Re: Gould, Science, Mistakes and .... {

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Sun, 18 Aug 1996 19:31:37 -0800

Bryant wrote:
> In article <>,
> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> wrote:
> >
> >As for whether this is sin or bad form, I don't think it is either. As
> >I said, Gould merely asked some interesting questions about what the data
> >really means.
> If that's all he had done, he wouldn't have so annoyed his peers with
> that essay.

The reason why he annoyed his peers is that he doesn't buy the adaptationist
gospel that these things appeared for a purely functional reason and continue
to exist for a purely functional reason. As I have pointed out before, it
undermines the justification behind a lot of academic research. Gould dares
to suggest that some things on our body have no function.

> Actually, he dismissed adaptationist hypotheses (complete
> with testable --and now tested and supported-- predictions) as
> "speculative" and sexist, and then presented "the real answer" without
> any testable predictions. At the least, hypocritical.
> He tested the /reasoning/ behind the responses. I think that is what you
are missing. Gould's beef is with the concept of "design in nature".

> >The fact that we experience pleasure through orgasm is
> >certainly documentable -- at very least for ourselves. But whether this
> >connotes /function/ because people are more willing to do sex because
> >it is fun, that question can be opened to challenge. I won't deny that
> >great sex makes reproduction a lot more fun, but you can also have orgasm
> >without reproduction.
> Evolutionarily, I think it's doubtful you could reproduce without a male
> orgasm occuring.

Where did I say that males could reproduce without orgasm? (Hmmmm, actually
with sperm banks, they can. Just takes a needle if the going is rough. And
men do turn to this if either the peer pressure or the desire to enjoy children
is strong.)

> But the fact that female orgasm is patterned in such a
> way as to retain sperm from healthier males, rendering it a fitness
> enhancer.

I can think of many means for reproduction to occur without the pleasureable
side effect sensations of orgasm.

Fitness enhancer: my willingness to buy this is whether you are willing
to agree that the evolution of a pleasureable orgasm is not part of a natural
design or not. The key word is design, implying intent. Whether the G word
you use is the Creationist's God or the sociobiologist's anthropomorphized
Gene, you are falling into the trap of design (which is not pure evolutionary
thinking) when you talk about function. I will happilly agree that there is
a /pattern/ that is formed by the effects of pleasureable orgasm, but to attribute
this to a will on the part of the gene is far-fetched.

> >If great-feeling sex yields more children, then I will concede to you
> >that there are going to be evolutionary and population repercussions.
> Quality is as important as quantity. Producing healthy children that are
> likely to survive is as (or more) vital as maximizing the number of
> embryos produced.

So what is the relevance of this statement? Aside from the fact that people
who are blessed with genes giving them pleasureable orgasms are likely to
produce children who also have pleasureable orgasms? I'll grant you, in
a society which does not believe in birth control, people who derive great
pleasure from their orgasms might well reproduce more often. Or they
might not....

Here's a hypothesis to test out: Suppose greater pleasure in orgasm leads to
those blessed with it to seek every opportunity they have to get it. A man's
problem might be easilly solved, but what about a woman's? Pregnancy (with
its attendant side effects) might be viewed by the individual as something best
avoided. (Morning sickness and pleasure don't mix.) The woman would then
seek to avoid sex for reproduction, concentrating instead on sex for pleasure.
(Unlike genes, people can have a method in their actions. It may not do what
they think it does, but it is still method.)

In fact, in many societies, we find a market for devices, folk remedies, and other
means for preventing pregnancy. Some of these are effective and some don't. The
fact is that culture (which is produced by thinking creatures) does make a few
kinks in the pattern.

> >But to say that it developed so that humans would have a better
> >evolutionary advantage, that sounds to me like you are giving the gene
> >a consciousness that I can't buy it has.
> There's no such implication. I fail to see how the selective retention
> of genes in a population which favor reproductive success of individuals
> through evolutionary time indicates genetic "consciousness."

OK, I will grant you that. Mind you, though, there is a fair literature
on sociobiology which speaks of "selfish" genes. I say that the genes
don't really care if they reproduce or not. Patterns, however, can emerge.
No pattern, though, is perfect because there are many things that can
affect it.

> Bryant



___ ___
/\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
/ /\_|_/\ \
/ / /\|/\ \ \
\ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
\ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
\/__|__\/ William Barrett