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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

Exactly my thought: Parents look out for themselves as well as their kids. The conflicting interest here beyond "What parent wants for child" and "What child wants for self", is "What parents wants for self by wanting for child". Also, a child can be, or at some point in life become again, dependent on the parents, so a more economically viable suitor means that the parents are less likely to have to provide more for their child.

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We have a desire to have kids because we have a desire to have sex. We have a desire to have sex because people with desire have their sex desire genes passed onto the next generation.

You're almost taking certain dispositions for granted, as if they weren't subject to evolution in the first place.

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Historically, old people tended to consume fewer resources as they aged rather than depending on their kids.

http://www.econlib.org/was-having-kids-ever-a-paying-venture/

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>There's no need to jump to evolutionary explanations (although I agree those affect things).

What on earth do you mean "jump to"? They underpin our preferences, so they should always serve as a foundation of explanation.

If humans were absolutist gene replication maximisers in a way perfectly aligned with our current environment, they wouldn't care about being looked after in old age. We aren't this way, and the question is why we aren't this way.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

But romantic love is fickle and transitory, it burns out, and then what? You're yoked to someone you no longer have any interest in and want to get free of them. On the other hand, with an arranged marriage, both of you (ideally) agree to make it work and lasting love grows over time. So your parents do want you to be happy, but long-lasting happiness.

As an aside, this is why I dislike the character of Neil Gibson in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Problem of Thor Bridge"; he's basically "Okay, I married this hot South American lady and had kids with her, but now I'm tired of her since she got older and isn't as hot anymore, and I want the hot young governess instead. Unfortunately my wife still loves me and won't just get out of my way, what a bitch!"

"And you are his manager?"

"I have given him notice. In a couple of weeks I shall have shaken off his accursed slavery. A hard man, Mr. Holmes, hard to all about him. Those public charities are a screen to cover his private iniquities. But his wife was his chief victim. He was brutal to her—yes, sir, brutal! How she came by her death I do not know, but I am sure that he had made her life a misery to her. She was a creature of the tropics, a Brazilian by birth, as no doubt you know."

"No; it had escaped me."

"Tropical by birth and tropical by nature. A child of the sun and of passion. She had loved him as such women can love, but when her own physical charms had faded—I am told that they once were great—there was nothing to hold him. We all liked her and felt for her and hated him for the way that he treated her. But he is plausible and cunning. That is all I have to say to you. Don't take him at his face value. There is more behind. Now I'll go. No, no, don't detain me! He is almost due."

The problem gets solved by the wife killing herself (and attempting to frame the governess for her murder) and Gibson is free to marry the governess, who isn't adverse to marrying her older but very, very wealthy (did I mention he is stinking rich?) employer so she can 'reform' him and turn his mind to giving his wealth to charities.

Yeah, I have my doubts about the 'happy' ending. It's much more likely that Gibson will tolerate her do-gooding as long as she holds his attention with sex, and if/when he tires of her in turn, all that 'reformation' will end too. So much for marrying for love!

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The problem in the story is as much that Neil's love had burned out as that Maria's hadn't. If Maria's love had waned in equal measure, then Neil could have been rid of her neatly and tidily, by way of nothing more than a lavish financial settlement. But, as you acknowledge, she kept on loving him, however much he tried to turn her off with boorish behaviour.

So much for transitory. And, by the way, Gibson's own alibi is flimsy by Holmesian standards. "There is no evidence that he left the house" - hasn't Scott taught us to be wary of "there's no evidence" claims?

Anyway, there's no law that says romantic love cannot transition to a love based on habit, mutual comfort, and trust once the hormones subside. And what do your parents know about long-lasting love, anyway? Or about happiness? (Larkin's 'This Be The Verse' being of course the definitive word on the matter.)

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

But what Gibson did is what Scott is exampling in the clash between parents and children: his choice was "I wanna bang the hot young woman" and so he married her. Then she wasn't so hot, so his feelings cooled and he moved on to the next "I wanna bang the hot young woman". His marriage - on his side - was based on that shallow sexual attraction, instead of growing into steady settled love based on mutual commitment to their family and each other.

It doesn't augur well for his second marriage, given that once again he has little in common with his new spouse (she is interested in using his money to do good, he is only interested in saying and doing whatever will keep her around for him) and once she ages out of looking hot or he finds yet another hot young woman he prefers, there is nothing to stop him trying to dump her for Number Three.

Gibson, in the story, offered the governess "I'd marry you if I could, but since I can't, I'll make you my mistress and provide sufficiently for you" but the governess didn't want that (or didn't value herself that cheaply, so she perhaps was hoping he would move to divorce his wife and marry her). This is not a guy who is making spousal choices on grounds other than hormones, even though by now he's old enough to know better, and I don't think his choices are turning out well.

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>Anyway, there's no law that says romantic love cannot transition to a love based on habit, mutual comfort, and trust once the hormones subside.

Heck, there is no law that says they can't both exist at the same time. Imagining people in their 20s as *purely* hormone/lust driven strikes me as likely to be a mistake even if simplifying it that way makes the discussion/thought experiment easier.

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By similar logic, no one really wants love or sex. People are just narcissistic and they assume that the world would be better if it contained more people similar to *them*.

The conflict between generations is that the kids wants partners similar to themselves (young, attractive), and the parents want their kids to have partners somewhat similar to the parents (rich). Everyone believes that "a copy of me is objectively the best possible partner, ever".

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deletedMay 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022
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Exactly! We don't even know that most parents object to their offspring's mate choice. I get the impression that most of them are pretty happy with their in-laws.

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It doesn't need to be "most parents" for the arguments to be valid, just "more parents". It's going to be a statistical argument anyway, but I don't see how you could assign error bars.

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Arranged marriages have been the norm for vast swathes of the world's population for much of history. The fact that cultural changes have lead to its diminishment doesn't actually mean that genes don't affect these preferences, though I think you're not realizing the extent to which parents work to direct their kids social circles (which is broadly a way of influencing their mate choice).

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Agree; Evo psych isn't quite as far down my badlist as psychoanalysis, but it's mostly contrived examples trying to 'explain' contemporary mores via labyrinthine evolutionary explanations.

Yesterday I read a mind bogglingly involved theory of why people are having fewer children nowadays by Robin Hanson which involved complex anticipation of child success maladapting to modern wealth.

At no point did I get the impression he had ever asked women (and women are posited as the scheming child minimisers here, which is another common Evo psych trope) why they're having fewer kids.

Whilst I'm not claiming that you can fully rely on self reported reasoning, it's a good place to start, and 'raising children is really hard nowadays' is a pretty common explanation, and requires no castles in the sky.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

That, and the culture that insists on spending on experiences, maximizing independence and minimizing constraints so you can have more experiences.

Then there's the hard economics (surely something Robin Hanson is aware of) - having children interferes with career, which puts both woman's independence *and* her family's fate at risk, in a world where most couples can't really sustain a household on a single income.

Then there's the perceived *obligation* for women to work for money - over recent decade or two, the hard-won freedom to focus on career changed into social pressure, where some women feel they'll be judged negatively by society if they're not making money. I write "perceived", because from where I'm sitting, half of society will praise a stay-at-home mom for her choice, so it balances out. But it's not how the women close to me see it.

(I wouldn't give too much weight to how expensive and hard is to have children these days, as a factor in deciding to not have children. In my experience, this is something you truly learn only *after* you become a parent. You can't even imagine many of the hardships and money sinks until you experience them.)

So I agree - self-reports give some good clues here; there's no need for complex evolutionary-level explanation for what seems to be purely a socioeconomical dynamic. The evolutionary adaptations that are involved here are just the ones that make you care about physical safety and social status.

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The simple explanation of "why are people having fewer kids" is that people prioritize status over child-rearing since in the ancestral environment if your status dropped too much you died and didn't have kids.

So since in a modern society having a parent devote more time to childrearing will result in lower family income without a compensating gain in status from a large family (since our society doesn't assign status to that and often assigns negative status to "trashy" large families), people have fewer children.

This also neatly explains why so many people have exactly 1-2 children instead of zero, because having zero children as a woman is still lower status than having at least one child.

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There's a simpler explanation: having children is an emotional drive and there's now easy available stimuli wherever you look and whatever your preferences are to satisfy those. Being childless no longer means being lonely and possibly bored. And then, there's the question of maybe having too little time to engage in everything one might want to engage in within our default lifespans. TBQH all these are reasons to look into longevity extension tech.

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A large fraction of American children these days are born to single-mothers, who do maintain a household on a single income. Arguably, the rise in that fraction is the result of our society being wealthy enough for that to be viable.

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Where is your proof? Where is your data? Your post is at the very least no better than what the evo-psychs are being accused of - giving a just so story without scientific data to support it. "The culture insists..." is not science. It's not even close to being operationalized enough for a hypothesis to test.

>So I agree - self-reports give some good clues here; there's no need for complex evolutionary-level explanation for what seems to be purely a socioeconomical dynamic. The evolutionary adaptations that are involved here are just the ones that make you care about physical safety and social status.

I hope everyone appreciates this explanation is intellectually on the same level as proclaiming that 'all this stuff about greenhouse gas emissions is unnecessary, we know that the climate goes through natural cycles' .

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FWIW, there are lots of historical examples where economic stresses causes a reduction in the number of children. And many people would seem to prefer a new car to a new child. So I don't think there's much to explain until you try to do more exact modeling.

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Do you imagine that poor people don't have kids? Do you imagine single moms are mostly high income earners? Do you imagine that people 100 years ago had less kids than people today?

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Today there are a lot more things to spend your money on. Rich people tend to have more children than poor people. In Ireland about a century ago people tended to put off marrying until in their 30's because of economic pressures.

It's also true that when there's a huge infant mortality, people tend to have lots of kids. They've go no idea how many will survive to adulthood. And when you say "single moms" you're ignoring various factors that cause those who own real property to be more likely to register their marriage.

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Thanks for that. Sometimes you can just ask people.

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That's literally not science, and offers nothing in the way of fundamental explanation.

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"Whilst I'm not claiming that you can fully rely on self reported reasoning, it's a good place to start"

No, it's really, really not, the dubiousness of Hanson's theory notwithstanding.

The average women does not even contemplate things from an evolutionary perspective at all, and cannot give an explanation for the almost unviersal female preference for taller men other than 'tall guys are more attractive'. They almost certainly do find tall men more attractive, but it tells us nothing of the why. They prefer confident men, and self-report will almost never tell us why confidence is more attractive. Most people, but especially women (in my experience), are deeply skeptical of and/or hostile to the idea that all aspects of human behavior are heritable at all.

> 'raising children is really hard nowadays' is a pretty common explanation

Do you imagine it was easier to raise kids 100 years ago?

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"Do you imagine it was easier to raise kids 100 years ago? "

That's a sort of yes/no kind of question. If you lived on a farm, children were much less of an economic drain 150 years ago. If you lived in a city, this was much less true. This is, of course, only one dimension of "easier", but it's also true that birth control was a lot harder. And almost all the population lived on small farms. (IIRC it was in the neighborhood of 70%, and in their parents [grandparents?] generation it was well over 80%.) Cities have traditionally not been able to replace their population. Partially this was due to diseases, but it was also because of economic pressures. And there's a time lag in social adaptation.

FWIW, there's still evidence that people living in dense groups don't meet replacement numbers. The reason is a bit questionable, but I *think* that a part of the reason is economic pressures.

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Most developed, rich, industrialized countries have below-replacement fertility rates these days...

Even ones with generous child benefits and overall extensive welfare states (eg Scandinavian countries).

All of these countries (the US included) need immigration to maintain their population.

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I'm working on a post (stay tuned!) about why "just so" arguments shouldn't be dismissed so quickly. Evolution works in a way that Keith Stewart Thompson calls "correlated progression," where every individual is an experiment, probing for varying solutions to the problem of existence. When iterated millions of individuals over a million years, evolution has the appearance of, in retrospect, divinity. Instead of reacting to changing conditions, evolution seemingly anticipates adversity, with latent traits springing into action at the right place at the right time.

Our whole existence has so much of the appearance of intelligence design, that things "just so" happening the way they happen is the norm, not the exception.

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You've piqued my interest, but your post will need to address a couple of key issues:

1) How do we acquire evidence for these views that aren't just post hoc pattern matching? I'm willing to entertain either empirical or agent based modelling approaches, but pure reason doesn't cut it for me.

2) Why should we believe that this fine-grained evolutionary dynamic is usefully applicable to modern society and culture? I say fine grained because evo psych is either trivial (people want to have sex because sex makes babies) or assumes evolution can develop very specific behaviours which persists through cultural change.

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FWIW, it's fine grained because there's a sample size of millions, and a filter that removes those samples that don't fit. So you get a shifting gradient as the nature of the filter shifts.

That said, there's a lot of places where it definitly *isn't* fine grained. Look into the path of the vagus nerve.

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Thanks. I will incorporate these comments into my post. Regarding the evidence broadly in evolution regarding correlated progression, my initial touchpoint is At The Water's Edge by Carl Zimmer, which describes the fossil evidence for how fish gained feet (over 10m years) and how early mammals gained flippers (also over 10m years). As for whether these speedy evolutionary gears apply to recent human evolution, the evidence is scant. However, the 10,000 Year Explosion by Greg Cochran (who is on SSC's blogroll) hazards some theories.

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Why don't you actually look into evolutionary psychology before being so dismissive? We don't tolerate this ignorant skepticism when it comes to things like climate change or covid, so why is okay here?

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Good luck with that. Modern evolutionary biologists talk about something called the landscape. That's a way of thinking about developmental constraints and evolutionary tradeoffs. When the environment changes, the landscape changes. There's no divinity. There's no evidence that evolution anticipates anything.

As for the appearance of intelligent design, it's like finding a face in a piece of toast or a rock on Mars. Human minds look for it and find it. Hint: odds are it is not an actual face.

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To me, it feels like you misread that post. It didn't read to me like thr author was claiming any of

- divinity

- evolution anticipating anything

- intelligent design

The actual quotes go:

"When iterated millions of individuals over a million years, evolution has *the appearance* of, *in retrospect*, divinity."

ie, if you look only at the result of a super complex process working over a super long time, that result may appear miraculous

"evolution *seemingly* anticipates adversity", set against evolution making new adaptations *after* changes in circumstances.

To my knowledge, that's how it works most of the time: evolution injects a bunch of random variation in traits, the environment changes, some of the previously neutral-ish changes (otherwise probably would have been selected out) are now advantageous. In retrospect, if you don't look closely, it "seems like evolution anticipating adversity", even if it's a "blind idiot god".

Basically the same thing for "our existence having so much of the appearance of intelligent design"

Again, "appearance of".

To me it seems like you're arguing against a position nobody stated (although I understand how certain phrasings in the post could lead to such an interpretation)

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Evo-psych has a lot of bad examples and a smaller portion of good examples, you should learn to distinguish between them so you don't throw out the baby. :) E.g. the first thing I can remember is that old and long lived evo-psych hypothesis that girls growing up without fathers start mating behavior earlier and are generally more reckless because they... I don't remember the reasoning, maybe that they have to compensate for not having a protective male in their vicinity and need to find a new male to protect them. This was a good hypothesis, because it's falsifiable, and indeed, it got thoroughly falsified several times. Turns out that girls who lost their fathers in war didn't turn out reckless at all, though the girls left by reckless fathers still grow up more reckless than average, meaning it's mostly genetic probably. I think it was a nicely empirical and not just-so-story-esque thing to do to test this hypothesis.

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Now and then there is a nugget, but there's an awful lot of bathwater. Worse, it's the kind of bath water that tends to be politically useful, often towards evil ends. I've seen some good research in the area myself, but, as others have noted, there are so many just-so and so-my-politics-are-right stories that I tend to be skeptical. To be fair, I'm like that with reports of new battery components and Alzheimer's drugs since so much money is involved.

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>Honestly...this is why I dislike evo-psych. It's full of "just-so" stories about that try to explain human drives in evolutionary terms. But none of those stories actually have any strong empirical evidence behind them; it's idle speculation, not science

This betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of evo-psych science. All kinds of empirical work can help validates evo-psych theories. Honest question, have you read any books or listened to any lectures on the subject? Maybe you have, but your criticisms are absolutely indistinguishable from those who have not.

And I find an overwhelming majority of people who say stuff like this also believe in fantastical, logically incoherent notions of free will, as if its a better answer to say "oh, well everyone just *chose* to behave that way" (...)

Which is to say, not an explanation of anything at all.

>Unless we come up with a neurological mechanism for the difference in preference between suitors and parents

Nearly everything related to human behavior lacks a fundmanetal neurological explanation, so it's strange to be incredulous towards evo-psych in particular.

>or we can show empirically that such an instinct exists universally and increases reproductive fitness

One of the things evo-psychologists do is look at the extent to which certain behaviors are common across populations, and seeking high status mates is as common as any other high-level aspect of human behavior. Though, it absolutely does not need to be universal. It's like saying height can't improve reproductive fitness because not everyone is tall. It's a matter of probabilities.

>I mean, can Dynomight seriously think that somewhere in the human genome, there is a gene that encodes the "cause people to identify high-status mates for their adult children" protein? I mean, maybe it's possible that this is some complex polygenic trait, but we don't have any evidence of that

This is again naive skepticism. All aspects of human behavior are (to varying extents) heritable. It doesn't mean there's a gene that directly encodes for each highly specific behavior.

What happens in your view of things when a parent chooses a certain course of behavior like advising their offspring on mate preference? What causes this the desire for a parent to have these preferences? Unless you believe in supernatural souls that direct behavior, at some level all forms of behavior has to involve something at the biochemical and neurobiological level, be it in the generation of desire or the behavioral expression of it. You deriding the heritability of behavior as 'gene-for-particular-behavior-protein' hides the fact that any materialist explanation for the behavior must also involve fundamental biological factors.

When you have a conscious thought that is met with a corresponding behavior, how does this non-material experience even interact with your body to execute the action? You can say that there's some neural activity that gave rise to the thought, and this neural activity is doing the causation in the body....if so, then congratulations, you don't believe in free will.

And before you or someone else accuses me of needlessly talking about another subject (free will), the point is that you either have a strictly materialist (proteins and neurons and so on) view of behavior, or you have a dualistic view of the body to explain behavior. If you reject dualism, then dismissing the heritability of behavior on the basis that it would (supposedly) require certain proteins to carry out particular behaviors is special pleading.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

Yep, was going to say this. There must be some evolved instincts in play there and they must be, broadly, nurturing instincts rather than reproductive ones. Would be surprising if those didn't exist in humans and didn't play some role in motivating prospective grandparents.

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My impression is that for most mammals (with females living in herds of relatives and males roaming around alone) females have kind of low interest in male attractiveness: they mainly choose the territory and accept any male that comes with it, or wait until the males fight it out and then stay with the winner. This of course works as mate choice, preferring the strongest male (including the one who's keeping the best territory). Human females seem to have above average mate choice instincts, concentrating on the physical and mental traits of the males. Could be because we are long lived and the status of the male can change a lot during lifetime, so it's better to go with the one that seems to have high chances in a rapidly changing environment?

Elephants still seem to have some kind of trait based mate choice, preferring the oldest and biggest. 'Biggest' would be perhaps comparable to human preferences (though for us size alone is not quite as important) but 'oldest' is totally different in humans. Young women prefer young men, on average.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

This anthropologist tends to downplay female mate choice, saying patriarchy controlled women instead:

https://twitter.com/Evolving_Moloch/

But I can't quite believe it was that absolute

EDIT: I see he commented here to that effect:

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/contra-dynomight-on-sexy-in-laws/comment/6612844

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In stories about parent-child conflicts, dramatic necessity is sufficient to explain why the parents always prefer the rich suitor to the beautiful suitor.

The young people, not the parents, are always the protagonists (not in the original Greek sense of initiating the action, but in the common-speech sense of being the character the camera stays closet to and the audience sympathizes most with). It would be interesting to know why Western culture prefers youthful protagonists; but it is so, and has been so for centuries. Another reason the protagonists must be the children is that the protagonist must fight up a power gradient, and parents have more power than children.

The protagonists must be more-sympathetic than those opposing them, and it's more acceptable in Western post-Roman literary culture to love someone for their beauty than to love them for their riches or status. (Probably due not to over-valuing beauty, but to the Christian view of riches and status as corrupting, and of beauty as highly correlated with the Good.) It's also more-acceptable in post-Roman Western culture for a young person to be attracted to a young person than to an old person. Therefore, *in a story*, the parents will favor the rich old suitor; the child, the young and beautiful one. QED.

In reality, old rich men don't need the help of parents to get beautiful young women. And I don't blame those young women. Being rich is correlated with being smart and hard-working; neither being young nor being beautiful says anything positive about one's character.

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It seems like in years past the protagonist in movie sense was significantly older than today, at least for men. Humphrey bogart, Cary grant, and Clark Gable were leading men in romantic roles until well into middle age. Even among women Katherine Hepburn wasn't that young for some of her roles either, and in Breakfast at Tiffany's both of the "young" stars sleeping with older people were over 30. Action stars seem to have a longer lifespan, from John Wayne to Bruce Willis. But was he his own producer? And Stallone also. I rarely watch movies but seems like all romance characters are trending younger.

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For romance this is quite intuitive, as most romantic involvement happens at a young age. It's the same reason we don't see a lot of young protagonists in films about problems usually affecting old people, like dementia. Also, romance for older people is quite different and will not sell as much tickets.

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You've never listened to the gossip at an assisted living facility.

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There were a lot more women writing for Hollywood back then, so female stars had longer lives as romantic leads. Male writers have more trouble with this. If you look at television and now streaming, neither of which pay as well as Hollywood, you'll find older women in romantic leads.

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Do you have statistics on the number of female writers in Hollywood over time? As opposed to television? I'm curious.

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I'm not at all sure that has changed that much. Richard Gere was playing romantic leads well into his fifties, Leonardo di Caprio is nearly 50 and is still in films with women twenty years younger.

What is true is that most actors get better at acting as they get older - and also their later films are necessarily more recent and so perhaps easier to bring to mind?

Plenty of actors spend most of their twenties playing highschoolers and so don't get to start on adult roles until they reach thirty anyway

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Don't forget Tom Cruise...

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I read a guide to screenwriting once. It's first lesson was to make your hero a 35-year-old man.

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Being rich is correlated with having money and other societal resources. It has nothing whatever to do with being smart or hard working. If someone wants a piece of that, it can pay to woo. This goes for men and women. I've known both and on both sides. From what I've seen, marrying for money is one of the hardest jobs out there, not that it always works out badly.

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I think it depends what you mean by rich. I'd have thought there _might_ be a dip around the 20 million mark where you're not so smart/hard-working, but I think the general trend (definitely true for 5 million and 100+ million) is to be smart and hard-working.

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I thought that there might be a peak around $10M-$20M, based on the rich people I know. (Of course, anecdotes are not data, but here goes.) That's the kind of money that you can earn with hard work, some smarts and a lot of luck. (One guy invented a sushi making machine. Another sold a travel software company to Google. Yet another worked for a bank in China.) Most of the big money is inherited, so if it's a lot over that range, odds are smarts had nothing to do with it. It was about the magic of compounding. It is a lot harder to get from $100K to $1M than from $10M to $100M. People with less were either not as smart or not as hard working, but most likely not as lucky. Chance favors the prepared mind, but there are a lot more prepared minds than lucky tickets. Remember, two inventors tried to register telephone patents that day.

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founding

How do you think people get money and other societal resources if not by being smart or hard working? Even if it's just by their ancestors being smart and hard working, that means they probably have genes for being smart and hardworking too.

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Most of it was luck. You had to be in the right place at the right time otherwise all your smarts and hard work were unlikely to pay off. European serfs worked just as hard as 18th century American farmers, but serfs could work for a thousand years and never own their own land in Europe. They could in America thanks to our extensive resources and government policies.

Another common way was by violence and the threat of violence. A lot of fortunes in the US were made by businessmen backed by violent union busters, cavalry to clear out the land's original owners and kidnappers to procure an unpaid labor force. I'm not even counting the likes of Rockefeller who was known to blow up rivals oil rigs.

Since most wealth is inherited in our society, it doesn't matter if someone a hundred or five hundred years ago happened to be smart, hard working and lucky. You don't have to be smart or hard working to inherit.

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founding

Violence requires intelligence and hard work.

Serfs worked hard, but were mostly pretty stupid.

The claim that "most" wealth is inherited in our society is just completely wrong, especially in the context of 500 years. The vast majority of wealth on earth has been created by smart and hard working people in the last 50-100 years.

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Yes, and laws to get wealthy boots off poor necks was a fair part of that.

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There was a selective force. Smart serfs who let their masters know they were smart got killed.

Most wealth is inherited. It's highly concentrated, so we're talking about relatively few people. Sure, some of those at the very top may have had smarts and worked hard, but as you move down the list inherited comes up again and again. Also, most of the big success stories involve great wealth coming on top of not quite as great wealth. Building a real estate empire starting with $1M is not as impressive as building a real estate empire starting with $10 in terms of showing smarts and hard work. It's not impossible, but it takes less smarts and hard work.

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>>Being rich is correlated with having money.

Big if true.

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Oh yeah, rich vs high earning is an important distinction. Marrying rich is difficult, too many existing hanger-ons, too few of them. Marrying high earning is significantly easier (there are so many more of them who are single), and a lot of the time reaps immediate benefits such as reliability with bills and invites to family functions where family is generally also high earning (but at the top of the earning curve, whereas your partner is usually just starting out). You get a surprising number of excellent free meals if you date or marry a 2nd or 3rd gen high earner and very often access to a network of other late-career high earners, some of which may be in your industry, most of which have highly prized professional skills.

I'm noting this because I would call myself a 2nd gen high earner, though the perks I can offer are necessarily limited by all of them being in my parents' industry and also overseas in the Motherland. And I would call my partner a 3rd gen high earner even though his wage might not numerically qualify, but he's built up a comfortable reserve by living at home (which had sufficient room to house him as an adult, a perk of being 3rd gen) in his early career days and having basically no bills and also no education debt.

A 1st gen high earner (I know a few of those through uni) is rarer than a 2nd/3rd gen, and will come with more money neuroses (and potentially some maladaptive money habits, like aversion to investment), but they're also more likely to be exceptionally hard working and smart (I feel like I'm very slightly above average for both, which was just enough as a 2nd-gener to get a high earning career, but the 1st gens I know are definitely both of those things and much more so than me!)

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"It would be interesting to know why Western culture prefers youthful protagonists; but it is so, and has been so for centuries. "

Short answer? The Romantic Era (think Shelley and Byron and Keats):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism

"Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism, idealization of nature, suspicion of science and industrialization, and glorification of the past with a strong preference for the medieval rather than the classical.[1] It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity ...It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, and nationalism.

The movement emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as fear, horror and terror, and awe — especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublime and beauty of nature. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, but also spontaneity as a desirable characteristic (as in the musical impromptu).

...Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the events and ideologies of the French Revolution were also proximate factors since many of the early Romantics were cultural revolutionaries and sympathetic to the revolution. ...It also promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a Zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas."

Taking on the established order is a young man's game, and so the cultural heroes became the young challengers, the rebels, the Question Authority type still valorised to this day.

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I wonder too how much is a selection effect put in place by mass media, specifically that while only part of your audience has experience as a full adult, nearly everyone was young once. So even middle aged people can relate to a Romeo and Juliet ("I once had a tempestuous relationship like that. *sigh*") but teenagers and 20 somethings can't always grasp why parents should be so concerned about who their kids marry. As a result the topics of mass media stories trend towards experiences of younger and younger protagonist characters.

I would hold out Breaking Bad the exception, with perhaps Game of Thrones showing the transition all in one show; all the old serious people get killed off very fast and it is mostly their kids navigating the story and becoming serious adults that matter.

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Thank you for the great summary on romanticism :-)

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> On the other hand, our built-in nutrition instincts are also what tells us to take a fifth donut after we’ve already eaten four, which even a moron can use their reason to figure out is a good idea.

Typo: "good idea" => "/great/ idea" (or maybe just a missing negation)

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Lol I thought about making this exact same joke when I read it. Great minds…

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> which even a moron can use their reason to figure out is a good idea

Typo, I think this should be "isn't".

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I have some bad news for you

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Have been wrong about donuts all this time‽

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They are delicious

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"POV: WATCH YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY RICH DOCTOR"

So now that the thought's been had... what's the over/under in how long before someone uploads this to pornhub?

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

Pornhub is the wrong place to look. This is just describing a Hallmark movie.

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Hallmark! It's like Pornhub for your parents!

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Tohron has won the thread.

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He has clearly cracked the code.

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I applaud you.

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That's the sort of thing that would have appeared here:

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ryan-creamers-pornhub-channel

If he were still uploading videos there.

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> And we’re sure lucky it does, because otherwise we would have gone extinct as soon as we invented condoms?"

I think there's an extra quotation mark here.

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Excellent points.

Also worth noting that status is no longer achieved in the same way as a million year ago, when instinctual physical attraction evolved.

Intelligence did play a role at the time, but it made more sense for evolution to focus attractiveness metrics on physical size and strength.

Now that conscientiousness is a much better predictor of status than physical size and strength, parental reasoning is rationally focusing on this metric, while instinctual attractiveness has become a less suited assessment mechanism. Young love is maladapted and focusing on a suboptimal proxy.

Height and attractiveness and intelligence are somewhat correlated, so child/parent judgement might not always diverge, but assessing conscientiousness is safer with a longer track record, hence parental preference for older suitor.

Note that this divergence is mostly relevant for daughter / male suitor. In the symmetrical son / female suitor situation, parental disagreement would be less likely because the best proxy for female fertility remains beauty. And I think there is usually less parental conflict in this situation empirically.

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Physical attraction has been overrated. You want a mate with a sense of humor. Humans evolved a sense of humor to keep them from murdering their children.

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I'd bet that for a female's parents considering male suitors a bit of age helps too. Historically males tended to die rather more frequently, usually younger and with foreign objects lodged in awkward places. Any older member of a group that typically dies young must have a lot going for them, and probably are likely to keep living for a while longer. Rather like how once children made it to about 10 they were likely to live quite a bit longer, a male in a relatively violent society that makes it to 30 or 40 with some wealth and status is probably going to live into his 60's. It's the 16-20 year olds that are likely to get themselves killed, regardless of how pretty they are, and their future productive capabilities are not entirely obvious most likely.

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I think the variables you are considering are not independent. Younger male are more likely to get themselves killed *in the process of* gaining status. A very-high-status youngster (wealthy-heir type) should not be more likely to get himself killed than a wealthy middle-age professional. So your argument would obviously be valid if the young male suitor is low-status + seeking to gain higher status, but then you assume that the female status "compass" is broken in the first place: evolution should nudge her towards the older, higher-status male. If you reject that hypothesis, then you are not really solving for the problem of parent-offspring best-suitor-selection-algo misalignment. Unless I am missing something in your argument.

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Sorry, I should have specified that I was thinking in terms of the hunter/gatherer tribal group, where wealthy-heir wasn't really a type, outside of maybe "current chieftain's sons." Otherwise, most young males should almost by definition be low status, as they have not had time to climb whatever hierarchy exists and are just out of the "child that does what adults tell them" phase.

Now, a younger male who was already one of the best hunters in the tribe, the fastest or strongest etc. might get to be higher status very quickly and thus be the optimal mate, but there are only going to be a few of those around at any given time relative to the number of young females looking for a mate. It doesn't require a broken compass for genetics to push females towards "First, get young, strong and high status. Then young and strong and maybe will get high status. Then older and high status, even though he probably has other offspring or even other wives that might be a higher priority." Note that part of that decision process is an estimate of what someone's future status is likely to be, which is a function of mental acuity and social experience, i.e. maturity. Parents who have lived through the process and seen what sort of young men are more or less likely to become high status and what sort are more or less likely to become dead are likely to come to different conclusions on that point than youngsters, even if their underlying decision process is the same. If the chieftain's son is an option, parents are going to be thrilled. If the young Adonis who is rapidly becoming the most respected hunter in the tribe is an option, great. If it comes down to a choice between a pretty decent kid who is maybe a little too rebellious and likely to get himself offed and an older widower who has a solid foundation in the tribe, the parents are going to go for the latter while the daughter has less frame of reference for judging the situation and might want the young guy. If she had all the experience her parents had she would probably come to the same decision, but genes don't necessarily help you predict who is going to be high status better than experience does.

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I understand your point much better, thanks for the clarification!

It makes sense. But maybe the underlying algorithm might even be more of a risk-management aspect than ordered preference then.

Going for the young promising suitor is higher risk (risk of violent death, more female competition, risk of failing to reach potential) and higher reward (longer compounding, resource exclusivity (at least for a time)(. Going for the older established suitor is lower risk (proven track record), but lower reward as well (shorter resource-providing timeframe, potential resource-sharing with older offsprings).

That would imply that parents behave more risk-averse than their daughters, which seems counter-intuitive. Evolutionary speaking, they should push their sons to be more risk-seeking than they would because of the extreme skewness of male evolutionary fitness and risk-averaging as parents having/expecting other offsprings. But for daughters, I cannot see a clear reason for parents and daughter to have diverging risk appetite. Do you?

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Oh, very much yes on the diverging risk appetite. Part is based on appetite, part is based on incorrect estimates of risk, but we should expect a divergence.

You mention the risk of violent death when it comes to the young suitor, but that is a bigger issue than you might be considering. What is the status of a women with a kid or two whose husband just died? Does she go back to her parents and put the burden of upkeep back on that household, or is she on her own? If one of her parents has died, especially the father, is going back for support even an option, or does your remaining parent need your support? What is the status of her kids if their father dies? Can they advance without a father's clout?

The risk of having your spouse die before your kids are of age weighed against a somewhat longer life and no complications of other kids is probably a very "winning is a bit better, losing is super bad" kind of situation. Successful gamblers generally don't bet it all on one hand, and this is possibly a big gamble. Notably it is possibly a bigger gamble for the parents if they have to take the daughter back into the family with her kids, support them and then find another suitor, while possibly having other kids to support and marry off. So more downside risk for the woman, lots more for the parents, and importantly not that much more benefit for the parents of a longer compounding time; they aren't going to be around to see the last 10-15 years of their kid's life, and besides, you have children to support you in your old age, not the other way around.

Parents are also absolutely more risk adverse than their teenage kids. That's sort of universal. Part of that is just understanding the risks better. Young people generally have a firm belief that they will never die, and neither will their true love. Thus they will far underweight the risk of early death.

At just a genetic level, a male spreading lots of wild oats is a slight benefit, and if his success requires some risk of getting killed parents are going to be less worried. With females, well they are the limiting factor in how many babies a group can have, and require lots of resources and protection during that process. Parents are always going to be much more cautious with that, if only to prevent their daughters getting knocked up without a male to help raise the children. So long as the daughter has someone to help support her and raise the kids, it is sort of a wash, but from the parent's perspective the difference between the father supporting the kids and their supporting the kids is a big one.

There is also the question of the value to the parents (and their other offspring) of having their daughter marry someone who is already higher status, just in terms of social alliances etc. Someone who might become higher status 5-10 years from now is a big gamble compared to high status that helps out now. One in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say.

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I *think* your ideas of life a million years ago are oversimplified, or just wrong. Evolution sometimes drives body sizes smaller. Specialists were making fancy tools a million years ago. Etc.

Also, whether conscientiousness is a better predictor of status depends on how the money is earned. Various grifts depend heavily of attractive appearance and smooth patter. Think of many salesmen and corporate spokesmen.

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"I *think* your ideas of life a million years ago are oversimplified, or just wrong." - could you expand?

"Evolution sometimes drives body sizes smaller." - of course, in other species, or for humans in case of resource scarcity. But generally speaking bigger/stronger men (at roughly equal intelligence) had a higher evolutionary fitness.

"Specialists were making fancy tools a million years ago." - Ok, can you explicit your argument?

"Also, whether conscientiousness is a better predictor of status depends on how the money is earned." - Sure, but high conscientiousness is a strong predictor of success *across* the board. Even artistic geniuses have to put the hours in.

"Various grifts depend heavily of attractive appearance and smooth patter." - I don't understand that sentence.

"Think of many salesmen and corporate spokesmen." - B2B sales people need *a lot* more than looks for success. I have been a decision-maker on quite a few large B2B contracts, and I can assure you that pretty but incompetent sales people have a 0% closure rate. Again, at equal competence, looks always help, but unless you go into very very shallow jobs, a strong competence foundation is required at the top. Even actors for whom physical appearance is a must have typically gone through a lot of hard work and rejection before succeeding.

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Yes, evolution is driven by many different forces, often in contradictory directions and simultaneously. Big was often an advantage, but not always. The robustus lines tended to die out more frequently than the gracile lines. (Of course, there were more instances of the gracile lines, as smaller animals tend to be more numerous than the larger ones. This is as true among the hominids as among the other groups.)

I'm not sure of the exact time period but there was a woman potter back then who had a paralyzed side of her face, and did a self portrait (in clay). I can't turn up a link right now, but it was in Science News or New Scientist a decade or so ago. She was rather elderly. There many places where "tool factories" were in place. Sometimes the tools were exported (i.e. they were traded until they ended up a long distance from the place they were made.) There was an amber route that may have stretched from Denmark to Southeast Asia (or it may have been a more complex kind of trading, but the merchandise moved). I've heard several different dates for that amber route. In the Americas obsidian from Yellowstone was traded all over the continent, but I haven't heard any real dating on that.

What's difficult about "Various grifts depend heavily of attractive appearance and smooth patter."? Never bought a used car from a smooth talking salesman?

When you restrict the conception to B2B sales people, I must admit I don't know that territory. You could be right. But that's only one small area, and there are other areas where physical appearance isn't the primary requirement. (And I never asserted it was the primary requirement, though in some lines it's quite important. Even in academic settings.)

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"The robustus lines tended to die out more frequently than the gracile lines." -> I imagine you are at least partially talking about Neandertal vs. Sapiens, but there was much more to it than sheer size. And Homo Sapiens average height went up over the past few 100k years.

"Never bought a used car from a smooth talking salesman?" -> Never, but more importanly the question reflects my concern with your line of thinking: you are cherry-picking examples rather than addressing the main point. To illustrate, of course you can cherry pick women that are much taller than individual men, but it does not change the fact that men are in average taller than women.

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sorry, i'm confused here. What's the difference between the 'stupid' explanation:

> parents are older and wiser than suitors, and so less hormonally obsessed with attractiveness.

and the new one:

> the suitors are working off one level of drive, and the parents another, in a way suggesting they’re genuinely separate.

You even end with an example here:

> the same reason why I might be tempted to overeat at the ice cream shop, but my parents can easily tell me “you should watch your weight” (while facing their own temptations themselves)

would a 10 year old in an ice cream shop with her friends have the same kind of wisdom? It looks to me like this post is actually redefining ancient virtues like wisdom and prudence, using modern understandings of optimization algorithms.

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The difference is that rather than parents being genetically predisposed towards selecting higher status mates (A), parents are clueless at a genetic level and instead have to wing it based on their heuristics (B)

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are they _clueless_ at the genetic level, or just _less influenced_ by those drives, vs. a model of cause and effect?

it seems to be a reasonable way of talking about wisdom: learning how to navigate with reason rather than just following drives

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The difference is that it's not about age. It's that it's easier to tell somebody else to resist their instincts than it is to resist your own instincts.

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> it's easier to tell somebody else to resist their instincts than it is to resist your own instincts.

it's true, but this suggests that tinkering with your notion of identity - say, by meditative exercises that help you identify desires as things that arise and fall - a pretty effective trick for acting more as a fitness maximizer rather than an adaption executor

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I toyed with the idea of being a fitness maximizer but it led to some pretty repugnant conclusions

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what were you trying to maximize the fitness of?

if you ~only~ identify with your genes, it gets ugly, sure - but if you identify with some memes of your culture, and your own personal name, then it changes in interesting ways

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That actually does seem like the sort of thing Trivers could more easily explain, and his theory of "genetic conflict" is tailored for a situation like this.

For those curious, I reviewed one of his books here:

https://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/2021/09/24/the-folly-of-fools/

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Succinct and accurate. Can "parental preference" really be distinguished from the preference of any observer whose goal is the wellbeing of the protagonist?

As a secondary point, the protagonist's potential mate has their own interests and may (consciously or unconsciously) be counterfeiting fitness signals. I'd expect an observer to be less susceptible to this than the protagonist.

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Counterfeiting fitness signals? You mean, like make-up? *ducks away*

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That's almost tautological. But more generally, physical attractiveness seems likely to be overweighted.

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Probably the important test is whether friends and siblings both give the same advice as parents (the hypothesis suggested by this post) or whether siblings give the same advice as parents while friends give the same as the individual (the gene selection suggestion) or whether friends and siblings give the same advice as the individual while parents are the odd ones out (the age explanation).

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Exactly.

It's not at all hard to imagine young peers encouraging each other to do stupid things that older adults say 'hey maybe don't drink until you vomit multiple nights a month'

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Link at start of section 3 is dead

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It could be that the fashion of it being religion that intelligence, grit, etc. etc. are all just environmental and not genetic is causing a lot of parents to say some very silly things about who are and are not good potential mates. It would be very taboo for a parent to say 'You shouldn't marry X because they're dumb and ugly and I don't want to have dumb and ugly grandkids'.

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I. When people want to have sex, they might pick a partner who is sexually attractive at the expense of other good life choices or personality. When parents are selecting partners, they are thinking in terms of marriage. Parents don't want their children sleeping with sexier people. This might be not relevant for the studies linked in Dynomight's post though.

II. We would expect the child to find someone they find attractive already. Attraction is somewhat idiosyncratic. It would be odd for a parent to step in and say "this person is insufficiently hot for you." It wouldn't be odd for them to criticize the person on a more straightforward criteria like "has a bad job, is mean, etc" that isn't so subjective. Only you know how attracted you feel to your partner. The parents are left guessing, and it would be odd to assume the child isn't attracted and the parents had to step in. Same would go for sexual performance.

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> When people want to have sex, they might pick a partner who is sexually attractive at the expense of other good life choices or personality. When parents are selecting partners, they are thinking in terms of marriage. Parents don't want their children sleeping with sexier people. This might be not relevant for the studies linked in Dynomight's post though.

The whole *point* of this post is asking *why* people are sexually attracted to people who their parents don't consider the optimal mate. People are attracted to people due to reasons that in significant part are ultimately a product of evolution, and presumably this is true for parents' judgements of potential mates for their offspring - they've both evolved to have a preference for fitness maximising mates. Why don't the judgements of potential mates between parents and children converge?

*Why* do people want to have sex with certain people? *Why* fundamentally are those people considered "attractive"? You're treating it like it's a meaningless, brute fact of people, but everything about our behavior and preferences has been significantly shaped by evolution. We find certain things attractive, fundamentally, because of evolution. Men having sex to young women with wide hips increases fitness, therefore men find these types of women attractive. Let's say that parents are good are picking partners for their children that maximise fitness. If these partners do in fact maximise fitness, the question is why aren't these types of people necessarily the most sexually attractive?

>It would be odd for a parent to step in and say "this person is insufficiently hot for you."

Says who? We're talking about evolution here - if doing this lead to better fitness, then we should expect it to have been selected for. Absolutely everything we do could be considered 'odd', but we evolved to do it so its not considered 'odd'.

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> the drive to protect children once you have them

I think there's lot lurking in this phrase. "Take care of the kids you have" is a powerful evolutionary-driven imperative. The main thing is, the 20-year-old doesn't _have any kids yet_. They are not yet subject to this imperative, while the parents are.

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You're right, I think there is a lot here. IMO, parents want their child to have a suitor with prospects, because they want their child's (and grandchild's) life to be easier. To me, this seems like "taking care of the kids you have" rather than evolutionary fitness for the grandchildren.

It's also worth contrasting the behavior of a 20-year-old, childless individual, and a 20-year-old single parent. My guess is that, while the former might choose a mate predominantly on the basis of attractiveness/beauty, the latter's preferences probably would lean towards providing for their existing children.

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That's an excellent point. While there are certainly single parents who continually chase the same sort of people that made them single parents in the first place, it does seem to hold that many are looking for a much more stable relationship partner than their previous choice(s), and are willing to trade a lot of physical attraction and romantic aspects for that. I have heard some variant of "I just want a good dad for my son" quite a few times. (Not directed at me to fill the role, of course.)

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But the whole point is precisely that this factor should be encoded in sexual preferences (and to a certain extent, it unambiguously is - women almost universally prefer wealthier/higher status men).

If half the females in a prehistoric human population were sexually attracted to men who were highly unlikely to protect and provide for their offspring, while the other half were attracted to men who were highly likely to be able to protect and provide, the genes of the former group should be expected to constitute a diminishing proportion of the toal gene pool with each successive generation.

Evolved factors do not primarily drive our behaviors by making us perform rational cost-benefit analysis on a given trade-off, they're more fundamentally going to be encoded in what we inexplicably find attractive in the first place.

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founding

I think humans have a generalized version of imprinting, like ducklings that imprint on the first animal they see after hatching, humans have a longish life stage of gaining data about the world and "learning" reactions to it that they thenceforth innately follow. This is not the same thing as reasoning about things from principles and data, but it's also not the same as having a specific built-in instinct.

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I’m not seeing why one needs any deep or difficult theoretical reasons for this phenomenon. It strikes me as the same reason why a third party has an easier time giving me good dietary advice than I might settle on myself. My biological hunger urge might lead me to over-value flavor and cause me to eat too much, whereas my parents (or whoever), who do not experience the visceral pleasure of my eating, can give me a more rational assessment of what my diet should look like. Similarly, if the desirability of a prospective marriage partner can be assessed through two (let’s pretend, to simplify) considerations, one of which is strongly driven by a biological urge, then one’s parents, who are not going to be tempted to over-value the component grounded in a strong biological impulse, will be positioned to offer more objective advice. I guess one could ask why there is a biological urge to overeat or to over-value the sex drive relative to more dispassionate criteria of value in a mate, but if we accept the common observation that most people do so, then the differing opinions of parents can be fully explained, it seems to me, by the fact that they are looking at the situation as third parties who are not experiencing the biological drive.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

Yeah I'm sure there's some nuance here, but I can't believe I'm three sections into the blog post and it hasn't mentioned the obvious reason:

The parents don't get to fuck the hot babe/studly stud. In a weird-ass world where they equally received that benefit, for some reason, then analyzing drift in preferences between the two would make more sense.

Even the kid will know it's a bad idea pretty often. People stay in shitty relationships with great sex all the time, man!

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The whole point is: why is that hot babe/stud "hot" at all in the first place?

We evolved to find certain things attractive. Those things are generally those that maximise fitness (in a particular enviornment). *If* parents are good at identifying which partners will maximise fitness, then why isn't there a total convergence in what people have evolved to find sexy and the partners which parents have identified as being fitness maxmising?

You're talking about sexual attraction as if it's some brute fact of nature, divorced from many thousands of years of selection pressure. Men aren't attracted to wide hips because "wide hips are just what is attractive, period". We evolved to have this preference because of its impact on reproductive fitness. If wide hips were worse for giving birth, then we should expect that we would have evolved to find them unattractive.

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The older I get, the more I dislike evolutionary psychology explanations for anything. We can all come up with convincing stories, but there is no reason to treat them as anything other than fiction.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

That's because, once you are out of the reproduction age, your genes are no longer selected to prefer this clearly superior argument ;-)

But on a more serious note, I agree that it's easy to make an evolutionary psychology argument, but very hard to prove ir refute. We can compare with other species, but it's really not clear at all how transferable those attributes are and which species is a good reference point.

On the other hand, we know that evolution is the process that instilled us this specific behavior, so if you can't come up with an evolutionary psychology argument, it's at least an indicator that something is off.

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Re: "we know that evolution is the process that instilled us this specific behavior" How do we know that? I don't even believe it is true.

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Because you are the end product of a line of organisms stretching back a billion years, who were successful at reproduction some billions of times in a row, roughly speaking. That is, from start to finish, the genes that make up *you* were the genes that successful reproduced themselves, one billion times in a row. What are the odds that a game of chance is run a billion times in a row, and we find an individual (in this case individual set of genes) that wins each and every game -- that throws a natural 7 a billion times in a row -- that this individual has *any* component of his behavior *not* exquisitely tuned to win the game? Pretty much zero to as many decimal places as you care to inspect. You are the poker player that won a billion hands in a row, there's no chance any aspect of your strategy at the table has not been tested, some time or other, and not been found to be optimal.

The problem with most arguments against the exquisite tuning of natural selection is that it fails to comprehend, at some basic level, how very long the selection has been going on, how extraordinarily many times the harrow has weeded out the faulty. As a species, we have existed for less than a million years, but we share most of our genome with species that have existed for much, much, longer. Our core genes have existed for most of the past billion years. They have been tested and refined so many times that *nothing* that does not produce an optimal result survived, it has all been pruned out long ago.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

"Because you are the end product of a line of organisms stretching back a billion years, who were successful at reproduction some billions of times in a row, roughly speaking."

So is everyone else (including ferrets) and yet we are scattered across a considerable range of behaviours. Whole distinct cultures and everything. People throwing themselves on hand-grenades to shield their unrelated comrades. Young Werther. The courtly love tradition. Hikikomori. Streaking across football pitches.

It seems that in my case evolution has tuned me in the direction of neuroplasticity and, yeah, adaptation-executing. My genes seem to predict my behaviour only in very broad terms, almost useless in the particular.

And sometimes I feel like a tuning fork myself.

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May 18, 2022·edited May 18, 2022

I suggest you are overly impressed with the range of human behavior. As well one horse talking to another in a field may marvel at the diversity in horsey behavior. "Why, Carl over there loves munching on clover, while I myself can't stand anything but the tall fescue. And notice how Marian uses only the molars on the left? Thank God the great Left Molar Right Molar conflict is now over, and we can live in peace with each other."

It's understandable, we are embedded in our own species, and every little variation is important to us, but I rather suspect an alien biologist might well summarize the entire gamut of what we do in a paragraph or two[1] if we shared the textbook with the full range of conceivable life forms.

-----------------

[1] "Mostly harmless."

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May 19, 2022·edited May 19, 2022

A damn sight better than just "harmless", at least.

Enjoyable rejoinder, but you've moved the goalposts. The question is not whether the variety of human behaviour is important in some species-independent sense but whether said variety exists and by dint of its existence demonstrates the limits of evolutionary fine-tuning. The Molar Schism would serve to show this just as well.

If anything, intelligence represents a terrific evolutionary hack allowing us to adapt to new or rapidly-changing fitness landscapes without having to laboriously sift allele ratios to do so. (This is weakly comparable to the evolution of the major histocompatibility complex, where there's selection in favour of maintaining a great variety of alleles as opposed to any specific individual ones.) To go back to Kaleberg's original assertion, it seems clear to me that plenty of human behaviours are not specifically instilled by evolution but instead enabled by an evolved, complex, somewhat fuzzy, behaviour generator.

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Re: all the poor genes having been pruned out—no, that’s obviously untrue upon reflection. There are still genes around that kill kids before they get out of infancy. Reproductive matters are no different; poor genes get through the sieve by chance all the time.

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There are genetic defects (like trisomy) that can severely impact children, and there are genes (like for sickle cell) that persist because they have other effects that are salutary, but if you can think of a single *normal* unmutated gene that has persisted for the past 100,000 years and which has nothing but evil effects, I'd be very interested to hear of it.

I think also you are confusing defects in DNA reproductionl, which produce brand-new mutant genes, with the pre-existing presence of evil genes. The former is what causes birth defects, not the latter.

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“Unmutated gene”? What do you even mean by this?

Anyway, no, there are plenty of very bad genes that do not arise as errors in replication. Cystic fibrosis.

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There is no exquisite tuning in evolution. That's a common fallacy.

The genes that reproduced only had to be about as good as the previous generation's for a large value of about. There's nothing that keeps fitness rising consistently and nothing to prevent it from falling as long as it works just well enough to stay in the game. My genes sure as hell haven't won a billion hands in a row. My genes just won a pot often enough not to lose all their chips. Also, that winning wasn't just about genes. They were also lucky that the chair never collapsed and the game never got raided which is a way of bringing up environmental factors and dumb luck.

Exquisite tuning is a common misperception about evolutionary theory. One of the big beefs people had with Darwin was that his theory wasn't about exquisite tuning. Things just had to be good enough, so it didn't matter if they were just as good or somewhat worse. One writer compared evolution to a telenovela and creationism to the Aeneid. In telenovelas stuff just keeps on happening. In the Aeneid everything is towards the eventual found of Rome. Arguments citing exquisite tuning often turn out to be about politics, not genetics.

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May 18, 2022·edited May 18, 2022

Sure there is. Competition. It's certainly true the earliest cat predators only had to be a smidge faster than the earliest ungulates, and maybe they both lumbered across the veldt at walking speed, but the prey adapted and willy-nilly the predator had to, and so now we have cheetahs and gazelles, which are both about as swift as their biomechanics allow. What you say is arguably reasonable when new niches are abruptly created or vanish -- let us say post-glaciation or Chixculub -- but these are narrow little bands of history and irrelevant to the point anyway.

The rest of this is a farrago of metaphor and assertion, neither of which leave me with more to say than that I disagree entirely, sorry.

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I regret to inform you that haemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis, polycystic kidney disease, achromatopsia, etc all exist.

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And this is relevant how?

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My reply was to Carl Pham above you, who was asserting that there's "zero to as many decimal places as you care to inspect" percent chance that any individual (as a set of genes) has been tuned non-optimally by evolution. These are examples of genetic problems that evolution has thus far failed to weed out.

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You're saying that when normal genes are mutated things go wrong? This is suprising, why? And what relevance does this have to my point?

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Then you do not believe in evolution.

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“We know that evolution is the process that instilled us this specific behavior”

We don’t know this unless you ascribe to evolution basically all possible human behavior, in which case your definition of evolution is so broad it might as well just be called nature or the universe or God. This is the problem with evo-psych. It’s the lock opened by any key.

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But... there is nothing except Evolution which can create new behaviors. I don't understand what you're saying. If these behaviors did not come from Evolution, where did they come from?

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Is there a reason you’re capitalizing evolution, as if it was an entity and not just a chain of accidents?

Anyhow, no, like I said, that’s far too broad. That’s like saying that we should understand everything through the lens of chemistry. We can call it chemistry psychology because everything is basically just fancy chemistry. (I recognize that some people actually do this, but it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.)

The fact is that most behavior is better and more simply explained by treating people as if they think and reason, and assuming that behaviors arise from their thoughts and feelings rather than the dead hand of ‘Evolution.’ If you assume that every behavior humans have today—boarding the F train, writing Der Holle Rache, farming strikes for a god roll sniper rifle in Destiny 2, planning the perfect bento box, putting atmospheric satellites in orbit, etc., is basically just noise caused by sexual selection in early primates, then you’re going to have an extremely reductive and trivial understanding of the meaning and nature of most human endeavors.

Which is fine. You are allowed to believe that, just like the chemistry people are allowed to believe their comfortable simplicities. “Why does the Mona Lisa smile? Dopamine. Why do I feel this terrible longing when I think of all the world and the things in it that I will never know or see? Dopamine. Why did my wife leave me? Dopamine.”

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May 19, 2022·edited May 19, 2022

I capitalized Evolution because Google speech to text capitalizes it, and while I'm willing to go back and correct certain typos, that's not one of them because Jesus Christ is it annoying

Also, that's not the mistake I'm talking about. All human behavior comes about from chemicals in the brain, but that doesn't mean that understanding human behavior through chemistry makes sense. Not because it's false but because it's too complex, you could spend your entire life trying to understand a single coherent thought at the level of the synapse spikes and you'd never figure it out in time. Just like trying to figure out the crazy connection between the selection pressure in the ancestral environment and girls starting to do 'wings' on their eyes with eye liner. (I might be a few years behind fashion.)

But I am seeing a lot of people who wouldn't object "the connection is so tortuously complicated that it's impossible to tease out information", but rather "there is no connection". People who are claiming that genes do not influence behavior, rather than claiming that the influence of genes upon behavior is computationally intractible and therefore not comprehensible or a particularly useful framework for understanding behavior.

It feels like exactly those misconceptions that EY wanted to clear up with the evolution sequence. And I remember having conversations on older SSC where that context was understood! I am disheartened to see we need to go back to linking the sequences at people to get back to the level we used to be at. It wasn't very fun lol. Linking people the sequences is probably almost as tedious as being linked the sequences and told to read them.

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The argument is a bit too close to 'god of the gaps'. It's computationally intractable only as far as considering every possible behavior goes. But you don't have to: evolution has levers to tweak specific signal strengths, cell type mixes, et cetera, that is: it tweaks ~propensities~ of our mental models. The issue is that propensities on a statistical scale turn into a set of common strategies/behaviors. Over time, these become common and institute selection factors for underlying propensities and vice versa. You can't just focus on the outlier behaviors and tell us we can't see the evolutionary process within those. There's an aggregate trend, just like going from a micro to macro scale in econ.

As for explaining human behavior through chemicals: see all psychoactive drugs and substances - if an effect on behavior can be achieved through some of those, it can be reached evolutionarily also but with a far greater degree of precision. Whether or not it's a valid construct, you can tweak pretty much every component of the OCEAN scale, so selection has to be doing just that.

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Well yeah. Evolution is broad. As an explanation it's superrior to "God did it" not just because it's less broad as evolution can only explain the behaviour of self replicators with specific parameters instead of any possible physical phenomena, but because we have a pretty good gear-level understanding of how exactly evolution works, while the will of God is a black box.

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Funny, it seems to me that despite your protest that an evolutionary explanation is more predictable and understood, that the objection of many people to evo psych is that it provides an elementary justification for literally any mechanism whereby we can arrive at what we see. “Uh… we must do that because… it was a fitness advantage. Or, maybe, it’s a leftover bit that used to be a fitness advantage but isn’t. Or, it’s a conspicuously anti-fitness waste of resources that demonstrates that you’re so fit you don’t need to be efficient!” At least with “God did it” you’re being honest with yourself that you’re not introducing any new information into your science.

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The kind of honesty you get from "God did it" explanations is overvalued in my opinion. It's like doing a stupid mistake while being fully aware that you are doing a stupid mistake, yet continuing to do it, nevertheless. The whole point of noticing your mistakes isn't getting virtue points for awareness, it's correcting them and doing less stupid mistakes instead, even at a risk of not knowing anymore what kind of mistakes your are doing now.

I agree that a layman with a glimpse of evolution methodology can use it to create explanations for nearly anything. Here should be a link to an xkcd comics of evolutional explanation of gravity, but I can't find it for some reason. That's why you should be carefull with such things. Experts of the field who can do the math right, generate postdictions and falsify them are less at risk here, because they understand the actual constraints which are not clear for you and me.

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I agree with you except that I don’t see any more substance in the explanations of evo-psych experts than the explanations of laymen. I mean, how can one even become an expert in evo-psych when one cannot reproduce, experiment with, or falsify one’s beliefs? There quite literally is no math to do. So much for rigorous empiricism, and without that, science is just a fancy word for sophistry.

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How about before being mindlessly dismissive, you make even a token effort to understand the field?

Maybe you have, I don't know, but the way you're talking is perfectly identical to the way people with no understanding of the field do.

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The mate seeker uses system I heuristics, because that's what gets us excited. The parents use system II, because they don’t actually have to have sex with their new in-law. System I has not yet had time to catch up to the cultural factors that affect potential parenthood.

This is the old tension/dialectic between instinctive urges adapted gradually to hunter gatherer contexts and bourgeois values that make sense in cities.

"Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within the different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e. of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once."

Hayek, The Fatal Conceit

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Could there be a certain instinct to avoid incest here? I mean, maybe there's theoretically a way for parents to be drawn to exactly the same traits that correlate to sexual attractiveness without it feeling like sexual attraction but I'm having trouble imagining it. If a daughter brings home a suitor and the mother says, "Ooh, super hot!" you can see how this could create problems down the road that are even bigger than those created by the usual disagreements.

There's also the issue of who experiences the benefits and the downsides of the different types more. The parents don't get to enjoy having sex with the hot person, but they do have to deal with the aftermath of the hot person wandering around because everyone else thinks they're hot too. On the other hand, older folks are often in a more vulnerable position if crops fail/the house forecloses/somebody gets cancer or whatever, so they might end up benefiting more from having in-laws with means.

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Maybe incest isn't the right word so much "parents and children competing for the same partner. " It has been known to cause lots of intrafamily conflict, which is bad for the family's survival.

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While the "problems down the road" are a given in such cases, it's arguable whether /instinct/ is how they get avoided. The prohibition had to be explicitly coded, as far back as the books of the Torah. Leviticus prohibits father-in-law/daughter-in-law mating in 20:12 and mother-in-law/son-in-law mating in 20:14, both under penalty of death.

Over time such prohibitions turn into social norms, more than needing the actual draconian enforcement. And the prohibitions are justified in terms of the "problems down the road" that otherwise arise. But the fact that they needed to be codified as norms, runs counter to the concept of it being a "widespread instinct". There may be e.g. a prohibition against eating pork *because* most people's instinct would be to eat it - even if it wouldn't be a good idea in those times in that climate - whereas there is no prohibition against eating feces, which no-one who abides by their instincts would do anyway.

Those ancient cultural prohibitions therefore function as "amendments" to the things that the "built-in" human instincts do or do not (reliably) cover. They were assembled from wisdom and experience, to avoid the bad consequences that may arise from "merely following instincts". Meaning that if Leviticus 20:12 and 20:14 were written down, as they were, then human instinct was not something that could be relied upon to avoid such cases.

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founding

More directly, a daughter thinking "sex between me and Jack would be really hot, yay hot sex!", may result in the sort of sex that evolution would like to encourage. A *father* thinking "sex between my daughter and Jack would be really hot, yay hot sex!" requires that the father be inclined to think "sex involving my daughter and some heterosexual male could be really hot, yay hot sex!". Since the father is by definition a heterosexual male, and is in a position of influence and authority over the daughter, that could lead to some evolutionarily very suboptimal sex when the daughter enters her years of peak hotness.

So evolution is likely to discourage that whole line of thinking, whether father/daughter or mother/son and probably father/son and mother/daughter just to be safe. See Westermarck Effect. And with "yay hot sex!" off the table, parents wind up with only the boringly rational-economic criteria for mate selection.

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Throughout much of human history, and across the majority of hunter-gatherer societies, marriages were commonly arranged by parents or other kin. See Apostolou, M. (2007) 'Sexual selection under parental choice: The role of parents in the evolution of human mating' and Walker et al. (2011) 'Evolutionary History of Hunter-Gatherer Marriage Practices'. If you want to examine and theorize about the evolutionary history of human mate choice, and the role parental choice may have played, the dynamics across these societies are probably good places to start.

See also Chagnon et al. (2017) 'Cross-cousin marriage among the Yanomamö shows evidence of parent–offspring conflict and mate competition between brothers'.

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It’s about hot vs cute. Do you want the best looking guy you can get or the one most likely to stick around?

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Yeah, there is that.

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Maybe this is just what all the mesa-optimizer stuff means, but it seems like the simple explanation is that while we have a hormonal desire to reproduce, that's actually not our main behavioral goal.

When parents (or friends) advise use on relationships, they're thinking largely all the non-reproductive things we care about: a stable relationship with someone who you enjoy spending time with, who you can have a good standard of living with, etc, etc. Stuff we value, but are sometimes too "blinded by hormones" to see.

Suggesting that parents are doing 4D chess maneuvers to calculate/approximate the maximal yield for all their descendants just seems too to put too high of a premium on the raw evolutionary drive to me.

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Okay, taking your logic to be correct - why are parents doing that? Why didn't they evolve to be more fitness maxmising?

But in reality, how do you not see that a "stable relationship" is *precisely* the kind of thing that IS fitness maxmising? Stable relationships is how you be confident that your children/grandchildren will be protected for/provided for.

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There might be a very simple theory to explain suitors and parents' differences of preferences: Parents are old and their sex drive are dry. So their main consideration process is rational. Suitors are young and full of hormone and naturally get more influence from apparent characteristics.

The test case for this is to compare young parents/ or parents with substantial sex drive versus old and dry parents. Who would give more preference toward your in-law being hot? My experience point to quite a correlation. Sex-craze parent and uncle want me to marry the hot one and vice versa.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

As a (relatively) young man with flowing hormones, I behave much more like a parent when I'm giving friends advice/judging their partners for suitability. Meanwhile, I can't follow my own advice in my dating life because irrational, hormone fueled urges are actually calling the shots.

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Cart before the horse. The level of hormones is *the result of* natural selection optimizing behavior. Hormones don't peak in adolescence randomly, the *design* is for them to peak at that time, because the behavior that causes is optimal for some reason or other. Similarly, hormones do not decrease with age randomly, but by design, because for some reason or other it is better for the influence of hormones to wane as one gets older.

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But why isn't there a convergence between these two things? Why aren't fitness maximizing traits precisely those that are the most sexually attractive? Sexual attraction is a matter of evolved preferences. There's nothing inherently "good looking" or "bad looking" about somebody, its all a product of preferences.

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I think we could make sense of this problem with life history theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_history_theory)

A fast life strategy is one that is dangerous and results in high quantity, low quality offspring. Think of men having unprotected sex with random partners, and then abandoning their children to have the mother take care of them. Maybe some of the children won't turn out so well, but you make up for it in quantity. Slow life is the opposite: get married and invest heavily in a small # of children.

We know that people who grow up with single parents, parental neglect, or in a stressful environment, tend to adopt fast life strategies. Children in these environments actually go through puberty earlier, and are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors (i.e. fast life strategy). This may make sense evolutionarily - if there is social instability, have children ASAP with someone good looking, rather than investing for the long term. [https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/press-centre/science-press-releases/28-10-20]

So probably if you have parents around who you have a good relationship with, who can actually influence your mate choice, you're more likely to be in a world conducive to slow life strategy. Your parents already primed you for that strategy during your childhood by staying together and investing heavily in you and creating a safe environment for you, which literally will cause puberty to trigger later, and likely result in you focusing more on long term vs short term mating. Whatever social maneuvering they engage in when you are in adulthood is just a continuation of that phenomenon

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Simple alternative rat framed explanation: both parents and children are status maximizers. How does the child maximize their status through mate choice? A partner who's highest status in their milieu, i.e. the sexy romantic one, who their friends will be like "good catch". Otoh, have you heard how parents talk about their children to other parents? Never "their spouse is so sexy" but "my kid married a lawyer/doctor/etc." The bride as business owner's daughter makes this even more straightforward.

I think the really interesting or challenging question is why people ascribe status in these differential ways, among different milieus. Like, there's no reason someone's dad couldn't be like "your wife is hot! Good choice son" and equally why a husband couldn't be like "I think it's so sexy that you're a doctor". Seems like a combination of some deep cultural ideas relating to stages of life and taboos on interaction with in-laws (apparently different cultures have different bans on the sort of in-law relationships that people can have, like maybe mothers are prohibited from speaking with their son-in-laws... I think Freud discusses this in Totem and Taboo). And also, for a cynical TLP take, marketing works.

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"Like, there's no reason someone's dad couldn't be like "your wife is hot! Good choice son" and equally why a husband couldn't be like "I think it's so sexy that you're a doctor".

I think people might find it a little unsettling if the father was ogling the daughter-in-law, that's introducing an element of sexual competitiveness that is positively Freudian (and I can attest to one case from previous job where guy and gal are living together and have a kid -out of wedlock of course, boyfriend goes to jail - because of course this is the level we're at, girlfriend then shacks up with his father and has baby by *him*, fun and frolics ensue when boyfriend gets out of jail and finds out what happened).

All in all, generally better if Dad is not going "You sure scored a hot piece of ass, kid!" 😁

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Oh, I completely agree it's not a good thing, and that there's Reasons it tends not to happen, but "why" remains an interesting question! Also what a wild anecdote...

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

I tell you, working in social housing was An Education 😀 I'm really glad to be working now as admin support in childcare and special/additional needs centres, much less drama! There's really not a whole heap of trouble that two to five year olds can get up to, by comparison! Johnny bites Stevie? We have A Policy to deal with that. Janie has a meltdown? We can cope with that. Billy does not play nicely? We have an entire protocol to deal with it. Way easier to cope with the minor problems of small kids!

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Is there a sex-drive-adaption and another wanna-have-(more)-kids-drive? - I wonder, but I'd say: "No. probably not. But then ...": a) I (male) like the sex-thing and I like the kids-thing (going for the fifth now - envying Dshingis and Ziona https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziona ) - and it is not "social-pressure", nope. If anything, more than 2 kids is a minus in my country, in my circles - and even grandma said: Enough, now, isn't it! - So, why I had no vasectomy, yet?!? - b) I know one relative that was not much into sex, but into kids and had 4. Maybe there are more? - Maybe it is more an adaption as in "A fertile landscape with prey/water/shelter is good to be in" thus: we feel good when wwe look at one, so we buy a "beautiful landscape painting with deers"? And mammals evolved to feel good about having kids around them? But then: why "Hotels for Singles"/"burnt-out teachers"/and: Please, get the kids out of here! - Anyway, great SA as SAS always does and an appreciated shout-out for a fine text by dynomight. And agreed: dyno's question is solved by the ice-cream/donut analogy. - Can I have a fifth? As a moron, I qualify!

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I think the parents' motivation is to be explained at the cultural level. They would like respectability etc. No need for an evopsych explanation.

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Yes. Well, it’s still evopsych, but human psychology is subject to two separate evolutionary tracks: innate behavior that is influenced by biological evolution, and learned behavior that is influenced by cultural evolution.

Biological evolution is still struggling to catch up with the advent of civilization, but cultural evolution has got its back. And cultures where parents meddle in their children’s marriage decisions are (presumably/apparently) more successful than cultures where parents let their kids make bad life decisions because they are horny.

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But I think you and OP and Scott are all assuming that the parents' extra interest in success is adaptive (culturally). Not everything is adaptive.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

True, but… why wouldn’t it be adaptive? Especially in modern times, where sickly kids can get antibiotics and women with bad ovaries / narrow hips / small breasts can get fertility treatments / C-sections / infant formula. Picking a successful mate seems like a better strategy for having reproductively-successful descendants than picking a “healthy” mate does. Biological evolution can’t move fast enough to adjust our preferences for that but cultural evolution can.

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Okay, but WHY do they want respectability?

People reject 'evo psych' out of hand, but then just take it as a given that people have certain preferences and drives. Where do you think any of this comes from in the first place?

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I don't reject evopsych at all. But just-so stories are the best-known failure mode around.

In this case, both parents and children want respectability as a type of status, which is a drive everyone accepts. The thing we're explaining is the difference in emphasis between the two, assuming it's real. But having a beatiful daughter-in-law gets little status. That should be enough of an explanation, shouldn't it?

Also, young people have an antagonistic drive towards disrespectability - maybe because iconoclasm is a part of future leadership, or something, but if this is itself a just-so story then substitute your preferred explanation for this part - and so again, it explains the difference in emphasis between parents and children on beauty versus status.

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On this:

"An average Indian mother isn’t going to know about which physical features predict healthy pregnancies or which very minor skin imperfections signal poor immune function, but she is going to know that potential son-in-law X makes $20,000 a year more than potential son-in-law Y."

My question is how age fits into it (imagining a man trying to marry a woman). In the standard instincts vs reason story, I would think that the woman being young fits on both sides. Instincts to the extent people find younger people to be hotter; reason because a younger woman has more time to have more kids, and less chance of special needs kids. And yet my sense is that wanting to marry someone significantly younger is seen as typical instinct-over-reason behavior. And unlike really subtle looks-related indicators of fitness, like hips-to-waist ratio or facial symmetry, age is just a single number and anyone can understand the implications.

Another question is preference for in-group spouses. I.e. the group-X parents who want their children to marry people within group X. I'm not sure how that fits in with all this.

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Is the sperm bank such a good strategy? The more people adopt it, the less successful it will be.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

Sperm banks normally have a limit on how many children a single donor is allowed to have, it's usually a rather low limit, I think five or so? So if you play by the rules, that strategy won't get you a lot more kids than if you were to start a family in the old-fashioned way. (Although of course you can do both, so you can think of your extra offspring conceived via the sperm bank as a "free bonus".)

There have been multiple cases though where fertility doctors secretly used their own sperm instead of the donor sperm (or instead of the sperm of the male half of the couple trying to conceive) and sired hundreds of kids that way.

"Being in a position where you can secretly impregnate hundreds of women while they think they're getting someone else's sperm" is not an opportunity which many people will ever find themselves in; it certainly isn't something which evolution would have specifically programmed us for. But apparently, among the few people who do find themselves in that position, the temptation is there.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

The sperm bank is not a good strategy because there is more to passing on one's nature than just the DNA. Or more precisely, the genes encode in the parent certain rearing behaviors that improve the fitness of the offspring more than mere possession of the DNA does. Consider it a variant of the green beard effect.

That's why all animals do not simply compete for maximum possible fertility, some kind of fish or housefly strategy of laying as many fertile eggs as is metabolically possible in a lifetime (which is what the sperm bank strategy is).

It's said that a chicken is just an eggs way of making another egg, but it has to be remembered that eggs (or rather the DNA) has ways of designing the chicken that are considerably more sophisticated (especially in a higher species) than encoding the instinct to "make as many eggs as possible as quickly as possible." That's *one* strategy, but it's pretty rarely chosen, I think only insects and fish do it. Most other "eggs" design "chickens" with considerably more sophisticated strategies. One assumes they do so because they are more successful ultimately.

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I think it is that parents in societies with socioeconomic stratification like our own are more aware of the costs of raising children such that they can maintain or gain status. We did not evolve have an innate understanding of high real estate costs, for example. Thus parents are more likely to encourage their children to find high status mates and more likely to value status in prospective mates for their children than other desirable characteristics such as attractiveness.

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Evolution says nothing about optimizing. If something is going to get carried to the next generation it only has to work just well enough. It does not have to be optimal. Piss poor may be 100% adequate. If you are following a putative evolutionary argument and notice the word "optimize" or a synonym, odds are you are not following an evolutionary argument. Odds are you are following a philosophical or political argument. Philosophers and politicians love the idea of optimal. It gives them an excuse for torturing and murdering people.

As long as a characteristic doesn't preclude reproduction, it may be carried to future generations. This is despite the Biology 101 joke that sterility is inherited: if your parents didn't have any children, you won't have any children. Evolution may favor certain characteristics if they lead to better reproduction, but if you've ever played with asymmetric dice where A>B>C>A, then you'd know that what comes out ahead in one case might not come out ahead in another. There's an awful lot of contingency which is science talk for dumb luck.

Biologists used to correct people who said organism X evolved characteristic Y. That was a teleological statement, a statement about purpose, and it had no place in an evolutionary discussion. They'd remind people that organisms don't evolve, populations do. If characteristic Y has become more common in organism X, that might be because characteristic Y offers some reproductive advantage. Alternately, characteristic X might be something that just happened to appear when some other characteristic, e.g. characteristic Z appeared, and that characteristic led to increased reproductive success. (See spandrels.) Or, it might just be dumb luck.

P.S. There's a hilarious 1983 paper "Why Are Juveniles Smaller Than Their Parents?" offering evolutionary arguments for why younger organisms are smaller than older ones of their species. To Ellstrand's credit, he was trying to be funny. The punchline: "In particular, another juvenile character is even more widespread than JSS (juvenile's small size) and deserves some thoughtful attention, the fact that juveniles ALWAYS seem to be younger than their parents."

P.P.S. As for this discussion, a lot of people are confusing sex, love and romance here, and then they're mashing in "evolutionary" arguments. Holy, moly!

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"As for this discussion, a lot of people are confusing sex, love and romance here, and then they're mashing in "evolutionary" arguments. Holy, moly!"

Casting love and romance as methods of getting to breed (with recreational sex as a maladaptive variant of procreative sex, of course) is a way of taming love and romance, and shifting the discussion of those things under the streetlight of science. Such a move makes it theoretically possible to be objectively correct about love and romance, and that's a very seductive prospect.

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What's "good enough" in one generation won't be "good enough" later when a more advantageous allele is sweeping to fixation and the population is at the Malthusian limits.

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Absolutely right. Still, good enough at any given time is good enough.

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This is why we can think of evolution like an optimizing process. A better allele pops up, and it gets selected. Eventually you wind up with the best possible alleles for a trait.

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Best isn't the right word. It's just one that works. It doesn't even have to work well.

Optimization implies there is a goal. Evolution doesn't have a goal.

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Optimization refers to genomes that become progressively better at replicating themselves. The genes that were "good enough" the previous generation tend towards extinction over a long enough time range because they get outcompeted.

Of course evolution doesn't have a goal, but it's perfectly valid to talk about optimization in these terms.

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That's a retrospective analysis. Basically, you are arguing from the point of view that the current world as it exists is optimal. In that case, your argument is correct for some value of optimal. If the dinosaurs hadn't been wiped out by a meteor, they'd be arguing today that mammals were a failure because they carried their young internally rather than sensibly dumping them out in eggs.

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The "goal" is to maximize copies of your genes.

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If you are talking about an evolutionary goal: there are no evolutionary goals. That's like saying water wants to run downhill. Water doesn't want anything. It still runs downhill.

I assume you mean the plural "your". Individuals don't evolve. Populations evolve.

This discussion is about stated criteria for mate choice and the difference between those criteria among between making mate choices and those offering advice on mate choice. I have no idea of how evolutionary "goals" are related to this.

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>"Evolution says nothing about optimizing. If something is going to get carried to the next generation it only has to work just well enough. "

You're ignoring the fact taht different genes can get carried to the next generation to different extents, its a competitive process. And it's not just the next generation. Having kids who all die before giving birth means your line is snuffed out.

>"As long as a characteristic doesn't preclude reproduction, it may be carried to future generations. "

And yet, we are vastly different to our prehuman ancestors, and vastly more similar to each other than we are to our nearest evolutionary relatives. The idea that almost everything is getting carried forward to the next generation is plainly false, otherwise we wouldn't be humans, and humans wouldn't be so distinct from every other species.

>"Biologists used to correct people who said organism X evolved characteristic Y. That was a teleological statement, a statement about purpose, and it had no place in an evolutionary discussion. They'd remind people that organisms don't evolve, populations do. If characteristic Y has become more common in organism X, that might be because characteristic Y offers some reproductive advantage. Alternately, characteristic X might be something that just happened to appear when some other characteristic, e.g. characteristic Z appeared, and that characteristic led to increased reproductive success. (See spandrels.) Or, it might just be dumb luck."

Okay, SO WHAT?

Literally nobody here is saying what you're implying they're saying. We're exclusively talking about evolution on a population level. Literally nobody is saying an individual organism is evolivng whatever trait. We're talking about human beings as an entire species.

And yes, spandrels exist, again, so what? You can't just say "spandrels!" as the explanantion for any particular trait based purely on the fact that it would suit you to be a spandrel. Either millions of species become well adapted to their environment by sheet chance through untold billions of lucky dice rolls.....or the overwhelming majority of evolution of traits has not been spandrels.

You're literally just spamming entirely generic arguments because you have some ideological opposition to the heritability of behavior.

>"P.P.S. As for this discussion, a lot of people are confusing sex, love and romance here, and then they're mashing in "evolutionary" arguments. Holy, moly!"

Are you a creationist?

If not, then you are completely wrong to think that they're all separate. They're all evolved traits meant to maximally produce and raise children. There's absolutely ZERO basis for treating them as distinct from evolutionary considerations.

Unless you wish to imagine that love is something that not only evolved by random chance and ALSO that it helps enormously with pair bonding and child rearing, then there's no reason to think its not subject to the same slection pressures as everything else.

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I am having trouble penetrating your mysticism.

Sure, the next generation gets its genes from the previous generation, but what does that have to do with optimizing? It just has to do with being able to reproduce. Just because some genes will make it, only half from each parent thanks to the meosis lottery, and others won't doesn't mean there is some kind of competition between chromosomal pairs, and it definitely doesn't mean that the resulting gamete has better genes. It's a crap shoot. That's why genetic drift is the usual state of affairs.

How does the fact that we are "vastly different to our prehuman ancestors" refute that the likelihood that we may have all sorts of genes from our ancestors as long as those genes didn't preclude reproduction? Sorry, but as far as genes go, almost everything does get carried forward, especially since we are talking about populations. There isn't some massive winnowing every generation. All humans share huge chunks of genome with minor variations here and there. If they didn't they'd have a lot more trouble finding mates.

I just keep finding mystical statements. For example, if you think that sex, love and romance are separate things, then you are a creationist. That's really hard to figure out. Try: If you think courage, valor and bravery are the separate things, then you are a flat earther. Separate things can be related and intertwined, but if you want to understand things, it helps to separate them. Please, don't get started on a evolutionary optimization argument about courage, valor and bravery. It's too early in the morning.

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I think it is older / wiser and less hormones that explains the difference. I think the same individual would assess choices differently if they could go back in time and choose a spouse again. They would understand that lust is a passing phase and long term suitability is much more likely to lead to happiness.

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But then why have we not evolved to listen more to the old when we are young?

https://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/01/why_dont_the_yo.html

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Okay, then why haven't we evolved to have hormones that lead us to the "wiser" choices in the first place? That's the whole point of this post. Why haven't we evolved to lust after that which is (supposedly) best for us?

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022

I'm going to argue that the difference between "parents want different things than children, but can't distinguish between only have a single child vs. multiple" is not that unusual a distinction, nor should it b unexpected in evolutionary terms.

There are _lots_ of ways that humans change as they age behaviorally and otherwise. It is very easy to hijack/piggyback on those changes, but none of those changes have a way of telling if there is only a single offspring.

For example, the hormonal changes you mention a paragraph beforehand. Hormones change, and switch parents from valuing good genes to valuing good social standing. However, these hormonal changes mostly happen regardless of if you have one child or multiple children (or no children at all) so in order to get to that next level of fine grain thinking, you need to now invent a completely novel process, instead of just hitching onto an existing one. This is a _very_ non trivial distinction in evolutionary terms. Changing what an existing process does/borrowing it for a new use happens _all the time_. Inventing entirely novel processes almost never does.

-edit- I don't think this should really change your conclusion, I would agree that your final thought of "it's easier to make choices for someone else than yourself" is probably more likely, it just doesn't seem crazy to think that evolution could make exactly the level of distinction that you are skeptical of.

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All three papers referenced over at Dynomight are based on stated preference surveys. WTF! There's nothing about actual conflicts over individual mate choice. People do not choose a set of criteria as a mate. They choose an individual. Try having sex with a bunch of criteria. So, how common is parent-child conflict over mate choice? I have no idea. Neither does Dynomight. In my circle such conflicts are quite rare. Most parents are relieved that their child has decided to "settle down" and maybe behave like an adult for bit. Now and then there is some drama, but while it makes for a good story, it is uncommon.

Also, no one is addressing the more relevant issue of family structure. The nuclear family is an anomaly. In many societies, one is expected to marry a cousin. Saudi Arabia is a great place for research on genetic defects thanks to this custom. There's an argument that western Christianity restructured the family with the council of Agde banning first cousin marriages. There's probably a pile of BS in there, but banning first cousin marriage does cut down on certain genetic problems.

Other important questions are: How tightly are children controlled by their parents? Where are they expected to live before and after marriage? How is property inherited? Can one obtain resources without parental approval? Those are cultural, not genetic. There are all sorts of structures, but no one is obviously superior. Maybe primogeniture made the British Empire what it was, but there are still an awful lot of people in France and China.

People in just about every society value romantic love, but in traditional societies long term relationships are supposed to be about sex, property and social status. That's why it is so often customary to have a spouse approved by the family and a lover on the side or, for men only, a wife and a concubine, that is, a wife whose children will not inherit. It's almost always about resources. In one society, women take two husbands. They say more sperm is better, though it's more likely about the other stuff that sperm providers can offer.

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I loved the article BUT

To me as beautiful the various routes taken trying to analyze what is actually going on be it reptilian or complex thought genetics, I would like to remind people that in the mid 1960s an MIT professor gave students a summer assignment to model vison (Summer Vision Program 1966). I think we are still waiting on that one.

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It's not just that I want the rich doctor to help my other grandkids. It's that I want my kid to not be dependent on me ever again.

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Well, it seems to me the thing you're missing here is that social and pseudo-social systems, both those humans invent and those nature invents, seem often to be designed to have conflicting drives and that this can be highly adaptive. Consider heirarchy among primates: what are the drives of the chimps not alpha? (1) Be obedient to the alpha, so he doesn't kill you, and (2) kill the alpha and take his place. *Both* drives operate, all the time, even though they point in radically different directions, because it is adaptive (for the primate tribe) to have that tension continually in play. When the alpha becomes old or fat and lazy, (2) gets stronger, and when the alpha is young and strong, (1) gets stronger, and both are highly adaptive for the tribe's survival, maximizing quality of leadership while minimizing unnecessary conflict.

So I would think it a priori not unlikely humans might evovle a system in which one component (the offspring) have a greater drive for markers for physical fitness, while the other component (the parents) have a greater drive for markers of social fitness. As you point out, *both* are adaptive -- but in what mixture? The correct answer to that would readily vary with individual circumstances, the situation of the tribe, et cetera.

One way for the system to arrive at an optimal answer is to have "agent advocates" who press for one priority or another, like competing lawyers fighting a case in court, who each argue their best case, with an end result that may end up better than if the competition is sorted out within one agent.

A good reason why dividing the agency like that might improve the outcome is that the parents, through their greater experience, are likely to have a better judgment as to the social fitness a potential mate represents. So having the parents represent *that* point of view makes good sense. But having them make the decision *entirely* probably *doesn't* make sense, for at least some of the reasons you outline (e.g. the parents' interests are not identical to the childs' even at a crude physical le