Straightening out the “Anthropic Principle”


This is my second and presumably last post on the anthropic principle. The first one is here.

The anthropic principle per Wikipedia is the “philosophical consideration that any data we collect about the universe is filtered by the fact that, in order for it to be observable in the first place, it must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.” In popular discourse, this notion often manifests something like this: “How is the outrageously unlikely fact of our existence explained? Well, if the universe weren’t consistent with human life, we wouldn’t be here to ask that question!” I have beaten this formulation with a big heavy stick before (see the foregoing link) and I’ve now figured out how to frame the issue in a different but equally clear way.

First note that probabilities from your point of view depend on how much you know. For example, there’s probability that it will rain on any random day in Boston, given no other information. Then there’s there’s probability that it will rain today in Boston, given that it rained yesterday. These are generally going to be different probabilities.

Stat folks say “conditional on” instead of “given that.” E.g. where a normal person would say “the probability that it will rain today, given that it rained yesterday,” a Stat person would say “the probability that it will rain today, conditional on the fact that it rained yesterday.” And the probability that it will rain on any random day, given no other information, is called the unconditional probability.

On the “anthropic principle”: When people ask things like, “How is the outrageously unlikely fact of our existence explained?” they are interested in the unconditional probability that the universe has properties that can support human life (and that human life actually did evolve, but let’s just stick with the first part). Whereas the “anthropic principle” answers the completely trivial question, “What is the probability that the universe can support human life, conditional on the observation that human life actually exists?” The answer to that utterly trivial question is 100%, obviously.

Literally no human being ever, in the history of the world, meant to ask, “What’s the probability that the universe can support human life, given that it actually does support human life?” Yet that is the question that the so-called “anthropic principle” answers. Seriously, here’s the Wikipedia formulation again: The anthropic principle is the “philosophical consideration that any data we collect about the universe is filtered by the fact that, in order for it to be observable in the first place, it must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.” That is literally saying, “The probability that the universe can support life, given that there is life to observe it, is 1.”

So much for the “anthropic principle.”

So what’s the honest answer to the unconditional question? I don’t see how anyone could know, because to answer this we’d need to know the probability distribution from which the actual universe was drawn. We don’t know that. Of course one can put forth if-then propositions about it. A common one is, “Suppose all universes which are physically possible exist. (The many worlds hypothesis.) Then the probability of any particular universe existing (including ones with humans) is 1.” Sure. But we don’t know whether the many worlds hypothesis is true.

On the Possibility of Having True Beliefs

I vaguely recall a blog in which people were debating the role of self-confidence in pickup. (I forget whether it was a Game blog or a “rationalist” blog.) One person in the comments made the well-known point, a la Heartiste, that it’s better to be irrationally self-confident than rationally pessimistic, because with confidence you’ll do better with chicks.

Some doofus disputed this, saying it’s not good, because then “you’ll have beliefs that are demonstrably false.” Who cares, doofus? I’d rather have the false belief that I’ll score with 99% of chicks, which self-confidence leads me to score with say 20% of them, than have the belief that I’ll only score with 1%, if that pessimism would be a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead me to score with 1% of them. Or even worse, what if you had the belief that you’d score with zero chicks, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy?!

The second commenter missed that while having true beliefs is good, there are other things that are also good. Like sex, for example.

Nietzsche: “Knowledge for its own sake”—that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more. The opening sections of Beyond Good and Evil engage with this in more depth. Old Fred was an interesting guy.

I could just stop right there, but I want to springboard from here to make a broader point about beliefs and outcomes. Consider general situations in which beliefs affect reality. For example self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs) are common in economics, e.g. if enough people think a recession is coming, that can make them freak out and behave in ways— cutting back on consumer spending, laying off workers— that bring on a recession.

You can also have the opposite of an SFP. Example: I hear tell that chicks don’t like wearing the same dress as other chicks. Let’s suppose that every chick who’s going to a certain party tonight believes that lots of other chicks will be wearing a certain off-the-rack dress. Since they hate wearing what other chicks are wearing, none of them wears that dress. So the belief prevents itself from coming true.

In general beliefs can affect reality in ways more complex than self-fulfilling prophecies or self-blocking prophecies.

Here is my main point: In situations in which beliefs matter, it’s not at all obvious that there always even exist equilibrium beliefs, that is, beliefs that are both true and game-theoretically stable.

In math-speak, the item of interest is the mapping between beliefs and reality and the question is, Does that mapping even have a fixed point? That is, are there any beliefs that are self-confirming? It’s far from obvious whether the answer is always Yes.

(In the pickup example, a fixed point would be any SFP about your success rate. E.g. if you think you’ll score with 60% of chicks and that level of confidence causes you to indeed score with 60% of chicks.)

It’s possible that there are kinds of interactions in which any given belief is like the dress belief, in the sense that any particular belief will prevent itself from being true. In this kind of situation, hectoring someone because he has beliefs “which are demonstrably false” is even more idiotic, because it’s not even possible to have beliefs which won’t be demonstrably false!

(In theory an external observer— someone who’s not going to the party, in the dress example— could make correct predictions about the situation, but my focus here is the beliefs of people involved in the situation, e.g. you’re a guy going to a bar to try to pick up a chick and that’s what you’re forming beliefs about. By the way, even an external observer can’t form correct predictions without knowing all participants’ beliefs. That would require reading people’s minds, so no.)

On this claim that equilibrium beliefs may not be possible, people familiar with game theory may say “Ha! Nash’s Theorem, bitch!” But of course Nash’s Theorem makes certain assumptions about the environment, and uses a fixed-point theorem to prove the existence of equilibrium. If the mapping from beliefs to outcomes isn’t continuous, standard fixed point theorems don’t apply so that kind of proof doesn’t work.

(Note to nerdlingers: Nash’s Theorem deals with the continuity problem by letting agents’ moves be chosen probabilistically; this makes the relevant strategy sets continuous. But here, an agent’s “move” is his belief. The beliefs are about probabilities, but the beliefs are not themselves chosen probabilistically. There is a difference between (A) believing that a certain coin has a 0.5 probability of coming up heads, and (B) randomly switching between believing that it has a 100% probability and a 0% probability of coming up heads. If agents change their beliefs randomly, Nash’s Theorem might apply, but that’s not what we mean when we talk about beliefs, and certainly not rational beliefs. Changing your behavior with a random component can be rational, in adversarial games where you don’t want to be predictable, but changing your beliefs at random is not rational.)

The relevant mapping doesn’t even necessarily fill up the entire space. (Nerds: The mapping needn’t even be a surjective, i.e. “onto” mapping.) Indeed, there’s no man in the world who can be guaranteed to score with every woman in the world if he tries. Doesn’t matter if you believe you’ll have a 100% success rate; you won’t. So not all success probabilities are even in the range of the mapping.

“Damn it, Neuropoison; you’re really ass-raping my attention span here!” Okay sugar-tits, look at the pretty picture:

A mapping from believed probabilities (horizontal axis) to actual probabilities (vertical axis).

The diagram has the same variable on both axes, probabilities in [0,1]. Thus the entire admissible space is a 1 x 1 square, though I prefer to call it a “2-dimensional hypercube” as that helps me to score with intellectual chicks. Any point on the identity line is a fixed point, a self-confirming belief about the probability of some event. The issue is that the mapping from beliefs to reality is not continuous, so there isn’t a fixed point. That is, there are no self-confirming beliefs.

Just eye-balling it, it looks like if your belief is 100%, the reality is about 60%, and that’s as high as it gets. If this described your F-close rate with chicks, your best belief (if you could choose your beliefs purposefully) would be that you’d score with 100% of chicks you hit on, which would lead to a success rate of 60%. Obviously I just pulled these numbers out of my ass, but the point is, anyone who says, “Your beliefs are demonstrably false” should be given a wedgie for various reasons, among them there are no beliefs which will self-confirm as demonstrably true anyway.

Now that I’ve finished writing this I’m wondering whether it’s mathematically robust. It seems to be, but did I miss something? Is there some way to do a Nash on this and guarantee that everything is actually continuous in the relevant way, thus guaranteeing at least one fixed point? If not, it’s unsettling, as it illustrates that there can be situations in which having correct beliefs is not even theoretically possible.

UPDATE a few days later: It turns out I was right. Nerdlinger explanation: The reason you can’t “do a Nash” on this is that Nash’s theorem applies to game theory, in which all players are best responding to other players’ moves. (From now on I’m going to write playahs because that amuses me.) That is, each playah’s move is his best option given the other playahs’ moves. And “best responding” means optimizing, which (with other features of Nash’s setup) allows the Theorem of the Maximum to be applied. And that theorem implies the continuity of best-response mappings, which in turn implies the existence of at least one fixed point. But here, there is no optimization/best responding. You believe some probability, then cause and effect kicks in and results in some actual probability. There’s no other playah who is choosing the actual probabilities to optimize some goal function. Therefore, nothing prevents the relevant mapping from being discontinuous, so there is not necessarily a fixed point.

Miscellany 18: Love in the Time of Corona


Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous, marks the difference—the only difference in their eyes—between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate.

Altered Carbon, Chapter 15

Well, they don’t always liquidate “little people,” no. But they do ignore them. They treat “little people” with contempt, with the smug disregard of someone whom it is safe to attack, someone who cannot fight back. We have to show them that if they provoke us—let alone attack us—they will suffer.

(2) Holy shit, even Scientific American acknowledges that sex differences are real and important:

Taking Sex Differences in Personality Seriously, by Scott Barry Kaufman, December 12, 2019.
Sub-heading: New approaches are shedding light on the magnitude of sex differences in personality, and the results are so strong and pervasive that they can no longer be ignored.

In a particularly devastating result for the “nurture” crowd,

“While there was cross-cultural variation in the effect, there was a general trend for more developed, individualistic countries with higher food availability, less pathogen prevalence, and higher gender equality to show the largest sex differences in global personality.”

[Emphasis in original.]

(3) Aidan Maclear on antinatalism:

“I must bulli, because there is no rational argument to be made with an antinatalist. It is as viscerally and obviously sick as a cult promoting suicide. You do not reason, you hit with stick.”

(4) Writer at the leftist Mother Jones belatedly notices the obvious, worries that “racism” rhetoric may have become counterproductive for the left:

With the exception of actual neo-Nazis and a few others, there isn’t anyone in America who’s trying to promote the idea that whites are inherently superior to blacks or Latinos. Conversely, there are loads of Americans who display signs of overt racism—or unconscious bias or racial insensitivity or resentment over loss of status—in varying degrees.

This isn’t just pedantic. It matters. It’s bad enough that liberals toss around charges of racism with more abandon than we should, but it’s far worse if we start calling every sign of racial animus—big or small, accidental or deliberate—white supremacy. I can hardly imagine a better way of proving to the non-liberal community that we’re all a bunch of out-of-touch nutbars who are going to label everyone and everything we don’t like as racist.

Ya think?! A decade or so too late on that one, dude.

(5) One Charlie Jane Anders is a tranny sci-fi author (So brave! See #7 below) who wrote a novel called The City in the Middle of the Night. The second paragraph:

As the two of us walk back toward campus, a brace of dark quince leaves, hung on doorways in some recent celebration, wafts past our feet. Their nine dried stems scuttle like tiny legs.

“Brace” means “pair.”

But the really awesome part is the dedication. It starts like this:

For my mom, who taught me about colonialism…

LOL. You really cannot satirize lefties any more.

(6) I don’t know what color pill this is, but it sure as hell isn’t blue:

“Sleeping with the enemy: An essay on mixed identity in the context of violent conflict.” Ralph Hartley, University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Social Identities, March 2010.

When competition between groups becomes violent the female of a mixed marriage and her offspring are often vulnerable to violence by not only the group from which her male partner is assigned but also to violent acts by members of the group with which she is identified. When the goal of an adversary is to eliminate manifestations of identity the role of the individual within a society, including children and other non-combatants, is of little consequence. Using the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda as a focus this essay takes a bio-social and cultural comparative approach in exploring the situational factors underlying genocidal behavior wherein the woman in a mixed conjugal union and her offspring are disproportionately vulnerable to violence. The possible co-evolvement of individual behaviors with group-level institutions is considered as worthy of more focused attention in an attempt to understand the intense vulnerability of some women and children in environments of lethal conflict.


The lesson as I think it applies to the current western world: White women who think that they are making themselves safe by marrying non-white men – because they’re staying on the leading edge of current SJW political moves – may be… misguided. They and their children may find that out, sadly, when our political situation goes from warming up to boiling over.

(7) Speaking of pills of various hues, Elon Musk tweets “Take the red pill” to his 34 million followers. Sweet. Ivanka Trump responds “Taken!” in re-tweeting it. The usual “I’m so offended” crowd says “I’m so offended.”

Bonus: in the Guardian link we learn that there’s something called “the Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQ support centre led by black and transgender people.” Yes, they call themselves “brave.” I guess they don’t want to wait for us tell them, “So brave! Thank you for this.” However, I think you guys are too modest. You know how Wile E. Coyote upgrades himself from “genius” to “supergenius”? You guys should upgrade yourselves from “brave” to “superbrave.” Don’t let any bigots tell you otherwise!

Coronavirus death rate: Data from New York state


In New York state, the Democrat-dominated government’s study of a week or so ago implied a death rate of 0.5%. Note the decimal; that’s half a percent. This had the left in a state of alarm, trying to come up with reasons why the death rate is much higher.

“But there could be a lot of deaths we don’t know about!” they pouted.

Then New York tested another 4,500.

Among the implications of the total number tested in various locales in New York state:

A quarter (24.7%) of New York City’s population has antibodies to the coronavirus! According to the NY Post link above, that translates to 2.1 million people infected. And the number of deaths in NYC so far? 17,303. That makes the death rate 17,303/2,100,000 = 0.8%. That is, markedly less deadly than the figures bandied about earlier, like 4%.

CNBC on the statewide numbers: 2.7 million cases statewide, with 19,453 deaths attributed to the virus. So the implied mortality rate is 0.7%, again less than 1 percent.

As to the politics of all this, it’s working wonderfully in our favor. Trump, in saying he’s going to leave the re-opening decision to the states, destroyed the left’s plan to blame him either way. They are shrieking in outrage over this. They’re saying that Trump is “avoiding responsibility” and “passing the buck,” etc.

Why are they saying this?

Because their plan was to blame Trump for an increase in deaths, if he ended the shutdown and deaths rose, and to blame him for the costs of the shutdown if he kept the shutdown going. They were licking their chops, thinking they had him either way.

Then he said, “Let’s just leave it up to the individual states” – which, hilariously, was exactly what they were demanding that he do a couple of weeks ago, in the name of federalism, saying that he was a dictatorial fascist if he tried to make the call himself.

So he said, “Okay, have it your way,” and gave them an enormous case of political coitus interruptus. If Trump doesn’t make the call, no way to blame Trump! They are absolutely in agony and outrage over this, which is how we know he is doing the right thing politically.

Sweet, an opportunity to use my Epistemology tag!

Slate Star Codex:

“I’m increasingly uncertain that confirmation bias can be separated from normal reasoning.

Suppose that one of my friends says she saw a coyote walk by her house I know there are coyotes in the hills outside Berkeley, so I am not too surprised; I believe her.

Now suppose that same friend says she saw a polar bear walk by her house. I assume she is mistaken, lying, or hallucinating.

Is this confirmation bias? It sure sounds like it. When someone says something that confirms my preexisting beliefs (eg ‘coyotes live in this area, but not polar bears’), I believe it. If that same person provides the same evidence for something that challenges my preexisting beliefs, I reject it.”

No, you’re not wrong to do this; you’re using your beliefs for their proper purpose: making judgments about the world. The whole reason you have a belief that polar bears are extremely rare or non-existent in Berkeley is so that if you think you see a polar bear, you’ll look again more carefully, or that if your friend says “Polar bear!” you’ll consider that she might be playing a joke on you, etc.

The point of having beliefs is not just to have them. It’s to use them to guide yourself through the world. You use them to, e.g. make judgments about how likely it is that your friend is lying or playing a joke on you, etc.

Furthermore, it’s a known fact that people sometimes joke, lie, are mistaken, etc. What entitles you to dismiss that fact? If you believe your friend, you’re abandoning your well-founded belief that people sometimes say false things AND your well-founded belief that there are no polar bears in Berkeley. That’s a weird decision to make.

If you disbelieve your friend, you are retaining your well-founded beliefs that people sometimes say false things and that there are no polar bears in Berkeley. That seems sensible, given the monstrously large number of times humans are observed to say false things, and the large number of times you’ve failed to observe any polar bears in Berkeley.

If I said I saw gnomes dancing on my roof, what would you actually do? Slightly raise your probability that there are gnomes, or significantly raise your probability that I’m a jokester?

A “Holiness Spiral” in Evolutionary Biology

Eliezer Yudkowsky’s unnerving example of mouse biology:

There is a segregation-distorter on the male sex chromosome of some mice which causes only male children to be born, all carrying the segregation-distorter. Then these males impregnate females, who give birth to only male children, and so on. You might cry “This is cheating!” but that’s a human perspective; the reproductive fitness of this allele is extremely high, since it produces twice as many copies of itself in the succeeding generation as its nonmutant alternative. Even as females become rarer and rarer, males carrying this gene are no less likely to mate than any other male, and so the segregation-distorter remains twice as fit as its alternative allele. It’s speculated that real-world group selection [among reproductively isolated populations] may have played a role in keeping the frequency of this gene as low as it seems to be. In which case, if mice were to evolve the ability to fly and migrate for the winter, they would probably form a single reproductive population, and would evolve to extinction as the segregation-distorter evolved to fixation.

That is, this allele does very well reproductively until it destroys the entire population of which it’s a member because there are no females left. Obviously this example doesn’t involve politics, but it has similar dynamics: Something that does well for the individual (gene or person) in the short run, while eating away at the individual’s own foundations. In the case of the mice it’s a gene that eliminates females; in the case of our current holiness spiral it’s white people shouting that white people are evil and should be attacked. Saying things like that identifies one as safely leftist(*) in the haute reaches of western culture these days. But of course it destroys one’s safety in the long run.

A holiness spiral has the aspect of being in the ocean on a raft, and hacking away at the raft with an axe because it somehow helps you in the short run, even as it guarantees your death in the long run. E.g. there are a bunch of people on the raft, and somehow a convention has gotten established that they single out the person who’s hacking away at the raft with the least enthusiasm and attack him. Everybody wants to hack at the raft at least as enthusiastically as everyone else. If they think about it at all, they’re thinking, “Sure, this behavior will guarantee that we all die eventually, but if I stop hacking I’ll die right now.”

Yudkowsky also mentions the possibility of viruses greedily killing their host before they can propagate to another host. Basically there’s no reproductive benefit to an individual member of the virus from reproducing slowly to keep the host alive: The other viruses also reap the benefit of the “prudent” one’s restraint, and they reproduce faster than the prudent one. So, prudent virus genes are out-selected. Given that, the surprising observation is that any illnesses ever propagate before killing their host. Yudkowsky: “I don’t know if a disease has ever been caught in the act of evolving to extinction, but it’s probably happened any number of times.”

* Comparatively safe. Fortunately, as the holiness spiral becomes ever more insane, it becomes ever less safe even to be a leftist. This reduces the incentive to engage in leftist holiness signaling, so is one of the things which may rescue us as people choose up sides in the impending civil war.

Why is fertility lower among high-status women?

Why is fertility lower among high-status women than low-status women? It’s not just a weird unfortunate coincidence. It’s because they’re high status. Female hypergamy means that the number of men a high-status woman regards as worthy of her are smaller. It’s a terrible thing for a woman to be high status. It hurts her reproductive success. And so it hurts the reproductive success of the population of which she’s a member.

Men and women are different in terms of everything, including the effect of their social status on their reproductive success.

Look at human history with Darwinian eyes. (If you’re an evolution denier, look with Chesterton’s Fence eyes.) As far as can be told from history, women are by default lower status than men in all societies that existed up to around 1900. Why? Not because those horrid men forced them all into low-status roles. All? Seriously, all? In every society in the history of the world? Please. Nothing is “all” in the world of social phenomena. No, indubitably there were some societies just like ours in which deluded social innovators allowed and encouraged women to have high social status. Those societies are gone now.

Because those societies in which women had higher or even equal status by default were outbred. They’re not around any more. They didn’t even survive long enough to leave a noticeable presence in the historical record.

Let us pause to refute some feminist idiocy on this topic. God knows they make it easy.

The fuck-witted feminist account of all this is this: “In earlier eras, men were higher status than women because men— those brutes!— kept women down with overwhelming physical force. But now, in our modern society, this is not relevant any more.” Why not? Anyway, notice how stupid this is, if you just think about it instead of mindlessly repeating it: Men kept women down by physical force? Really? No they didn’t. What the hell? I love this notion that the average woman was thirsting to be a sailor on a whaling ship but the men used violence to prevent her from doing so. Or the average woman yearned to be a statistician in the actuarial department of an insurance company but those violent men beat her senseless until she stopped trying it. Fucking LOL. In fact, it is the opposite: In the modern world it takes a constant barrage of one-sided propaganda just to make some women think they want to do such things.

Also: Were the highest-status men in the last few millennia the ones who were biggest and toughest? Did you get to be Pope or Corporate CEO or College President by beating up other men? Or even credibly threatening to do so? Bitch, please.

Also notice that this whole moronic feminist argument contradicts the other, opposite feminist argument, that women should be in combat positions in the military because they’re just as good in a fight as a man. Well, which is it? Did men use their superiority in physical conflict to keep women down? Or are women just as good in a fight as men?

Feminists. Jesus. Stop trying to make arguments, sugar-tits. You’re just not very good at it. Now quit being such a skirt and get me a beer; I want something to drink while you’re blowing me.

So that “argument” makes no sense. No, the reason we see no historical societies in which women had higher or equal status compared to men, is that they didn’t breed enough to leave a noticeable presence in the historical record. And the reason for that, or a main reason for it, is that female hypergamy means that high female status is highly contra-reproduction. Lethally so.

The only antidote to the contra-natalist tendency of high female status, that has worked empirically, is a set of social conventions and traditions in which (1) husbands automatically have higher status than wives, and (2) fathers can marry off daughters even if the daughter thinks the prospective husband isn’t good enough for her. In that way the deadly poison of female hypergamy is rendered irrelevant. In a society with these two features, even a girl who is born a heir presumptive to the crowns of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Ireland can be induced to squeeze out baby after baby, enough for seven of them to survive to adulthood.

Stop Talking About the Anthropic Principle, Idiots

There’s a thread at Slate Star Codex about the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter:

Don’t Fear The Filter

In the comments, the “anthropic principle” comes up several times. The notion is well summaraized by the Infogalactic article’s second sentence: “Some proponents of the anthropic principle reason that it explains why the universe has the age and the fundamental physical constants necessary to accommodate conscious life.” I’m getting really tired of this as an “explanation” of anything or an “answer” to any question. It’s a testament to the stupidity of so many people who consider themselves “wonks” or whatever. Very plainly, people:

Say you have an enemy who is an expert marksman. One day he shoots at you and misses. You might be interested in why he missed. Saying, “If he hadn’t missed I wouldn’t be here to ask the question” IS NOT A FUCKING ANSWER TO THE QUESTION! One wants to know WHY he missed. Was he on drugs? Was he sick? Nervous? Just bad luck, e.g. he was he distracted at the wrong instant? That is, this is about cause and effect. The effect was him missing. We want to know what caused that effect. Your being alive to ask the question is not the cause. It can’t be, since it’s happening after the event it’s purported to explain, fucking duh! So unless you claim to have a time machine, STOP CLAIMING THIS IS AN ANSWER TO THE GODDAM QUESTION!

Robert Heinlein once said that a touchstone for how intellectually serious a person is, is what they think about astrology (he wrote that in the 1970s, back when astrology was a fad). I’m about ready to use mentioning the anthropic principle in the same way. If you mention it, unless you’re being ironic, YOU ARE AN IDIOT. YES, LITERALLY, AN ACTUAL IDIOT.

Suppose your kid asks you, “Hey Dad, how did you and Mom meet?” and you respond, “Well, if we hadn’t met, you wouldn’t be here to ask the question.” Seriously? Anyone who says with a straight face that this is a satisfactory answer – or any kind of answer at all – should be forced to wear underwear made out of steel wool and given a nuclear wedgie.

Cut it out, morons.

Update: I have a follow-up post here:

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.

Through Darwinian Lenses

This post makes two points about evolution, a general point and a specific point.

The general point:

Organisms have the features they have because individuals that lacked those features were not reproductively successful. More precisely, over time were not as reproductively successful as individuals that had the feature. Yes, this is the supposedly well-known core of evolutionary theory, but I get the sense that the average person still hasn’t fully absorbed the implications.

For example, some species of eagle can see a small prey animal like a rabbit from two miles away. Consider what this astounding fact implies: Individual eagles who didn’t have such good vision were out-selected. At worst, they starved to death because they couldn’t feed themselves. At best, they had fewer surviving offspring than those with better vision, because good nutrition is required to create healthy eggs and good hunting is needed to feed the hatchlings. So over time their genes became less common until they disappeared in that species.

So when you observe a feature, like astoundingly sharp eyesight, in nature, understand what you are seeing: The imprint of death.

One way or another, individuals who lacked that feature didn’t get their genes into successive generations. This is the same outcome as simple death, evolutionarily speaking. Note, not metaphorically the same outcome, but actually the same outcome.

So, speaking in an evolutionary sense, we can say:

Eagles have good eyesight because eagles without it died.

Bats have good sonar because…

Gazelles can run fast because…

Organisms’ features exist because those features matter. They affect the organisms’ reproductive success.

If you look through Darwinian lenses, you can see the imprint of death all around you, in every organism you observe. Every feature implies the evolutionary death of individuals who lacked that feature.

Once at a zoo I saw a male lion pounce on a large plastic bucket that had been left in his cage. His teeth dug into it and he lifted it into the air. There was something startling and a little scary about seeing 500 pounds of muscle launching a set of teeth at something. But of course I should not have been surprised, because evolution didn’t endow lions with huge sharp teeth and lots of muscle so those features can not be used.

(By the by, why do male lions have armor— manes— around their necks?)

Now, the specific point:

What does human females’ obsessive preference for dominant men say about our species’s evolutionary history?
Just mull that over for a second.
Ponder it…
Let it sink in…

What it says is grim, and alarming. Women have an intense preference for dominant men because women without that preference were less reproductively successful in our species’s evolutionary past. That is, to put it plainly, either those women didn’t reproduce, or their offspring didn’t survive.

But why should that be? The obvious guesses are that such women’s children were killed outright, or starved during periods of scarce food. The children of women who preferred dominant men didn’t starve. (Obviously, since their female descendants are here, all around us.) E.g., because their men could take food from less formidable men. Or, slightly less horrifyingly: “I’m hunting over here in the best hunting grounds; you go hunt over there, where the hunting isn’t as good.” So the implication is unavoidable: The powerful men killed, directly or indirectly, the children of less-powerful men. Again, it might not have been that direct. It might have been a matter of differential reproductive success over time.

Now there are some questions to be answered about this. E.g., if you try to directly take food from Joe’s kids, Joe’s going to fight you, and stands a good chance of doing you significant injury even if you win. So it’s not obvious that it’s worth it to you. E.g., why didn’t the subdominant males simply gang up to kill the dominant males and/or their children? I don’t care how dominant you are; you have to sleep some time. (And alphas are a minority of men, by definition.) So we’re talking about… what? An effect that didn’t kick in until kings, palaces, and palace guards were established? So there are blanks to fill in, but the basic mechanism is not in doubt. It’s not in doubt because we observe its immediate consequences, in the reality of current human female sexual behavior.

Closely related point: Why do men have more muscle mass than women? Not so they can not use it. Men have it because they fight each other and the losers weren’t as reproductively successful. That is, they died, or at “best” were prevented from producing as many (surviving) children.

Human beings, like other animals, are red in tooth and claw. Yes, we are wired for both cooperation and conflict, but in western society we tend to underestimate the conflict because we are particularly good at things like feeding ourselves, so that life-and-death conflict over food doesn’t happen any more. But the hard wiring is still there. Summarizing: Chicks dig jerks with big pecs, and that tells us that plans for world peace are doomed to failure. No, we are not all going to sit around the campfire singing Kumbaya.

Obiter dictum: It’s important to get this perspective into our mindset as our political situation moves from “dress rehearsal” to “it’s showtime!”