Re: The biological basis of the beauty meme

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Thu May 24 2001 - 12:53:15 MDT

> So there's no sociological basis for beauty (or in his reaction, for that
> matter)?
> Buzz

Hi Buzz,

There's a sociobiological basis for beauty, but no purely sociological basis
for it, because sociology derives from biology and is influenced by
environmental factors such as food, climate, geology, etc. The cascade of
interactions among molecular biological influences (including the effects of
shared psychoactive chemicals), social transactions, memetics, and
neurological changes resulting from cognitive imprinting (conditioning), make
complex adaptive systems (including humans) subject to evolutionary
developments determined by their entire past histories, especially their
genetic record. In short, one does not admire people because they are
beautiful; people are beautiful because one is genetically predisposed to
admire them.

"I have never seen such an ugly woman," says the Bushman, commenting on
stereotypical beautiful blonde in The Gods Must Be Crazy. Genetic
predisposition or cultural conditioning? Neither! It was a joke. The Bushman
was preoccupied with other matters and not feeling the least bit horny, that's
all. In real life people are attracted to what their genes determine, despite
heroic (or cowardly, depending on how you look at it) efforts to modify and
curtail this behavior. For example, religious fanatics have tried for
millennia to diminish (if not abolish) human sexuality. Some people (Marx and
Freud for instance) have constructed elaborate belief systems to transcend
what they consider biological determinism. IMO, a more practical approach
would transcend biology by genetic engineering (rather than by denying the
biological basis of moral and aesthetic preferences).

Mundane humans may find the borg repulsive not because of cultural training,
but because the borg has modified its genetic structure and content. Knowing
this allows us to avoid wasting time trying to convert congenital luddites.
It's not a question that yields to reason, because people believe what they
want to believe, which is what they're genetically predisposed to believe.
IOW, some of us are biologically programmed to want to transcend biology. Or
as Edward O. Wilson put it in Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, "Homo
sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural
selection, the force that made us.... Soon we must look deep within ourselves
and decide what we wish to become."

Building on the convergence of human biology with its artifacts, Ray Kurzweil
points out, "An evolutionary process accelerates because it builds on its own
means for further evolution. Humans have beaten evolution. We are creating
intelligent entities in considerably less time than it took the evolutionary
process that created us. Human intelligence--a product of evolution--has
transcended it. So, too, the intelligence that we are now creating in
computers will soon exceed the intelligence of its creators."

Emlyn <> uplifted the signal by summarizing:
"There's the intelligence augmentation approach, where we add things to our
heads to make ourselves smarter, and those things allow us to conceive more
mods to make which will make us smarter still, loop. Note that this could be
biotech/nanotech enhancements, resulting in a purely biological being,
rather than the traditional cyborg concept."

To which I'd add that the traditional cyborg concept doesn't remain
traditional for long when biotech accelerates biological evolution. I'm not
the first to envision a future in which nanobots (or suitable gene modifying
carriers) injected into a chimpanzee alter the 3% genetic material which
separates the hairy ape from the naked one, so that Mr. Hyde (the chimp)
morphs into Dr. Jekyll (the homo sap). Similarly, a super sapient cyborg could
evolve *overnight* from an ordinary human.

What's the difference whether posthumans emerge from biologically transformed
humans or from Kurzweillian machine intelligence? Either approach affords
ample opportunity to reinstate the heritage of genealogical memories and
social identities that some of us would like to preserve (and some of us would
like to discard). It seems to me those who'd like to jettison the cultural
baggage of the past have a slight advantage due to their willingness to try
something entirely new and physically different. But first we need to
understand in minute detail how our genes got us where we are. Otherwise we
may go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, causing irreparable damage along the way.
Furthermore, we have no evidence that the AI path leads anywhere that we can
follow. Hyper-accelerated bio-evolution, in contrast, simply takes a proven
methodology and speeds it up so that we remain incarnate, although out of
control (in the Kevin Kelly sense of "out of control" -- meaning that our
future selves will decide how we will evolve in the future). Or as one wag has
written, "Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the
hell happened."


Stay hungry,

--J. R.

Useless hypotheses:
 consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism

     Everything that can happen has already happened, not just once,
     but an infinite number of times, and will continue to do so forever.
     (Everything that can happen = more than anyone can imagine.)

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