This claim is completely unsubstantiated - even my high school biology class went over sexual selection as a form of natural selection.
No, they aren't. Adaptations aren't even meant to be viable. Statistically, what they trend towards is not the "objective" of usefulness, but of reproduction. As a consequence of that end, this tends to include traits that aid in personal survival, attracting a mate, and ability to nurture, protect and provide for the offspring. Beauty, while in the eye of the beholder, obviously fits into the role of "attracting a mate." Usefulness not required.
Nature doesn't design, foxes are not "meant" to hunt hares and hares are not "meant" to evade foxes. It happens that the hares that evade foxes and the foxes that eat hares are more likely to survive to pass on genes. Creatures with an aversion to asymetrical (a proxy for unhealthy) mates are more likely in the long run to have healthy offspring...and so on and so forth.
The critical mistake is people adding "intentions" and "meaning" to a blind dumb statistical process akin to Russian roulette.
Evolution is non-stationary. What's making an individual fit depends on its current environment here and now: the food it can find, what predators are out there, things that make it more attractive to mates. However, predators, food, weather and mates change over time. In other words, what's being optimized for is constantly changing, there are local dynamics and some amount of "noise" that occurs, possibly resulting in silly looking animals like peacocks happening once in a while.
Descriptions can be dual—saying foxes are "meant" to hunt hares, or predators are "meant" to hunt prey, can just be a compact way of describing their long, mutual historical co-evolution. Certainly, if you remove all prey from an environment, the foxes would die. What could be more meaningful (to the fox) than survival?
Mental thought is just a dumb statistical phenomenon that is a product of competing neural synapse electrochemical potentials, neurotransmitter levels, and ultimately subject to the dumb, unthinking hand of physical law at the subatomic level. Anything that changes the movement of particles and energy in your brain changes the neural outputs, and that's the end of the story.
Brains don't think, minds do not regard themselves, piles of dumb atoms to do not feel pain, love, or happiness. It just so happens that brains that create output patterns that, when input into other brains, cause mutual feedback loops of interaction. Creatures that mutually interact are often more likely in the long run to have healthy offspring, and thus over time we would expect to see more brains like this.
The critical mistake is people adding "meaning" and "thoughts" to a blind dumb statistical process akin to Russian roulette.
This approach uses 'meaning' / 'meant' in two very different ways:
1) the process of co-evolution over time
2) a fox's concern for its own existence
Overloading like this doesn't add clarity, in my opinion, especially when the term 'meant' implies to most people some sort of intent-driven process.
This article is a pretty classic example of that. It starts with misconceptions about what evolution is and the cliche of the brave scientists criticised by the establishment for even raising the possibility of sexual selection. Then it moves on to acknowledging that not only had sexual selection theory has been around since Darwin but it was frequently discussed until eventually support was found for hypotheses that aesthetic preferences animals had evolved to acquire were likely correlated with traits [originally] useful for survival. Then we get to meet the brave scientist challenging the establishment and conclude that much of his lack of peer approval for his views on beauty might stem from his apparent disinterest in engaging with these theories. Then finally, we're presented with the idea that since even our standards of beauty are down to the evolution of the eye of the beholder, the scientific establishment was probably right all along. The article wouldn't have won the affections of the editor if it had started out with that argument though...
I'm really at a loss of where to get my news. So far, I switched to HN comments. If you know of anything better please share!
Which, ironically, also works out for them in another way--during the current Holocene extinction, for example, "convincing the humans to spare you from their rapacious reshaping of the entire planet" is quickly becoming a key evolutionary adaptation, which may very well end up saving otherwise completely useless animals like pandas or chickens, as well as other "charismatic megafauna" like lions. It may have already saved elephants--since antiquity, there have been a fair number of human cultures that venerate elephants for one reason or another, which is a pretty good evolutionary niche if you can get it.
You get to exercise your ancestral proclivity to hunt mice and small birds. You get to eat what you hunt.
You don't have to stay in the humans' house, they'll make a hole in their own dwelling just for you. And they won't mind if you go out, just like their teenager.
If you don't find more food than you need, the humans will feed you.
All in exchange for... rubbing your belly now and again.
That is an evolutionary jackpot.
And that’s as good an explanation as any, since cats are remarkably useless otherwise. A small, trained dog can hunt mice and rats more effectively, though there is some benefit to the relative autonomy of the cat when you consider the role of barn cats or ship’s cats. Cats living in close contact with humans definitely seem to benefit from those humans developing some hard-to-explain fondness for them. Yes, they’re so cute and fluffy and precious, I recognize that, but that’s exactly what I would say if I was infected by a brain parasite that wanted me to ensure the survival of its host.
Concrete example: Peacock tails
'Survival' means genes being present in future generations. If all the females suddenly preferred males with a certain weird beak shape - that beak shape would propagate.
The opposing pressure would be how much other aspects of life would reduce the opportunities weird beak males had to breed.
The entire article specifically emphasizes how the issue is much more subtle than this - there are traits that are 'beautiful' precisely because they signal to potential mates that this individual is healthy, and therefore well-adapted to the environment.
While I'm not necessarily 100% in agreement with this formulation, I do think a useful and simple corrective is this: "natural selection" isn't a positive choice for the "fittest"- it's the elimination of unfit adaptations before they can be passed on. This article references "sexual selection", which may well be a positive choice, but it has very little to do with utility or health, as I'm sure many of us recognize from our own lives and the studies of animal mating choices.
It's easier to go with the psychology of women, as they're the "discriminate selectors," in most species, and humans are no exception. If you disagree with this, you are not aware of dating site data. A good example of a psychological trait involved in attraction is that a woman will often find a man having a good sense of humor as being sexually attractive. A reasonable cause is that a good sense of humor is often a proxy for intelligence, pattern recognition, and creativity. Finding this to be an attractive characteristic very likely assisted in the evolution of the species by serving as a basic proxy for useful survival attributes.
Unless I'm misunderstanding you, it strikes me as odd to simply dismiss an entire element of gene expression as somehow not having been subjected to similar principles as others.
Inventing stories that activate the culturally and individually subjective feeling of "that makes sense," is the lowest form of knowledge-seeking. Now, I'm not judging whether or not the accusation is deserved, but that's the substance of the bad reputation.
As others have noted in the thread, it's just as possible that a predilection for humorous mates isn't such a deleterious adaptation that it kills the people who have it before they die. It may well serve no practical function, and it doesn't need to.
I'm definitely not saying it's not interesting to look at the ways that a penchant for humor manifests itself across species and cultures and whether there are any genetic markers that determine whether somebody is more or less interested in a humorous mate. At that point, it'd be interesting to see how those markers were propagated over time, when they developed, etc. Otherwise, though, this just does the same thing as psychoanalysis and theology- it takes the current order and asks how it fits the narrative you've already assumed.
This will mean that if we're brainwashed into believing that a certain model of "beauty" is the most desirable to breed with, that's what we will breed with. Over time, these traits will become predominant.
If certain adaptations are desirable, they will continue to be propagated, if they're not, they won't.
It covers all the bases and masquarades sexual selection as separate from natural selection without ever drawing a conclusion on whether that antiquated notion has merit now or not
It is well established that “beauty” is just an extreme of physiology as a preference that can only exist because it reproduced, if it is otherwise useless for survival
So it isnt new to look at these things this way so what are scientists rethinking and who are these people
Beauty transcends the living into a state it could not achieve by mere utility.
Those traits have clearly not been selected for, though, they've simply been rare enough to be tolerated in the gene pool.
The article is an examination of the origin of sexual selection. Are sexually selected traits linked to adaptive traits (originally, even if they later run away and become maladaptive), are they mere random chance, or is the truth more complicated than either of those theories?
So you may get totally ornamental or vestigial or obsolete features simply because they were never enough hindrance to reproduction. "Enough" is a key word - even features which are hindrances but do not offset pro-survival/pro-reproduction features will remain.
There are volumes and volumes on the changing nature of sexual selection over millennia by different species. It's striking that NYT would make this sound much larger than it is.
TFA would indicate otherwise...
> Many of Darwin’s peers and successors ridiculed his proposal. To them, the idea that animals had such cognitive sophistication — and that the preferences of “capricious” females could shape entire species — was nonsense. Although never completely forgotten, Darwin’s theory of beauty was largely abandoned.