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. Also, I’ll point out that a couple of other people have made a similar case to the one I make in Practical Veganism. Julia Galef wrote an article saying that if you want to reduce suffering you should eat fewer eggs and and there is this Slate Star Codex blog “vegetarianism for meat eaters” which 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. See answers to questions about the environment, fish sentience, whether domesticated animals actually have it really good, aliens and human farming after the jump.

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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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Will Clean Meat Become Cruelty Free? (Repost)

This is a reblog from a Sentientist.org blog from August 2013.

Will In Vitro meat become cruelty free?

Today in London there was the first public tasting of in vitro meat (although it seems a bit silly that the fate of such a potentially gamechanging technology would be influenced by the initial reaction of a couple of gourmands). The Guardian has dubbed Post’s in vitro patty as “the world’s first cruelty free hamburger” although Peter Singer, who actually wrote the piece knows enough to steer clear of this misnomer. This is a milestone for sure but how much difference will in vitro meat make to actual animal cruelty or the number of animals used for food? I previously explored how lab meat is created and whether in vitro meat would help animals in this podcast, including an interview with David Pearce where I asked (around minute 7), what market forces might move lab meat to involve the least amount of animal suffering.

In this blog, I first discuss the aspects of in vitro meat that are still potentially unethical. Then I talk a bit about how disgust, and the groups that are most disgust sensitive, may reduce the impact that in vitro meat will have on the reduction of animal suffering.

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Integrating Evolutionary Psychology and Behaviorism

At the moment I’m writing a book on the integration of evolutionary psychology and behaviorism in personal relationships that is tenatively called “How to Train Your Boyfriend”. Just today a video came out where I discuss my thoughts on the intersection of behaviorism and evolutionary psychology for the comedy podcast, TRIGGERnometry. But, I’ve been thinking about how we’re intutive beahaviorists for a long time.

I wrote this paper for an evolutionary psychology seminar run by David Buss back in 2007 when I was working towards my PhD.  Around that time David had published many papers and The Murderer Next Door, a book that outlined his thesis that murder is an adaptation. This was contrary to Martin Daly and Margot Wilson’s thesis that murder is a byproduct as outlined in their masterful book, Homicide. David’s papers both on homicide and on conflict between the sexes had a big influence on my thinking here.

A couple of months before I wrote this paper I had only ever heard Skinner strongly criticized by evolutionary psychologists and social psychologists, who made up much of the department at UT Austin. When I picked up Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity, I expected that I’d write a strong critique. It ended up being one of my favorite books. Reading it was so rewarding that it’s probably caused me to read more stuff I thought I would disagree with over the years. Meta. I assigned the first chapter, A Technology of Behavior (you can read it here), to over a thousand undergraduates in the UK over the years, with pretty polarized responses.

I don’t agree with everything in this essay anymore, of course I hardly knew anything about behaviorism at that time and had only read Skinner on behaviorism. By 2007 behaviorism had dealt with many of the critiques I lay out here, for example, equipotentiality. But this is a good insight into the origins of the book and other projects I’m working on now. I’ve edited it a bit and added commas, which I’m terrible at using now, and was even worse about using then. I’ve added a few links to clarify some concepts and save the reader a google.

Content warning: Child abuse, Jealousy, Domestic Abuse, Murder

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The Vegan Option – Blogs and Interviews

From September 2011 to early 2013  I was cohost and blogger at the Vegan Option. 

I also produced the podcast on lab meat now known as “clean meat”.

After the jump is a collection of links and descriptions of all the blogs and shows I helped to produce there or you can just click here to see all the blogs and shows tagged.

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