This blog first appeared on my Sentientist blog a few years back.
Since then, Geoffrey Miller, developed these ideas more and gave a talk on how sexually transmitted pathogens could influence behavior at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2016, check it out here.
Could sexually transmitted infections be trying to make you… sexier?
We have not yet begun to scratch the surface of how pathogens and other bugs can manipulate behavior. This is a major cost of infection that people rarely consider; our personalities are no doubt shaped in part by our current and past infections and our microbiome.
In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins speculates that sexually transmitted infections, in order to spread as far and wide as possible, could increase the libidos of their hosts.
I do not know of any direct evidence that sexually transmitted diseases increase the libido of sufferers, but I conjecture that it would be worth looking into. Certainly at least one alleged aphrodisiac, Spanish Fly, is said to work by inducing an itch . . . and making people itch is just the kind of thing viruses are good at.
(Dawkins 2006 pg. 247)
Recently I came across an amazing example of syphilis doing just that in Oliver Sacks’ “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” where a 90 year old woman who had a primary but suppressed syphilis infection tests positive for neurosyphilis in her spinal fluid: A bright woman of ninety, Natasha K., recently came to our clinic. Soon after her eighty-eighth birthday, she said, she noticed ‘a change’. What sort of change? we queried.
People often ask me for evolutionary psychology reading recommendations. Below see my seminar welcome email plus highlighted readings for the four topics, foundations of evolutionary psychology, sex and sex differences, emotions and mental health and morality.
I wrote this essay a few years ago for a futurist publication after I gave a talk about the future of in vitro meat – now smartly rebranded as clean meat.
Lately clean meat has been in the news because it’s making huge strides in development and market uptake. For example, chicken clean meat is now sold in Singapore. Chicken, an Israeli test kitchen, is feeding free clean meat to diners in exchange for feedback.
I strongly endorse clean meat- it seems the best way to reduce animal suffering available. But, I have always been concerned that our evolved disgust sensitivity to food, especially meat, might ipede its development and uptake. Some of the specifics of clean meat, like its production (e.g. fetal bovine serum) and price, are from 2015- but the core message about the costs of conventional meat production, the benefits of clean meat uptake, and the potential psychological obstacles are very relevant today. I also discuss clean meat in my recent animal ethics and evolutionary psychology chapter.
I’ve been married to Geoffrey Miller, just over a year. Our first anniversary was November 29th, 2020. In this first year we honeymooned in China, Indonesia and Singapore, locked down together, gave talks together, renovated and sold a house together and took a road trip from New Mexico to the East Coast where we are now. We figured out a lot about each other and how to live together.
This is first blog I’ll write about our wedding. We were inspired to share by our friends Eben Pagan and Annie Lala, who wanted their wedding to be “open source” and posted their extraordinary vows online.
Sex is consistently underrated as a driver of innovation. Yes, space exploration helped us develop the technology for things like cochlear implants, powdered (machine) lubricants and scratch resistant lenses. Lust has furthered the development of cash transfers, point-of-view filming and video chat. I predict that historians of the development of artificial intelligence are going to see sexual gratification as one of the phenomenon’s great motivators. Evolutionary psychology can give us insight into how sex robots are going to develop and the ramifications they’ll have on society.
Last month I had this discussion on free will versus determinism with Gena Gorlin, a clinical psychologist who expressed a great deal of skepticism about an evolutionary approach to clinical psychology and mental health in our conversation. I was reminded that, in the therapeutic community, an evolutionary perspective is often considered wrongheaded, counterproductive and offensive to human dignity.
Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is essential reading for anyone interested in how an evolutionary perspective improves our thinking about mental health. And skeptics will appreciate that it’s honest about stuff we really don’t understand.
I have a chapter coming out on animal ethics and evolutionary psychology for the third volume of the SAGE Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology edited by Todd Shackelford. This volume on applications of evolutionary psychology will cover a wide range of topics that are rarely tackled from this perspective, like artificial intelligence, climate change, dangerous driving behavior, incarceration, meditation and cyberwarfare.
Animal Ethics and Evolutionary Psychology (read the whole chapter here) attempts to untangle some of the evolutionary reasons why have such inconsistent attitudes towards animals. Below I quote parts of the chapter- for full references, check out the original.
In John’s April 21st blog he talks about 8 possible moral revolutions that could come out of this pandemic: hyperutilitarianism, the end of work, a renegotiated social contract, the new death of privacy, the uncertain fate of universalism and cosmopolitanism, a return of disgust based morality, an increase in concern about animal ethics and an increased concern with existential risk. In our conversation, John specified that moral revolutions don’t necessarily mean societies are becoming more progressive, moral or civilized; Moral revolutions can cut both ways.
Sudden progressive changes in moral ideals are pretty rare. When they do happen it’s because the change in morality conferred some status, reputational or economic benefit, or at least prevented punishment from a high status moral minority. Civil rights for Black people in America was a moral revolution and the acceptance of gay marriage, gay relationships and trans identity was a much faster American moral revolution. But, in part because meat eating is so normal and animals (especially farm animals hidden from view) are not generally capable of conferring a moral revolution for animals has really never taken off, as I describe in a forthcoming chapter (and I’ll be writing a few blogs on this chapter).
So, is Covid19 going to have an effect on morality? Here are my thoughts about the intersection of Covid19 and a popular idea in evolutionary psychology, the parasite stress theory. I conclude by discussing the possibility that Covid19 will change our susceptibility to existential risk. There are two follow up blogs, one on how Covid19 might change attitudes towards animals and another on how Covid19 might change our attitudes to government and work.