Sexually transmitted diseases selfishly increasing your sexiness- repost

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)

Treponema_pallidum
Electron micrograph of Treponema pallidum via wikimedia commons

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. 

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Evolutionary Psychology Seminar – recommended readings

This coming Monday, February 15th I’ll be teaching an evolutionary psychology seminar through Speakeasy, find out more, or buy tickets here.

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.

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The future of food- A roadmap to clean meat

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.

Read my essay below:

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An open source wedding- Part 1 vows

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.

Read more to find out why two weirdos like us would get married and read our vows (Geoffrey also posted them on Twitter).

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Sex, Tech and the Zombie Apocalypse

The funnest conference I have ever attended was the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine meeting (ZAMM) back in 2018. Spearheaded by Athena Aktipis, there were talks on everything from first aid to Vodou. Baba Brinkman did a rap incorporating ideas from each and every one of the talks at the end of the day and Max Brooks, author of World War Z (the book, and especially the audiobook are spectacular and highly recommended, the movie, not so much) gave a keynote. I gave a plenary on manipulation in interpersonal relationships called “They all want your brainz: Zombification and Manipulation” .

This year’s virtual ZAMM was on Sex and Tech. I helped to put together a featured symposium with Brian Earp, Francesca Minerva, Jonny Anomaly and Ewen Lavoie on the Vexing Tech of Sex. The session was hosted and chaired by Athena Aktipis and Jason Robert.

My talk was based around sex robots and the idea of “counterfeit fitness” that I discussed in my article, Uncanny Vulvas. But rather than just giving a normal talk, I gave the talk as the robot, Diana5. Read my download and see the video of the vexing tech of sex session after the jump.

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Uncanny Vulvas

This is a lightly edited version of an article I wrote that first appeared in Jacobite. I had a great conversation about this article and evolutionary psychology more generally (link here) with John Danaher, who edited a book about sex robots. Most recently, I gave a presentation as a damaged android for the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine meeting about the dangers of counterfeit fitness.


Uncanny Vulvas- Diana Fleischman

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.

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Practical Veganism- FAQs

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece called “Practical Veganism”.

I didn’t choose the title. I don’t think anyone likes “the v word” but it was a bit of a tongue in cheek title from the editors. It has led to many assumptions about the case I make- that I was simply advocating veganism, when I was not. I was advocating a quantified suffering approach to eating animal products. A couple of people have made a similar case: Julia Galef wrote an article saying that if you want to reduce suffering you should eat fewer eggs and this Slate Star Codex blog “vegetarianism for meat eaters” also discusses offsetting.

In summary, Practical Veganism was about what animal foods cause more and less suffering- information that people very rarely consider when they’re deciding what to eat. The “suffering footprint” is a way of quantifying the amount of suffering caused when you buy animal products. 53% of people in a nationally representative US survey said they were trying to consumer fewer animal based foods (and 63% thought everyone else should consume fewer animal based foods!). But when people reduce their consumption of animal products they usually shift from eating pigs and cows to eating fish, chicken and eggs. The claim I make in the piece is that this shift actually increases the suffering footprint relative to something like a diet of only red meat. This is because chickens and fish are much smaller than pigs and cows, which means there is more suffering per calorie and chickens and fish have worse lives on average than cows and maybe pigs. There were some criticisms of the piece that I’ll unpack further here. See for example some interesting critique on Reddit and on Twitter.

Read below to see my answers to questions about the environment, fish sentience, whether domesticated animals actually have it really good, and whether aliens are going to farm us for food.

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10 ideas from Good Reasons for Bad Feelings – Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings by Randy Nesse examines emotions and mental illness from an evolutionary psychology perspective. I was really excited about reading this book because Nesse’s Why We Get Sick had a huge impact on me when I read it as an undergrad, encouraging me to think of the intersection between health psychology and evolutionary psychology. Here is a good primer on Darwinian Medicine from around that time.

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.

Here are 10 ideas from Good Reasons for Bad Feelings.

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Animal Ethics and Evolutionary Psychology- 10 ideas

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.

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Covid19 and Moral Revolutions – Part 1

Saturday May 2nd I was on a panel with John DanaherAnders Sandberg, and David Wood on whether Covid19 will cause any enduring changes to morality. John Danaher has been doing some great blogging and podcasting at the intersection of Covid19 and philosophy for the last couple of months, for example on the ethics of healthcare prioritization and how Covid19 might justify ongoing surveillance measures.

panel
Panel on Covid 19 and Moral revolutions with me, John Danaher, David Wood and Anders Sandberg

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.

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