jain: Dragon (Kazul from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles) reading a book and eating chocolate mousse. (domestic dragon)
([personal profile] jain Feb. 25th, 2012 10:03 pm)
In 2003, Ted Chiang turned down a Hugo nomination for his short story "Liking What You See: A Documentary," on the grounds that he'd been rushed in writing the story and he felt it didn't deserve the recognition. I've been working my way through Chiang's (small, though awesome) body of work, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear of that decision because I thought there was a glaring omission in "Liking What You See" that really weakened the story for me.

While I was reading it, I kept expecting a character to point out that beauty as a social concept developed because it served an evolutionary purpose in helping humans select healthy mates, but that medical advances, including genetic testing, as well as the social changes that increased the number of people who voluntarily forego parenthood, had both devalued beauty's evolutionary function. Proponents of calliagnosia should have been arguing that beauty in their society was no more necessary than a full complement of wisdom teeth; instead, the story touched on the evolutionary history of beauty but never took that idea to its obvious conclusion.

I enjoyed the story despite this flaw, but it did niggle at me. Thoughts, disagreements, etc.?
troisroyaumes: Painting of a duck, with the hanzi for "summer" in the top left (Default)

From: [personal profile] troisroyaumes

You're right, and it's the basic flaw in most of evo-psych nonsense that gets thrown at us. It's not just medical testing that makes the need for sexual selection by beauty obsolete, but it's also that there isn't much selection pressure happening on the human species anyway, due to the fact that we started from a relatively small population with a very limited gene pool and then went a rapid population explosion--so there has been a loss of selection pressure to drive the loss of deleterious alleles/accumulation of advantageous alleles in human history. We simply haven't experienced natural selection very much at a genetic level past the invention of agriculture, and applying evolutionary explanations to most human social and cultural behavior doesn't make much sense.

Moreover, even if you buy the "beauty has an evolutionary purpose and is still relevant in today's society" theory, the traits that would be perceived as reflective of fitness back when early humans were diverging from their hominid ancestors would be completely different from the traits that are perceived as beautiful today.

I like Chiang's stories, but I honestly haven't come across any science fiction in any form of media that presents speculation about human evolution that makes much sense scientifically.