meme Log

December 29, 2012

The Red Queen (8.0)

Filed under: Books — Lynn Fikstad @ 05:59

By Matt Ridley

Ridley suggests that readers who are not interested in the details of the evolutionary behavior on non-human animals would be wise to skip to the later chapters (about half way through the book). For those readers it is probably best to at least skim over this material because there are some interesting points about evolutionary human psychology that Ridley discusses in the first half.

If you are a die-hard humanist or the typical behavioral scientist thinking culture is the primary influence over human behavior, you probably won’t like this book. You may also be turned off by Ridley’s insistence that human beings evolved to deceive one another for their on selfish purposes.

It is politically incorrect when he discusses the differences between men and women, but when he discusses race it’s obvious he becomes much more circumspect, making sure he won’t offend anyone on this topic. He may truly believe the little he wrote about race, but like almost everyone, I suspect his primary concern is to avoid any hint of racism. That’s probably wise and a reasonable way of thinking, given how little we really “know” and given how even a hint of that charge could destroy a career.

Other reviewers write how much this book is about human sex, but Ridley explains in the beginning that it is really about human nature. He does assert that sex and reproduction are the primary motivating factors behind human nature, but the book was not overly obsessed with just human sexual evolution. I thought he spent far more space writing about other animals and their behavior; in fact, too much for me. After reading pages and pages about the sex lives of birds and mammals, I started to skim through these sections. I lost interest because it seemed as if too many examples were minimally relevant and not that interesting to readers not particularly interested in weird animal sexual behaviors.

Here are some of the points I thought worth highlighting

  • Ridley believes that social scientists behave as if the Origin of Species had never been written, placing too much emphasis on learned behavior or nurture. The greatest experts of human nature are writers like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Tom Wolfe, etc.
  • If one goes back 30 generations (1000 AD) our ancestral relations number 2 to the 30th power (more than a billion). Since there were not even a billion people in the year 1000, this means we are virtually related to everyone in a specific racial or national heritage.
  • The title comes from the notion that as evolutionary changes happen to increase one’s gene replication; these changes are of no real benefit since others are doing the same. We attempt to gain an advantage, but it is as if we are running and getting nowhere. All so called advantages are relative.
    • “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” –The Red Queen
  • Rather than cloning ourselves, which would seem to be a better solution to assure genetic survival, evolution uses sexual reproduction as a more effective method to promote genetic changes and fight the battles with our real enemies — parasites, viruses, and bacteria.
  • In human societies, women travel to live with their husbands – female exogamy (if you have daughters it is more likely they will move far from you when they get married). That seems to have been my personal experience!
  • Ridley describes the evolutionary diet as Paleo. However, he emphasizes that men seem to prefer meat while women seem to prefer fruits and vegetable.
  • The larger a the male’s testicles, the more likely the females are polygamous (sperm competition)
  • The female strategy – marry a nice guy, but have an affair with someone with better genes
    • 1 out of 5 U.K. children are not descendents of their ostensible fathers in two different surveys.
  • The amount of sperm retained in the vagina is determined by when a woman climaxes (1 minute prior to the man’s and up to 45 minutes after the man’s will retain more)
    • Faithful women have the high retention orgasms 55% or the time while the unfaithful have them 40% – possibly and unconscious response
    • Some of a man’s sperm is used to block the passage of other men’s
    • Men whose wives are not with them for hours before sex ejaculate more – unconscious behavior?
    • The silent ovulation of women allows easier deception of their partners and makes it more likely males will care for their partner’s offspring.
    • Cuckoldry is asymmetrical – a woman loses no genetic investment if her husband is unfaithful, but a man risks raising a child who is not his own. This explains the different attitude toward unfaithfulness and philandering which continues despite its political incorrectness.
    • The law defines adultery in relationship to the marital status of the woman.
    • Examples in literature (Tess of D’Urbervilles – Angel Clare’s vs. Tess’s extramarital activities)
  • The male and female brains are undeniably different
    • Girls are better at verbal tasks
    • Boys are better at mathematical tasks
    • Boys are more aggressive
    • Boys are better at some visual-spatial tasks
  • Differences are from genetic responses to testosterone, both in utero and during puberty.
    • Testosterone determines aggressiveness
    • Without testosterone, men would retain female characteristics
    • Men exposed to less testosterone in utero are more feminine
      • (although Ridley doesn’t mention this, first born males are less likely to be gay, possibly because of decreasing testosterone the later born males receive)
    • In utero testosterone modifies brain development
      • The 2 hemispheres of the brain are more different and specialized in boys
    • The cause of homosexuality lies in testosterone effect in the womb
  • Men seek youth (young, but post-pubescent) in order to maximize genetic replication
    • Men (inherently) pay more attention to youth and beauty; women to wealth and status
      (This is obvious, but still denied by many social scientists)
    • The different reactions to pornography and romance novels also demonstrate this (50 Shades of Gray was a top selling one eBook for months and it was not due to men’s reading habits)
  • A man’s choosiness indicates a monogamous desire, as does his attraction to youth.
    • Women about 25 years old are the Western ideal (similar to the wear of a 20 year old hunter-gatherer). This is unique to human males.

Ridley has to remind those who are offended at this point in the book that “the word ‘is’ is different than the word ‘should'”

  • People are naturally sexually turned off by those they were reared with.
    • Two siblings reared apart do not feel the same aversion
    • No one knows for sure what the critical period is (Ridley conjectures 8-14 years)
  • The discussion of the thin woman attraction is a mystery which Ridley never fully explained.
    • The waist, hip ratio is important to men for successful child bearing.
  • Merged faces seem more attractive (attractiveness is therefore something that presents a well formed average)
  • Women are by nature attracted to poise, optimism, efficiency, perseverance, courage, decisiveness, intelligence, ambition. They are much more concerned with their partner’s personality.
  • Men think women care more about their physical attraction and women think men care more about their status (cases of misunderstanding based on self-awareness and empathy)
  • The evolution of the human brain was a sexual arms race.
    • Gossip is universal and a result of the arms race
    • Deceiving and detecting deception seems to be the primary purpose of brain growth and improvements
    • To deceive others, one must also deceive oneself; a possible explanation of the unconscious
  • The Wason test is discussed.
    • Two sided cards have a number on one side and a letter on the other
    • Turn over the fewest cards to prove: If a card has a D on one side then it has a 3 on the other
      • D
      • F
      • 3
      • 7
    • Only 25% of elite college students answer correctly (D and 7)
  • However, 75% answer the following logic puzzle correctly
    • Enforce the following bar rule:
      If a person is drinking beer he must be 21
    • Here are the cards (drink on one side, age on the other)
      • Drinking beer (similar to the D card above)
      • Drinking coke (F)
      • 25 years old (3)
      • 16 years old (7)
    • The answer, Drinking beer and 16 years, old seems much more intuitive but the logical problem is exactly the same.
  • We seem to not be logical animals, but animals concerned with social contracts and human relationships

Finally, Ridley does what few authors do; he warns that “Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong. The history of human science is not encouraging”. That was probably the most prescient statement in the book. Matt Ridley’s columns are much better than his books, but his books are much better than most I have read.

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