Addenda on Darwinian Lenses

Some nuances etc. on my last post. I wanted to make the basic point before including the complications.

1) The evolutionary effect is not always something dramatic like you getting caught and eaten by a lion, or you or your offspring starving. E.g., peacocks have fancy tails because that attracts peahens, for no awesome reason. This is a runaway sexual selection result that cannot last in the long run – it’s like an asset bubble in Finance, a temporary deviation from a more stable situation. That tail is burdensome. Put a new predator in the peacock’s environment and see what happens. (But don’t do this if you like peacocks.)

2) Another qualification is there are equilibria with a mix of features across individuals. This can happen because some features depend on the prevalence of themselves and other features. So an equilibrium can have, say, 60% of feature A and 40% of feature B. Not all features are like having better eyesight, which is always better.

An example from David Friedman: Suppose, simplistically, that you can be born with a temperament to always fight (“hawk”) or never fight (“dove”). (Don’t sperg out; I said it’s a simplistic example.) The payoff to being a fighter depends on the prevalence of other fighters. If there are lots of such people, then if you’re starting fights constantly you’ll soon encounter another fighter. So you’ll run afoul of the Law of Large Numbers eventually and be outselected (killed or injured to an extent that hampers your reproductive success). So if there are a lot of fighters in the population, the average payoff to being a fighter is negative, so the percent of fighters in the population declines.

On the other hand, if the percent of fighters in the population is small, this doesn’t happen much. So you pick a fight with someone who just killed an antelope, he very probably runs away and you take the antelope. Lots of food at a trivial metabolic cost! So the average payoff to being a fighter is high if the percent of fighters in the population is small. So if there are few fighters the percent of fighters in the population will rise.

So if the percent is low it tends to rise and if it’s high it tends to fall. This, kids, is known as “stable dynamics.” The proportion of fighters in the population will converge to some stable percent such that the mean reproductive success of fighters and non-fighters is the same.

(BTW, I suspect a similar point is true for r/K theory, if that theory is descriptive of homo sapiens. We seem to be in a high-r period now, but that can’t last because a critical mass of rs is a problem that prompts a response from the Ks. Ks are getting PO’d, starting to fight back, electing God-Emperors, etc., while the rs themselves (whether they realize it or not) are starting a civil war that just can’t end well for them. They’re too impulsive and inclined to ignore tactics, strategy, caution, the long-run consequences of current actions, etc.)

3) In the previous post I asked, “why didn’t the subdominant males simply gang up to kill the dominant males and/or their children?”

And in the comments Alf said,

“Because the most dominant subdominant males answered to the dominant male, and in return received their share of the women. That has been the evolutionary deal between the dominant and subdominant males, and is reflected in the evolutionary fact that while all women get wettest for alpha males, they will pair bond with beta males.”

Indeed, alpha males are as capable of strategic alliances as anyone else.

In fact, alphas can be quite pro-social, especially with others of around their status level. Think of the way that guys on the college football team interacted with each other.

And of course, alpha/beta is not a binary thing; it’s a continuum.

4) The complications in the following turn out to explode quickly, so here’s the short version:

There’s a possible version of the human story that’s more pleasant than children of low-dominance males being directly or indirectly killed: Say that if you were an average man you had fine reproductive success, e.g., three (surviving) children, but if you were an alpha you had, say, six. Maybe this is because alpha traits are good for, e.g., hunting, which provides for children. So the most hair-raising version of the story isn’t the only possibility.

But I doubt this kind of effect can explain why all (it seems) women prefer dominant men. That’s because, while alphas and good providers have some overlap, when they’re distinct, women have a clear preference for alphas. A woman settles for a provider. She gets wet for an alpha.

I don’t think optimistic versions can explain women’s strong preference for alphas, because any optimistic argument (I can think of) that predicts an attraction to alpha (dominant) men also predicts an attraction to good providers. So optimistic arguments can’t explain women’s real-world preference for alphas.

What I mean is this: Suppose some men’s children have particularly high survival rates. Call these H men (for high-survival). For the moment it’s not important why these men’s kids have especially high survival rates. It’s easy to show that women who have a hardwired preference to mate with H men will gradually have their female descendants become 100% of females. (I did some arithmetic to check; the result is exactly what you’d expect.)

Now here’s the problem: The validity of the above argument doesn’t depend on the reason that a given man is H. That’s a problem because what’s to be explained is women’s strong preference for alpha males in particular. In light of that fact, the foregoing argument is too broad: It implies women should be indifferent between varieties of H men such as alphas versus providers. But they actually aren’t indifferent.

So it looks like we are back to the original dark view of the matter.

In fact, the failure of the optimistic argument is even worse, because it draws its false conclusion with even more confidence than it seems at first. That’s because it implies that any H man, regardless of why he’s H, should benefit from…

5) … positive feedback: Kinship support groups and conflict. If you get into violent conflict, your siblings are likely to support you. This raises your survival probability. Say H men have on average 6 surviving offspring and non-H men have 3. Then if you’re a non-H’s child you have 2 siblings who might support you in a conflict . If you’re an H’s child you have 5 siblings who might support you. This raises H children’s survival probability even more.

So the argument once again predicts a strong attraction to good providers just as strong as an attraction to socially dominant men. But empirically, that’s not observed.

What we actually observe is that women are most attracted to socially dominant men. This tells us that such men’s offspring had the highest survival probability in the ancestral environment.


In my (rapidly growing) set of notes on this topic, here’s one possibly-important qualification:

Do “all” women really prefer men who are unpleasantly socially dominant? The extent to which this is true should be investigated. E.g., as far as I could tell, most girls in my high school didn’t date thugs or seem to want to date them. Indifferent “bad boys,” yes, absolutely, but the truly fucked up guys, no. That was a small subset of girls. So when we remember, e.g., Charles Manson getting love letters from women, is that just salience bias? Do we just remember the women who prefer thugs because it sticks in our heads as shocking? And why does the average girl not go for the thugs? Does she not want the thug, or does she just not have enough social self-confidence that she can get the thug? This merits empirical follow-up.

Of course, one thing we do know: Even if it’s only a small subset of women who really are attracted to the very worst men, there is no equal-and-opposite set of women who are attracted to the nicest of men. (LOL, as if.) The female preference distribution is not symmetric around “average guy.” The question is exactly how asymmetric it is.

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8 thoughts on “Addenda on Darwinian Lenses”

  1. On the point about women’s preference for different types of alpha maleness, there was some discussion on the Jim about how their mate choices haven’t evolved for a long time because they weren’t allowed to choose freely.

    This may mean they are stuck with the caveman alpha preference, may explain why they don’t get wet for billionaire herbs, successful as their children would be in modern times.

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  2. Yeah, I saw that on Jim too. I guess the (in some sense) ideal would be to just not constrain them and let evolution take over, but who wants to live with the short-run (could be half a million years) consequences while their preferences sort themselves out? And for that to work at all would require a law enforcement regime that drastically curtailed the benefits of thuggery, and a total moratorium on white knighting via welfare. You sleep with a bad boy who ditches you, honey, you get no welfare help from beta male taxes. Someday, maybe…

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  3. It’s a difficult problem even if evolution were acting freely on women’s choices.
    The rate of evolutionary selection is higher in males, the genetic variability is higher for that reason too.

    Men are nature’s experiments, the experiments that go wrong don’t reproduce and those harmful mutations are eliminated. When the experiment goes well, higher reproduction rates spread better genes faster than a woman could. Changes (filtering bad, spreading good) happen faster through the male lineage.
    The female specific traits don’t change as fast (save for extreme evolutionary pressures), even if their choices were socially unconstrained as they are somewhat right now.

    My understanding is that the role of men (the reason for having a differentiated male-type) is to filter mutation errors (and spread rare beneficial mutations). If high mutation load men were reproducing the same as low mutation load men, the species would collapse.
    Sperm competes to fertilize, and men compete too.
    Males are pretty much forced to compete so females can tell where each male stands in the dominance hierarchy. Cowards are hated because they don’t allow women see where they are in the hierarchy. They love to see men fight for the same reason.
    Another consequence of this is that for men to do best in life they must pretty much operate at their limit, otherwise they would fall down in the hierarchy and loose reproductive potential. For women of course it’s not necessary.

    Didn’t want to get too dense. Just the view of men’s role as genetic mutation filters isn’t often mentioned and seems to have good explanatory power. There’s some interesting biology work on this, in the past couple of decades. Rates of evolutionary change were shown to be higher in males.

    On an unrelated topic. Still hoping you weren’t right about the left provoking violent conflict.. unfortunately it increasingly looks like you may be right.

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  4. The thing about men having higher variance blows my mind. It’s very weird, since they’re subjected to more stringent selection pressures. Say men will mate with the highest 80% of women, but women will only mate with the highest 10% of men. Then 90% of men are weeded out every generation, but only the lowest 20% of women are. Doesn’t this imply that men have a higher variance in equilibrium?
    Interesting you mentioned this now, since this was the topic of the censored mathematics paper that was mentioned in the right-o-sphere in the last week or two. I should grab a copy of that and skim the abstract, uh, I mean, give it a thorough reading.

    As to the left, they just don’t have enough self-control, for the most part, to restrain themselves, even when it turns off the normies. They’ve had to entirely take over the Old Media just to keep their worst excesses from getting in normies’ faces, and even that doesn’t work all that well.

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  5. > In fact, alphas can be quite pro-social, especially with others of around their status level. Think of the way that guys on the college football team interacted with each other.

    Indeed. Often the strongest guy in the school will be the nice guy who will protect weak ones.
    Perhaps because the weak kids are not a threat to his superiority, but still.

    > I should grab a copy of that and skim the abstract, uh, I mean, give it a thorough reading.

    lol!
    The male genetic “quality control” function I read was proposed in 1991
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347205804713
    I found the pdf online a few years ago but now is behind a paywall. I did at the time “thoroughly read it”… cough .. cough..

    > The thing about men having higher variance blows my mind.

    Same here..

    I believe idea is men are the genetic experimentation and quality control side, women the reproduction logistics side.
    Lets put it this way. Say you want to try out some candidate mutation, because the species needs to explore DNA-space to improve.
    Who do you try your mutation on, a man or a wahmen?
    If you try your mutation on a man, most mutations have a negative fitness impact (often small), so the man in question is more likely to take that mutation to his grave, no big deal!
    If you try it on a wahmen, you’ve just reduced the reproductive rate of the species by a small amount (a tragedy!)

    It’s that thing about 90% of men die then the remaining 10% have the same number of children with all the women as before. If 90% of women die then the species dies out because its reproductive rate just dropped to 10%.
    So you do most of your risky genetic experimentation on men. Hence higher variation in any trait you can measure. Even in life the risk takers are men, we’re wired to get out and test ourselves (our genes) hard against the environment, and enjoy it!

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  6. I’ve downloaded Hill’s’ censored paper and just skimmed a few pages but I get the sense that the key assumption, and an implicit one, is that there’s a “variance” setting that your genes can choose, and that evolution acts on this gene. (I can’t tell whether something like that is also in the paper you linked.) This assumption strikes me as being at odds with the rest of evolutionary theory!

    I mean, sure, *I* as a purposeful agent could choose a variance setting, but evolution is just cause and effect!

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  7. > key assumption, and an implicit one, is that there’s a “variance” setting that your genes can choose, and that evolution acts on this gene

    Interesting.

    > This assumption strikes me as being at odds with the rest of evolutionary theory!

    Didn’t quite get your argument. Seems like a plausible mechanism, but I am no expert! Maybe Greg Cochran can be asked.

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  8. I just re-read this comment. Here’s what I mean:
    Women like tall men. It’s possible in theory (though it strikes me as a reach) to imagine a gene that doesn’t code for your height, but for the variance of your height. A person with this gene is either really tall or really short. So if women preferentially breed w/tall men, then most of the men who breed pass the “high-variance” gene onto their offspring. (BTW, why wouldn’t this affect their daughters too?)

    The problem: That gene will be outcompeted by a gene that codes for tallness directly. Tim has the “all my kids will be tall” gene. Joe has the “half my kids will be tall, half short” gene. In the long run, Tim’s descendants breed more than Joe’s.

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