the existence of airplanes mean they're overestimating gravity's importance.* I am pathologically uninterested in having a discussion on the topic with someone who doesn't understand it. Even people who think they are agreeing with me tend to be frustrating, because they're still ignorant about the system as a whole. I am totally happy to teach the topic, but very few people want to hear a lecture.

Although now that I think about it, I do like being lectured. I freaking love finding people who know so much more about a topic that the best use of our time is for them to expand on it and me to ask questions. And I would say the same thing about most, maybe all, of my friends. We love both sharing things we know lots about and learning new things from people who know lots about them.

I still need to learn to say "I studied this topic and find Sex at Dawn lacking as an academic text, but I respect that many people have found a lot of value in it." But perhaps the solution to the other question is not to avoid talking about my areas of expertise, but to continue using "tell me something you find interesting" as a conversational opener.

*For the record: evolution means change in allele frequency over time. It's not a driver of change, it's a shorthand for the results of change. If you believe genetics affect survival and reproduction, and you believe the environment changes, your choices are evolution and pixie dust.

Given this, you have 2 choices for explaining the existence of homosexuality: it is adaptive in certain circumstances, or it is a non-adaptive side effect of something adaptive. To take the easier example of Down's Syndrome: DS is clearly maladaptive, but it is still the result of a process shaped by adaptation, which includes weighing the cost of errors against the costs of avoiding or fixing them. An airplane's chairs don't have much to do with gravity, but they're still shaped by the fact that an airplane is designed to stay aloft against a force that wants it down. Similarly, airplane seats have nothing to do with gravity per se, but the fact that it is extremely expensive to defy gravity puts pressure to fit as many people into the plane, and the superiority of air travel to other options for traveling long distances limits counter pressure, so seats shrink.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I'm a big believer in using evolution as a lens to understand human behavior. For example: I have friends who go on multi day hiking/camping extravaganzas in groups of 3-6. None of them would mind if someone said "I'm tired, let's slow down". They would consider someone who did mind an asshole. And yet, to the one, they need to be near dying before they'll ask the group to rest. This seems illogical, but makes sense if you think about when humans lived in small, interdependent tribes, where being the weak one would be held against you- if not then, then eventually. And this explanation is useful, because it calms me down about speaking up in such a situation.

But here's the thing. There are some very good evolutionary reasons to avoid smearing feces in your mouth. And I, like nearly all other people, have an aversion to doing so that feels so strong it must be inborn. But if you look at young children: it's not inborn. They have to be taught an aversion to feces. And saying they lack the intelligence isn't a valid argument, because it's incredibly easy to evolve instinctive reactions to smells, and "don't touch it" or "don't touch your mouth" are pretty simple reactions.

This casts some real doubts on more complicated hypotheses, like "men should be more promiscuous than women". There are arguments for it that look valid. They feel true. But there are historical periods where the exact opposite was considered true. Of course historical people are idiots, but... humans are really complicated. And kids eat poop.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
A lot of blogs are commenting on the differential in the growth of men's and women's median wage* since the 1970s. In brief: Until 1970, male median wage moved exactly in synch with GDP, but has essentially stagnated since then, even though the GDP has continued to grow at the same rate. Meanwhile, women's median wage continues to grow roughly in synch with GDP. Obviously this is a complicated issue with a number of contributing factors, but the one I want to talk about is tournament style compensation.

There's two ends to the spectrum of compensation:

  1. effort-indexed, where your rewards are roughly a function of the talent effort you put it, regardless of how much effort others put in. A good example is nursing: the best nurse makes more money than the worst nurse, but not millions more. Mathematically, you can think of the compensation as a roughly linear or maybe even logarithmic function of quality of work. It's worth noting that I made up the term effort-indexed because the official term doesn't exist and/or is hard to find.
  2. tournament style, where whoever does something the absolute best gets a ton of money, and everyone else gets very little or none. Think being an author, or professional athlete. Mathematically, it's an exponential curve.

There's some blur between the two: being a programmer at a large company is effort-indexed, working at a start up is tournament style. And you never know, you could be such a good nurse a wealthy patient leaves you billions. But the categories stand as useful.

The interesting thing is that there's a lot of evidence that when you move something from effort-indexed to tournament style, men compete harder and women compete less.** There's no research into the causality that I know of, but it seems likely to be related to the fact that reproductive success is effort-indexed for women but tournament-style for men.

Given that, you could add a lot of money a pool, but if it's divied up tournament style, it will make minimal difference to the median wage. Since men are more likely to be working in tournament-style systems, it would make sense that adding more money to each pool will affect women's median wage more.

*Brief primer: median means line up everyone in order of the trait of interest and select the person in the middle. This is distinct from the mean, which adds all the numbers together and divides by the total number of people. The median can be the more relevant in certain cases involving data with long tail distributions.

**See this paper for both a general overview of the research, some specifics on how to counteract the effect, and really fascinating info about how the menstrual cycle affects willingness to compete. It's worth noting that the pre-menstrual period, the yimr that makes women unfit to be president or CEO or head surgeon, is when their hormones profile most closely resembles the typical male profile. I'm just saying.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Given recent talk of death rates, disease, and productivity, I feel obliged to pass on this article on disease rate and IQ. In essence, there's a discontinuity in IQs in Mexico, corresponding with the time malaria was eradicated. It's not conclusive, but it does address one of my nagging doubts about Farewell to Alms: very few things either kill people or leave them untouched. Often they just take a lot of resources and leave you worst off. This doesn't disprove the hypothesis- it's possible that greater selective pressure would push people to evolve a more efficient brain, for example, but the book can't address them until it owns its hypothesis


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May 2014

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