26 June 2010

Theories of attraction

I joined a book study group for Edwin Jaynes' Probability Theory: the Logic of Science on a rationality methods group web log, Less Wrong. This is a book I have intended to dive into deep for a couple years now and there are 57 people in the study group on three continents. The lead article on the web log at this moment is a fellow going on about how great polyamory is for rational people. It is an odd combination of topics these people discuss. First, Bayesian statistics. Second, all manner of fallacies and subtleties of logic. Third, Artificial Intelligence. These three topics are generally covered in a manner which suits me and I consider the group there a tremendous resource.

They also explore some more fringe type material. Technological singularity, cryonics, evolutionary psychology, getting things done, and pick up artistry. Aye aye aye aye aye aye aye. These parts I usually skip, but it is odd how on the internet one can find a spiffy discussion board ostensibly devoted to rational thinking and they have a one sided discussion on the subject of polyamory, which blogger's spell check function says ain't even a word. (Yeah I know poly is Greek and amor is Latin so the neologism creators were ignorant, but their meme seems to have traction and I think we are stuck with it.)

The Less Wrong group seems to have a consensus view that the Evolutionary Psychology story on human mate selection is scientifically factual. Alas it is not. I will not be posting this information on that web log since nobody else there would appreciate it, but I am going to summarize what I see as the more scientific hypotheses of human mate selection. It is an odd, incomplete and inconsistent set. I see six main points of varying validity. In no special order:

A.) The marriage counselor's theory. Not all marriage counselors look at the issue in this manner, but the marriage counselor I know best subscribes to this theory. She was trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, although she is not dogmatic about it. I don't believe she thinks I am in thrall to a universal Oedipus Complex, for example. In any case she never accused me of being in thrall to a universal Oedipus Complex. But, for her, origins and childhood are the most powerful forces in our lives and character and personality formation. She would say that we learned completely that a human romance relationship is our parents' romance relationship, so deep and so strong that it is almost impossible to ever unlearn it. And when we seek for a romance relationship for our own lives the default maneuver is to find somebody with whom one can most closely replicate their parents' relationship.

If you never had the opportunity to observe your parents' relationship, for example if they divorced before you became conscious at age three or whenever, then the next closest relationship you observed at the formation stage--the grandparents' relationship, the parent-stepparent relationship, etc.--would be the one you would personally define as the prototype human romance relationship which you would seek to replicate.

This theory is true enough that she can apply it to a sizable fraction of her marriage counseling clients and get some excellent results. This is a fuzzy definition of true; I have never had a relationship remotely resembling my parents' relationship. My friend and I have never debated this exact point, and on other subjects she has had some great insights for me and on other subjects what she thought was useful for me was totally goofed up. I find the marriage counselor's theory fascinating.

B.) The urge overkill theory. This one is from the post-Freudians, object-relations theorists, Jacques Lacan et al. It was popular among the addiction treatment and codependency workers in the 1970's and 1980's. Oprah and Doctor Phil and Doctor Laura seem to like it. It also begins in origins. Apparently we were all denied something we craved when we were young--a certain touch, a certain tone of voice, certain words of love meaning. Henceforward we search for that one experience we were denied. When we meet someone who can provide a facsimile of it (and reciprocally we can provide a facsimile of their original craving) that is the person we bond with. Love is blind and without will. The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know. I find this theory dubious.

C.) The girl next door theory. This one is also very similar to the marriage counselor's theory, in that it places a premium on origins. I was first exposed to this at a time, almost thirteen years ago, when I read a stack of relationship books. Leo Buscaglia and Harville Haddix and Deborah Tannen and dozens of others. I thought I got it from Maggie Scarf, but I recently went and re-read her book, Intimate Partners, from cover to cover looking for it, and it is not in there. So I am not sure who came up with it. It is very simple. The bulk of marital disputes regard money. Marital success is most probable if the two people involved have similar experiences regarding earning and spending and saving, and this is easiest if you marry the person who grew up in the house next door. A socioeconomic classmate.

I find this theory compelling, potentially even truer than the marriage counselor's theory, and I often go poking around in the library searching for supporting evidence. I have not yet found much.

D.) Carl Jung's anima woman theory. I know a few people who have bought into this one. Jung thought that we all had subconscious parts of both sexes. Males have a female subconscious anima and females possess a male subconscious animus. Jung thought your strongest attraction would be when you met a real world example who closely resembled your subconscious interior sexual opposite. I have had a couple real world experiences which were consistent with this theory. They were not altogether happy experiences.

E.) The evolutionary psychology theory. Apparently if you watch chimpanzees and gorillas perform mate selection you can find out 99% of all there is to know about ours. This is a viewpoint popularized by Steven Pinker, and it is very popular. It is dogma on the Less Wrong website. I spent a few minutes with the canonical document on this topic, The Adapted Mind, edited by Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby. In that compilation I found the following (in the paper, The Evolution of Sexual Attraction: Evaluative Mechanisms in Women by Bruce Ellis):

"The primary channel for a woman to move upward in society is to marry upward in socioeconomic status."

That is not even wrong in my zip code. The evolutionary psychology observers of human mating behavior seem completely deluded, to me. I wonder if they appreciate that the women on "Sex in the City" are fictional characters.

F.) The okcupid e-harmony match-dot-com theory of mate selection by questionnaire. This is even more far-fetched than the evolutionary psychology theory. All humans are deeply flawed. If you objectively examine a person as a set of traits to maximize over, you are likely to make a horrible selection. It ain't like shopping for a house. And furthermore, one of the greatest gifts a partner can give you is they are different and they can clearly see stuff that is behind your back or in your blind spots. This obvious fact is in the blind spot of the okcupid e-harmony match dot com theory.

(There are far more than six theories.)

No comments:


Please see paragraphs 8.4, 8.5 in the Google Terms of Service document!

About Craig

My photo
Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.