All posts filed under: Hypothesis

How the Fall of the Berlin Wall Created Political Gridlock in the U.S.

The deeply divisive 2016 presidential election and its aftermath provide the clearest evidence to date of the bitterness that increasingly plagues American politics. Russia stands accused of attempting to influence the outcome and undermine faith in the election, but in fact their destructive impact on U.S. politics has been far more profound and pervasive than that. Russia has been steadily undermining U.S. political effectiveness simply by virtue of their decline over the past 25 years. Indeed, endemic Russian weakness has not only led to the gridlock, extreme partisanship, and toxic political climate that pervades the U.S., but has also made Putin one of the most popular politicians on the planet. Political commentators have explained the current American political climate in different ways, but most focus on political or societal events such as globalization, gerrymandering, Roe v. Wade, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Gingrich’s Contract with America. Many also point to traditional and social media echo chambers, which exacerbate partisanship through their polarizing effects on group attitudes and the creation of parallel news-universes. …

Why Did Humans Evolve Big Penises But Small Testicles?

Humans have a much longer and wider penis than the other great apes. Even the largest of gorillas, more than twice as heavy as a human, will have a penis just two and half inches long when erect. However our testicles are rather small. A chimpanzee’s testes weigh more than a third of its brain while ours weigh in at less than 3%. The relative size of our penis and testes is all down to our mating strategies, and can provide some surprising insights into early human culture. Primates exhibit all sorts of mating behaviour, including monogamous, polygynous — where males have multiple mates — and multimale-multifemale. One indicator of which behaviour occurs in a species is the size difference between males and females. The greater this sexual dimorphism, the more likely the mating is either polygynous or multi-male to multi-female. This can be shown by observing chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives. Male chimpanzees are much larger than females, and they have a multi-male to multi-female mating system. Essentially, male chimps have sex all the …

What’s the Point of Sex? It’s Communication at a Biological Level

Most people think just one sperm is needed to fertilise a woman’s egg and make a healthy pregnancy. This underpins a common view that all the other sperm — and all the other sex — are surplus to requirements, at least when it comes to conceiving a pregnancy. However, biologists now believe sexual intercourse is not just a sperm delivery process, but also a kind of biological communication. Regardless of whether fertilisation occurs, sperm and other components of the ejaculated fluid trigger subtle changes in the immune system of women. This has consequences for pregnancy should it happen later. More broadly, the importance of regular sexual activity also has implications for fertility planning, and for IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction, which generally do not take sexual practice or history into account. Sperm swim in a soup of molecular messages Evidence from animal research and clinical studies has led researchers to conclude seminal fluid — the fluid sperm are bathed in following ejaculation — plays an important role in fertility. Seminal fluid contains small molecules that act …

The Mathematics of Happiness

If you could choose between these two possible lives, which would you prefer? (1) You struggle through difficulties, challenges, and a fair amount of misery for 60 years, after which you emerge wise and content. You die at age 80. (2) You spend the first 60 years indulging in relatively shallow pleasures. At age 60, you develop a chronic health condition where you can no longer do many things you enjoy, and you spend the last 20 years of your life regretting that you didn’t do anything very meaningful with the first 60. A conundrum along these lines came up during a recent episode of Sam Harris’s podcast [1], with guest Jonathan Haidt. I am a big fan of these two — their recent books, Waking Up and The Righteous Mind by Harris and Haidt respectively, were both life-changing for me, so I had been looking forward to the episode for a long time. In the podcast (starting at 1:30:48), Haidt used an example like the one above to argue that utilitarian conceptions of the …

Purity and Tolerance: The Contradictory Morality of College Campuses

Increasingly college students throughout the United States complain of perceived slights they call microaggressions, they demand safe spaces where they can be protected from harmful ideas, and they ask for trigger warnings to alert them to course material that might cause discomfort. We have argued that these are all manifestations of victimhood culture — a morality in which people display a high sensitivity to slight, handle conflicts by appealing to authorities, and seek to portray themselves as weak and in need of help. Older moral injunctions to ignore minor and unintentional offenses get cast aside, and those who successfully identify as victims or allies of victims gain a kind of moral status. Moral cultures reflect their social structures, and victimhood culture is no different: It occurs in a context where there is cultural diversity, social equality, and stable authority. Victimhood culture thrives on modern college campuses because these conditions are present. Yet as the contributors at Heterodox Academy have pointed out, the diversity of race, ethnicity, and gender expression at college campuses is counterbalanced by a …

Gossip is a social skill—not a character flaw

Let’s face it: gossips get a bad rap. Smugly looking down from a moral high ground – and secure in the knowledge that we don’t share their character flaw – we often dismiss those who are obsessed with the doings of others as shallow. Indeed, in its rawest form, gossip is a strategy used by individuals to further their own reputations and interests at the expense of others. Studies that I have conducted confirm that gossip can be used in cruel ways for selfish purposes. At the same time, how many can walk away from a juicy story about one of their acquaintances and keep it to themselves? Surely, each of us has had firsthand experience with the difficulty of keeping spectacular news about someone else a secret. When disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions. In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but …

Original Sin: the Sexual Motivation of Religious Extremists

I. In late October of 2014, Iraqi News reported, as ISIS forces rampaged through Diyala province, one of their soldiers found a thirty-year-old woman resting at her home and attempted to rape her. She fought back, wresting away his gun and killing him. This incredibly brave woman was brought before ISIS’s Sharia Court, which promptly condemned her to death and had her publicly beheaded for this defense of her honor, thus laying bare the utter hypocrisy of all claims that draconian laws regarding sex are intended for the protection of women. The gory spectacle of radical Islamism at work that began in the Middle East and has spread its crimson tendrils abroad from there is terrifying to behold. To the eyes of those lucky enough to enjoy a secure place in one of the prosperous modern democracies, the violence unfolding on our television and computer screens has an almost hallucinatory quality. Surely, our brains say, this cannot be real. This sort of thing cannot be happening in this day and age! Recently have I felt …