Re: The Gathering Hypothesis

J. Moore (
Wed, 17 May 95 13:01:00 -0500

RA> >a "strawman argument"; a strawman argument is when you (either

RA> Sir, if you're going to be annoying in your tone, at least be
RA> correct. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd
RA> edition, copyright 1976, page 1204, and I quote:

RA> strawman
RA> 1) A bundle of straw made into the likeness
RA> of a man and often used as as a scarecrow.
RA> 2) A person who is set up as a cover or a
RA> front for a questionable enterprise.
RA> 3) An argument or opponent set up so as to
RA> be easily refuted or defeated.

RA> Therefore, as I meant it, a starting point for discussion, to be refuted
RA> by better argument (per definition #3).

I really didn't mean to insult you, but in fact a strawman isn't what
you put forth. Saying so is actually (as I meant it to be, BTW)
*supporting* you, since actually putting forth a strawman argument is an
extremely dishonest mode of argument, which, as I pointed out, was *not*
what you were doing. As a clarification of the definition of "strawman
arguement", here's the def from the FAQ:

Strawman Argument: (np) 1. Stating a misrepresented version of an
opponent's argument for the purpose of having an easier target to
knock down. A common, but deprecated, mode of argument.

As you can see, this is certainly *not* what you did, and as you can
also see, it's not something you *want* to do. So I was actually being
quite kind, I thought, in taking the time to correct your useage and
pointing out that you were *not* arguing dishonestly, which is what a
strawman argument is.

RA> An opponent's statement used out of context for the purpose of
RA> misrepresentation and derision isn't a strawman argument, it's a
RA> 'out of context' quote.
RA> If you can post a more current definition that doesn't support my
RA> usage and does your's, I'll post a retraction and apology.

RA> >you've replied to the other person's actual argument. This isn't what
RA> >you're doing; you're just throwing a idea into the pot. ;-)
RA> ^^^
RA> I urinate on your
RA> similey ;-).

You misspelled "simile", but in fact that's called a "smiley". ;-)
(Rarely have I met anyone who's quite so insulted by someone saying
they *weren't* arguing dishonestly.)

RA> >Point #2 is that although people so often want to find *a* reason for
RA> >something, it's usually *a number* of reasons that should be looked
RA> >for.

RA> I think not. One reason will suffice to create an attribute, there
RA> may well be other factors which add to its evolutionary success,
RA> but only after it initially appears.

But you were talking about a *behavior* (a mating display). *Behaviors*
do not *create* attributes. In the case of bipedalism (and probably
almost everything else in our evolution) no *one behavior* was likely to
be *the* behavior; rather there were undoubtedly a number of aspects of
behavior that contributed to it's common use and usefulness. In fact,
although your first sentence above disagrees with what I said, your
second sentence turns around and agrees with it. (Your second sentence
is correct.)

RA> >There are undoubtedly a number of reasons habitual bipedalism became
RA> the
RA> >hominid trademark. Among them are the sorts of things apes use
RA> >bipedalism for (displays, carrying, getting food from branches).

And these were some examples of some of those things.

RA> >Now to your suggestion: it isn't new. Nancy Tanner made this
RA> >suggestion in *On Becoming Human*

RA> > "Further, obvious visual cues such as a *bipedal* male's erect
RA> > penis could have attracted female attention and action."

RA> Are there any examples of penis visibility being important in the
RA> female's sexual selection for other species.

Male chimpanzees attract females' attentions by displaying their erect
penises. That aspects of the human male penis have been subject to
sexual selection by females (caution: parental guidance is suggested)
is evidenced by the fact that the human male penis is one helluva lot
thicker than that of apes.

RA> This would have to be a
RA> very powerful preference in humans, why wouldn't we still be using it?
RA> If women pad a bra, we would be wearing codpieces.

"We" did, if you want to go for that. I mean really, you are aware that
North American culture has tended to be quite puritanical, aren't you?
The fact that you know about codpieces suggests that you actually know
that *we* do this, some people in some times and some places. When we
talk about "we", we're talking about a very wide range of people,
places, and times. Granted, way too many people (anthro pros who should
know better) say "we" but seem only to talk about a small segment of

But of course the problem whenever we talk about modern people in regard
to evolutionary theory is that there are no people (and haven't been for
a long time) who are pre-cultural, even to the extent that chimps are.

RA> Penis visibility or
RA> length doesn't (ok, ok, to me! The ladies can post their own opinions)
RA> suggest any superior attributes.

We're not talking about "superior attributes" though; we're talking
about females seeing a male and thinking, "oh, he's am I".
Then they can put that valuable bit of information together with any
other thoughts they might have about him ("oh, he's so cute" or "I love
the way he picks lice off me" or "he's so good with the kids") just the
way other primates seem to do (see *Sex and Friendship in Baboons* by
Barbara B. Smuts, 1985, Aldine:NY).

RA> But there is a lot of evidence that
RA> height does. Of course, height coupled with a prefered mode of bipedal
RA> walk in the male sexual display, human versus chimp-like, could have
RA> acted to divide human from chimp. Would this idea fit in with the known
RA> timeline for human evolution?

Early hominids were not much different in height from chimps (and
presumably proto-chimps, although we've got practically no fossils
of *them*) when both are standing upright. And bipedalism is used
by chimps and gorillas during threat displays. This sort of deliberate
display was undoubtedly used by early bipedal hominids, both in
threat displays and sexual displays. So it doesn't seem especially
likely that the height differential was especially selected for by early
hominids. If it was, we might expect to find early hominids getting
taller earlier; instead that didn't happen till *Homo erectus* some 4-6
million years after divergence from the common ancestor. However,
sexual selection of bipedal males by females (but apparently not for
height) does seem likely. Habitual bipedalism would also make sexual
display an even more common part of life, even without deliberate,
conscious display by the male.

RA> Fine, not being a professional, or even as well read as you,
RA> I didn't know of her work. But, OTOH, that's why I posted the
RA> idea as I did, to LEARN what other thoughts there are on the
RA> approach.

No problem. You put forth an idea, a sensible idea, which was not a
distortion of another's argument, so it wasn't a "strawman", but rather
it was a sensible, thoughtful presentation of hypothesis. Then when I
pointed out that it was a sensible thought rather than a deliberate
distortion, you blasted me. ;-) That's life, eh?

The main thing that's important to remember is that, especially when we
look at bipedalism, a behavior that has many uses, and which in fact is
used for many purposes by other primates, looking for "the one reason"
doesn't make sense. A lot of people do this sort of thing, even
scientists who should know better (it's been called looking for a "prime
mover") but it ignores the way we, and other primates, use that ability
for a whole suite of purposes.

Jim Moore (

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