Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?

She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When I was in college, a 16 year old girl promised to marry me. She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When a policeman once asked me whether I’d like to get my passport on time, I smiled with gratitude and slammed the door on his face.

When I once read, “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why this evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

I’ve always had a tenuous understanding of sarcasm and double-speak. I take words literally. When I was a child, it took me many years to understand hidden insults. 

I’ve never had it any other way. I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When a teacher was sarcastic to me at 9, I understood her only a year later. When I fully understood her, I felt numb, as if I were struck by lightning. I stood still, staring at my coconut tree. It was too late, because I’d left that city and moved into another school. There was nothing much I could do about this. This was deeply unsettling. Continue reading “Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?”

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and The Quest For A Fantastic Future

Elon Musk is one of those entrepreneurs who thinks very much like I do. I am now reading, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and The Quest For A Fantastic Future. Excerpts that resonate the most with me:

“One night Elon Musk told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’

“It was in my first interview with Musk, which took place at the design studio that I began to get a sense of how he talked and operated. He’s a confident guy, but does not always do a good job of displaying this. On initial encounter, Musk can come off as shy and borderline awkward. His South African accent remains present but fading, and the charm of it is not enough to offset the halting nature of Musk’s speech pattern. Like many an engineer or physicist, Musk will pause while fishing around for exact phrasing, and he’ll often go rumbling down an esoteric, scientific rabbit hole without providing any helping hands or simplified explanations along the way. Musk expects you to keep up. None of this is off-putting. Musk, in fact, will toss out plenty of jokes and can be downright charming. It’s just that there’s a sense of purpose and pressure hanging over any conversation with the man.”

“He would call very insistently,” she said. “You always knew it was Elon Musk because the phone would never stop ringing. The man does not take no for an answer. You can’t blow him off. I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on to something and says, ‘It shall be mine.’ Bit by bit, he won me over.”

Musk never seemed to leave the office. He slept, not unlike a dog, on a beanbag next to his desk. “Almost every day, I’d come in at seven thirty or eight A.M., and he’d be asleep right there on that bag,”

Musk also began consciously trying to manage his criticism of others. “Elon is not someone who would say, ‘I feel you. I see your point of view,’” said Justine. “Because he doesn’t have that ‘I feel you’ dimension there were things that seemed obvious to other people that weren’t that obvious to him. He had to learn that a twenty-something-year-old shouldn’t really shoot down the plans of older, senior people and point out everything wrong with them. He learned to modify his behavior in certain ways. I just think he comes at the world through strategy and intellect.” The personality tweaks worked with varying degrees of success. Musk still tended to drive the young engineers mad with his work demands and blunt criticism.

“Someone complained about a technical change that we wanted being impossible. Elon turned and said, ‘I don’t really give a damn what you think,’ and walked out of the meeting. For Elon, the word no does not exist, and he expects that attitude from everyone around him.” Periodically, Musk let loose on the more senior executives as well. “You would see people come out of the meetings with this disgusted look on their face,” Mohr, the salesman, said. “You don’t get to where Elon is now by always being a nice guy, and he was just so driven and sure of himself.”

Employees at Zip2 would go home at night, come back, and find that Musk had changed their work without talking to them, and Musk’s confrontational style did more harm than good. “Yeah, we had some very good software engineers at Zip2, but I mean, I could code way better than them. And I’d just go in and fix their fucking code,” Musk said. “I would be frustrated waiting for their stuff, so I’m going to go and fix your code and now it runs five times faster, you idiot. There was one guy who wrote a quantum mechanics equation, a quantum probability on the board, and he got it wrong. I’m like, ‘How can you write that?’ Then I corrected it for him. He hated me after that. Eventually, I realized, Okay, I might have fixed that thing but now I’ve made the person unproductive. It just wasn’t a good way to go about things.”

Musk wanted a measure of control over his life’s story. He’s also wired like a scientist and suffers mental anguish at the sight of a factual error. A mistake on a printed page would gnaw at his soul—forever. While I could understand his perspective, I could not let him read the book, for professional, personal, and practical reasons. Musk has his version of the truth, and it’s not always the version of the truth that the rest of the world shares. He’s prone to verbose answers to even the simplest of questions as well, and the thought of thirty-page footnotes seemed all too real.

Our conversation began with a discussion of public-relations people. Musk  turns through PR staffers notoriously fast, and Tesla was in the process of hunting for a new communications chief. “Who is the best PR person in the world?” he asked in a very Muskian fashion.

One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no. Dozens of other journalists had asked him to help with a book before, but I’d been the only annoying asshole who continued on after Musk’s initial rejection, and he seemed to like that.

For the first time, Musk would let a reporter see the inner workings of his world. Two and a half hours after we started, Musk put his hands on the table, made a move to get up, and then paused, locked eyes with me, and busted out that incredible question: “Do you think I’m insane?” The oddity of the moment left me speechless for a beat, while my every synapse fired trying to figure out if this was some sort of riddle, and, if so, how it should be answered artfully. It was only after I’d spent lots of time with Musk that I realized the question was more for him than me. Nothing I said would have mattered. Musk was stopping one last time and wondering aloud if I could be trusted and then looking into my eyes to make his judgment. A split second later, we shook hands and Musk drove off in a red Tesla Model S
sedan.

I found Musk back at work at the Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto. It was a Saturday, and the parking lot was full of cars. Inside of the Tesla offices, hundreds of young men were at work— some of them designing car parts on computers and others conducting experiments with electronics equipment on their desks. Musk’s uproarious laugh would erupt every few minutes and carry through the entire floor. When Musk came into the meeting room where I’d been waiting, I noted how impressive it was for so many people to turn up on a Saturday. Musk saw the situation in a different light, complaining that fewer and fewer people had been working weekends of late. “We’ve grown fucking soft,” Musk replied. “I was just going to send out an e-mail. We’re fucking soft.”

Elon exhibited all the traits of a curious, energetic tot. He picked things up easily, and Maye, like many mothers do, pegged her son as brilliant and precocious. “He seemed to understand things quicker than the other kids,” she said. The perplexing thing was that Elon seemed to drift off into a trance at times. People spoke to him, but nothing got through when he had a certain, distant look in his eyes. This happened so often that Elon’s parents and doctors thought he might be deaf. “Sometimes, he just didn’t hear you,” said Maye. Doctors ran a series of tests on Elon, and elected to remove his adenoid glands, which can improve hearing in children. “Well, it didn’t change,” said Maye. Elon’s condition had far more to do with the wiring of his mind than how his auditory system functioned. “He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world,” Maye said. “He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.”

Other children did not respond well to these dreamlike states. You could do jumping jacks right beside Musk or yell at him, and he would not even notice. He kept right on thinking, and those around him judged that he was either rude or really weird. “I do think Elon was always a little different but in a nerdy way,” Maye said. “It didn’t endear him to his peers.” For Musk, these pensive moments were wonderful. At five and six, he had found a way to block out the world and dedicate all of his concentration to a single task. Part of this ability stemmed from the very visual way in which Musk’s mind worked.

He could see images in his mind’s eye with a clarity and detail that we might associate today with an engineering drawing produced by computer software. “It seems as though the part of the brain that’s usually reserved for visual processing—the part that is used to process images coming in from my eyes—gets taken over by internal thought processes,” Musk said. “I can’t do this as much now because there are so many things demanding my attention but, as a kid, it happened a lot. That large part of your brain that’s used to handle incoming images gets used for internal thinking.”

Maye tells the story of Elon playing outside one night with his siblings and cousins. When one of them complained of being frightened by the dark, Elon pointed out that “dark is merely the absence of light,” which did little to reassure the scared child. As a youngster, Elon’s constant yearning to correct people and his abrasive manner put off other kids and added to his feelings of isolation. Elon genuinely thought that people would be happy to hear about the flaws in their thinking. “Kids don’t like answers like that,” said Maye. “They would say, ‘Elon, we are not playing with you anymore.’ I felt very sad as a mother because I think he wanted friends. Kimbal and Tosca would bring home friends, and Elon wouldn’t, and he would want to play with them. But he was awkward, you know.” Maye urged Kimbal and Tosca to include Elon. They responded as kids will. “But Mom, he’s not fun.” As he got older, however, Elon would have strong, affectionate attachments to is siblings and cousins—his mother’s sister’s sons. Though he kept to himself at school, Elon had an outgoing nature with members of his family and eventually took on the role of elder and chief instigator among them.

The Elon that his peers encountered at school was far less inspirational. Throughout middle and high school, Elon bounced around a couple of institutions. He spent the equivalent of eighth and ninth grades at Bryanston High School. One afternoon Elon and Kimbal were sitting at the top of a flight of concrete stairs eating when a boy decided to go after Elon. “I was basically hiding from this gang that was fucking hunting me down for God knows fucking why. I think I accidentally bumped this guy at assembly that morning and he’d taken some huge offense at that.” The boy crept up behind Musk, kicked him in the head, and then shoved him down the stairs. Musk tumbled down the entire flight, and a handful of boys pounced on him, some of them kicking Musk in the side and the ringleader bashing his head against the ground. “They were a bunch of fucking psychos,” Musk said. “I blacked out.”

Kimbal watched in horror and feared for Elon’s life. He rushed down the stairs to find Elon’s face bloodied and swollen. “He looked like someone who had just been in the boxing ring,” Kimbal said. Elon then went to the hospital. “It was about a week before I could get back to school,” Musk said. (During a news conference in 2013, Elon disclosed that he’d had a nose job to deal with the lingering effects of this beating.)

For three or four years, Musk endured relentless hounding at the hands of  these bullies. They went so far as to beat up a boy that Musk considered his best friend until the child agreed to stop hanging out with Musk. “Moreover, they got him—they got my best fucking friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up,” Musk said. “And that fucking hurt.” While telling this part of the story, Musk’s eyes welled up and his voice quivered. “For some reason, they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the shit out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well. It was just like nonstop horrible.”

Musk spent the latter stages of his high school career at Pretoria Boys High School, where a growth spurt and the generally better behavior of the students made life more bearable. While a public school by definition, Pretoria Boys has functioned more like a private school for the last hundred years. It’s the place you send a young man to get him ready to attend Oxford or Cambridge. The boys from Musk’s class remember him as a likable, quiet, unspectacular student. “There were four or five boys that were considered the very brightest,” said Deon Prinsloo, who sat behind Elon in some classes. “Elon was not one of them.” Such comments were echoed by a half dozen boys who also noted that Musk’s lack of interest in sports left him isolated in the midst of an athletics-obsessed culture. “Honestly, there were just no signs that he was going to be a billionaire,”  aid Gideon Fourie, another classmate. “He was never in a leadership position at school. I was rather surprised to see what
has happened to him.”

“You can make billions of dollars for free,” he said. His boss told Musk to write up a report, which soon got passed up to the bank’s CEO, who promptly rejected the proposal, saying the bank had been burned on Brazilian and Argentinian debt before and didn’t want to mess with it again. “I tried to tell them that’s not the point,” Musk said. “The point is that it’s fucking backed by Uncle Sam. It doesn’t matter what the South Americans do. You cannot lose unless you think the U.S. Treasury is going to default. But they still didn’t do it, and I was stunned. Later in life, as I competed against the banks, I would think back to this moment, and it gave me confidence. All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they’d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn’t pick it up, either.”

If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease.

Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, Chancellor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.I believe you are the kindest to people when you tell them exactly what you think, in the clearest possible terms, in the most uncompromising manner, without hostility, without manipulative intent. It is sheer evasion and malice that stops people from seeing this. Normal human beings find this very hard to understand, because they are cheap. But, the details of their narrow-mindedness doesn’t interest me at all.

Little people evade the truth because truth is not a great ally in persecuting brilliant, honest men. This is what happened to James Watson. Watson now wants to sell his Nobel Prize to make quick cash. Read what he has to tell you:

“I’ve had strong opinions probably since I was born. It makes you unpopular, but what can you do?”

“If someone’s liver doesn’t work, we blame it on the genes; if someone’s brain doesn’t work properly, we blame the school. It’s actually more humane to think of the condition as genetic. For instance, you don’t want to say that someone is born unpleasant, but sometimes that might be true.”

“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great….”

“I think it’s irresponsible not to try and direct evolution to produce a human being who will be an asset to the world.” 

“When you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

“All our social policies are based on the fact that Africans’ intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really. People who have to deal with black employees find equality is not true.”

“If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 percent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that.’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent.”

“If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we? What’s wrong with it? Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we’ve got a perfect genome and there’s some sanctity?”

“Ultimately, we’ll help the people we discriminate against if we try to understand more about them; genetics will lead to a world where there is a sympathy for the underdog.”

“One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

“To succeed in science, you have to avoid dumb people… Even as a child, I never liked to play tag with anyone who was bad as I was. If you win, it gives you no pleasure. And in the game of science-or life-the highest goal isn’t simply to win, it’s to win at something really difficult. Put another way, it’s to go somewhere beyond your ability and come out on top.”

“If you accept that people are the products of evolution, then you have to have an open mind to the truth. Unfair discrimination exists whether we like it or not; I wouldn’t have married a gum-chewing vegetarian.”

“It is necessary to be slightly under employed if you are to do something significant.”

“No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”

“Never be the brightest person in the room.”

“I just can’t sit while people are saying nonsense in a meeting without saying it’s nonsense.”

“Constantly exposing your ideas to informed criticism is very important, and I would venture to say that one reason both of our chief competitors failed to reach the Double Helix before us was that each was effectively very isolated.”

Real Women Get Raped

Real_Men_Don__t_Rape_by_Kissing_ConcreteWhen I read in a news report that a court said that forceful sex on post-menopausal women is not rape, it was obvious to me that they were misinterpreting the judgment. When journalists hear something bizarre, they do not have the brains to know that they are probably misinterpreting what they heard. Now, it seems that the court said that consensual, rough sex is not necessarily rape. This is, it seems to me, a legitimate distinction.

From Scroll.in:

“There is no reference to menopause anywhere else in the judgement, and it does seem like a complete outlier, with no real inference being taken from it. One could interpret the court’s assertion of it being simply a way of establishing age or health, but it shows no evidence to suggest that menopausal women are, say, more vulnerable to forceful sex or more likely to have gastric reactions thereafter. The rape law does feature different punishments for women who are pregnant, where menopause would be relevant, but that is a question of sentencing, not conviction.”

What has menopause got to do with this? Now, feminists often claim that rape has nothing to do with sexual desire and that we should not tell women how to dress because it is vulnerability that makes women susceptible to rape. But, is this true? If this is true, post-menopausal women would have been raped more often because they are very vulnerable, and physically weak. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Men rarely rape post-menopausal women. From the “The Natural History Of Rape”  by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer:

“There is no question, however, that rapists primarily target females of fertile ages. This pattern is seen in every available set of data on female rape victimization. Thornhill and Thornhill (1983) tabulated all the major US data sets available at that time on female rape victim ages. They also commented on several additional but more limited data sets from other industrial societies. They concluded that young women are greatly overrepresented and that girls and older women are greatly underrepresented in the data on victims of rape. The authors cautioned that these data were based primarily on reported rapes and may thus have been biased. However, numerous later studies indicate that both reported and unreported rapes show the same age pattern. One national study of reported and unreported rape included a representative sample of women and older and found that percent of the victims (at the time of the rape) were of ages 11-29, only 6 percent were older, and 29 percent were below 11 (Kilpatrick et al. 1992). However, these data were not broken down by the nature of the rape (which was defined broadly to include any sexual penetration, by finger, object, or penis, of mouth, rectum, or vagina), nor were data collected on the proportion of the victims under 11 who were exhibiting secondary sex ual traits (e.g., estrogen-facilitated development of breasts, buttocks, and/or thighs). 

Men’s evolved sexual psychology is predicted to be more sexually motivated when the latter traits are present. Meeting this prediction, Studies in which data on the ages of female rape victims under 15 are broken down by year show increased rape victimization with increased age (Hursch 1977). The increasingly early age of menarche in Western females (Barber 1998) contributes to the enhanced sexual attractiveness of some females under 12. Also, the youngest rape victims are raped in proportion to their occurrence in the population: child (defined as under 12) rape victims comprised an estimated 16 percent of US rape victims in 1992, when females under 12 comprised 17 percent of the US female population (Langan and Harlow 1994). Another large study of reported and unreported rapes and other sexual assaults in a representative sample of US females 12 and older—the National Crime Victimization Survey Report Of data for 1993 (Perkins et al. 1996)—showed that population-based rates were highest in the age range 16-24 and next-highest in the range 12-15. Rates decreased in each higher age range after 24, and there were few cases in which the victim was older than 50. A similar study for 1994 (Perkins and Klaus 1996) revealed exactly the same pattern, and earlier National Crime Victimization Survey Reports show the same pattern. In analyses of data on attempted and completed rapes for the years 1973-1982, the ages of female rape victims ranged from 12 to 96, the median age was 21, and 92 percent of the victims were 40 or younger (Felson and Krohn 1990). The average age of female victims of robbery and rape (28) was significantly younger than the average age of female victims of robbery only (35)—that is, when the victim of a male robber was young, the robber was more likely to rape her As Greenfield (1997) found when he reviewed more than two dozen data sets maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the same pattern—great overrepresentation of adolescent and young adult female victims—is seen in all available data sets involving only rapes reported to police or involving ages of victims of imprisoned sex offenders. Data on female rape victims’ ages during wars (across societies and over considerable time spans) also show that most were young. 

Rapes and other sexual assaults of males by males constitute only about 1-3 percent of sexual assaults, but data show that these sexual assaulters also prefer youthful features in their victims (Perkins et al. 1996). This pattern is likely to be a by-product of men’s evolved preference for young sex partners (Symons 1979; Quinsey et al.1993; Quinsey and Lalumiere 1995). 

We are not claiming that the available data on rape victims’ ages are perfect depictions of rapists’ sexual desires. (Presumably, rapists weigh benefits and costs and select victims accordingly, just as other people select from available options in sexual and non-sexual domains of life.) Nor are we claiming that the data are without bias. Rape probably remains significantly underreported, even in surveys that strive to obtain the highest degree of accuracy.1S There is some evidence that young women, relative to post-reproductive-age women, are more likely to desire to keep a rape secret (Thornhill and Thornhill 1990a). Thus, it may be that young women’s rapes are most subject to underreporting and hence even more disproportionately frequent than the studies based on reported rapes suggest. And false accusations (Kanin 1994) may bias the data on purported rape victimization if such accusations are a function of age. Despite these concerns, however, we are safe in concluding that young adult females are vastly overrepresented and that female children and post-reproductive-age females are greatly underrepresented in the population of rape victims. This pattern has been shown so many times, across so many settings, by so many methods, that it is established beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Many a philosopher has died when his child was born

“Part of the tension of marriage lies in its fulfillment of the woman and its narrowing and emptying of the man. When a man woos a woman he offers to give all the world for her; and when she marries him he does; he must forget the world as soon as the child comes; the altruism of love becomes the egoism of the family. Honesty and innovation are luxuries of celibacy. Where the highest philosophical thinking is concerned, all married men are suspect. It seems to me absurd that one who has chosen for his sphere the assessment of existence as a whole should burden himself with the care of a family, with winning bread, security, and social position for wife and children. Many a philosopher has died when his child was born.”-Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche anticipates research on genius, productivity, age and marriage:

Despite the fact that he died at age 20, Galois made a large number of significant contributions to mathematics. (His work was integral to Andrew Wiles’ celebrated proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1994.) Galois was involved in an affair, and the woman’s fiancÈe challenged him to a duel. The night before the duel, Galois stayed up all night and wrote down all of his mathematical ideas on paper. (It is due to these notes, written on the last night of his life, that many of Galois’ ideas survived to the posterity.) From other comments written on the paper, next to a series of mathematical notations, however, it is clear that Galois spent the night, intensely thinking about the woman over whom he was to have a duel the next morning. Something compelled this young man of 20 to produce so many brilliant mathematical ideas in one night and then go to a duel the next morning, ready to kill or be killed over a woman. It is my contention that the same psychological mechanism was responsible for both. If the age–crime curve and the age–genius curve have similar shapes, and if marriage has the desistance effect on both crime and genius, then it is highly unlikely that social control theory of criminal behavior and desistance (Laub et al., 1998; Sampson & Laub, 1993), or, for that matter, any theory that is specific to criminal behavior, can hold the whole key to why men commit crimes and why they desist. Following Daly and Wilson (1988) and Kanazawa and Still (2000), I argue that a single psychological mechanism is responsible for making young men highly competitive during early adulthood and then quickly making them desist after their marriage in later adulthood. It is my contention that both crime and genius are manifestations of young men’s competitive desires to gain access to women’s reproductive resources, which, in the ancestral environment, would have increased their reproductive success.

An Act So Strange

“Oppenheimer, by all accounts, was a child with a mind very much like Chris Langan’s. His parents considered him a genius. One of his teachers recalled that “he received every new idea as perfectly beautiful.” He was doing lab experiments by the third grade and studying physics and chemistry by the fifth grade. When he was nine, he once told one of his cousins, “Ask me a question in Latin and I will answer you in Greek.” Oppenheimer went to Harvard and then on to Cambridge University to pursue a doctorate in physics. There, Oppenheimer, who struggled with depression his entire life, grew despondent. His gift was for theoretical physics,and his tutor, a man named Patrick Blackett (who would win a Nobel Prize in 1948), was forcing him to attend to the minutiae of experimental physics, which he hated. He grew more and more emotionally unstable, and then, in an act so strange that to this day no one has properly made sense of it, Oppenheimer took some chemicals from the laboratory and tried to poison his tutor.”-Malcom Gladwell, Outliers

I don’t find this strange. Geniuses don’t want to spend the best years of their lives doing what they hate. So, what would they do if someone stands in their way? Get him out of their way—At any cost.

Post Script: Robert Stadler in Atlas Shrugged was roughly based on Robert Oppenheimer.

“Oppenheimer set the character of Stadler in my mind, which is the reason for the first name of Robert. It’s the type that Oppenheimer projected-that enormous intelligence, somewhat bitter, but very much the gentleman and scholar, and slightly other-worldly. Even his office was what I described for Stadler—that almost ostentatious simplicity. ”

The Missing Men

Journalists are supposed to report “facts”. But, I have always maintained that journalists are stupid, and do not have the brains to know what the facts are. Journalists do not know that a lot of the unpopular truths that they think to be opinions are accepted as facts by their superiors. Because the average intelligence of journalists is lower than that of chimpanzees, they tend to believe that intelligence does not matter—that erudition does not matter. But, wishful thinking does not make this so. To see what I mean, read this report in The Times Of India:

Women outnumbered men throughout human history: Study

But, is this what the study says? No. The journalist missed the point because he knew nothing about our evolutionary past.

As Roy F. Baumeister explains:

The first big, basic male-female difference has to do with what I consider to be the most underappreciated fact about gender. Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.

Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.

I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.

Right now our field is having a lively debate about how much behavior can be explained by evolutionary theory. But if evolution explains anything at all, it explains things related to reproduction, because reproduction is at the heart of natural selection. Basically, the traits that were most effective for reproduction would be at the center of evolutionary psychology. It would be shocking if these vastly different reproductive odds for men and women failed to produce some personality differences.

For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative,explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).

The huge difference in reproductive success very likely contributed to some personality differences, because different traits pointed the way to success. Women did best by minimizing risks, whereas the successful men were the ones who took chances. Ambition and competitive striving probably mattered more to male success (measured in offspring) than female. Creativity was probably more necessary, to help the individual man stand out in some way. Even the sex drive difference was relevant: For many men, there would be few chances to reproduce and so they had to be ready for every sexual opportunity. If a man said “not today, I have a headache,” he might miss his only chance.

Another crucial point. The danger of having no children is only one side of the male coin. Every child has a biological mother and father, and so if there were only half as many fathers as mothers among our ancestors, then some of those fathers had lots of children.

Look at it this way. Most women have only a few children, and hardly any have more than a dozen — but many  fathers have had more than a few, and some men have actually had several dozen, even hundreds of kids.

In terms of the biological competition to produce offspring, then, men outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners.

To put this in more subjective terms: When I walk around and try to look at men and women as if seeing them for the first time, it’s hard to escape the impression (sorry, guys!) that women are simply more likeable and lovable than men. (This I think explains the “WAW  effect” mentioned earlier.) Men might wish to be lovable, and men can and do manage to get women to love them (so the ability is there), but men have other priorities, other motivations. For women, being lovable was the key to attracting the best mate. For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate.

Tradeoffs again: perhaps nature designed women to seek to be lovable, whereas men were designed to strive, mostly unsuccessfully, for greatness.

And it was worth it, even despite the “mostly unsuccessfully” part. Experts estimate Genghis Khan had several hundred and perhaps more than a thousand children. He took big risks and eventually conquered most of the known world. For him, the big risks led to huge payoffs in offspring. My point is that no woman, even if she conquered twice as much territory as Genghis Khan, could have had a thousand children. Striving for greatness in that sense offered the human female no such biological payoff. For the man, the possibility was there, and so the blood of Genghis Khan runs through a large segment of today’s human population. By definition, only a few men can achieve greatness, but for the few men who do, the gains have been real. And we are descended from those great men much more than from other men. Remember, most of the mediocre men left no descendants at all.

Continue reading “The Missing Men”

You Were Wild Once

You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.

Krishnapriya: You are an abomination. You seem barely human to me. I have always thought so.

Me: Do not say that.

Krishnapriya: That is how I feel much of the time. Honestly. When you knew me, I was a very  insecure child–defensive and very very spiteful.  I guess I was intelligent too. I do not want you to use that for your writing.

Me: You need not say it to me. You know, I am old and have gone through different phases in my life. I precisely remember what I had felt at different points. I can use that insight into myself in my writing. What I write is not personal. I think it is only you who know that. Your judgment in such matters is so accurate. The other people are totally clueless. But, look, I am human. This has always been a consensus. But, these days the consensus is that I am “attitudent”. Continue reading “You Were Wild Once”

A Cat, Not A Defective Dog

18dczzw3crv48jpgMe: Do you have Asperger Syndrome?

Krishnapriya: Ummm….I don’t think I have it.

Me: It is a gift. A cat, not a defective dog.

Krishnapriya: Actually, I am not really sure.

Me: So, if I tell you that it is a gift, you will change your position from “I don’t have it” to “Actually, I am not very sure”? 

Krishnapriya: Lol. You think I did not see that coming?

******

Krishnapriya: I am reading up on sins and atonement.

Me: Why do you do that, my dearest child? Did you do anything wrong?

Krishnapriya: I think I have done quite a few wrong things. And I guess I am not one of those people who can forgive or forget quite so easily.

Me: Is that a warning? What wrong thing did you (I) do?

Krishnapriya: Lol. I will read it in your book someday if I tell you. Continue reading “A Cat, Not A Defective Dog”

The Difficulty Of Being Good

Indeed.

An interesting experience from the “Horror File”, in my Secret Diary:

I shall call him Corporate-Executive-Turned-Pseudo-Intellectual. Though I had read him much before I had read Ayn Rand or Mises, I remembered him only when I was doing a “story” on FDI. When I said that I had read three of his books, he talked with much enthusiasm. But, I did not know that it was because he wanted a plug job for his book series. He invited me for the launch of his book series on the history of Indian business near the Lodhi Gardens in the evening. I will not tell you his name, but as a side note, I will just say that it is NOT Gurcharan Das.

When I met him, I said, “We had met before, at IIT Madras. Early 2006. You looked much younger then.” He winced, and said, moving backward, “Younger? Am I old now?” I said, “No. You do not look old now. But, you looked much younger, stronger.” Continue reading “The Difficulty Of Being Good”