Tag Archive | "human nature"

A Cynical View on Attraction

attractionI remember a Darwinian article in Time (Asia) Magazine’s special issue, The New Age of Discovery (January, 1998) because it tried to answer questions like why do we find certain human body figures sexy. It said that most men find a specific waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of women sexy (now I won’t tell the exact figure to avoid causing unnecessary insecurities) because that ratio signals fertility. Men don’t consciously know this, but evolution somehow programmed it in our instincts to ensure the perpetuation of our genes.

In another article, I read about an experiment on human scent. It involved a certain number of men and an equal number of women. The men were made to shower using only unscented soap (no cologne or deodorant either) and sleep with a white shirt on. They would shower again on the second night but would wear the same shirt to bed. Then the shirts would be sniffed by the women, who would each try to determine which shirt smells the “sexiest”. After their genes were tested, it was found out that the sexiest scents for most of the women belonged to the men whose genes were very much dissimilar from theirs. Parents with diverse genes often bear stronger offspring, and once again evolution has hardwired this into our physiology to help us find a suitable mate – and perpetuate our genes.

But in this overpopulated modern society of ours, procreation is no longer the primary purpose of sex. In one of our joint articles, a fellow freethinker wrote:

Sex may lead to pro-creation but the two are still two totally distinct acts, no matter how much some belief systems may insist that they’re one and the same. When you start a fire, you aren’t obligated to go cook something. Sometimes, it’s enough just to enjoy the warmth of a blazing fire on a cold night. The same goes for sex. It’s a social activity and a recreational sport as well. From a liberal point of view, it’s not even that different from a couple going dancing (that’s why it’s also called the horizontal tango).

Still, our instincts kick in when a genetically suitable specimen from the opposite gender walks by even if having kids is the last thing on our minds. But as we get to know a person, after a while we get attracted to non-physical traits like kindness and a sense of humor. Perhaps we instinctively know that certain personal attributes are preferable for long-term companionship, especially when it comes to the point when procreation and even sex are no longer possible.

But the beauty of these personal qualities is that they can be enjoyed now as much as in the future. Being the most highly evolved among all creatures, humans interact in ways beyond touching and smelling. A nice conversation connects us more profoundly than two chimps grooming each other. Although touching is nice, it is often meaningless unless coupled with an emotional bond. And so while evolution already dictated what we should find physically attractive, it is our longing for a deeper connection that needs to be satisfied if we are to truly enjoy being human.

Happy Valentines everyone!

Posted in Others, ScienceComments (3)

Deep Rollers

Do you know what a roller pigeon is, Barney? They climb high and fast, then roll over and fall just as fast toward the earth. There are shallow rollers and deep rollers. You can’t breed two deep rollers, or their young will roll all the way down, hit, and die. Officer Starling is a deep roller, Barney. We should hope one of her parents was not.

That was a line from the movie Hannibal, with Lecter talking about Clarice Starling.  A quick search at youtube for roller pigeons showed birds flying upward and then suddenly tilting back their heads followed by the rest of their bodies into a spontaneous tumble, cartwheeling down towards the ground.

I guess roller pigeons are interesting because they do something that is not essential to survival, unlike everything else birds do: hunting, nesting, migrating, and of course, mating. But rolling? It seems so naturally foolish. It does not exhibit the regular behavior of animals. Rather, it portrays the irregular behavior of people.

Ah people. Human beings. The ability to think in a significantly higher level than the other animals. And yet we do things that seem so unnecessary. But are they?

It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye. The classic line from Little Prince. Maybe some things are not really unnecessary after all. In a roller pigeon, what we see is a pointless tumbling down. But if we try to see with the heart, we can clearly see the joy and fun the pigeon is feeling while it rolls, a cocktail trio of adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins rushing into its brain. Ah, such fun.

And the things people do for fun. A 1997 Time Magazine article on Dopamine was very informative about the reasons and explanations on the things people do for fun and joy. In a nutshell, it says that the neurotransmitter Dopamine is responsible for the very good and addictive feeling people get when they drink alcohol or take drugs – or when they win in a poker game or have a very productive day at work or have sex or fall in love. Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that can be activated by natural and chemical means. It should, however, be kept within limits because too much is just as harmful as too little, just as the offspring of two deep rollers tumble all the way down to the ground. Just like some people.

There are shallow rollers and deep rollers.


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Infidelity: Human Nature and the Corpus Callosum

Ever wonder why most societies tend to be softer on men than on women when it comes to infidelity? It may have something to do with our brains’ hemispheres: the left hemisphere, which deals with math, logic, observation, and reasoning; and the right hemisphere, which handles language, emotion, perception, and intuition. I read a magazine article (I can’t remember if it was from Time or Reader’s Digest) that said that the corpus callosum – the band of nerve fibres that connects the cerebral hemispheres – is often thicker in women than in men, making it easier for the hemispheres to share information and interact with each other as they try to process thoughts simultaneously.

Now while this claim is still being contested, if it is true then I guess that explains a lot why men can make hard decisions reflectively and objectively. It’s nothing personal, just business. Women, on the other hand, tend to involve their emotions when making most choices.

And so when it comes to playing around, men can do it out of pure lust without the slightest affection, while for women to be able to make love they must have feelings for the guy. (A lady friend of mine once remarked that what if she underwent some lobotomy to sever her corpus callosum, would that give her the same “male privilege”?)

Some say that man is polygamous by nature. But before the ladies raise their eyebrows and the boys their heads, there is something I read about human nature that I would like to share. It goes something like this:

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, MD said that he was often asked what is human nature, to which he would answer, “Human nature is going to the bathroom in your pants.” He goes on to explain that a very young child, when feeling the need, would defecate anywhere and with his pants on. That is his nature. But given the proper toilet training, sooner or later as he grows up he will be able to hold his bowel long enough to get to the bathroom. This will have become his second nature. And in those rare instances when he didn’t make it to the bathroom, he would feel very unnatural about it. From all this, Peck points out that there is no such thing as “human nature” because among all the animals, only man has the capacity to transcend his instincts.

And so I guess it is with man’s reputation for philandering. Assuming there is some truth that that’s his nature, man has the ability to transcend this polygamous nature and adopt fidelity as a second nature. And in the unlikely event that he slips, he would feel very unnatural about it, like he just shat in his pants.

Or would he?


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