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Somewhat Against Psychiatric Conditions As Domestication Failure

[Epistemic status: Not sure if I’m arguing against a straw man here and my conclusion is what the researchers meant all along.]

I.

Benitez-Burraco and Lattanzi theorize that autism and schizophrenia are anomalies in the human self-domestication process. I’ll try to explain, but for a much better explanation than I can give read Dr. Chris Badcock here.

Still here? Fine. BBL’s theory goes like this. When Russian scientist Dmitry Belyaev tried to domesticate foxes by breeding them for tame behavior, he found that changes in a lot of other traits went along for the ride. In short, the foxes started looking kind of dog-like: smaller heads, shorter snouts, spotted fur, floppy ears, more youthful characteristics. Some further experiments confirmed that similar changes happen in any species bred for tameness. Probably this has to do with changes in the neural crest, an embryonic structure which goes on to form a bunch of things including the adrenal medulla. Since the adrenal medulla produces some of the hormones involved in fear and stress, animals with hypoactive medullae will probably be tamer. But since the neural crest also goes on to form lots of other stuff, or produce hormones that influence the formation of lots of other stuff, these tamer animals will be different in other ways too.

BBL continues: we went from being wild apes to tame humans, a process that could be analogized to “self-domestication”. Some of the same changes the Russians saw in the transition from wild to domesticated foxes can be seen in the transition from early hominid skulls to modern human skulls.

Autistic people, say BBL, are “undomesticated humans” – people in whom for some reason the neural crest changes that result in domesticated features have reversed. They find that some of the changes of domestication syndrome are the reverse of some of the symptoms of autism:

Smaller heads = autistic people have larger heads
More trusting and social = autistic people are less trusting and social
Spotted fur = the depigmenting disease “hypomelanosis of Ito” is sometimes associated with autistic symptoms
Floppy ears = studies find autistic people are more likely to have abnormally shaped ears (really!)
Change in adrenal response = autistic people have abnormal function in the HPA axis, the system including the adrenal gland

Or in the form of their cutesy picture:

Schizophrenics, say BBL, are “hyperdomesticated humans”. Once again, they match up the symptoms:

I originally thought this theory was dumb. After looking into it more, I think it has some serious issues, but that there might be a core of truth.

II.

I’ll get to that core, but first, the argument against: all of this is coincidences, pareidolia, and finessing things to fit into a system where they don’t really belong.

Going down the list:

Smaller heads = autistic people have larger heads

Some studies find this is true. Others find that it isn’t. In any case, note a discrepancy between this claim and the schizophrenia version. BBL note smaller brains in schizophrenics (true) and shorter skull (true), but not smaller heads, which we would expect if autism were the “reverse” of schizophrenia. In fact, schizophrenics may have larger heads than healthy people. This sort of moving the goal-posts, where autistics are judged on their larger heads but schizophrenics on their smaller brains, is a red flag for fake pattern-matching.

More trusting and social = autistic people are less trusting and social

True! But schizophrenics are way less trusting and social! Paranoia – pathological inability to trust – is a classic symptom of schizophrenia; indeed, if you made people choose between schizophrenia and autism and asked which one was associated with lack of trust, I think most people would choose schizophrenia. This brings an important point into relief: the whole point of domestication is that the domesticated animal is supposed to be friendlier and less aggressive. But nobody would describe schizophrenics as friendlier and less aggressive.

Spotted fur = the depigmenting disease “hypomelanosis of Ito” is sometimes associated with autistic symptoms

True! But hypomelanosis of Ito is a really rare disease (1/10,000 births) that has nothing to do with most autism. Also, it causes eye problems, kidney cysts, weirdly-shaped chests, short stature, seizures, mental retardation, etc. To me this looks more like “a super-rare disease that can cause pretty much anything can sometimes also cause autistic symptoms”, which is not very interesting. Also, domestication causing “pigmentation changes” (usually spotted fur) versus autism being (very rarely) associated with a depigmenting disease and schizophrenia being (very rarely) associated with albinism is more goalpost-shifting.

Floppy ears = studies find autistic people are more likely to have abnormally shaped ears (really!)

I looked at this study – Manouilenko et al – and what it actually finds is that autistic people are more likely to have asymmetrical ears. In fact, nonsignificantly more likely to have asymmetrical ears; their significant finding is that autistic people have more “minor physical abnormalities”, and the asymmetrical ears were one of many pieces of evidence combined to get the significant finding. But asymmetrical features are common in lots of genetic/embryological diseases and seem like a general sign of high mutational load. It seems sketchy to combine autists’ asymmetrical ears and wild foxes’ pointy ears and say “Look, they both have ear abnormalities, this is the same thing!” Some other studies suggest that autistic people have low-set ears, which sounds more promising, but schizophrenic people also have low-set ears, so whatever. The other schizophrenia ear findings are exactly as unconvincing as the autistic ones.

Change in adrenal response = autistic people have abnormal function in the HPA axis, the system including the adrenal gland

Wikipedia’s page on the HPA axis has a section on its possible role in disease, which states that dysfunction of the axis is involved in various conditions “including anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, insomnia, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, major depressive disorder, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and alcoholism”. In other words, in a list of the HPA axis’ twelve greatest hits, neither autism nor schizophrenia qualify for inclusion.

I’m not saying that there isn’t an HPA axis component to these diseases. I’m just saying HPA axis is a nonspecific finding. I’m agnostic whether the HPA axis causes everything or our HPA axis study methods are so bad that they invariably turn up false positives. The point is that we shouldn’t get too excited when we see the HPA axis involved in both domestication and autism. This is like saying “Cancer causes you to feel bad, and AIDS causes you to feel bad, therefore cancer causes AIDS.” No, it’s just that everything makes you feel bad.

When we look beyond the general claim of “abnormal function”, things get less clear. BBL say that domesticated animals have “reduced levels of stress hormones including adrenocorticoids, adrenocorticotropic hormone, cortisol, and corticosterone”. So their theory should predict that autistic people have increased stress hormones, and schizophrenics decreased, relative to typical people. Actually, it’s a mess; autistic people seem to have higher ACTH but lower cortisol; schizophrenia studies are conflicting but tend towards higher levels of both. Once again, they can support a general claim of “these conditions affect the same system”, but they can’t predict the direction of the effect. Also, every condition affects this system.

(if you’re wondering why we’re talking about cortisol levels in a theory about the adrenal medulla, well, so am I. Whatever.)

Finally, if by “undomesticated human” we mean something like an ape or Neanderthal, well, neither apes nor Neanderthals (as far as we know) display the symptoms of autism. They seem to be pretty social. They seem to be able to eat all kinds of stuff without trouble. They don’t seem bothered by sensory processing problems. For that matter, dogs and cattle and nth generation silver foxes, the most domesticated animals we’ve got, don’t seem very schizophrenic. I guess cows could just be hallucinating all the time and how would we know, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that they are.

So this is why I originally was not too big on this theory.

III.

But what about Williams Syndrome?

Benitez-Burraco and Lattanzi don’t mention Williams Syndrome (also called Williams-Beuren Syndrome) at all, which is crazy, because it sounds a thousand times more like a syndrome of hyperdomestication than either of the two conditions they examine (h/t Nicholas Wade and a random Reddit comment). Williams Syndrome is a rare condition (1/10,000 births) caused by the deletion of some genes on chromosome 7. There are three very interesting things about people with Williams Syndrome. Number one, they are really nice. Like if you meet someone with Williams Syndrome, you will think “This person clearly has a rare genetic disease that causes pathological levels of niceness as a symptom.” Number two, they are really trusting. An Atlantic article profiling the condition, What Happens When You Trust Too Much? describes special therapy for Williams Syndrome children where the therapist has to teach them, painfully and laboriously, how to distrust people. NPR calls it “essentially biologically impossible for kids [with Williams Syndrome] to distrust [people].” Number three, they talk all the time; the informal name for the condition is “cocktail personality syndrome”.

People with Williams Syndromes actually legitimately have short noses (compare to the short snout on domesticated foxes), smaller teeth (compare to smaller teeth in dogs vs. wolves), smaller brains, and “unusually shaped ears” (I can’t find anything more specific; I guess it’s too much to hope for that researchers actually describe the ears as “floppy”).

Also, somebody checked which gene was most different in dogs versus wolves, and they found it was WBSCR17. The WBS in the name stands for “Williams-Beuren Syndrome” because it’s been linked to the disorder. So there’s that.

So as far as I can tell there’s an amazingly good case for Williams Syndrome being linked to domestication. Williams Syndrome tends to cause severe mental retardation and death at an early age, but that’s probably because there are twenty-five totally different genes missing. Maybe a version that only deleted WBSCR17 would keep the behavioral and physiologic changes but not much else.

A lot of people suggest Williams’ Syndrome is “the opposite of autism”. I can only find three pieces of evidence for this. Number one, the obvious contrast with the love of social situations and high verbal skills. Number two, Williams Syndrome kids seem to be really good at face recognition, whereas autistic people are often worse at this. Number three, Williams’ Syndrome kids seem to be unusually bad at the puzzles and interlocking-mechanical-part type problems on which autistic people excel.

On the other hand, there are some reasons to think these conditions are not exact opposites. For one thing, autism is caused by a hideously complex interplay of thousands of genes and various environmental factors, but Williams Syndrome is a drop-dead simple “oops, we forgot part of this chromosome over here”. Williams Syndrome kids seem to have some of the same sensory sensitivities as autistic kids. And both groups usually suffer from mental retardation.

I think that Williams Syndrome establishes the possibility of a physiological social/trust system linked to domestication, the neural crest, and various other parts of embroygenesis. Once you admit the existence of such a system, it seems like autism probably involves some kind of damage to it – probably along with damage to a lot of other systems too. Schizophrenia is more of a stretch, but the overwhelming presence of distrust as a symptom makes the existence of a physiological social/trust system at least kind of interesting and relevant.

So maybe instead of saying that “autistic people are undomesticated humans” and “schizophrenics are hyperdomesticated humans”, we should say something like “there is a very subtle and hard-to-notice biological system that determines level of trust and sociability and which seems weirdly linked to ear and nose shape; autism, schizophrenia, and Williams Syndrome all affect that system in different ways.” Note that this doesn’t mean they’re “the same disease” or “opposite diseases”; the connection might be no deeper than the “connection” where heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, and getting stabbed in the chest all affect the heart. But they all hit the same system.

My take-home message from looking into all of this is that I was very silly for trying to learn about autism and schizophrenia without thinking about embryology. These are highly genetically-loaded diseases that present early in life and seem linked to teratogens and prenatal infections; of course they’re embryological! I had to take some embryology classes in medical school, and like everyone else I tuned them out because they seemed totally irrelevant to real clinical practice and mostly involved memorizing pointless trivia like “on day thirty-six and a half, the developing shmendroblast has transformed into a blexomere”. But if you want to know what causes secret connections between ear shape and level of social trust, embryology seems like the way to go. Autism and schizophrenia are hard to study because they seem to affect everything, yet nothing specifically enough to localize the condition. Maybe going back and thinking more embryologically could help pinpoint the particular systems involved.

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314 Responses to Somewhat Against Psychiatric Conditions As Domestication Failure

  1. Sandy says:

    I remember an episode of House where they suspected that a patient who was extremely nice to everyone he met no matter how they treated him had Williams Syndrome; part of the differential was a description of the ears of Williams patients as “elfin”. Of course, that’s a TV show, but perhaps the production’s researchers found that specific detail. Google has some images of Williams kids with elfin ears.

    • Yeah, I googled pictures of people with Williams Syndrome. They all look so happy! Such charming people! Man, if there is one congenital disorder to get, that’s definitely the one.

      • Mary says:

        They also do not get race. At all. Absolutely no concept of racial stereotypes.

        • Rhys Fenwick says:

          To me this seems like a decent point in favour of the hyperdomestication idea: if you squint, ‘having negative stereotypes about racial outgroups’ seems like the kind of behaviour you would associate with antisocialness and a lack of ‘domestication’. I think a good comparison here is dogs v wolves: wolves from one pack will be very leery about wolves from others, whereas dogs tend to be quite welcoming to unfamiliar dogs as well as familiar ones.

    • I have read textbook descriptions of people with William’s syndrome that describe their general facial appearance as elfin, not just because of the ears though, their whole appearance is rather distinctive.

  2. Lumifer says:

    Doesn’t embryology for these purposes boil down to genetics, anyway? Sure, there are teratogens and all kinds of in-the-womb influences, from hormones to allergens, but there are a lot of pointers to genetic components of autism, so at least part of it is already fixed in the zygote.

    • tmk says:

      I think the point is that embryology development order determines which things are affected by the sames genes. If a gene affects system A, it is also likely to affect system B that develops at the same embryo stage.

    • MugaSofer says:

      If the same structure develops into, or helps to shape, things that will later become seemingly unrelated structures, then anything the messes with it will mess with all the later effects down the line. There’s a lot of stuff like that in embryology.

  3. So there’s a small set of genes which, if removed, result in infinitely trusting, highly agreeable humans? Does anyone know if it affects reproductive viability or ability to build death rays? Asking for a friend.

    • Autolykos says:

      “Williams’ Syndrome kids seem to be unusually bad at the puzzles and interlocking-mechanical-part type problems on which autistic people excel.”
      So too bad about the death ray part, it seems your, er, friend still has to pay his mad scientists.
      Mad scientist has always been my dream job though (so I was quite disappointed when I was told the profession died out with Nicola Tesla). Would it be too much to ask if you could match us up?

    • Mary says:

      It can get you easily killed because they are not kidding about teaching distrust. They WILL get into cars with total strangers without a second thought.

      • no says:

        Getting into cars with strangers is actually a fairly low-risk activity. Does lack of distrust really affect their mortality statistics?

        • DES3264 says:

          Acquiring a reputation for being the sort of person who will get into cars with strangers strikes me as high risk, though.

          • James says:

            That made me chuckle. Ha!

            What ills can beset you from total strangers? Car collisions?

            I think the “stranger danger” misnomer comes from child kidnapping being perpetuated by someone who is not a stranger. So maybe my question should be what other ills are perpetrated by acquaintances more than strangers?

          • CatCube says:

            Stranger kidnapping is very rare, rare enough that the panic about it is probably silly, but it’s not nonexistent.

            Getting into strange cars merely because someone asked you will eventually end badly for a young child.

          • Lumifer says:

            Getting into strange cars merely because someone asked you will eventually end badly for a young child.

            I don’t think so because “eventually end badly” implies that having strangers ask children to get into their cars is a common occurrence. In fact, the great majority of children will never ever hear a stranger ask them to get into his car.

          • TheWorst says:

            “Will” makes it sound inevitable. During the time I was a child, to the best of my recollection no stranger ever asked me to get in a car.

        • wintermute92 says:

          The suggestion from the article is that it strongly affects employment/social success, while the mortality statistics seem to be largely set by more direct anatomical issues.

        • Jack V says:

          I mean yeah, that specific thing is v bad but not actually that common, but there’s quite a lot of things people ask you to do which are bad to just trust them on:

          * Join my religion. It’s not a cult, honest.
          * Buy this mortgage. It won’t ruin you, honest.
          * Come up to my flat. I won’t pressure you for sex, honest.

        • Some Guy says:

          I remember what it was like before I had a kid and would spout off this kind of thing.

          It seems completely rational, until you realize that, short of some kind of emergency, there is exactly zero reason for a grown adult to approach a child and ask them to get in a car without first talking to the parents.

          At the very least, I think we can all agree that such behavior is exceedingly shady.

        • James says:

          Immediately what I thought too. Uber and Lyft.

          You should slap a referral on that link!

        • Pan Narrans says:

          Yeah, but assuming Uber works the same everywhere as it does here, Uber more or less knows who’s in the car, who’s driving it, and the time and route of the journey.
          If I disappear after getting in an Uber, and the trip record shows that I requested to go to my home but the car went to the old abandoned quarry, I expect they’ll ask the driver to answer a few polite questions. Uber strikes me as an especially safe service for this exact reason.

    • moridinamael says:

      Are they even more worser at mechanical puzzles than would be expected given the fact that they tend to have lower IQ?

      • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

        Perhaps.

        I really want to see the raw data myself on these…but the horrible standards of psychology research protects itself by hiding its data.

      • wintermute92 says:

        In one sense at least. They have strong verbal skills relative to IQ, but don’t have above-IQ spatial/mechanical skills.

        I can’t get to data to see if they do worse-than-IQ on those tasks, or just lack the ‘bump’ they get in other domains. But I also wouldn’t trust the raw results: IQ tests are strongly tied to spatial/pattern tasks (and sometimes to verbal tasks), so it’s not totally clear to me that you can delink the two.

        • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

          You can. There can be *huge* personal differences between verbal reasoning LSAT styles and spatial tests like gears and rotations, on the scale of 2+ SD differences.

          That’s not even taking into account differences in long-term memory capabilities. I wonder why that score isn’t thought of so much in the IQ tests. Its probably the most important non-work ethic factor that needs to be taken into account for school performance.

          Hard to measure accurately, is probably the reason.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Yeah, it’s a big difference between Hillary and Trump. When Hillary talks about Syria, she knows the names of everybody and has reasons for why American must stand up to Russia, Syria, Iran, and Al-Bagdadi, while allying with the Sunnis and Kurds.

            Trump, on the other hand, can’t remember many of the names, so he just says we should kill ISIS, they’re the bad guys.

            The funny thing is …

  4. Nelshoy says:

    Simon Baron-Cohen thinks autism is caused by overmasculinization of the brain; could there be a gender axis involved in Williams syndrome, too?

    I don’t want to wade too deep into sexist stereotypes here, but aren’t women generally more trusting, more verbal, worse videospatially, and more into music?

    I too got the sense that there was too much errant pattern-matching going going on, and the polygenic vs. highly specific nature of Williams is hard to reconcile, Unless like you say you wade into embryology. Maybe one of those sexually dimorphic brain regions gets mixed up with too much/too little growth?

    • Iris says:

      *more* trusting?

      There’s obvious reasons to assume this is a nurture rather than nature difference (I know I was being warned that people would hurt me, given the chance, at least as early as 4th grade) but:

      I carry pepper spray everywhere

      I have never gone on a date without a backup plan of what to do if the guy turns out be a rapist.

      When someone sits next to me on a bus I immediately check what I can use as a weapon (I usually carry a large hat pin) so I can escape if they try to touch me.

      If a stranger asks me for directions and then starts to extend the conversation a bit longer I immediately start walking away. I usually do the “make four left turns” trick to make certain they’re not following me.

      And all this level of paranoia is for someone who has, thus far, never been assaulted. Unlike most women. So I can only imagine what most women feel like.

      Guys I admit this to have, thus far, never had an equivalent experience of constant low level fear and distrust to describe to me.

      • Nelshoy says:

        Yeah, you’re clearly right that women have more public distrust/ stranger fear (for good reason). I was thinking more along the lines of building intimacy, trust, and reliability once you’re already acquainted with someone. I think women might be better at this on the whole than men, but I think I’ve done quite enough baseless speculation already.

        • vV_Vv says:

          was thinking more along the lines of building intimacy, trust, and reliability once you’re already acquainted with someone. I think women might be better at this on the whole than men, but I think I’ve done quite enough baseless speculation already.

          Then why do women initiate divorce more often than men?

          • Nelshoy says:

            I think whatever proxy you use for propensity to trust has to be a lot less complicated than divorce.

          • baconbacon says:

            You don’t think violation of trust is a cause for divorce?

          • Nelshoy says:

            I think divorce rates depend on way too many things to be a useful judge of social trust like partners, finances, views of marriage, preferences, previous relations, and other aspects of personality that are really really hard to disentangle.

            Which way is divorce rate even supposed to provide evidence? Maybe women are more likely to get divorced because they were too trusting of deceptive men who told them they would never cheat before they got married.

          • LibertyRisk says:

            Incentives. The average married woman has much more to gain than the average married man in the average divorce across many metrics (financial, social, custody, etc.). This will affect the numbers.

        • Anonymous says:

          (for good reason)

          Really? Really?

          Men are at something like a 10× higher risk of stranger violence, women having higher fear/distrust is nothing other than irrational self-victimization. Whether it’s because they participate in a toxic subculture or because estrogen anxiety is a real thing doesn’t matter; it’s still irrational nonsense, i.e. the opposite of good reason.

          • Anonymous says:

            You poor thing! Ask mommy to kiss it and make it all better.

          • TheWorst says:

            Responding to an issue about gender roles with an example of gender-role policing is strange. What made you think “hey, a person saying something true. Better call him a pussy?”

          • Anonymous says:

            @TheWorst:

            I don’t get it either. The taunt doesn’t even seem related to what I said? Is he suggesting I’m a cryhard for saying women have no good reason to live in fear? How does that work?

          • vV_Vv says:

            Women are at something like a 10× lower risk of stranger violence, men having lower fear/distrust is nothing other than irrational self-confidence. Whether it’s because they participate in a toxic subculture or because testosterone bravado is a real thing doesn’t matter; it’s still irrational nonsense, i.e. the opposite of good reason. /s

          • Anonymous says:

            @vV_Vv

            Are you… somehow under the impression that the actual level of risk for a man is a ton higher than it really is, or are you trying to play devil’s advocate while not realizing that reality matters here? You can’t just flip some words and have an equally sound argument, it’s not just a subjective matter of perspective.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Are you… somehow under the impression that the actual level of risk for a woman is a ton lower than it really is? 🙂

            Ok, what I’m trying to do here is show you that if the conclusion of an argument can be flipped by changing a few words without affecting its plausibility, then it is not a very good argument.

            Specifically, two agents with different utility functions will generally behave differently without one being any more or less rational than the other.

            Women, on average seem to be more risk averse w.r.t. their safety than men are. This doesn’t mean than any gender is more or less rational than the other. They just have different utility functions.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            Yeah, I’m pretty skeptical of that statistic. Not of its truth–I’ve certainly witnessed lots more violence against men by strangers than against women–but of the way its used here. Depending on how much bilateral, could-have-been-deescalated-by-the-victim-but-wasn’t-due-to-drunkenness-and-or-machismo violence it includes, it may not be enough to support that point.

          • Anonymous says:

            Are you… somehow under the impression that the actual level of risk for a woman is a ton lower than it really is?

            No. I know exactly how low it is. It’s really low.

            if the conclusion of an argument can be flipped by changing a few words without affecting its plausibility, then it is not a very good argument.

            But it can’t, because the actual level of risk matters to the plausibility of the argument. I don’t know if this is just some sort of weird rationalist trolling you’re engaging in, or what.

            Look: if you live, in Brooklyn, in fear of being mauled by a polar bear, that has nothing to do with your “utility function”: you just have an irrational fear of polar bears. You’re never going to be mauled by a polar bear, it’s stupid to be afraid of being mauled by a polar bear, you should not be afraid of being mauled by a polar bear, you are just wrong.

            Or again, fear of flying is a thing; it’s not just “someone with a different utility function evaluating the risk differently”, it’s a person having an irrational fear of a particular thing which causes them to magnify the risk in an unjustified way. Or do you just not believe in phobias?

            On top of that, this isn’t just about being risk averse across the board, it’s about the fact that women incorrectly evaluate the risk of stranger violence as being much higher than it really is, i.e., they’re also irrationally afraid of it relative to other risks.

            This is entirely aside from the fact that you can’t just say “utility function” and act like it’s even uncontroversially a valid heuristic used by people, or a valid tool for understanding human behavior.

            Your whole argument is a facile sophism also based on a philosophy of ethics most people don’t even believe in; I’m not sure why you think acting smug about it is going to make the pill go down smoother, but it doesn’t.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Men are two times more likely than women to be victims of violent crimes committed by strangers, not ten times! The rate is about 1% annually for men and 0.5% annually for women.

          • TheWorst says:

            The point I was making (I don’t know about the various anonym… anonymi?) is that women are safe, and don’t feel safe. Men are dramatically less safe, are still safe, and feel safe.

            One of these is irrational, and it’s the one who is in even less danger but thinks they’re in danger. We should stop telling unusually-safe people that they need to live in fear. Living in fear isn’t fun, so we shouldn’t inflict that condition on people for no reason.

          • vV_Vv says:

            No. I know exactly how low it is. It’s really low.

            Low compared to what?

            But it can’t, because the actual level of risk matters to the plausibility of the argument.

            The relevant factor is not the actual level of risk, but the level of risk aversion. How do you establish which level of risk aversion is “rational”?

            Look: if you live, in Brooklyn, in fear of being mauled by a polar bear, that has nothing to do with your “utility function”: you just have an irrational fear of polar bears. You’re never going to be mauled by a polar bear, it’s stupid to be afraid of being mauled by a polar bear, you should not be afraid of being mauled by a polar bear, you are just wrong.

            If you are afraid of polar bears much more than other stuff that can kill you and you are in an area where running in a polar bear is unlikely, they you have an irrational fear.

            But if you live in Brooklyn, running into some stranger who may want to harm you is much more likely than running into a polar bear. Fear of stranger violence is not prima facie irrational.

            On top of that, this isn’t just about being risk averse across the board, it’s about the fact that women incorrectly evaluate the risk of stranger violence as being much higher than it really is, i.e., they’re also irrationally afraid of it relative to other risks.

            Evidence? As far as I know women are also less likely than men to have high-risk jobs and to engage in risky recreational behaviors (drinking, smoking, dangerous sports, etc.)

            Your whole argument is a facile sophism also based on a philosophy of ethics most people don’t even believe in;

            What philosophy of ethics? Are you conflating decision theory with utilitarianism?

          • Anonymous says:

            The point I was making (I don’t know about the various anonym… anonymi?) is that women are safe, and don’t feel safe. Men are dramatically less safe, are still safe, and feel safe.

            That is literally exactly the point I was also trying to make. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The point I was making (I don’t know about the various anonym… anonymi?) is that women are safe, and don’t feel safe. Men are dramatically less safe, are still safe, and feel safe.

            Neither are completely safe.

            It is possible that both are rational, and women just value safety more than men do.

          • Jaskologist says:

            How safe we feel depends heavily on how much the outcome is under our control. I feel much less safe flying in an airplane than driving, even though statistically, the latter is much more likely to kill me. If something goes wrong while the plane is in the air, there is nothing I can do to help my situation. My driving risk, on the other hand, is heavily dependent on my own driving skill.

            Women are on average much weaker and less able to defend themselves against some random person than a man. It makes sense that they would be more careful about avoiding such situations in the first place.

          • Alliteration says:

            Vv_vV is pointing out that Anonymous is implicitly assuming that male behaviors are the objectively correct ones. It could be that women are correctly responding to risk and men are overconfident.

            (Assuming that there is such a thing as a objectively correct response to risk)

          • Lumifer says:

            I wonder why no one mentions the obvious thing: women have more at stake.

            Traditionally, if a women was assaulted in some dark corner, she was likely to have been raped. That generally meant that her life was completely ruined: if she were not married, no one would take her; if she were married, her husband might kick her out; she might have gotten pregnant and abortion wasn’t a readily available choice.

            While not really true any more, the cultural perception of the danger of assault is still much greater for women because, to geek out, their loss function is different.

          • baconbacon says:

            It is possible that both are rational, and women just value safety more than men do

            It is also entirely possible that women’s relative safety is due to their concern. Many crimes are of opportunity, and a collective paranoia would prevent many opportunities.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            “Low compared to what?”

            Well, for starters, car accidents. You are much more likely to be injured in a car accident than by an encounter with a stranger, and yet both men and women get into cars without much thought. Meanwhile, men give about the same amount of thought to encountering a stranger, a significantly less risky event, while women outright fear it. This is inconsistent, and thus irrational.

            Now, there is one thing that is more likely to happen to the woman than the man: being raped. However, in order for a woman to “rationally” be more afraid of encountering a stranger than getting in a car, she would have to consider being raped orders of magnitude worse than dying. That doesn’t seem particularly rational to me either.

          • klfwip says:

            How does reporting work on SSC? I’d really rather not see people like Anonymous derail attempts at discussion with the lowest level of discourse. “You poor thing! Ask mommy to kiss it and make it all better.” really. That’s the best reply you could come up with.

          • Gazeboist says:

            The report button is (at least temporarily) gone since a few days ago for technical reasons.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            women having higher fear/distrust is nothing other than irrational self-victimization

            I’d say most people of both genders have irrational fears that don’t reflect what’s statistically most likely to harm them. Lots of people are scared of terrorism or mass shootings, for instance.

            But I also don’t think it’s the norm for women to live in a state of constant anxiety around strangers. I know I don’t, anyway. I generally feel safe when I walk down the street, even when I’m walking alone at night. I’m way more scared of cancer (or just slipping on the stairs and breaking my neck) than I am of men.

          • Aapje says:

            @eyeballfrog

            Actually, there is evidence that the number of rapes if very similar, if you use a gender-neutral definition of rape (which includes ‘forced to penetrate’).

            However, in all cases stranger rape is actually relatively rare, so the risk of rape is not a very good reason to be wary of strangers more than known relations.

          • TheWorst says:

            @baconbacon

            It is also entirely possible that women’s relative safety is due to their concern. Many crimes are of opportunity, and a collective paranoia would prevent many opportunities.

            That’s not a bad hypothesis, but I think it’s relevant that none of the women I know have anywhere near that level of paranoia–and almost none of them have any at all–and none of them have ever been attacked by strangers.

            It’s also probably relevant that the odds that I’ll go through the rest of my life without ever being attacked by a stranger seem pretty good. I’m safe. People who are much safer than me are very safe. If they feel unsafe, they are wrong.

            To make someone feel unsafe is to harm them. If stalking is wrong, then so is telling safe people to be constantly terrified of stranger-attack.

          • baconbacon says:

            That’s not a bad hypothesis, but I think it’s relevant that none of the women I know have anywhere near that level of paranoia–and almost none of them have any at all–and none of them have ever been attacked by strangers.

            I don’t know any women who express this level of paranoia, but many activities could be interpreted as protective. Going to the bathroom in groups rather than alone is one example. They also seem more likely to meet at someone’s house as a group before going out rather than meeting at a bar or club where they might be alone for a stretch. There is probably a social aspect to these arrangements (if true) but also a safety aspect.

            I am not sure the car safety analogy is a good one either (to whoever posted that). You may be more likely to be injured in a car accident, but can you actually prevent car accidents with much control? Most accidents involve things like bad weather, distracted (or dangerous) other drivers, or an odd event that throws throws the traffic pattern off. I don’t know that there is a driving equivalent of “don’t go out alone” for increasing safety.

          • Psmith says:

            I don’t know that there is a driving equivalent of “don’t go out alone” for increasing safety.

            Situational awareness, not driving on big drinking holidays or in predictably icy conditions, maybe track days and more advanced training than the legal minimum.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ TheWorst
            To make someone feel unsafe is to harm them. If stalking is wrong, then so is telling safe people to be constantly terrified of stranger-attack.

            Bouncing off in haste….

            Dunno from ‘terrified’. And not just about strangers. But telling women to beware of even acquaintances … gives women cover for avoiding rape-friendly privacy with even someone they’re dating. “I won’t ride with you because there’s a tiny probability that you might attack me” is socially insulting.

            But … the situations we’re advised to avoid, are also the situations that are socially prohibited by Victorians and some modern South Americans. “Oh, I can’t do that because it’s not proper, people might gossip about us” is not insulting.

            Ftm, the developing standard of “never touch a woman”, pattern matches with the Victorian “Don’t get fresh”.

            Maybe that’s where fedoras came from?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            When Iris (and people in general) talks about women feeling unsafe or mistrustful, it concerns things like walking down lonely streets or alleys at night, being alone with a new date, being followed home, etc.

            The fact that men have overall higher rates of violent victimization doesn’t mean that any of these activities are riskier for them. It may be that men are more likely to participate in gangs, or get into bar fights with strangers, etc, and this is why their victimization rate is high. If it turns out that men who are in gangs or who drink and are belligerent get victimized a lot, but men are safer walking down lonely streets, less likely to be sexually assaulted when alone with a first date, less likely to be groped by strangers who sit next to them on the bus, etc. (and these are, I think, mostly pretty obvious), then in the relevant sense women have more reason to be mistrustful or frightened of strangers.

            That’s not to say that the fear is reasonable, on balance, but the argument given by anonymous/theworst/etc. is very bad.

            I am skeptical of Vv_vV’s hypothesis that a difference in values between men and women would explain a difference in the threshold for reasonable fear of an order of magnitude or more.

          • TheWorst says:

            The fact that men have overall higher rates of violent victimization doesn’t mean that any of these activities are riskier for them. It may be that…

            This seems like an argument based on imagined evidence. Saying “It may be that you are wrong” and then using that to claim someone else is making a very bad argument seems like a stretch. A huge stretch.

            It may be that I am wrong. There is (as far as I know) no evidence in favor of that, though, and some against it. If you think the statistics (which say, broadly, that men are in very little danger from strangers, and women are in much less) are wrong in some way, I’d be interested to see your reasons. If you don’t have any such reasons, just saying “it may be” is not a good reason to claim that it is.

            I mean, it may be that you are wrong. It may be that the evidence (which doesn’t demonstrably exist) does not in fact exist. Therefore, your argument is very bad. See the problem?

          • philosophisticat says:

            @TheWorst

            You and anonymous wanted to use the statistics under discussion to show that men were in much more danger than women and therefore that women’s fears were unreasonable. I pointed out that it was a bad argument, because overall rates of stranger victimization are a terrible measure of the danger that someone is in when going on a date with a stranger, walking down the street alone, etc, for reasons obvious enough that I felt mildly silly stating them, and the latter is what is relevant to women’s fears. We don’t need to have positive studies to judge that the argument is bad – a sufficiently credible alternative explanation is enough, and we all have independent grounds for thinking that there are demographic differences in behavior between men and women that matter to victimization rates but not to the rationality of being afraid walking down the street alone. If you still do not see that this makes broad victimization rates a poor measure for comparing the risks between men and women have in doing ordinary activities like walking down the street at night or going on dates, I don’t think I can help you further.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            TheWorst: That’s not “arguing based on imagined evidence”, that’s pointing out a hole in your argument. He’s not saying you’re necessarily wrong, he’s saying you haven’t done enough to demonstrate your point by making sure that your evidence says what you claim it does.

          • TheWorst says:

            It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding you, but it seems as if you’re arguing that the statement “What if X is true, and what if there was proof of it?” is knock-down proof that X is true.

            Saying that contradictory data might exist is not in fact pointing out a hole in an argument. The hole only exists if the data exists. It seems unreasonable to say “Maybe some evidence for my position might exist, somewhere” and then to argue as if you’d actually presented evidence.

      • Murphy says:

        Ya, i’m going to agree somewhat. Even guys I know who’ve been seriously assaulted and left with permanent damage like a cousin who was hospitalized after some nutter walked up behind him on the street and cracked his skull, apparently for fun… even guys like that seem to default to a vastly higher level of trust and lower level of background fear than you describe.

        Though I could also say the same about some women I know who’ve been assaulted/raped so you might just have an exceptionally high default level of fear/distrust.

      • TheWorst says:

        Guys I admit this to have, thus far, never had an equivalent experience of constant low level fear and distrust to describe to me.

        The strange thing here is that this seems completely true to me, even though men are at the same risk of rape and a much higher risk of assault. I suspect that the people telling you to be afraid of everyone were doing you no favors. And that, in general, our society needs to get better at correlating attention/fear with the actual likelihood of the given event happening.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Or men may be, on average, genetically less risk averse than women when it comes to their personal safety.

          Due to different maximum fertility and reproductive effort, men are the “disposable” gender.

        • James says:

          “I suspect that the people telling you to be afraid of everyone were doing you no favors. And that, in general, our society needs to get better at correlating attention/fear with the actual likelihood of the given event happening.”

          I once met a very bright minority woman in a rough area of town who was scared to go to college because of college rape statistics being thrown about. Heartbreaking.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Well that’s the point of the whole “1 in 4” statistic is it not?

            We’re supposed to be shocked that these nice clean colleges are less safe than the roughest of rough neighborhoods and feel driven to act.

          • Besserwisser says:

            Didn’t Scott make the comparison between talking about rape on college campuses and crime with rich victims? Maybe it was another example of bad things happen on campus but the point still stands. Colleges are safer than other places and the 1 in 4 statistic is bullshit.

          • MugaSofer says:

            We’re supposed to be shocked that these nice clean colleges are less safe than the roughest of rough neighborhoods and feel driven to act.

            It’s hard to know why people who make up false statistics do what they do, given they generally lie about that and indeed pretend they are actually making a shocking discovery.

          • “It’s hard to know why people who make up false statistics do what they do,”

            One reason, plausible in this case, is to get academic status, publication, promotion. If everyone else says the rate of rape in colleges is one in a hundred and you produce an article finding it is one in four you are going to get a lot of attention, much of it positive, and with luck a promotion or a job offer at a better school than currently hires you.

      • raj says:

        Guys I admit this to have, thus far, never had an equivalent experience of constant low level fear and distrust to describe to me.

        Most males are intuitively defensive, it’s just a matter of proximics. When one passes another at night on the street, they might nod and say good evening, but you can bet they will maintain as large a distance as possible and generally not turn their back to the other.

        I also don’t think your level of fear or distrust is typical. I do agree that women have more to be afraid of, (or at least, lack the illusion of control that testosterone provides) but I’d be surprised to find that they are less trusting.

      • Murphy says:

        I already commented above but adding this quote from scott adams which I feel is sort of illustrative.

        Contrast that with being a guy. When I encounter a dangerous situation, my first thought is to feel sorry for my future attacker. I’m smallish, so I calculate that once I get him down I’ll have to finish the job so he doesn’t get up again. I feel sorry for my would-be attacker even before I kill him in my imagination.

        I didn’t say I manage risk well. I’m just saying I don’t feel as if I am in physical danger from other humans, at least in normal situations. That’s just one advantage of being a guy.

        As a man, I have no memory of ever being afraid just because I was alone and in the wrong place. And I lived in a high-crime area in San Francisco for years. I figured my worst-case scenario was getting mugged and losing my decoy wallet and the $20 I kept in it. But I only got mugged on the street once. And my apartment only got ransacked and robbed once.

        Note, he’s not saying he genuinely think’s he can win against any attacker. The “I’m smallish, so I calculate that once I get him down I’ll have to finish the job” bit is just taking the piss.

        But his default is to not be scared about the prospect. He’s been mugged and robbed but that hasn’t particularly changed his general background feeling. I can sort of relate to that and it doesn’t seem to be very linked to the persons actual size. I’ve known a few tiny weak guys who appear to share this default relaxed attitude of simply not being afraid even if they’ve been attacked and lost multiple times. So it’s not even just a matter of physical strength.

        • Alethenous says:

          For what it’s worth, I’m male, slightly above average height, don’t share that reasoning at all, and think he’s signalling stupid bravado all over the place.

        • klfwip says:

          Even if you’re a pacifist or not good at fighting, being male gives you a lot of reasons to be more confident alone and unarmed in a dangerous area. If one untrained person attacked me I’m pretty sure I could fight them off for long enough to get a bit of distance based on intrinsic strength and reach alone. And after that, I could just beeline for the nearest crowded area out of prudence. I can’t see the point of being scared to walk in a bad neighbourhood, when the odds of being attacked are so low, and the odds of not getting away make death or severe injury a nonissue. For women, they’re probably equally likely to get attacked, but much less likely to be able to get an assailant off them and then run faster than their attacker, unless they’re paranoid enough to buy pepper spray or carry.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yeah, but a random untrained doofus jumping out of the bushes to punch you in the face is not remotely the central example of violence most people* are (or, I suppose, should be) worried about. Far more relevant is a mugger with a monkey wrench or a kitchen knife, or who credibly claims to have such a thing.

            * In contexts of ongoing conflict or unidirectional and overt oppression between ethnic groups, gangs of such doofi might be worth worrying about, depending on who’s winning at the moment. But even then, you still aren’t dealing with one guy in an otherwise even fight.

          • TheWorst says:

            …being male gives you a lot of reasons to be more confident alone and unarmed in a dangerous area.

            I hear this sentiment a lot. I always wonder if the people saying it are familiar with the concept of weapons. I always have the impulse to yell “Weapons! Weapons are a thing! You know that!”

            …but what if they don’t? What if they just got here from a really strange parallel reality? I’m not sure I want to be the first one to break it to ’em.

            For women, they’re probably equally likely to get attacked,…

            Nope. My point was that this isn’t true, repeating this non-true thing is harmful, and people should stop doing it. Inducing paranoia in safe people seems like pointless cruelty.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In most dangerous areas civilians in first-world countries are likely to have cause to traverse, effective weapons are prohibited. The usual dual-use items tend not to be very effective, be impractical to carry, or both.

          • Anonymous says:

            In most dangerous areas civilians in first-world countries are likely to have cause to traverse, effective weapons are prohibited.

            Did you ever hear that old saw about how if guns are criminalized, only criminals will have guns?

            Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly true at least as far as muggers in London goes. If you can even find one who doesn’t use a knife I’d be shocked, despite knives being strictly interdicted for mugging purposes.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Anonymous
            Really? I don’t know anyone who has been mugged in the UK by someone with a gun, and I think in general most muggers don’t even have knives (or they target easy victims and don’t bother to draw knives even if they have them).

          • Rash92 says:

            I think their point is knives (over a certain length) are illegal to carry in londpn but muggers still use them.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            But more relevantly, guns are illegal and aren’t commonly used by criminals.

          • PGD says:

            This is an odd discussion. Muggers can do tremendous damage with simple, universally available weapons like kitchen knives or lengths of metal pipe, or by attacking in small groups, or just being a lot larger than you and sucker punching you by surprise. And it’s rare for someone to attack unless they are confident they have some kind of edge. One single hard blow to the head from a powerful adult male can ruin your life forever. Untrained / unarmed people who are confident about their ability to come out of violent situations unharmed just strike me as silly.

          • @PGD:

            I agree. There are lots of things short of firearms that can kill you.

      • Some Guy says:

        My girlfriend has been assaulted. Despite that, when I met her, she was the sort of person who would watch those true crime type shows, recount the horrible things people do to one another, but who didn’t bother to lock the front door of the house.

        After I pointed out how often the people on those shows wouldn’t be quite so dead or victimized if they took some pretty basic security precautions, she started locking the door.

        In general, I think there’s a lot of wisdom to the belief that if you don’t want to be eaten, don’t act like food.

      • Pan Narrans says:

        But does this mean that men are psychologically less afraid, or is it an intellectual response to the fact, for women but not men, a typical person of the other gender is strong enough to overpower them? This is really checkable, in theory: do female body-builders, martial artists and soldiers tend to carry pepper spray?

        I’m male, and certainly more afraid of a male stranger on a dark road than a female one.

      • Eu says:

        has, thus far, never been assaulted. Unlike most women

        Most women have not been assaulted.

        Guys I admit this to have, thus far, never had an equivalent experience of constant low level fear and distrust to describe to me.

        Yet men are far more likely than women to be victims of violent crime.

        At one point you should just consider whether it is your delusional and paranoid grasp of reality that’s causing your problems.

    • MawBTS says:

      I’m an idiot. Every time I see the name “Simon Baron-Cohen” I instinctively think “wow, the Borat guy’s career really went downhill.”

    • Daniel Armak says:

      Well, is Williams syndrome more common in women, or in more feminine people? Is it more severe?

      • Nelshoy says:

        Because it’s just a chromosomal deletion and not a complex spectrum like autism, I don’t think you’d expect to see anything like that. I was thinking of an effect more along the lines of:

        “X molecule is present 2x more in male fetuses than female fetuses, X molecule is 10x more concentrated in autistic individuals, Williams syndrome people lack X molecule completely.”

  5. Anon says:

    Fun fact: according to Google, neither shmendroblast nor blexomere have ever been used on the internet before this post. Ladies and gentlemen, today we witness history.

    • shmendroblastman says:

      I’m delurking just so I can prove I was here at this historic moment.

    • TheWorst says:

      So the important question is, are shmendroblasts possessed of personhood? Coming soon to an intractable argument near you!

      • Anonymous says:

        No, the blexomeric transition is defined as the point where the shmendroblast grows the little loop that the soul hooks onto. So before that it’s an empty vessel.

        • baconbacon says:

          That is only the when the soul hooks onto the loop, the soul may have developed and be present in the amniotic fluid prior to that, and abortion at that point still kills the fetus’ soul.

          • Anonymous says:

            That does not alter the fact that the shmendroblast lacks personhood before that point. The personhood of the amniotic soul (which is undeniable per definition) was not in question in this case. Maybe that seems pedantic, but if you think about it, “does the soul possess personhood?” is a really weird, tautological question.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I can see why it might be thought that personhood can admit only a single possessor, but can we be certain this is so? For that matter, the amniotic fluid in this context seems more analogous to a renter (or more likely a courier) in this context than the actual “owner” of the soul, which is still the shmendroblast/blexomere.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Anon

            Does a body without a soul have person hood? Does a soul without a body have person hood? Does it only count when the two are together? If a genetic mutation causes a deformed soul hook that allows the soul to attach/detach is that person vacillating between personhood and non person hood?

          • Anonymous says:

            If you guys really cared about these issues you’d’ve paid more attention in embryology class.

      • If you use the Vital Name…

      • Lumifer says:

        are shmendroblasts possessed of personhood?

        Obviously, shmendroblasts posses schmendrohood, that is, the personhood of a schmendrick.

      • Ninmesara says:

        No, Uriel took away their souls.

    • Audenous says:

      Which begs the question: What is shmendroblast and blexomere? How are we suppose to find out if it doesn’t come up on google?

  6. MawBTS says:

    Yeah it feels like there’s 25% of an interesting theory here but I don’t know just WHAT 25%.

    Why use skull size as a proxy for domestication (or a proxy for anything?) You can’t fit a straight line over this – human brain size has decreased by about 10% during the Holocene, but prior to that it was growing.

    And it doesn’t seem to square with what we know about the distribution of schizophrenia around the globe. Northern Chinese/Mongolians have the largest skulls in the world (1450cc), Indians have some of the smallest (1250-1299cc), but they suffer from schizophrenia at similar rates.

    Skull size attracts confounding variables like flypaper. In the skeleton record, you see skulls get smaller as man adapted to agriculture (and malnutrition became a problem), and now that we have Caesarian sections, skull size will likely grow again over the next few hundred years. None of this has anything to do with how domesticated we are. You’d need a chainsaw, a hydraulic press, and the jaws of life to make all the data fit a small skulls -> domestication theory.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Skulls are pretty interesting from a natural selection standpoint because they are central to the bottleneck of the birthing process. My guess would be that the size of a newborn’s skull correlates with pelvic width, which also however correlates with running speed. Big skulls are better for thinking but narrow hips are better for running. Childbirth thus is laborious, which isn’t too bad from a Darwinian point of view, and potentially lethal, which is very, very bad.

      On the other hand, the data on this theory of mine is limited and not very persuasive.

      • Mammon says:

        >My guess would be that the size of a newborn’s skull correlates with pelvic width, which also however correlates with running speed.

        FWIW: “x correlates with y” means “x grows as y does”. But I’d assume that pelvic width grows as the opposite of running speed!

        The technical term would be “pelvic width is anticorrelated with running speed”.

        • Lumifer says:

          Actually, the technical term would be “correlated”. It’s just that the correlation happens to be negative.

          Also, correlation certainly does not mean “x grows as y does”.

        • Anonymous says:

          You’re thinking of “proportional” and “inversely proportional”, I think.

          • Axolotl says:

            No, those imply a *linear* relationship. I would probably just say “related” and “inversely related” or something.

          • Throwaway says:

            I would reserve “inversely” anything for cases where the product of two variables is held constant. In practice, actually, I would avoid saying it at all since my audience will probably split on their interpretation of what it means to be “inverse”.

            In cases like these where everyone subscribes to different definitions it’s prudent to be specific. “Correlated” is sufficient, but “correlated negatively” is more specific and avoids the ‘inverse’ problem.

            Aside, my common-core kids would say “proportional with a negative constant of proportionality”.

  7. Steve Sailer says:

    I originally thought this theory was dumb.

    Yes, but the idea that people might be under- or over-domesticated might just be brilliant. Perhaps it explains other things?

  8. Steve Sailer says:

    Nineteenth Century thinkers like Darwin and Galton tended to see “wildness” as a useful descriptive term for various populations, often in terms of the urge to hunt and fight. (Both Darwin and Galton had been fanatical hunters when young and could identify with hunting tribes.)

    There was a lot of debate over, say, whether American Indians could be induced to become farmers. Abraham Lincoln had 14 Indian chiefs brought to the White House so he could lecture them on their need to become farmers. Lincoln told the Indian chiefs:

    “We pale-faced people think that this world is a great, round ball, and we have people here of the pale-faced family who have come almost from the other side of it to represent their nations here and conduct their friendly intercourse with us, as you now come from your part of the round ball.

    “There is a great difference between this palefaced people and their red brethren, both as to numbers and the way in which they live. We know not whether your own situation is best for your race, but this is what has made the difference in our way of living.

    “The pale-faced people are numerous and prosperous because they cultivate the earth, produce bread, and depend upon the products of the earth rather than wild game for a subsistence. This is the chief reason of the difference; but there is another. Although we are now engaged in a great war between one another, we are not, as a race, so much disposed to fight and kill one another as our red brethren.

    “You have asked for my advice. I really am not capable of advising you whether, in the providence of the Great Spirit, who is the great Father of us all, it is best for you to maintain the habits and customs of your race, or adopt a new mode of life. I can only say that I can see no way in which your race is to become as numerous and prosperous as the white race except by living as they do, by the cultivation of the earth. …”

    Few seem very interested in American Indians anymore, but conditions on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota are depressing. For that matter, the descendants of the Scots-Irish frontiersmen who fought the Indians aren’t doing very well these days, either.

    • Svejk says:

      This is a fascinating quote. Even considering the historical context, this sounds like a speech from a quasi-benevolent Borg-like entity. Agriculture colonized the entire Earth, exterminating or marginalizing all other lifeways. Darwin and Galton were not unusual in empathizing with the ‘wild’ populations – there’s a good argument that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is still more naturally congenial to most people. For thousands of years, the more popular forms of play among the upper classes were essentially re-enactments of forager work – hunting for the men, flower walks and parlor gossip for the ladies.

      If you were to tell me that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was run by the malevolent AI in the Harlan Ellison story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” I would not dismiss it out of hand.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        It’s a pretty awesome quote from Lincoln, even though you never hear about it. I’d like to see Steven Spielberg direct Daniel Day-Lewis in a movie about this incident, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

        There’s a photograph:

        http://isteve.blogspot.com/2014/01/abraham-lincolns-speech-to-14-indian.html

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Golf is like hunting for us modern wusses who aren’t into bloodsports, but still like wandering around what looks like a happy hunting ground.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        It’s worth noting that Lincoln appeared to be agnostic on the nature vs. nurture debate. He’s suggesting the Indians try nurturing a new way of life for themselves, but he’s not promising it will work for them.

        • herbert herbertson says:

          As a free-soiler (and a native of the region of the country where Indian Removal was most completely effected) he also had non-philosophical reasons to be ambivalent about American-Native relations.

      • Hunter-gatherers had a population density of around 1/10 per square mile. That was about the same as the population density of aristocrats in Medieval England. Coincidence?

        • baconbacon says:

          Hmmm, did the aristocrats have to murder half of their own children before they were 6 months old as well?

          • Svejk says:

            African hunter-gatherers do not appear to have had higher infanticide rates than medieval peasants, and may have had lower rates because of less-frequent conception (significantly later weaning and lower body fat, among other factors, increase interbirth interval among hunter gatherer women). Medieval aristocrats of course probably fared better than the peons. Sarah Blaffer-Hrdy, who studied infanticide in primates and humans, recounts a fascinating history of European wet nursing as an infanticide-at-a distance scheme; I’m not certain if anyone else has more updated data on cross-cultural neonaticide.

          • baconbacon says:

            @Svejk

            Extant groups of hunter gatherers should only be used as a model from ancestral with great caution as they only exist in places where agriculture didn’t take hold. It becomes hard to reconcile how hunter gatherers could have better outcomes like lower infant mortality rates, longer life spans and better nutrition while also having agricultural societies grow vastly faster than them. You can get there with lower conception rates if you postulate really low conception rates (remember that early agriculture would be very rudimentary, and conception and birth rates drop to zero as nutrition declines).

            The question becomes where were all the hunter gatherers? If their society was providing quality reproductive rates why were there (an estimated ) 1 million humans 100,000 years ago after 2 million years of existence? Why after another 100-200,000 years with modern humans were there still relatively few humans?

          • Anonymous says:

            If their society was providing quality reproductive rates why were there [. . .] still relatively few humans?

            Because their society was providing quality reproductive rates. A higher rate isn’t a better rate, and it’s not unreasonable to think that low population densities were better suited to the hunter-gatherer way of life.

          • Lumifer says:

            I’ve seen the explanation for the lower conception rates among hunter-gatherers that went as follows: if you have a nomadic lifestyle, you are literally limited to what you can carry. That includes infant children.

            Basically, a woman living in a permanent settlement can pop out kids every year, but a hunter-gatherer woman cannot. She needs to physically carry all her children who cannot walk sufficiently far and fast. This means that she needs to extend the interval between births which is achievable through a long breastfeeding period.

          • Svejk says:

            @Baconbacon
            Demographers have modeled how agriculturalists could overtake foragers in population, despite their initial disadvantages. I think you have hit on the key phrase here – “quality reproductive rates”. Forager societies were self-limiting, partially because of the mobility requirement, while agriculturalists – after many failed experiments and false starts all over the globe – experienced exponential growth. The key to the agriculturalist numerical advantage is the very short interbirth interval enabled by sedentism and the availability of grain-based weaning foods after agriculture. A crude explanation is often phrased as “10 short underfed farmers could overtake one strapping forager”. Of course this simple explanation elides many of the truly revolutionary changes in social organization and relation to territory that may have further advantaged farmers.
            Interestingly, some of the most well-studied hunter-gatherers have regular exchange with their farmer neighbors and could easily adopt farming in their locale if they chose, but they do not wish to do so.

            The forager-farmer transition is an absolutely fascinating subject. It as is humans landed in a time of whalefall but decided to adopt a Malthusian rat model instead. There must be more to the story of course – environmental pressures, hidden miseries of foraging in crucial times and places – but it is an interesting phenomenon to consider when pondering the next transition.

          • baconbacon says:

            Broad reply to all-

            Breast feeding isn’t perfect contraception, but let’s say it is for 2 full years plus a year for pregnancy, for a woman getting pregnant every 3 years or so. Add in high miscarriage rates will add a few months on average, and then add in high infant mortality and a woman will be having a child every 4-5 years. With a fertility window of 20-25 years a woman would have 4-6 children escape infancy*. Over 90,000+ years to not have a large population (hundreds of millions) of humans you need extremely low growth rates or many periods where masses of people are wiped out resetting the population.

            The self controlling population growth hypothesis basically relies on extremely low reproductive rates for groups that allegedly have high nutrition and large amounts of leisure time (but without any modern conveniences like birth control/TV/understanding of biology). Which is more likely, that or large amounts of death that didn’t leave much trace in an extremely spotty historical record?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ baconbacon

            a woman will be having a child every 4-5 years. With a fertility window of 20-25 years a woman would have 4-6 children escape infancy

            Not quite: an average forager woman would have 4-6 live births, but given the infant morality around 50%, she would have around 2.5 kids survive till adulthood and the replacement rate is something like 2.2.

            Add some simple feedback loop (e.g. population increase -> mini-war -> part of the population is dead) and you have a stable no-growth society.

          • During plague epidemics, that wasn’t needed for most of the aristocracy. OTOH, kings tended to stay holed up in castles during plague epidemics. They kept their populations steady by dynastic wars.

          • David Friedman says:

            Is it clear that hunter gatherers were not at the limit of what the territory could sustain, given their mode of production?

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Lumifer

            You missed a line in there, women would be having 4-5 kids AFTER adding in a high infant mortality rate and a high miscarriage rate.

          • baconbacon says:

            Is it clear that hunter gatherers were not at the limit of what the territory could sustain, given their mode of production?

            @ David Friedman,

            Their populations were likely limited by their mode of production, but populations don’t self limit by eliminating pregnancies, their size ends up limited by deaths of individuals. These deaths often occur in ways that aren’t reflected (or are wildly underrepresented) in the historical record. Two possible examples (of many).

            1. Fragmentation. HG groups tend to be size limited for a variety of reasons between 50 and 150 individuals, when their population exceeds their particular limits a portion of the group ail break off and search for their own territory. If they find something suitable, great, if not (as is more likely) they will simply disappear from history.

            2. Infanticide/high infant mortality. Infants remains are soft, and they lack teeth which are the most durable (specifically adult teeth are the most common fragment found), their deaths underrepresented (this is well known, but still not easy to account for).

            Number 1 is probably under appreciated, if an anthropologist embeds with a primitive tribe for several years they are unlikely to see the event happen, and if it does happen it doesn’t look like a death march (though it often is). It looks like a group moving out, and losses won’t be counted in their statistics.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ baconbacon

            The math doesn’t add up. You are saying “a woman getting pregnant every 3 years or so. Add in high miscarriage rates will add a few months on average”, so a live birth every 3.5 years. You also say “fertility window of 20-25 years” which means 6-7 live births. To get it to to “4-6 children escape infancy” you need an unreasonably low child mortality rate.

            And, of course, you care not about escaping infancy, but about surviving to adulthood (defined as breeding age).

          • baconbacon says:

            The math doesn’t add up. You are saying “a woman getting pregnant every 3 years or so. Add in high miscarriage rates will add a few months on average”, so a live birth every 3.5 years. You also say “fertility window of 20-25 years” which means 6-7 live births. To get it to to “4-6 children escape infancy” you need an unreasonably low child mortality rate.

            A woman can get pregnant at the end of her fertility window and still carray the child to term, so a 25 year fertility window isn’t 7 live births, it is more like 7.5-8 live births (the fertility window for modern women is also more like 30 years).

            4/6 children surviving infancy is a 33% mortality rate, so is 5/7.5. That is high This link has total child mortality at age 15 at around 43% for hunter gatherers, and these are extent groups who have survived in difficult places to live where agriculture couldn’t take hold for various reasons. A 57% survival rate until reproductive age from a woman having 6+ live births is exponential growth and would represent a doubling of population about every 40 years (obviously many women won’t have the full 6 live births.

            Once again this is over an very long time span when talking about population growth, 90,000+ years. A 100 person original group with 0.02% annual population growth over 90,000 years would be about equivalent to our current population of 6 billion.

          • hypnosifl says:

            @Svejk – Very interesting, thanks for that information. This is an issue I had always been curious about since reading about the “Malthusian trap” of pre-industrial agricultural societies–where advancements in agricultural technologies wouldn’t increase standards of living because the population would just increase until everyone was back at subsistence level–and the question of why this trap doesn’t seem to apply generally to hunter-gatherer societies as well, since from what I’ve read many hunter-gatherers only need to spend a relatively small fraction of their days (compared to agriculturalists at least) foraging or hunting to get the food they need, and have a fair amount of leisure time. Can you recommend any books or other sources that I could look at that elaborate on the explanations you mentioned, and the evidence for them?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The standard explanation is that foragers have more variance: feast or famine, boom or bust. Farmers can store food to smooth out the food supply. So they are closer to malthusian conditions, always malnurished, while the foragers are either healthy or dead. Farmers work hard because they can store the calories. Foragers work hard in a famine, but in good conditions, extra work does them no good.

    • Vaniver says:

      It’s worth remembering that many Amerindian tribes did farm North America extensively, but the farming tribes appear to have survived European neighbors less well than the tribes that were more heavily focused on hunting and gathering. By Lincoln’s time, those were the ones left.

      • herbert herbertson says:

        It’s not necessarily one or the other, though. Hunting and gathering makes more sense for various reasons whenever population density is low enough to make it feasible, and thanks to the Columbian exchange there were a lot of formerly-agricultural NA tribes that rather suddenly and lamentably found themselves in a position where it was quite feasible. Read James Scott for discussion of how this worked in a completely different context

      • qwints says:

        That doesn’t seem accurate. For example, the Navajo were in open conflict with the US in 1863, and they were farmers and ranchers.

        • Julian says:

          I believe Vaniver is referring to tribes closer to the East Coast which had contact with Europeans earlier and were then pushed off of their ancestral lands.

        • Vaniver says:

          You’re right, I had the timeline wrong on the Navajo. (The speech happened in 1863, and the Navajo were forced to a reservation in 1864.)

      • Snodgrass says:

        Ah yes: that’s the nature of the Columbian apocalypse; I wonder whether it’s part of why post-apocalyptic American writing is generally about roaming bands rather than about huddled masses.

    • Deiseach says:

      Nineteenth Century thinkers like Darwin and Galton tended to see “wildness” as a useful descriptive term for various populations, often in terms of the urge to hunt and fight.

      I am presuming that is the same Galton who gets name-checked here? From a 1925 magazine, an essay on “Our Ignorance of Race, by A Leading British Authority”:

      But nothing moves in the modern world, said a great student in the nineteenth century, that is not Greek in origin, and if we modify the statement so as to include the Semitic origin of our religion, and the Italian rebirth of science and art, we must admit that without these beginners and begetters we should be nowhere and nothing. There would be no Metropolitan Museum or Woolworth Building in New York, nor any New York at all; not even old York. The historical facts are beyond question. We owe to these peoples all that we have and are; yet today their present representatives are practically excluded from the most powerful, wealthy, and progressive country in the world on the implicit ground, whatever be may outwardly asserted, that they are inferior and undesirable recruits to the ranks of American citizenship.

      What is the truth? Are the Americans, who name themselves after Amerigo Vespucci, right in their view of present people who bear such names as his? Statistical observations, based upon the approved methods of estimating intelligence, are now before us, according to which the child of Southern Italian stock, as seen in the schools of the United States, is approximately in the same intellectual class as the Negro. Is that true? And if modern Italians are an inferior people, what are the causes of so great a decadence from antiquity and the Renaissance?

      … The Greeks, according to some, were destroyed by the introduction of malaria; and if the modern Greek is looked down upon in the United States – as when the visitor is advised to patronize a ‘white’ lunch counter rather than one run by Greeks – the reply to the natural allusion to Pericles and Socrates may be that, as shown by anthropological measurements, the modern Greek does not belong to the ancient race at all, for that has vanished. We are also told that, in racial compatibility, the Ancient Greeks were practically identical with the present population of England – the so-called Anglo-Saxons. It seems quite the most wildly incredible nonsense one ever heard – but the anthropologists ought to know. That the present Spaniard belongs to the same race as his great ancestors is not questioned, but here some invoke, for what surely must be called decadence, the action of reversed selection, as argued by my master, Francis Galton, in his Hereditary Genius (1869) – religious celibacy and the Inquisition being the guilty agents.

      Ah, good old “Statistical observations, based upon the approved methods of estimating intelligence”! Glad to see they’re every bit as useful as ever they were in settling modern questions of racial decadence! 🙂

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Amusingly, I posted this quote to my social media and it was called out as “white supremacist propaganda”. I haven’t checked all day, but so far, no one apparently thought to look it up.

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    This sort of moving the goal-posts, where autistics are judged on their larger heads but schizophrenics on their smaller brains, is a red flag for fake pattern-matching.

    Yes, that’s an example of poor evidence, but it has the potential of a prediction. As you say, studies of autists conflict, so there’s an opportunity for a prediction.

    It would be good if people isolated the evidence for their theory from the novel predictions of the theory, but they don’t. Moreover, it is quite common that people reinterpret hazy evidence so that it is hard to disentangle the two.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to take a Scientific Wild Ass Guess. This theory is very probably wrong, but what if it’s right? What if it contributes to our understanding of two massive health problems? Off the top of my head, it would seem like a 1/100 chance of being right about two major problems we don’t understand well would justify publishing your theory.

      • dragnubbit says:

        But then you would have 100 pseudo-scientific tangents to send your fellow scientists off on for every breakthrough that actually deserved attention and further research.

        Being right can get hard to recognize if your field cries wolf too often.

    • David says:

      >It would be good if people isolated the evidence for their theory from the novel predictions of the theory, but they don’t.

      Because correct predictions *are* evidence in favor of a theory.

      In fact, you can say that evidence is nothing more than predictions that have already been confirmed as true.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Let me rephrase: It would be good if people isolated real observations do support the theory from hypothetical observations that would support it, but haven’t actually been observed. But they don’t.

  10. John says:

    Does anyone else have a problem with pathological innocence? I don’t have Williams Syndrome but I have this particular symptom.I found it very difficult once I entered school, and later the workforce, to adjust to the realisation that people in general are incredibly more self-interested than I am. It has made me a very cynical person because rightly or wrongly I keep getting let down by people after taking them at their word, or getting treated badly for no reason and taking it to heart.

    Has anyone else dealt with this or know what I am talking about?

    • Don't make me say it again: I'm a cleaner says:

      Don’t let anyone hear you describe yourself as a nice person, especially not a nice guy.

    • Anonymous says:

      As a child I was often very frustrated because I did not understand the extent to which authorities’ statements were either white lies, or general statements of affect which I should not assume were applicable to me specifically. I am not sure how similar this is to your experience, because I have always been rather low-trust; however, my youthful cynicism was not adaptively applied. (I tended to assume that people were telling the literal truth and then try to explain their behavior as stupidity.)

      You may find that it helps to consider how much signaling and self-interested behavior is unconscious. We are experts at cutting corners while convincing ourselves that we are good; it is part of being human. People make promises they won’t keep because their brain is fooling them into thinking that this time they’ll totally manage to stay organized, or are cruel because they’re just having a bad day, they’re not really like that, and anyway if the conversation isn’t important to them why should it be to anyone else? We all do it, even, probably, you.

      No need to attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity; no need to attribute to deliberate malice what can be explained by flexible cognition responding to incentives. People may be dicks but they’re mostly not aware of it.

      You may wonder whether it’s worth it to lower your standards like this; I sometimes do myself. But it’s happened and I am at least a hell of a lot chiller than I used to be.

      • Pan Narrans says:

        “We are experts at cutting corners while convincing ourselves that we are good; it is part of being human. ”

        And friends/family. I’ve had conversations with friends about scenarios where I was clearly in the wrong and I feel bad, and seen them invent excuses for me to a level that’s actively frustrating when I’m trying to say how guilty I feel about being rude to someone.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I’m kind of like that. I always want to think well of people I know.

      Or at least I think I am.

      Of course, Evelyn Waugh, the greatest cynic in the English language of the 20th Century, saw himself the same way. The autobiographical protagonists of his novels are always innocent young men beset by the cruel world.

      Yet … we may know about as much about Waugh as anybody who ever lived — he was part of a dynasty of professional writers (including the Cockburns) and lived surrounded by writers — and virtually every one of them is agreed that Waugh was an awful man. His descendants still get paid to write funny articles about horrible things he did.

    • Mammon says:

      I’ve had this problem with exaggerated innocence/trust, though at a relatively mild (read: sub-pathological) level. On psychometric tests I’ve rated as 99th percentile for agreeableness.

      It also has made me cynical and depressed. It’s also a strain on some relationships, when people only realize that you had expectations after they broke them.

      I’m doing well these days – I’ve had to unlearn social optimism, and repeat as a mantra “your appreciation is earned” (i.e. don’t smile to strangers). I would never have guessed that being less nice would make me more friends.

      • Uncle Joe says:

        This is very interesting to me, since I’ve scored at around the 5th-10th percentile for agreeableness on a five-factor personality test.

        The biggest symptom I’ve noticed is that I tend to get rather worked up over irrelevant issues or behaviors. This has caused me some issues in relationships.

        I’m curious what your life is like as a highly agreeable person.

    • For what it’s worth, I’ve always been pretty nice/trusting/innocent, and the world hasn’t chewed me up and spit me out yet.

      • baconbacon says:

        Good for you! If you ever want help avoiding those that would take advantage of you I have a very affordable package (with a 5 year free trial) to protect the trusting. All I need is a major credit card and your SS#. Cheers!

        • Well, trusting doesn’t mean stupid. But anyway, I just figured if people were sharing their experiences with niceness and where it had gotten them in life, I would share mine. It’s not all being driven to cynicism and despair by people disappointing you – sometimes it’s pretty darn pleasant! In fact, in my (admittedly, perhaps anomalous) experience, people being basically kind and decent has been the rule rather than the exception. I’m trying to think of the last time I met an honest-to-goodness jerk IRL, and I’m actually struggling with it.

          (online is a different story, naturally)

          I feel like there’s a definite strain of “nice guys finish last”-type thought among some commenters on this site, and I think it needs some pushing back against. Yes, yes, nice people are all just suckers waiting to be taken advantage of, no one respects weakness, girls hate beta orbiters, blah blah blah. I get where the people who say things like that are coming from, I really do. But I also think that kind of worldview, taken to the extreme, contains some major blindspots. Like, I feel like I shouldn’t need to point this out, but…there are benefits to being nice? Really obvious ones? For example: people tend to like other people who are nice! They find them pleasant to be around. This helps build friendships and is generally a good thing, all else being equal. People also tend to trust nice people more easily! This helps them cooperate and derive gains from trades and all that positive sum jazz. Also a good thing, all else being equal.

          I mean, yeah, okay: maybe don’t be William’s Syndrome nice. But let’s not pretend like there are no upsides to niceness. There’s a reason it evolved in the first place, and it wasn’t just so that the nice people would be there to be taken advantage of.

          (Am I arguing against no one? I hope I’m not arguing against no one. This is kind of a bugbear of mine so I worry about shoehorning rants about it into places where they’re not even needed)

          • Gazeboist says:

            I mean, you’re arguing against baconbacon, at least. But I don’t think you’re arguing against everybody, or even close to it. “Niceness, Community, and Civilizaition” and all that. Most of the people here aren’t into dividing people into alpha/beta/whatever. If anything, going by the threads above, you’re more likely to find an argument that people are needlessly paranoid about each other.

            At the very least, you’re not the only one who thought baconbacon was being an ass with absolutely no justification.

          • baconbacon says:

            I was just making a joke.

            Or whatever the equivalent of a joke is when it apparently isn’t funny.

          • @baconbacon

            Oh don’t worry, I read that as more likely to be joking than not. Like I said, I was just looking for an excuse to rant.

          • Thad says:

            @baconbacon

            I thought it was funny.

      • Linch says:

        FWIW, my experiences in general are closer to thepenforests’ than to the other commenters above.

      • To help with the cynical pushback, I’d like to add myself to the list of people who’ve had this experience. People have treated me extraordinarily nicely all my life and I have a dangerous ‘trust everything everyone says to me directly unless it directly contradicts something I know’ policy that has somehow yet to have the horrible consequences one might assume it to have. Some people have been dicks to me (I can think of seven, two of which did damage, of which in turn one was my dad), but it’s really very much the exception.

        Unlike thepenforests, this even extends to online interactions for me… though I am reasonably sure that only works because I largely seek out and stick to small, tight-knit communities.

        I blame luck, but it’s a very strong and steady streak of it, so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. Maybe I just won the “registers as a likeable person to people due to facial features and instinctive body language” lottery and so people treat me with respect. (My girlfriend meanwhile has the opposite problem and I wish I could give her some of my good fortune.)

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      This is hard because on one hand, you are probably right in this analysis. But it’s also quite possible that you’re a self centered asshole who are furious at not being the center of everyone else’s world.

      Both those people see the world as you do, and I don’t know of a way to determine which one you are from the inside.

    • Eli says:

      I kind of know what you’re talking about. I suffer a disconnect between my consciously-held extreme cynicism, and my sub-consciously generated expectations. The latter seem to routinely expect that I’m dealing with reasonable people who understand about rational self-interest and common interest with others. The former predicts that I’m actually dealing with half-blind, half-mad idiots with barely-contained malevolent abominations behind their eyes.

      I think I like my subconscious expectations better.

      On the upside, when Donald Trump started running for President in August 2015, my conscious cynicism said, “Oh hey he’s the new Hitler”, so that’s at least one case of not failing to be cynical enough.

    • Some Guy says:

      At the risk of sounding like an adherent to red pill culture, the only two things I’ve found to counteract being nice to the point of being a sucker is to learn fromthe experiences of being taken advantage of; adjusting your expectations to be reasonably more self-preservational, and engaging in competition and exercise to raise your testosterone levels and general willingness to compete.

    • Thad says:

      I have a similar problem. I tend to be very cynical in the abstract, but far too trusting in the moment. I think I have a better grip on it now than I did in college, but it’s still very much a problem for me.

  11. Dániel says:

    Could Dmitry Belyaev exclude the possibility that cuteness influences how the domesticator assesses tameness? That in fact they were breeding for cuteness?

    • Mary says:

      No, because they exclusively selected for “how close the fox would allow a human to approach.” Nicely quantifiable.

      • Jon S says:

        That’s a better metric than had occurred to me, but there could still be a little confounding from cuteness. I would expect foxes (especially partly-domesticated ones) to pick up a little bit on the emotions of the humans approaching them, and the humans would more readily approach the cuter foxes.

        • Julian says:

          But doesnt that level of emotional IQ suggest greater domesticity? Reading an owners emotions is something that dogs are very good at. In some test they are better at reading owners intentions than even some primates.

        • Decius says:

          Being able to pick up human emotions from unconscious body language is advanced domestication.

  12. Murphy says:

    Domestication is sometimes said to involve keeping childish features into adulthood, lack of aggression, friendliness, lack of hair etc. Which is pretty much what happened really very rapidly with humans.

    I found Richard Morgan’s book “Black Man” kinda interesting.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B002U3CBZ2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    The backstory involved engineered soldiers in whom human self-domestication was edited out.
    They end up being what wolves are to dogs but for humans. Bigger, more aggressive etc.

    • Acedia says:

      I enjoyed that book too (and Morgan’s other works, he’s great), but it has some really strange ideas in it about what prehistoric humans were like.

    • onyomi says:

      It is true that women have a higher level of neoteny than men, so if neoteny=domestication and men are more likely to have autism, there does seem to be some sort of connection there. But are women more likely to suffer schizophrenia?

  13. Deiseach says:

    In adults the abnormal shape of the ears is robustly associated with autistic traits, with higher scores correlating with poorer functioning

    Cesare Lombroso called, he wants his classification scheme back.

    Honestly. We’re going to classify people on ear shapes and skull sizes? Hilaire Belloc had a whole article and poem satirising that:

    Another correspondent has come upon the thing from a different angle. He knows enough of the great new discovery to understand the term ‘cephalic index,’ and he has had his own cephalic index taken by a cephalogian who practises in Ealing. He did so under the impression, or course, that he was of sound Nordic stock; but to his horror the measurements have come out to an extreme form of Alpine! He asks me what he is to do about it? I can assure him (and though I do not claim to be an expert in Moronovitalogy I am fairly well up in my elements) that his anxiety is groundless.

    Though, of course skull measurement is the basis of the three great divisions, yet if a man have Nordic qualities clearly apparent in his birth and culture, these easily predominate over what might be the natural tendencies of brachycephalic humanity. It would be a fine state of things, indeed, if we had to rule out of the Nordic excellence all those great men of the English past who, so far as we can judge from their portraits, had something flat-headed about them.

    A third correspondent– who signs her letter ‘Onyx’– is troubled about her children. There are five: three charming boys and two delightful girls. She has measured their heads with her husband’s callipers (he is an architect in full employment) and she finds that her second eldest painfully Alpine, only her second youngest clearly Nordic; while the one in the middle, a boy (by name, she tells me, Ethelred), seems to be a strange mixture of all three.

    I cannot reply personally to this correspondent, as she does not give an address; but I trust that these lines will meet her eye. I would have her note that in the first place the skulls of children are no index to the shape they will have when they fossilize in mature years; and next, that even if these varied types appear in her family, it is not remarkable, for all three types are present in England. Moreover, she may have travelled.

    I think my paternal family has traits all along the autism spectrum and none of us have really been diagnosed until the generation of my first cousins’ kids, and I find this offensive. What is that thing about “correlation is not causation”? The Irish tend to be brachycephalic, the Irish have a high rate of schizophrenia – wow, case proven! But we also have a high rate of spina bifida, coeliac disease, and haemochromatosis. Does that all go along with the shape of our skulls and our ears? Are schizophrenics more likely to be coeliacs?

    (I think “Moronovitalogy” is exactly the kind of science on display here).

    Ah, well: if humans are domesticated pets, like our cats and dogs, then who are our owners?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Skull shapes and sizes are a potentially interesting topic. It’s hard to imagine how they wouldn’t be important from a Darwinian perspective since the size of skulls and the size of the birth canal are so crucially related.

      For example, watching the Olympics recently, the Kenyan distance runners with superbly efficient gaits appeared to tend to have narrow pelvises and narrow skulls. They generally come from high altitude grassland herding cultures where cattle raiding is an important test of manhood. The youths who are fast enough runners to successfully rustle some cattle from another tribe get a wife, while the slower rustlers get a spear in the back.

      • Deiseach says:

        the Kenyan distance runners with superbly efficient gaits appeared to tend to have narrow pelvises and narrow skulls

        Does this apply to the female Kenyan runners as well? If Kenyan mate selection and successful reproduction pressures favour “narrow pelvis”, this must also surely apply to the women, thus with narrower pelvises the birth canal is also narrower, hence the need for narrow heads – is that not how the argument goes? They have narrow heads because they have narrow pelvises, and they have narrow pelvises because they have narrow heads.

        Also, news just in: men tend to have narrower pelvises than women! So for runners this means about nothing in particular, if we’re looking at the men.

        I’m extremely sceptical of the “well, a skull with this much cubic capacity must have something in it*” interpretation, since it has been used to say “Racial grouping A are superior to racial grouping B” (and then you get this backed up with IQ tests saying the Southern Irish have an average IQ of 93 while the Northern Irish are closer to the 100+ of the mainland – goodness, nothing politically motivated in those results!)

        My brother-in-law, who is of good Norn Iron Protestant stock, has the dolichocephalic (or “loaf-shaped”) skull, noticeably so in contrast to us round-headed brachycephalic Taigues he married into.

        But, like Mr Belloc’s correspondent Oryx, I am puzzled as to how to interpret this: from the traditional school of interpretation, this should mean he is more intelligent, cultured, etc. as being a fine representative of the Nordic/Anglo-Saxon stock, in contrast to the emotional, violent, dreamy, unable to cope with the struggle of life Celt (as so many British intellectuals and men of letters and politicians assured us was the case, based on SCIENCE!).

        Yet by your interpretation, Mr Sailer, he should go in for long-distance running, spearing his rivals in the back, and cattle rustling – not quite what our great Western civilsation was built on or how it was viewed as triumphing via superior reason resulting in science and technology achieved!

        *As per Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”:

        “I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?”

        For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.”

        I’m sorry, Holmes, but I have to disagree with you there: a big head says nothing about the quality of the brain swimming around inside it!

        • Steve Sailer says:

          I’m extremely sceptical of the “well, a skull with this much cubic capacity must have something in it*” interpretation, since it has been used to say “Racial grouping A are superior to racial grouping B”

          Well, having watched the Olympics since 1968 when Kip Keino of Kenya defeated Jim Ryun of Kansas in the 1500m, I’d say that racial grouping A (Kenyan highlanders) are superior in distance running to just about any racial grouping B (other than Ethiopian highlanders).

        • Steve Sailer says:

          I’m sorry, Holmes, but I have to disagree with you there: a big head says nothing about the quality of the brain swimming around inside it!

          But what’s the natural selection point of a big head? Head size obviously comes with a lot of negative tradeoffs, such as higher chance of maternal death, slower running speed, higher nutrition needs, more awkward center of gravity, more heat loss during cold weather, and so forth.

          Why did humans evolve to have much bigger heads than chimps? Perhaps it has something to do with what’s inside the head?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            But what’s the natural selection point of a big head?

            Generally speaking, yes, creatures with bigger brains are smarter. But the difference between the size of a human brain and a chimp brain (relative to body size) is pretty dramatic. I don’t think it follows that a human with a slightly larger/heavier brain will automatically be smarter than another human with a slightly smaller brain. Or at least, I’d be really surprised if it was that simple.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            The correlation between IQ and brain size is not high, but it exists, as one would expect.

        • @Deiseach:

          You seem to be making, whether seriously or in jest, the mistake of confusing claims about averages with claims about individuals.

        • @Deiseach:

          You appear to be making, whether seriously or in jest, the error of confusing claims about averages with claims about individuals. There is no inconsistency between the claim that men, on average, are better at map reading tasks than women and the observation that my WoW characters could get lost on a tabletop whereas my wife used to make her living as a geologist doing three dimensional mapping.

        • DavidFriedman says:

          @Deiseach:

          You appear to be making, possibly in jest, the common mistake of confusing claims about averages with claims about individuals.

          The claim that men are, on average, better at map reading skills than women may well be true. It is not disproved by the observation that my WoW characters can get lost on a tabletop, while my wife used to make her living as an oil geologist doing three dimensional mapping.

    • timorl says:

      Ah, well: if humans are domesticated pets, like our cats and dogs, then who are our owners?

      We are, the theory is referred to as “self-domestication”. As far as I understand it states tat the general social pressures present in the human evolutionary history are in some ways similar to the pressures present when domesticating animals.

      Alternative explenation/theology fanfiction:

      God is, and we are his herd. Haven’t you read the bible?

    • Murphy says:

      More likely founder effects for ireland for some of that stuff.

      quite a few countries with a history of gluten free staples have high rates of coeliac disease.

      There is apparently some genuine causation one way or the other with relation to ears. Some people who assess children can pick out children likely to be on the autism spectrum with far better than chance results just from face pictures. There are some minor physical phenotypes associated with autism.

    • Devilbunny says:

      My wife is a neurologist, and mentioned the other day (as part of a wide-ranging discussion) that one of her professors during residency – a pediatric neurologist who continues to follow his patients even after they reach adulthood – repeatedly drilled into their heads that the clearest external marker of internal derangement of the structure of the brain was the ears.

      Malrotation, low- or high-set ears, abnormalities of shape – all reflected developmental problems in the folding of the embryo. And if the embryo failed to fold one part of what would eventually become its head correctly, it was more likely to have failed to properly fold some other parts of that head, and indeed of the rest of the body (other such abnormalities include a long or wide philtrum, or hypertelorism). The crass-but-true term used by pediatricians is FLK – funny-looking kid. It’s one of the cues suggesting that close attention should be paid to the child’s developmental progress, and that referral to a geneticist might be indicated sooner rather than later.

      It is not, of course, determinative. Just a piece of evidence that might indicate one’s priors need updating.

      • John Schilling says:

        Just, FYI, when you’ve primed the audience to expect a discussion of Stuff Brain Doctors Do, you might want to be careful with colloquial phrasings like “repeatedly drilled into their heads”. Derailed my train of thought, that did.

      • pdan says:

        That sounds plausible, but are there any references showing how strong the effect is?

  14. Deiseach says:

    we should say something like “there is a very subtle and hard-to-notice biological system that determines level of trust and sociability and which seems weirdly linked to ear and nose shape”

    Okay, the one thing this whole cockamamie theory has me laughing about is dear God, this is the revenge of the alternative medicine people! Diagnosis by iridology, Chinese face reading, astrological governance of the parts of the body (e.g. Pisceans will have trouble with their feet) and old wives’ tales such as “gap-toothed people are lecherous” 🙂

    We can no longer scoff at our credulous ancestors who forecast your likely life-span by reading the lines in your palm, because we’re measuring people’s ears and noses to see if they’re more likely to be autistic or schizophrenic.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Just about every novelist up through 1930 believed that facial features correlated in some way with personality traits. “The Maltese Falcon” includes about two pages of description of what Sam Spade looked like (nothing at all like Humphrey Bogart).

      Robert Heinlein was an early adaptor of the newer style of not describing characters’ looks. You don’t find out until the next to last page of “Starship Troopers” what Johnny Rico looks like.

      Maybe this change in literature occurred because Science proved the old novelists wrong. Or maybe it helped accommodate movie adaptations. (If you want Humphrey Bogart to play your hero, don’t describe him in detail as 6’3″ and blond with a triangular devil’s face like Dashiell Hammett did.)

      But even today Hollywood casting directors have strong opinions on what characters should look like based on the characters’ personalities. Casting directors believe audiences have expectations that certain facial features correlate with certain character attributes.

      This hasn’t been studied much scientifically, but it’s a low hanging fruit in the human sciences.

      • Yossarian says:

        One thing I, being a Russian, think about, when I hear arguments of this type, is the phenomenon of gopniks (for you Americans, that would be gang members and such other small criminals). Those guys are not really that distinct from the rest of the people so that the people who discriminate upon the base of race or nation would be easily able to pull them into a separate group – but they do have difficult to identify verbally, but yet distinct features that make it relatively easy to identify them if you’ve had previous experience. And it is mostly facial traits. I might be overreaching a bit into the correlation here, but it would be logical to think that if one’s predecessors couldn’t easily distinguish a potentially evil human via his/her facial features, then those predecessors wouldn’t have survived to produce offspring.

        • PGD says:

          I agree that peoples’ personality characteristics, trustworthiness, criminality, etc. are somewhat correlated with their looks. But how much of this is solely genetic? It has subtly to do with facial expressions I think. We are extremely good at reading subtle signs of aggression, hostility, or distrust from facial expressions, for obvious evolutionary reasons.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Actors can “play the character from the inside.” A funny example is other actors doing their Robert De Niro impressions — Alec Baldwin can put on De Niro’s characteristic facial expression so that he suddenly looks a lot like De Niro.

            Different cultures or even different times may have different characteristic facial expressions. For example, during the Cultural Revolution in China it was good form to have a certain kind of harsh look on your mug that was known as Class Struggle Face.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, but that was the kind of “ignorant layman’s opinion” proper scientists were sniffy about. If Grandma said you could tell a crazy guy by his earlobes, that was just ignorant old Grandma peddling the kind of folk belief she grew up with before Real Science. About as much credence should be placed in it as chiromancy and the Murderer’s Thumb.

        Now we have the real scientists telling us “you can tell a crazy guy by his earlobes” instead. Next time a palmist tells you your health problems based on your finger shapes, they could be right! 🙂

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Deiseach
          Now we have the real scientists telling us “you can tell a crazy guy by his earlobes” instead.

          Our real scientists, with enough photographs and criminal records and computers to crunch them all together, might do some real investigation. How much evidence would it take to get you to a neutral position on earlobes/crime? If you received convincing evidence of earlobes/crime, would you have to change your priors on all of Grandma’s beliefs also?

          • Steve Sailer says:

            There’s a big book from 1985 by Harvard heavyweights James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein called “Crime and Human Nature” that summarizes a lot of what was known back then about correlations between various physical features and crime rates:

            https://www.amazon.com/Crime-Human-Nature-Definitive-Causes/dp/0684852667

            Much of it’s pretty obvious: guys who look like Jason Statham are more likely to have a history of violence than guys who look like David Spade.

          • Deiseach says:

            I tend to think grannies have a lot of practical common sense that is good enough in most situations. If I sliced my arm open and was pumping blood everywhere, I’d want a doctor to stitch me up. But if I get a small cut and my granny tells me to bathe it in the sea “because there’s great virtue in sea water”, it can’t hurt 🙂

            Mostly, though, I’m amused by how the most out-there theories sound like the kind of thing generations of properly educated medical specialists and scientists told us was just peasant superstition.

      • Steve Sailer, we find out that Johnny Rico is Filipino, but as I recall, no further information about his appearance.

        Yossarian, is it possible that looking like a gopnik is about expression as well as facial features?

      • Pan Narrans says:

        “Just about every novelist up through 1930 believed that facial features correlated in some way with personality traits.”

        I read Oliver Twist recently and was struck by how often Dickens shakes his head that anyone could imagine someone as angelic-looking as Oliver to be a criminal at heart, or trust the words of anyone as ugly as Fagin/Sykes (I forget which, maybe both).

    • raj says:

      Why waste your time scoffing though? Let the people publish and have the evidence speak for itself.

  15. met syn an says:

    There’s an uncooked open parenthesis early in Section III; would it be too much bother to fix it?

  16. Jill says:

    Embryos and fetuses hold the key to many many things. But those doors may not ever be opened. There is this big scandal about studying aborted fetuses in research, as if it should never be done. So perhaps it isn’t or won’t be? I’m not sure about this, but the big scandal and false allegations situations about it, make it sound that way– like it’s a land mine type of issue that scientists would want to run away from, for fear of getting raged at– verbally or physically attacked. Our society seems to be getting more and more rageful, in many areas.

    But the woman has already had the abortion and the fetus isn’t going to come back to life and be born, no matter what you do with it. So there is nothing lost by studying it, as far as I can see. And certainly it’s no worse than medical students using dead bodies to learn how to do surgery or whatever. But much of our society seems to see it differently.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well you should be pleased, the fight over using human embryonic stem cells in the US is a lot less acrimonious than it used to be when I was growing up.

      The big factor IMO is technological, since iPSCs are pretty good substitutes for ES cells. It’s still nice to have them, it’s the primary reason I’m “pro-choice” / pro-abortion, but it’s not essential anymore and that’s taken a lot of the pressure off.

      The sort of situation you see now is less like stem cell researchers being mobbed by protesters and more like the situation at my institution. We just bought a new building from the Catholic Church and part of the contract was that we agreed not to do any research with embryonic or fetal tissues in it. So everyone working with those cell lines has to use the older buildings. Annoying but not the end of the world.

    • Deiseach says:

      Dr Dealgood, I’m glad your institution and mine came to an amicable agreement with no howling over “This is the dead hand of organised religion being anti-science and putting a brake on progress” 🙂

      Also, the Catholic Church has no problem with adult stem cell and umbilical cord research, though I don’t know how that avenue is progressing; media reports naturally just say “stem cell research” with no differentiation and you’re either pro or anti.

      Jill, from my own personal view, it’s the proposal to use unwanted embryos from fertility treatment as otherwise they’d just be thrown out with the trash. I’m deeply cynical about this volte-face because I’m old enough to remember the first successful test-tube baby, and the controversy about the procedure, and one of the defences against “you crazy religious types with your non-existent slippery slopes” is that no, of course embryos wouldn’t be created and destroyed; the procedure was so expensive and difficult you needed every embryo, and besides, this was The Precious Gift of Life and how could you be so cruel to people who were desperate to have children of their own to love and care for? So nothing could ever possibly go wrong!

      So it was authorised, then go forward a decade or so and see some nasty court cases about “the precious wanted potential babies” in divorces where one party wanted them destroyed because they didn’t want a child with their ex-partner. Or instances where the parents were “okay, we have our baby, we’re leaving the spare embryos in storage forever because we don’t want or need them anymore”.

      And now we’re at the stage where The Precious Gift of Life has become “they’re only going to be incinerated as rubbish, so we may as well do something useful with them, like research”. Mmmm-hmmmm. That sure showed us crazy religious types with our slippery slopes, didn’t it!

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Dr Dealgood, I’m glad your institution and mine came to an amicable agreement with no howling over “This is the dead hand of organised religion being anti-science and putting a brake on progress” ?

        Well this is New York, being able to buy land at all is exciting enough to discourage howling.

        Also, the Catholic Church has no problem with adult stem cell and umbilical cord research, though I don’t know how that avenue is progressing; media reports naturally just say “stem cell research” with no differentiation and you’re either pro or anti.

        I think that’s mainly because stem cell biologists don’t make a big distinction.

        Somatic stem cells are used to answer different kinds of questions than pluripotent cells, but it’s not really a fine enough line to make seperate fields. It’s a bit like asking whether a carpentry shop uses hammers or saws. Some labs will primarily use one or another cell type but it’s not written in stone.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well this is New York, being able to buy land at all is exciting enough to discourage howling.

          From what I can gather, the archdiocese needs to close down and amalgamate parishes, so there should be land and buildings becoming available.

  17. onyomi says:

    I recall hearing a different theory, unrelated, so far as I know, to domestication, which also put autism and schizophrenia on opposite sides of a single spectrum: it was that autism was hypofunction of a certain type of pattern recognition facility responsible for e. g. picking out human faces, while schizophrenia was hyperfunction of the same. So the autistic looks at an actual human face and sees a bunch of features which don’t feel, subjectively, much different than any other set of shapes he might encounter, while the schizophrenic hears people plotting against him in background noise and sees agency where none exists.

    Also sounds like an oversimplification, but maybe also some grain of truth here?

    This is my own extrapolation, but these two ends of the spectrum, whether or not related to autism and schizophrenia, also sound to me like they have something to do with religiosity. Autistic people are stereotypically good at “hard” sciences–the kind that require the kind of intelligence involved in manipulating geometric shapes in your head, and my general impression is that such people are also more likely to be atheists. Conversely, someone who subjectively feels like the whole universe is alive and “speaking” to him or her seems more likely to be religious. I also seem to remember Scott saying something about this back around the time of universal love cactus?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The “autism and schizophrenia as opposites” idea definitely predates the “…and this is linked to domestication” extension. For instance, here’s an old blog post on some genetic evidence for this hypothesis that comes from looking at copy-number variants, and gives/links to some history.

    • Anonymous says:

      So the autistic looks at an actual human face and sees a bunch of features which don’t feel, subjectively, much different than any other set of shapes he might encounter

      My impression has been that autistics feel quite the opposite way about faces.

      • onyomi says:

        What does it mean to feel the opposite way about faces? You mean they see faces as so full of agency and intentionality and general human-ness that they are intimidated?

        I feel somewhat like this myself at times, and do experience some degree of social anxiety, though I’m not sure whether I’m closer to being autistic or schizophrenic, if, indeed, it makes sense to put people not diagnosed with either somewhere on the same spectrum.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m not him, not am I an expert, but I assumed he meant that the autist looks at an actual human face and finds each feature so sensorily overwhelming in itself, so replete with impression, that he finds it dificult to assemble them to a coherent whole.

          That at least is what I’d been given to understand is the typical failure mode of autistic sensory perception: supersensitivity to stimulus.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Did you happen to hear that theory here?

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/09/12/its-bayes-all-the-way-up/

      • onyomi says:

        No, I heard it a while back at an academic talk, randomly, though not about psychiatry. Probably more of an oversimplification of brain science for a humanist’s purposes.

  18. HeelBearCub says:

    @Scott:

    Interesting and informative.

    One data point, in several posts you complain about conditions which are the supposed “opposite” of each other causing the same symptoms. This to me seems too facile a criticism.

    In an otherwise perfectly good engine, retarded timing and advanced timing will both result in a loss of power, the engine will run poorly, and you may have a less complete burn of the fuel.

    These same set of symptoms are caused by “over developing” and “under developing” the engine timing.

    • vV_Vv says:

      There are other ways in which autism and schizophrenia don’t seem to be opposites.

      For instance, autism is usually diagnosed in early childhood, while schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in early adulthood.

      Schizophrenia can be often treated with antipsychotics, and schizophrenia-like symptoms can be induced in normal people with psychedelic drugs. But psychedelic drugs don’t treat autism and antipsychotics don’t induce autism-like symptoms in normal people. In fact, autism is difficult to treat, pharmacologically and otherwise, and according to Wikipedia, antipsychotics are actually the only class of drugs that have been demonstrated to have any effect in managing its symptoms.

      Moreover, autism and schizophrenia can occur in the same individual, and in particular child-onset schizophrenia tends to occur in autistic people.

      This suggest that while autism and schizophrenia probably involve some related systems, they probably don’t have opposite causes.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This wasn’t a statement intended to oppose or support the original contention.

        Rather, I noticed that Scott has made this mistake multiple times in multiple posts over the last few months. The particular critique he is offering of the model isn’t good, regardless of whether the model is good.

        For instance, I think he makes a similar kind of mistake in Tolerance Troubles

        • vV_Vv says:

          The particular critique he is offering of the model isn’t good, regardless of whether the model is good.

          I think that you can steelman it by arguing that while the model is not necessarily wrong, there is little evidence that it is right, and the purported evidence that had been presented to support the model turned out to be inconclusive and cherry picked.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But that isn’t the critique he is offering, is it?

            He is saying it doesn’t make any sense for too much of something and too little of something to result in the same symptoms. He is saying that “too much” should have the opposite effect as “too little”. That critique sounds good, but doesn’t stand up in the face of a myriad of empirical examples.

            Again, I’m not defending the thesis that schizophrenia and autism are linked, causally. I’m only attacking this one particular form of critique.

          • Deiseach says:

            He is saying that “too much” should have the opposite effect as “too little”. That critique sounds good, but doesn’t stand up in the face of a myriad of empirical examples.

            HeelBearCub, it’s possible that Scott is approaching this from the angle of psychiatry, because often there’s a constellation of symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis of a particular ailment, and sometimes the criteria sound a bit catch-all, because if you go by this one anyone can be said to have the particular problem in question.

            I can’t remember what it was, but years back I was reading something about (I think, don’t hold me to this) diagnosing sociopathy or psychopathy and one of the criteria was that sociopaths/psychopaths could have over-interest, normal-interest or low-interest in sex.

            Well. That certainly clears it up, doesn’t it? 🙂

            Presumably the idea is that “there is nothing to distinguish patients with disorder G when it comes to physical function M because there is a spectrum of results, just as in the general population” but unfortunately it becomes, in popular use, “You can tell N was a psychopath because he was obsessed with sex” and “You can tell O was a psychopath because he had no interest at all in sex”. Both can be true, but both are not “symptoms that mean P is a psychopath or sociopath”, which is how they’re often used.

            That could be Scott’s objection: the same result is supposed to indicate either of two completely different disorders, when it would be better to take it as the same result is associated with, but not indicative of, two different disorders.

          • MugaSofer says:

            Deiseach, “this thing isn’t actually associated with Autism/Schizophrenia, as proponents of the domestication theory claim” is a valid criticism.

            But it’s also a totally different criticism to this:

            autistic people are less trusting and social […] but schizophrenics are way less trusting and social! Paranoia – pathological inability to trust – is a classic symptom of schizophrenia; indeed, if you made people choose between schizophrenia and autism and asked which one was associated with lack of trust, I think most people would choose schizophrenia. This brings an important point into relief: the whole point of domestication is that the domesticated animal is supposed to be friendlier and less aggressive. But nobody would describe schizophrenics as friendlier and less aggressive.

            This is what HeelBearCub is talking about.

            Sure, schizophrenics are somewhat antisocial, and autistic people are somewhat antisocial, so in some sense they are not opposite.

            But they’re antisocial in very different ways – schizophrenics are paranoid, while autistic people have a bunch of different things impeding social interaction including difficulty reading body language and difficulty learning social norms.

            It’s not hard to imagine a “social cue detector” that results in difficulty picking up on signals when turned down, and picking up lots of erroneous signals that people are lying to you and secretly plotting to kill you when turned up too high. This is exactly the sort of thing you might expect a person who has the stuff that makes us “civilized” turned up way too high! But because they both make people “antisocial”, Scott concludes that this is evidence autism and schizophrenia aren’t really opposites.

            The trouble is, almost any opposite is going to look like a “mirror image” in at least some ways. Heat is the opposite of cold, but the fact you can freeze to death doesn’t mean you can’t also burn to death.

  19. moridinamael says:

    I am reminded of the work of Dr. Watts regarding a possible subspecies of highly aggressive, territorial, nocturnal hominids with long canines, tapetum lucidum, a biochemical need to consume human flesh, and a neurological aversion to right angles linked to their omnisavantism.

    • LPSP says:

      vulnerability to right angles

      That’s the funniest shit concerning vampires I’ve ever heard. Surely squares must be even more powerful a destructor?

      • moridinamael says:

        Well you see, the lines need to make up a certain number of degrees of visual arc to initiate a seizure, so

  20. abstemious says:

    This was a really interesting post. I particularly enjoyed reading the comments — they were high in signal and low in rage. Apologies if my comment spoils it.

    Someday we will invent genetic engineering — “designer babies” if you will. I recall seeing a post a few years back arguing that we could think of this as “curing mutational load”: if someone had a gene that was flat-out not working, and it was causing clear problems, we could fix that for them. (In the next generation, presumably.)

    And I remember thinking: that’s a great idea and I support it, but it’s going to be super hard to restrict ourselves to just that. Once the technology is invented there will be tremendous social pressures to abuse it. There will be black market doctors. There will be a anti-exploiting-genetic-engineering political party and a pro-exploiting-genetic-engineering political party. And there will be North Korea.

    This post gives us a new example of how bad genetic engineering can get. When we finally invent genetic engineering, it will come with a little ticky box: “would you like a baby who is super super nice and trusting? Because we can do that by knocking out one gene.” And we’ll have to spend the rest of forever making sure nobody ever ticks that box.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      And we’ll have to spend the rest of forever making sure nobody ever ticks that box.

      …why?

      I mean, I absolutely agree that that sort of modification shouldn’t be mandatory. But I don’t see why it must be forbidden.

      After all, it’s kind of a self-solving problem. If too many people give their kids that mutation there will be strong selective pressure against it in the next generation as the majority of that generation gets systematically fleeced by the remaining normies and psychopaths. I’d be shocked if something like that could stay in the gene pool for long, it’s just such an obvious disadvantage.

      I think that letting people choose what sort of kids they have will have a positive effect overall. Most people have their children’s best interests at heart and a few stage parents here and there won’t hurt the population as a whole.

      • abstemious says:

        Well, I would be pretty sad if North Korea started doing it — they’re already trying to create an underclass of servants, and this would basically make that permanent.

        I agree that having small numbers of individual people doing this to their kids wouldn’t hurt the population as a whole. But I think this is a horrible thing to do to one’s child, and even if only one in a thousand people do it, that’s still a massive tragedy.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      Isn’t genetic engineering for humans already here and probably being done?

      We can do it in plants, can’t we?

      There has not been a published case of a human clone, but I guarantee its been done already.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        It’s really not that easy.

      • Bugmaster says:

        It doesn’t even really work in plants yet. Monsanto got lucky early on when they stumbled upon the Roundup Ready gene, but it’s all been downhill from there. Each new advance is more difficult than the last. We can increase corn yields by a few extra percentage points, but we appear to be very far away from anything more ambitious.

        And that’s just plants. With animals, the situation is even worse. We can’t even clone them reliably yet.

        • David Friedman says:

          Cloning and genetic engineering are very different issues. Cloning plants is easy–we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Every apple tree in my yard is a clone, at least from a couple of inches above ground level on up.

          • Bugmaster says:

            It’s hard to perform genetic research on organisms without the ability to reliably clone them. As you said, plants are generally easier to deal with in this regard.

    • NN says:

      When we finally invent genetic engineering, it will come with a little ticky box: “would you like a baby who is super super nice and trusting? Because we can do that by knocking out one gene.” And we’ll have to spend the rest of forever making sure nobody ever ticks that box.

      Considering all of the other awful side effects that Williams Syndrome comes with, I doubt we’ll have to worry too much about that. Yeah, maybe taking out that one specific gene while keeping the 26 other genes that are absent in people with Williams Syndrome will bring the niceness without the bad stuff, but I don’t expect many parents will be willing to take that kind of risk, nor that many doctors would be willing to risk a ginormous malpractice suit by performing that kind of procedure.

  21. TomA says:

    Genetic mutation in our species is natural and ongoing; however, it is the recent advent of science that has led us to unique classification and in-depth understanding of it’s many living variants. In the long term process of ancestral evolution, what survived and persisted is what worked. Species domestication (really civilized versus warrior behavior) exists because it improves population survival and robustness.

    If medical science and practice succeeds in minimizing (or eliminating) genetic mutation within our species, what will that do to the future of human evolution?

    As an analogy, medical science and common clinical practice gave us the boon of the antibiotic revolution beginning in the late 1940s. But now we are beginning to see the unintended consequence of it’s deleterious impact on the human microbiome and the attendant expansion of many chronic illnesses.

  22. AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

    The big problem with trying to determine *anything* about schizophrenia/autism/borderline is that all of them are like 10 disorders all wrapped up in 1 diagnosis. So many different types of behavior get wrapped up in those ones that it seems much more like those are default diagnosis given.

    I really dislike the “spatial over-performance” for autism. That’s just a glitch. The fact that there is a 6 to 1 ratio of males to females and males have a 2/3rds spatial IQ advantage just means its some annoying failure to account for population IQ trends.

    Some interesting data would explain that small skull-schizophrenia link.

    The treatment for all three is the same,with minor differences, and all three can be arrived from lots of different types of behavior(and those treatments have commonly been linked with long-term shrinkage of the brain). What does that say about treatment and the diagnosis for them?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Spatial over-performance: Maybe some researchers make this mistake, but it’s pretty easy to avoid it. Let’s just take the first article I found googling. It does two things to avoid this mistake, either of which would be sufficient on its own. First, it studies a sex-balanced group of autists (easier would be to unbalance the control group). Second, it doesn’t use mental rotation. When it says “spatial” it is talking about subtests of Wechler. For example, block design has a sex difference of 1/6 of a standard deviation.

  23. DavidFriedman says:

    I seem to be unable to post.

  24. Lumifer says:

    One simple thing which I didn’t see mentioned: are autism and schizophrenia comorbid? Autism generally has high(er than the baseline) comorbidity with a variety of mental illnesses and if schizophrenia is among them, that presents a problem for painting them as opposites.

    • LPSP says:

      I’m pretty sure there are mutual diagnosis. They’re not entire opposites for sure; some contrasts, some similarities. To me they both strike me as forms of undomestication. Autism is fact-checker’s survivalism, shizophrenia is character-vetting survivalism.

  25. JJREEVE says:

    So, I don’t think anyone mentioned this yet but:
    “On the other hand, there are some reasons to think these conditions are not exact opposites. For one thing, autism is caused by a hideously complex interplay of thousands of genes and various environmental factors, but Williams Syndrome is a drop-dead simple “oops, we forgot part of this chromosome over here”.

    It sounds like the causes of the conditions are in fact exact opposites.

  26. AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

    This leads me to a question.

    Supposedly, the traits of autism are poor verbal fluency, poor motor skills, physical *tics*, and poor social adjustement.

    Each one of those traits are associated with the medication treatment itself in non-damaged patients. Ability and risperdone greatly decrease verbal capabilities and lead to permanent damages of motor skills and physical tics. Last time I checked (heh) popular people are often verbally charismatic and sporty, at least when young, and the less popular(socially adjusted) tend to lack those traits.

    Does it raise any suspicions, or any eyebrows, that if the meds are given to a normal 5 year old, there is a plausible chance that the person will have all the associated behaviors and traits when then suddenly taken off it them by 10 years old?

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ AoxyMouseOnArgo
      Ability and risperdone greatly decrease verbal capabilities and lead to permanent damages of motor skills and physical tics.

      Ability? Is there some minor error in spelling or punctuation in this sentence?

    • caryatis says:

      What are you getting at? My first reading of your comment was that you think autism is caused by antipsychotics, which is pretty clearly false given the timeline. But a more charitable reading would be that you think antipsychotic use in young kids could exacerbate autistic symptoms. Is that right? My impression is that the physical and verbal oddities of autism are clearly distinguishable from those associated with long-term antipsychotic use, but I’m not an expert.

    • Lumifer says:

      Typical autism is diagnosed in children under 5 and typically “autism” (or something like PDD NOS) is their first mental health diagnosis.

  27. (Disclaimer: I’m the owner of a dog with floppy ears.)

    I guess I took it for granted that domestication of dogs led to puppy features (such as floppy ears) persisting into canine adulthood, because humans valued the cuteness and other characteristics of puppies. But this would work even faster if the juvenile characteristics were directly promoted by selection for tameness.

    Interesting to examine the differences between dog and wolf puppies given identical life experiences:
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/dogs-but-not-wolves-use-humans-as-tools/

  28. This theory about autism and schizophrenia being opposites in some sense explains something I saw online about extremely neurotypical people seeming somewhat schizophrenic. I don’t know what the writer meant, but I guessed it meant extremely neurotypical people (whatever that means) hallucinate about other people’s motivations.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it may have been a comment on one of these threads.

    • LPSP says:

      I’ve certainly read many things to that affect. Schizophrenics read unusually large amounts of social meaning into things, Autistics read unusually little.

      If Schizophrenia and Autism were opposites (or Autism and William’s or whatever have you), a good test would be if Schizophrenics tended to call neurotypicals autistics, or diagnose them after having the process outlined and given case studies and so on, and vice versa.

  29. The issue I have with the ‘domestication’ idea is that ‘domestication’ in humans does not necessarily imply only ‘tameness’.

    If what it takes to be a typical human is to be raised by other humans and this behaviour increases the fitness of genes that promote a cluster of traits like sociability for groups of different sizes, xenophobia or xenophilia according to circumstances, aggression or restraint when appropriate, predictability of behaviour and ability to deceive, then domestication means much more than tameness. With such contrasting evolutionary pressures you would expect there to be some difficulty in these traits moving consistently to genetic equilibrium – with the implication that ‘outliers’ would not be selected out so quickly, if at all.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      The whole thing is a stupid farce.

      Who would be the definition of untame or undomesticated besides violent prisoners?

      Maybe something silly could be done saying those guys who got caught are actually autistic, since they could not properly track how loyal they homeboys be or something.

  30. Besserwisser says:

    There’s to be some science-fiction story/conspiracy theory out there about how humans aren’t self-domisticated but domesticated by another species, probably aliens.

    • Deiseach says:

      There’s to be some science-fiction story/conspiracy theory out there about how humans aren’t self-domisticated but domesticated by another species, probably aliens.

      There definitely is one, which I can’t remember the name or author of it, and it comes from the 60s or 70s but basically what we think is ‘reality’ (including how we look) is all a carefully crafted hallucination/hypnosis implanted in us by the aliens, who have been breeding and harvesting humans for centuries or millennia – we naturally have a gland that secretes something that would make us immortal, but the aliens take that production for themselves. This is why we die of diseases and old age. People who see the reality (including Indian rishis who can see the true reality by disciplining themselves via years of meditation), part of which is the reality of what humans really look like (part of the aliens’ breeding programme has been to put the immortality gland on the outside of the body, to make it easier to harvest the secretion) go insane and when they try to tell other humans the truth, this is put down to being hallucinations and insanity 🙂

      The aliens only really have to intervene in cases where the insane are treated as being special due to religious/cultural beliefs and customs, as having messages from the gods or being able to see higher planes of existence (as with the Indian sages, one of whom is the latest ‘saw the truth, went mad, but his disciples and the common people believe him’ case that the aliens are discussing).

  31. some guy says:

    spelling error: embroygenesis

  32. suntzuanime says:

    I’ve heard it said that horses basically *are* hallucinating all the time. No idea if that’s our fault for domesticating them or if wild horses had a loose grip on reality to begin with.

    • maas says:

      I was curious about this, and so I did a simple google search. Here are the related searches, including a search for a URL in some kind of markup:

      Searches related to horses hallucinate
      animals that get high
      do pandas get high
      do sloths get high
      spotted locoweed
      do koalas get high
      can animals get high from second hand smoke
      are sloths high all the time
      [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vh5ozicwuo]youtube – drug spider[/ame]

      • Uncle Joe says:

        I tried to google around as well, but if there’s been anything written about this I couldn’t turn it up.

        I did find a song called “Hallucinating the Horse” by an indie band, which is obviously something that would exist.

        Too bad, since if there are any facts behind this I’d be interested to see them.

    • Equinimity says:

      Sounds like something a horse rider would say. A Pokemon Go related thing that went around tumblr recently said, “I don’t need an app to see invisible monsters, I have a thoroughbred!”

      I doubt that they actually hallucinate. When I used to ride I found I could usually work out eventually what was frightening them. It would be something new, or something that they knew but seen from a different angle so they didn’t recognise it. It could be something really tiny or insignificant by human standards though, and when you’re trying to control half a ton of panicking animal you haven’t got time to search for something that’s barely detectable by human senses. Easier to write it off as that dumb animal freaking out at nothing.

    • LPSP says:

      Explains why they can be comfortable with a heavy goods vehicle rumbling past, but freak out over a sweet wrapper.

  33. Some Guy says:

    By any chance, is there a mobile-friendly version of this site?

  34. Jk says:

    “on day thirty-six and a half, the developing shmendroblast has transformed into a blexomere”

    ABORTION IS MURDER!!

  35. Jimmy Yee says:

    There’s an amazing episode of Oliver Sack’s “The Mind Traveller” where he visits a community of people with Williams Syndrome. The most astonishing part is when he’s talking with an 8 year old girl who has the social abilities of an outgoing adult. He covers up a plate of 12 muffins with a napkin and asks her to guess how many muffins are under the napkin. She says, “Three!”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J8YNyHIT64

    (I remember reading that the episode was also an inspiration for the Dudley character in “The Royal Tennenbaums”)

    • Acedia says:

      Interesting video, thanks.

    • LPSP says:

      Thanks for that link. Muffin scene begins at about 4:04.

      What seems really compelling to me here is the friendly, immediate yet totally untense way the girl answers “Three! Eight! Ten!” – without ever really checking. That strikes me as the dead opposite of autism – the single most consistent trait I can imagine across all autism is a furious devotion to getting that number as accurate and precise as possible. Pure tension until the number is exacted, and only then relief. The girl responds quickly, but not out of a sense of hedging her bets, trying to get a gratifying confirmation. She answers quickly because she likes talking and sees no reason not to immediately get along with the nice adult’s prefered topic.

  36. Peter says:

    I’ve got an Asperger’s diagnosis, and a few of the alleged physical symptoms signs correlates are familiar. My top teeth are too large – when I was in my early teens I needed two top premolars taken out to make sure there was enough room for the other teeth. Also, my ears are somewhat large: I used to get comparisons to Prince Charles, who seems to be a benchmark for having large ears.

    Back when I was a first year undergrad, there was some embryology (well, developmental biology, not detailed human embryology), as part of the not-quite-correctly named Biology Of Cells course. I remember being excited about it; it seemed to be something necessary to know about if you wanted to understand evolution properly; if you know how genetic changes influence phenotypes, then you can have a better idea of what phenotypic changes are available to be selected for.

  37. LPSP says:

    It’s funny, I was always under the impression – both from accounts and my experience – that autistics won’t STOP talking. They’re very selective and can be aloof, but to put them as an opposite to William’s Syndrome along this axis seems off.

    Similarly, autistics are correlated with mental retardation, but also with genius. That’s another misleader here.

    On the whole I think this line of thought is pretty important to understanding these conditions. An idea I entertained is that autism, megalomania, schizophrenia and either neurotypical or william’s form a quadrangle of sorts. Not sure how to label the axis on that hypothetical chart, could be an interesting projects.

  38. scav says:

    I’d be wary of assuming every trait in canids that is linked to genes for their domestication would also be expressed the same way in primate self-domestication. The pigmentation, floppy ears, and short snout particularly. (Humans already have a very short snout or muzzle, which is not much to do with nose size.)

    Do we have any domesticated animals with a nearer common ancestor to us than dogs?

    Are any other higher primates more “domesticated” or social in similar ways to us, than wild dogs? Are there the same “domestication” traits in their phenotype?

    Are wild dogs generally more evenly pigmented than domesticated ones? African Wild Dogs are definitely variegated and definitely NOT tame.

    • LPSP says:

      short snout particularly. (Humans already have a very short snout or muzzle, which is not much to do with nose size.)

      Humans actually have a great degree of variability in facial depth, flatness, mouth structure and jaw “boxiness”, so there’s plenty of room for analogy in this realm. Nose size is mostly connected to cartilage and the nasal bridge, which are factors largely unincluded from the above wolf->dog criteria.

  39. Cererean says:

    Since neoteny tends to be linked with domesticity, and androgyny with neoteny, and autism with androgyny…

    Certain aspects are more masculine, but there are a lot which are less. According to the paper, male autists have similar levels of testosterone to neurotypicals, so I don’t know where the idea that they have more comes from.

  40. gardenofaleph says:

    For anyone interested in embryology, the book “Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body” is a wonderful read, with plenty of fascinating examples and history.

  41. Potatoes says:

    I’ve never posted here before but I think much of the discussion on this post springs from a misunderstanding of autism. People with autism have problems at social/emotional reciprocity and with developing and maintaining relationships. This has nothing to do with trust per se but rather having a low or no priority for people, missing or misunderstanding social cues, and poor skills in social overture and response. Most people with autism are ‘equally’ trusting, assigning the same level of trustworthiness to everyone. Some are over friendly and yes would get on a car with anybody.
    Williams syndrome on the other had social skills and the pragmatic aspects of language are relatively intact (compared to cognitive skills) so they will chatter along and participate socially but their utterances are semantically disordered. Young children will jargon or be evholalic (which children with autism also do).

    Williams syndrome and turners syndrome (girls with XO I think with poor social skills) were closely studied in relation to autism to help us understand genetic aspects of social skills and language

    • Anonymous says:

      People with autism have problems at social/emotional reciprocity and with developing and maintaining relationships. . . . having a low or no priority for people, missing or misunderstanding social cues, and poor skills in social overture and response.

      I’m sure this seems very true from the perspective of a non-autistic person. How do you think autistics would characterize non-autistics?

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        How do you think autistics would characterize non-autistics?

        I’d say non-autistics possess an overactive theory of mind which makes them overly confident in their ability to read and understand other people’s emotions and motivations. At the extreme end, this manifests as a delusional belief that they can “know” what other people are thinking and feeling, which is why they often get upset at innocuous factual statements; they’re reading something into it that’s not necessarily there.

        They’re also obsessed with elaborate verbal signalling games.

  42. Matt says:

    Don’t short snouts give a more juvenile appearance to most mammals? Humans didn’t select for tameness, they selected for the human perception of tameness….

    Could that be the causal link of the correlation of tameness and snout size?

    • Mary says:

      Yes, most humans perceive that a fox that runs away is wild and a fox that seeks you out is tame. Probably because they would consider that a definition of tameness.

  43. Dave Harmon says:

    Just a brief note about your involvement of autism in this discussion: Autistic-spectrum folks actually start off *more* trusting, and in fact have difficulty learning to recognize deception. If they later become less trusting than most (and they don’t always), that’s from unpleasant experience.

  44. Santoculto says:

    Leftists specially the real useful idiots (on the left) seems to be a high functioning William syndrome, ?
    Great love and facility with music, check,
    Incapacity to distrust (and/or to perceive threats… Human threats), check,
    Real problems with statistics (proportionality), check,
    Childish behavior, check…

    That Italian girl who was raped and killed in Turkey trying show that Muslims “are” nice people may be a example.

    Paranoia seems a classical example of wilderness.

    Maybe autistics are very neotenic specially in behavior…. Similar but not the same with domesticated condition.

  45. Santoculto says:

    Tamed is not the same than domesticated it’s??

    Tamed would learn domesticated behavior to the biologically “wild” species while domestication would indeed a biological transformation.

    Domestication is like placed known hunter in the prey condition, I mean, hyper domestication.