October 18, 2015

4 Crinan Street
London N19XW
Concerning your “Outlook” section in Nature vol. 526 no. 7572 no. 7572 October 8, 2015 on beauty,
Professor Robin Fox in chapter 19 “Marry In or Die Out” in the textbook Handbook on Evolution and Society makes it clear that adequate fertility in the long run requires a degree of fairly close kinship on the part of a typical couple.  Patrick Bateson in Mate Choice (Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1983) demonstrates that Japanese quail are more attracted to close cousins they have not even met than to very distantly related possibilities.  The advantage to the birds now becomes clear.

Despite the intellectual challenge and the supreme importance of this, it is little noticed.  Perhaps family and children are seen as women’s stuff and hence low status.  The issue does not even rate a cameo appearance in your essays. 

It is common observation that horses like women more than horses like men, and personally I have quite informally seen the same thing in lizards, manatee, turtles, and stingrays.  That reaction must be deeply imbedded in the vertebrate brain.  The earliest possible ancestor of vertebrates was found in the Burgess Shale, and that creature has a broad bottom and graceful curves, which are not seen in the fossil record again nor in living animals except for women, who have similar graceful curves in myriad parts of their anatomy. 

Generally among vertebrates the sex that will make the bigger investment in the offspring is not so ornate as the sex that makes precious little effort; if the care is shared fairly there is not much difference in appearance.  Among humans, women put more effort into attractiveness and do most of the work of raising the young. 

Outbreeding obstinately pursued over several generations leads to extinction as unwittingly demonstrated by John Calhoun in Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine vol. 66, January 1973 page 80.  One of the things he noticed was that among the males toward the end there were those that spent a remarkable amount of time grooming themselves, an activity that brings to mind modern “metrosexuals,” who do the same.  We, like all urban populations, outbreed regularly, so if the resulting infertility is more thoroughly visited upon the males then we may have been here many times before, and women might have bypassed their feminized contemporaries and mated successfully with their elders.  If so, their surpassing beauty may have evolved to help them attract bitter, exhausted, world weary old men.

There have been 146 visitors over the past month and YouTube has run “Babies Triumph over Evil” 158 times.

Home page.