May 2008

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« Ultimate One-Story House Plan Update and Ultimate Future City | Main | Beauty as God »



Shot men don't give up in a blue funk. There are those of us (and I put this in a politically correct genderless sense) who PREFER short men. We usually happen to be short ourselves and don't want to spend the rest of our lives with arms resting on our shoulders or heads s it may be. And Scott as funny as your blog is, the comment section is even funnier! I love to read what nonsense other people can make of your's addictive and I'm getting no work done! And it's your fault! And now I need to go take my medicine, no really, I do.


Sorry for being couple days late but...

There is an another explanation for preferring certain features in partners. One that I believe explains things a lot better than the "indications of good health"-explanation

The selfish-gene explanation. We just might have a gene that prefers longer people, it started randomly and there wasn't any drawback in it so evolution never killed it. It might have made the people who like long people a bit more agressive in getting a mate and so the gene has become more and more common in population. All the time this gene for making people like long people more has been mixed with genes for longer people. Luckily the positive feedback haven't led yet to ridiculous proportions like in the case of peacocks.

More about this gene centric view of evolution can be found in Richard Dawkins's book Selfish Gene.



If a you make a tricycle by humping a car, does that mean that tricycles can't reproduce, like mules?

Free William

Interesting post Scott, all this discussion of preferences presumes that free will exists... otherwise it is all irrelevent.

As for your question "If the unknowable exists, is that evidence of the unknowable?"

It is not really a useful question is it?


I really regret to mention this, but natural selection accounts for all that you're wondering about.

These characteristics are proxies for health, but effective proxies.

Rich T.

"But what if those preferences are just coincidences?"

Of course they are. People who don't understand evolution try to find a "reason" for everything that happens. But randomness is stronger.

"Bonus philosophical question: If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of God?"

It doesn't have to be. But it could be.


My ex and I were both tall, and I found lugging the giant babies around to be a challenge. (They've been advised to marry shorter people.) I always told myself the next one would be my height or shorter. I'm 5'8". I have dated shorter men, and it's not an issue I really consider. For me, it's always been all about compatibility. I tend to go for intellectuals or geeky types, because they are more interesting. (I loathe heavy drinkers and jock types, so there are not many valid contenders.)


I would have expected more comments mentioning dawkins ... in one of his books (probably the selfish gene) he mentions (I'm inventing this example because I don't remember his) that it is possible that in a population, a gene for long noses arises due to random mutations. If this happens, then a gene for attraction to long noses has an evolutionary advantage. Of course, if there is a gene for long noses, *and* a gene for attraction to long noses in the population, then everybody's going to end up with long noses. Nothing to do with beauty, fitness, or anything else. Just a random walk down mutation alley ...

John V

My hypothesis of evolution is that every creature acts with complete selfishness. For all we know, a species of three-legged ostriches appeared thousands of years ago, but no ostrich, including three-legged ones, found them to be attractive, and eventually that mutation died out. Perhaps the reason that sharks look the same now as they did millions of years ago is that sharks know what they like, and do not reproduce with sharks that do not look exactly as a shark should.

I firmly believe that evolution itself can evolve. I believe that human evolution has evolved past making changes to our physical appearance, at least in a major way. Future humans will not have more or less fingers or toes, future humans will not have oversized foreheads and purple skin. Humans will evolve from this point forward only within our minds. This will take longer than traditional evolution because the changes will be very subtle. Eventually, people will stop mating with people with certain mental traits and those mutations will die off. For example, perhaps in thousands of years, depression will die out simply because a majority of people would prefer to have babies with non-depressed people. The same can be said for people with extreme anger issues, alcoholism, people with multiple personalities, people who are suicidal, people who are Cub fans. Eventually, the human need to reproduce with that someone special will force un-attractive traits out of the gene pool.


"If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of God?"

Whether all animals with brains have an innate sense of beauty seems very difficult to prove. I don't think it's true but let's assume it *is* true. My answer is: no. Just because things (or in this case animals) have a specific nature does not provide any evidence for God.

If all creatures are made of cells, is that evidence for God?


Your line of reasoning and questioning greatly over-simplifies the evolutionary model. Yes it is fundamentally based on reproduction, but three real factors come out of this. The first is obviously reproduction, but this in turn creates a need for sustenance, and a need for security. So to properly understand behavior, you have to begin not just with reproduction as a motive, but the triumvirate of reproduction, sustenance, and security.

These three factors have been acknowledged in many lines of thinking including the political thought that founded the U.S., much of which comes from John Locke’s political theory that people need to be granted life (sustenance), liberty (reproduction), and property (security) to be content. Of course Kierkegaard made similar conclusions prior to Locke, and Thomas Jefferson borrowed this from Locke for our Declaration of Independence, but was edited to replace property with "the pursuit of Happiness" because power to the people should only go so far. Of course this one edit has resulted in a country full of people suffering from depression because while they can pursuit it, most of them never seem to get it, because security was taken away (and soon social security).

Reproduction cannot be equated to sex. And this is what confuses many people. We must think of this as the ability or potential to reproduce. This is why the other factors become important, because they can make up the difference. In modern terms for example, we can exchange health with security. This is why women are willing to date ugly guys with nice cars and vice versa. This has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of beauty, though there is a correlation.

The concept of beauty can be described as a result of how we create neural associations in our minds and the relationship of those associations with our biochemical ability to generate sensations of pain or pleasure. Your question: "If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of God?" deals with this pain-pleasure structure.

First, it cannot be stated that "all creatures with brains" have a notion of beauty. Also there is vagueness to the question. Does individual imply that individuals recognize the "same" or "absolute" concept of what is beautiful, or does it imply that each individual has a "unique" or "relative" concept of what is beautiful?

If you are talking in terms of absolute beauty, then, yes, that would give credence to the idea that there is some form of absolute knowledge in the universe, but not necessarily a god. This can easily be shown not to be the case by getting any two people and asking them for examples of what is beautiful. They might agree on some things, but not all things.

This leads to the relative perspective that all people form their own interpretations of beauty (based on complex pain-pleasure structures, or preferences, that take your whole life to form and never stop forming). From here there is no logical connection to any argument for the existence of a god.

So good health may be one influence for mating, but if you've been around the block, you will quickly find that it isn't the only factor. That's good news for humanity because we are constantly catching colds. Security, or a safe environment, and sustenance, or the ability to provide nourishment (air, water, food), are huge factors in mating. In my opinion, these factors tend to overshadow the individual health criteria.


Off topic: Looks like they can make small Stirling Engines too... using the heat from a CPU to drive a fan to cool the CPU... Brilliant!


"And anyway, the christian/jewish/muslim god can't exist. It's impossible for something to be all-knowing and all-powerful. If he is all-knowing, he knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen, including what he will do in the future, it means that he is not all-powerful, since he can't change his mind about what he will do in the future. If he can change his mind, then he isn't all-knowing. At best, beauty could be used as evidence for Buddha, Athena, or Spinoza's God (which is basically glorified atheism)."

Hey retard,
Buddha is a person, an actual real live person, why would he need beauty to prove that he exists? And why couldn't God just know that he is going to change his mind?

jerry w.

What I look for in a woman......

A pulse (not an absolute, but a preference), and a body temperature above ambient.

Simple, yet to the point for a change.


How do you figure that all creatures with brains have a sense of beauty? In nature its all about strength and fitness.

God is just a imaginary friend for adults.



The people that have preferences for healthy people are the ones who's offspring will have a higher survival rate. Over time people with these preferences will become a majority. That is logical and we call it evolution. It is selection of accidental characteristics that give you an edge on survival. Nothing mysterious about it.

And on the philosophical question:
That is at the most (I am being very generous now) a hint at the existence of a god. Nowhere near evidence.

Another question: is the fact that the bible (or the koran) contains passages that contradict themselves and passages that can be interpreted in different ways proof that these books were thought up by people and not by a higher creature? If I was a higher creature I would want my words to be unambiguous.


First, there's a false assumption here. We don't choose our mates based on beauty. If that were the case, we'd all be lining up to marry Elle McPherson (20 years ago), or Charlize Theron or Heidi Klum or Amber Valletta or Giselle Bundchen or one of the other women that Tom Brady has dated and/or impregnated. (Offtopic: Tom Brady, you are DA MAN!) We choose our mates based on a tradeoff of who is the most beautiful woman who we could actually get to date us in the real world, and who won't be repulsed by our poor personal hygiene, bad teeth, nose-picking habit, or whatever. (Not to mention that she must be someone we can actually meet through our social connections!)

All of life is this kind of compromise. Yes, I'd love to live at the beach, but instead I live in a decent suburb WHERE I CAN AFFORD A HOUSE.

So, if there is a "god," he must value compromise above all else, along with random chance. So perhaps the highest calling in live isn't being a priest, but being some kind of negotiator or mediator? My belief system, however, is that we should all aspire to be craps dealer; since life is actually a series of random chances (within a given set of constraints), then we should really all be worshipping a set of dice.


[Bonus philosophical question: If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of God?]

Only if beauty is truth and truth is beauty. If all creatures have an innate and individual sense of truth (or justice or whatever you call it) then that would seem a reasonable evidence of God. If there is truth what makes it true, unless there is a source of truth? All science, observation and reason becomes mere subjective conjecture unless there are underlying universal truths behind them.


"Bonus philosophical question: If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of God?"


"Bonus philosophical question: If all creatures with brains have an innate and individual sense of beauty, is that evidence of a cartoonist with too much spare time in his hands?"



Argh, you ended with a monkey dance question!


The problem resides in the fact that there are weirdos out there who want to screw their cars, some prefer chevys, some prefer fords. We assume that those people are freaks because the majority of people don't want to screw their cars.

Everyone has a difference of opinion as to what their perfect mate should be like, even if they are only small differences. However we are willing to settle on certain aspects for others. For example, if your mate is exceptionally attractive, you will settle for her even if they are a complete slob around the house. If your mate can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch but can't cook, you may be willing to settle. Not everyone finds Jessica Alba attractive, but she is close enough for a lot of guys, even without knowing her.

Now, if you ever had the chance to be with Jessica Alba and she sucked a golf ball through your garden hose for you, I could see where you would start believing in god. However, I believe since we all desire something different in mates, and we are willing to settle to ensure the human species, that it leads more to evolution. It also results in the current high divorce rate.


"Models and actresses are often too thin to appear as optimal baby-makers while still considered highly attractive." By who? I like my ladies curvy. I far prefer the fat slutty Britany to the teenage virgin whore. What, it's only me? Anyway she's not fat.

Alsadius had it right, the only men who prefer the stick thin anorexic fashion models are the gay fashion designers (who are entitled to be gay, but not to tell me what a good looking woman is). Although a lot of attractive women are thin(ish) - actually Debby Harry, Martina Navratilova, Christina Aguilera, Cher (on that battleship), Sheridan Smith, Nicole Kidman, Cheryl Tweedy, that red-head from Girls Aloud whose name I can't remember, Charlotte Church, Catherine Zeta Jones, Hattie Jacques.


"Studies show that....". hehehe...


Evidence that we have traits that cannot be explained in evolutionary terms is not the same as evidence for god. You can't prove one theory merely by discrediting another.

You could look at peoples sense of beauty and find evolutionary reasons for it. Maybe people like a beach because it indicates a variety of types of shelter, readily available fish and space to run if something attacks.

There are exceptions as you point out and this is probably true of other ideas of beauty as well. But that's nothing new, there are plenty of seemingly evolved responses which are maladaptive (Since you like to look at the odd psychology study look up the General Adaption Syndrome)


"The actresses/models/random anorexic chicks that are absurdly thin aren't attractive, they're appalling, and 98% of straight guys will agree with me on this.
Posted by: Alsadius "

But the women want to see them, not the men, and women think that "size 0" is "beautiful".


'course men can't get anything right, so they don't ask us...

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