Evolutionary biology has always fascinated me. I have marveled at the ingenuity of evolutionists drawing up elegant theories, piecing together the most bizarre of observations with a string of sound reasoning. I guess the quality of making logical sense of the alien world we find ourselves in makes evolution appeal to me.
Recently, I read Jared Diamond’s “Why Sex is Fun?”, a short book (a series of essays really) about human sexuality and how it differs so radically from every other species we know of. His words and reasoning reminded me of Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” – particularly nostalgic where the spermatozoa and oocyte structural discrepency and Zahavis’ principle of handicap signals; however, the prose was much easier to read than Selfish. Evolution is much like astronomy / cosmology in a certain way – both instills humility in a manner no other subject can.
A word of caution: Please don’t read this book if you have a certain preconceived notion of reality and would feel enraged if someone dared question it.
As I was reading through the text, I couldn’t help but confront an inescapable truth: love is an unnecessary aberration. Outrageous and scandalous as it might seem, it is an inevitable fact that follows naturally from our physiology, behavior, and of course natural selection. What makes natural selection so damn powerful is the fact that it is a single idea grounded in the most mathematical sense and yet can virtually explain every weirdness in the animal kingdom. If you have many different colored balls in a basket and you specifically took out certain colored ones, then over time, those other colored balls will increase in number. Natural selection is not a philosophers’ imagination or a physicists’ hypothesis, it is a certainty so undeniably when one sees it.
What’s funny is the fact that selection happens at the genetic level, not at the organism level. We are mere containers of convenience for those innocuous dictators who have controlled us since before we were even us.
Why did monogamous matrimony evolved in human societies when it is virtually non-existent in other mammal species? It is “obvious” that post-copulation male desertion of the female and successive search for other females for impregnation must be the optimal behavior for the male to ensure maximum propagation of his genes and hence, natural selection must favour it. And indeed, that is observed in the majority of mammal species. Then, what about us? It turns out, things are more involved than they seem at first glance. The human child is a relatively weak and helpless creature unable to sustain itself on its own. Further, the energy demands, food, protection from predators makes it a taxing situation for the single mother and often, they fail to raise the child. The male, thus, faced a dilemma whether to leave the mother and go on his philandering adventures regardless of the fact that his child dies (which is not favored since making those sperms and the act of copulating takes time and energy) or stay with the mother, ensure nourishment and protection but foreclose his other opportunities to spread his genes. It turns out that in humans, natural selection favored monogamy. Note that I have simplified the discussion here. There are other factors and more nuances to be considered and so on.
Another curious development is concealed ovulation in females. Consider female baboon who visually advertise their estrus with reddened and swelled vaginal region. But apparently, human females themselves are in the dark about their fertile phase. Why did we differ? The argument is the book is involved but equally enthralling. Actually, concealed ovulation evolved as a way to deter murderous, competitive males from killing her offsprings (who represent half of her genetic material) if they know when females are fertile in a society that was predominantly promiscous or harem-based. But when concealed, a male has to make love to her often in hopes of actually mating with her when it matters. This prevents them to be hostile to her and her kids (who an outside male sees as competition to his genes and resources) in her “dispensable” days. But afterwards when societies developed monogamy, she began using her new feature as a mean of securing a “good caveman” – monogamous, loyal, responsible who brought resources and protection for the child because he must be invested in her if he ever hopes to have a child with her.
We can comfortable chip in the bizarre practise of recreational sex here too. Other species have a narrow time to mate, not so with us. Females are sexually receptive almost through the cycle. Why? At first glance, it seems counter-productive that selection will favour an activity that is clearly a huge investment of time and energy and leaves parties vulnerable to enemies threat or starvation. But it’s the females being diplomatic. Wouldn’t it do the female good if she could ensured her husband had an incentive to stay at home and not go on his adulterous misgivings? Of course, she can keep him satisfied by offering him free sex!
This is, in fact, a normal situation in the circus of natural selection. A feature developed for one purpose might reverse, restructure even reinvent itself to some other purpose in time. Sexual strategies, like any other, evolve in response to ecological parameters and conditions. The only guiding principle for these genes is the question: How does an organism maximize its representation in the gene pool? Everything else is just details. Pretty cool way to empower females, eh?
We sit down to watch National Geographic and scowl at behaviors of other species completely oblivious to the fact that it is us who are an anomaly to them.
Where is the need for love?
The foregoing discussions were to give you a glimpse of the ruthless reasoning evolutionists employ. So, the question is: where is love in all this? Honestly, it was never meant to be. But the fact that we developed love, intimacy and a thousand more complex emotions is testimony to our superior cranial capaity. In the grand scheme of things as laid out by science (of which I have attempted to present a slice), there is no need for love songs, heartbreaks, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and poetry.
Now, before you begin to believe your author is a hard-core nihilist, let me tell you that we did find a need. Take the fact that you are reading this: probably on a webpage which was served to you via a web server. That sentence right there is remarkable in itself. We developed language, reading and writing. Arbitrary symbols scratched on paper can invoke emotions and thoughts. We ask questions. We developed science and learned how to apply it, giving birth to technology. We are powerful enough today to change our own genetic constitution (let that sink in) and have been changing the course of our planet for centuries since the Industrial Revolution. True, a couple hundred years of advances cannot rival the millions of years of instincts engrained in our genes. But we can afford to be counter-evolutionary. No other species can do that. We can love if we choose to.