Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sadness, Holiness, and Piety Explained

Though I have blogged about the ideas in this post numerous times before, I haven't posted a good summary of them that could easily be linked to by way of justifying them or bragging on them, so here goes.

I believe that the main significance of sadness is that in males it restricts genetic crossover during spermatogenesis. Selection selects not only for gene qualities, but also for how well genes harmonize with each other. Accordingly, genes close together on a chromosome are more likely to have alleles which harmonize well together than one would expect merely from looking at overall allele frequencies; the disharmonious chromosome regions tend to die out. Genetic crossover has a large chance of destroying harmony and a small chance of creating harmony. Nevertheless, people have evolved to crossover their chromosomes because the occasional small advantage can compound generation after generation rather like interest on an investment does, to eventually create large gains. Thinking in terms of this simplistic compounding model, something that gives a 1% advantage each generation can after 100 generations turn into a 1.01^100 = (approximately) 270% advantage. But no compounding can ever cause a disadvantage to be any more than total; a –100% advantage is the worst case-scenario, corresponding to the chromosome region dying out. The important point to distill from this is that the disadvantages of crossover are short-term while the advantages are long term.

The genetic material of a male will mostly be separated from that of his mate after just a few generations. A male's mate can't significantly benefit from the long-term advantages which might accrue from his having heavily crossed-over his chromosomes during spermatogenesis, notwithstanding she can be harmed by the likely short-term disadvantages. Accordingly, it stands to reason that females are sexually pleased by males not crossing over their chromosomes, provided they have the capacity to sense whether such crossover is occurring or not.

Clearly genes will evolve more useful traits if selection is determined more by actual life skills determining mating and survival success than by luck doing so. It is entirely reasonable, therefore, that genes in males would try to make males sexier when they are unlucky than when they are lucky, provided that there is no overall harm to these genes in the long run by so doing. And mostly all that matters selfishly to genes so far as crossover is concerned is that on average over the generations the crossover rate is about right; no harm in regulating it from generation to generation according to circumstance. A male who feels himself unlucky becomes sad, and this sadness (I posit) discourages crossover in his developing sperm. Mostly females have the ability to see whether his sadness is authentic, and so females find him more sexy-like-a-Keats-poem as a result of his sadness, and as a result his ill luck less influences his reproductive success. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (by more sex, on average). Similarly, if a female has had bad luck, she will be sad. This should be a sign for her mate that she expects him to reward her by feeling her sadness—by making it his own—so that as a result her offspring will have an advantage. (In a female, eggs mostly develop while she is just a fetus, and so she probably has no control over how much genetic crossover occurs in the genetic material of such eggs.)

But a male could also restrict crossover just because he loves a female unusually much. In my opinion, this feeling is best described as being "holy" for her. (Amazingly, according to the dictionary, the word "holy" actually comes from the Germanic word for "whole", as makes sense if the significance of holiness is that it causes chromosomes to remain whole.) I will leave it to your own judgement of your experiences with people (and yourself) as to whether you agree holiness be related to sadness. I think it is, and that in fact the emotions are the same in their underlying biological effect.

Also, there is what I call piety. Ideally, males who feel themselves unusually morally inspired and beautiful would assist themselves by appealing to females by keeping their chromosomes whole, taking away from their genetic material in distant descendants, who from randomness aren't likely to be quite as special. What I think happens is that feeling special morally can cause a male to feel a "pious" emotion that restricts crossover, making him more sexually desirable to females. It is subtle, though, trying to imagine a process whereby males would evolve to care in this manner. That is where nature comes into play. Birds, squirrels, other animals and maybe even plants—they all probably just don't love otherwise very good humans as much if the humans aren't pious. And when nature wants to reward someone, it can give subtle hints about truths that can be useful to sensitive people—hints that people can benefit from which can probably, among other things, make genes evolve to encourage piety when nature expects it.

All this said, there can be something insane about gloom. Sometimes misfortune can make one feel screwed up, leading to insane emotions appropriate for people who have been defiled, but quite inappropriate for others. The way I see it, though, is that the main reason sadness has gotten such a bad rap is that lucky people, having been lucky, tend to have more power and influence than the unlucky. Powerful lucky males can selfishly benefit by disparaging sadness. They quite likely won't be disparaging their own emotions, while they may encourage their unlucky sexual competitors to feel emotions making them less sexy to females.

No comments: