Psychology

Calling It What It Is: Homosexuality as Evolutionary Abnormality

I’m well aware that since the early 1970s homosexuality has been more or less excluded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due, in part, to the high level of functioning that had always been attained by a vast number of those within the gay community and to what appears to have been an increase in socio-political pressure. I’m also well aware that this apparent gold standard of mental health treatment has long been criticized by some professionals as a “hodgepodge” of “scattered, inconsistent, and ambiguous” research to the point that even the National Institute for Mental Health has distanced itself due to the fifth edition’s lack of scientific rigor. All of this while the other “experts” are still quibbling about the precise nature of normal human behavior; so I trust you’ll forgive me for squinting my eyes and cocking my head in skepticism at the fallacious claim, which I actually heard on at least one occasion, that homosexuality must be a completely normal variation of human behavior, “because,” as they tell me, “the DSM says so.” Sure. 

Very recently I stumbled across Michael Levin’s 1984 article, originally published in The Monist, entitled “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal,” in which (surely you won’t be surprised to hear) he argues for precisely that same conclusion: one which I came to independently and in much the same way. Now, it certainly isn’t any challenge to find a number of thinkers saying exactly the same thing, as recent occurrences make clear, though it has appeared to me that in many cases such individuals are approaching the issue from a religious basis or in a somewhat overly-simplistic fashion, rather than from, shall we say, a more theoretical foundation rooted firmly in evolutionary science. For sure, you’ll hear and read numerous speeches and articles talking about the potential bases of same-sex attraction, all well and good, many quite enlightening. But seldom will you hear any researchers simply calling homosexuality what it is: an abnormality and deviation from normal human functioning. (At most they’ll call it non-adaptive — a spandrel, if you will — but that’s only when they’re in the right mood.) Dig around and you’ll find that some don’t want to even study it anymore. And if you read between the lines, you’ll see it’s because they know exactly where it leads.

As far as I’m aware, it is an obvious truism for those taking Darwinian evolution to its logical ends that sexual intercourse has as its primary function the reproduction of a particular species, in our case the human one ― and please note that I said “primary,” not “sole.” Equally obvious (and painfully so for males) is that females tend to be far more selective in their choice of sexual partners, as confirmed by Hatfield and Clarke in their well-known experiment, wherein of college students propositioned for casual sex not a single female complied, whereas nearly three-quarters of the males were ready and willing. (Surely the remaining 25% must have been gay!) And far from being a mere “social construct” (a term so misused you might consider fleeing, as Joseph from Potiphar’s wife, should it be uttered in your presence) this sort of dichotomy can be observed among other animal populations as well, who can hardly be said to have any advanced notion of culture. And for good reason this phenomenon exists as males have been gifted with a virtually endless supply of sperm, while females are stuck with a limited number of eggs, thus invoking simple economics as the women strive to avoid wasting resources on unfit chaps who may provide unfit offspring.

A strong, vigorous, and resourceful gentleman will do the trick nicely, though, who in turn seeks above all a young, healthy, and attractive lady (it’s really not just what’s inside that counts, you know), both of whom, when they come together, fall in love, have children, and live happily ever after. Cue the olfactory system, and to put it simply, add a measure of dopamine here, a bit of serotonin there; ignore the sweaty palms, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Dim the lights; you know what comes next. The neuroscientists and psychologists tell us of a remarkable system in which hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, work to bind the pair and thus equip them for parenting, thereby making sense of that common post-coital awkwardness which often comes to those not seeking commitment. Pedants smart enough to see the excessive simplicity of this example should also be smart enough to see its purpose, namely, that every element of the human mating process can be reduced to biological mechanisms that are also easily explainable in terms of genetic survival via reproduction, from the initial gaze, to the mindless obsession, to every sensation that draws a male and female together. Yet it must be that gays also experience these same emotions and desires, which are, to repeat, emotions and desires that have as their basis the fertilization of an egg and the rearing of offspring, but which are, in the case of those seeking solely same-sex relationships, directed exclusively toward activities that are inherently non-reproductive.

It might be best to define the term “normal” in the present context as something like “that which is consistent with an organism’s proper mode of functioning.” I dislike the word “natural” since it’s far too fluid to use in any meaningful way and since I’m entirely cognizant of the homosexual behavior that appears in what we call the “natural world.” What does that really tell us, anyway? Nothing from my view, except that an appeal to the animal kingdom can no longer be used by those arguing that such activity is, as they say, a peccatum contra naturam. After all, animals are subject to physical and psychiatric abnormalities as well, so it’s hardly worth our time to consider them exemplars of health, wellness, and morality. And besides, despite what you may have thought and probably insist on thinking, morality isn’t even the topic I’m attempting to address. My point in all of this is to make the very simple proposition that, from an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality ― as a primary orientation in particular ― can almost certainly not be considered a normal and healthy variation of human sexuality any more than using other organs primarily in ways which conflict with their essential nature can be considered normal and healthy. Perhaps such use isn’t entirely unhealthy, but it can hardly qualify as what we would call biologically ideal, and to make claims to the contrary, as seems to be the trend, is, at best, misleading and, at worst, harmful.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll tell you. Thus far there is no consensus within the scientific community on the causes of homosexual behavior, and it’s frequently suggested that a combination of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental influences play a role, no doubt partly because it’s not uncommon to find identical twins ― who are virtual clones ― exhibiting different sexual preferences. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t this really just another way of saying that something went wrong? And even if one stubbornly chooses to embrace the “gay gene” supposition ― that most charitable of hypotheses ― we can really only posit that same-sex attraction might be little more than a residual effect of some other selected gene which has certain benefits. But even then it must be admitted that this still can’t necessarily classify as “normal.” Sickle-cell anemia, after all, is precisely just that: an unfortunate accident in the natural fight against malaria. Those with the gene do show an increased immunity to the disease, but only at the cost of numerous other health issues. And if the residual effects could be discarded, so much the better.

Now don’t begin entertaining the idea that homosexuality is on the same level as such things like sickle-cell anemia in consequence and prognosis. Quite obviously this isn’t the case at all. Nor should you conclude that homosexuality as a disordered use of the reproductive organs must be quite as harmful as a disorder of some other bodily system, such as the digestive from which quite obvious and severe damage can come. It’s not. The notion of a completely safe homosexual lifestyle, however, might be open to question on biological and psychological grounds as the persistent use of bodily members solely for unintended purposes could well lead to some measure of psychological strain. Indeed, as recently as 2011, a study in the UK, led by Apu Chakroborty and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found once more that gays are indeed at a higher risk for mental health issues, just as older research suggested.

The go-to hypothesis for these findings is almost always that of what is called minority stress, the reduction of which should correspond to a reduction in psychological turmoil. Perhaps. But why must we suppose that the totality of negative experiences within the LGBT community are reducible to little more than social rejection? If, as I’ve already pointed out, homosexuality is largely a deviation from nature’s own selected behavior, then wouldn’t this be enough to warrant equality of consideration for the competing suggestion that at least some of the observed health issues among gays and lesbians stem from their lifestyle instead? After all, a brain wired for reproduction could also plausibly be a brain disturbed at the perpetual and inevitable frustration of its default setting, even if that frustration doesn’t always manifest itself in overtly traumatic ways but instead by producing lesser forms of life satisfaction. 

This last bit of speculation may prove to be false, but that still wouldn’t affect the essence my main contention: a contention which will, no doubt, be contentious to say the least and almost certainly misunderstood by those not willing to understand. In fact, I’ve fully prepared myself for the onslaught of hate mail accusing me of trying to spread bigotry and intolerance of gays, so if that’s what makes you happy, fine. What I’m really attempting to do is to keep anyone from making the very silly assertion that homosexuality proper as a dominant orientation is merely a variation of normal sexual functioning or a form of expression equivalent to heterosexuality: that “underneath it’s all the same love.” It’s simply not. And anyone with a modicum of common sense should know better.

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The Rank Stupidity of Third-Wave Feminism

NOTE: This entry should not be taken as a diatribe against women’s rights and their freedom to choose their own destiny. It is, however, a diatribe against certain strains of feminism that twist the data and use it for certain socio-political ends.

The basic ignorance of female sexuality among modern-day feminists is borderline appalling — not the kind that simply want legal equality, mind you, which is nothing more than good and consistent classical liberalism, but the kind that are somehow under the mistaken impression that males and females are virtually identical, gender roles being little more than an artificial construct imposed by the (evil) patriarchy. More than once have I heard it asked why a woman’s breast should be considered erotic when, in fact, the answer should be immediately obvious to anyone with even a modicum of scientific reproductive knowledge, or at least it should be so after it’s pointed out. Breastfeeding, anyone? There you go. To make matters worse, it usually turns out to be members of the academic elite who are propagating this nonsense, thereby giving it an air of authenticity, as if voices from sociology and gender studies departments are really worth hearing — the two fields that have most thoroughly rejected the best findings in contemporary behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.

Years ago, when he was still alive, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote an article entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” in which he pointed out, not that no women are funny of course, but only the well-known fact that, on average, females just simply aren’t as humorous as men. For this he was dubbed a “sexist,” a label he also received for benignly suggesting that women shouldn’t be forced to work if they don’t want to, as if that’s really such a ghastly idea. At any rate, similar disparities to that in the humor department exist in a variety of areas, and, for most of them, highly plausible evolutionary reasons can be posited as explanations, thereby negating the hypothesis that some socially-constructed sexism is to blame — this being part of the left’s own war on science.

No doubt in the coming months we’ll start hearing more about the overblown wage gap, primarily from Democrats who completely ignore the research which suggests that the classic 78% number can be reduced to something along the lines of, say, 5-8% by taking into account the choices women make with regards to family, education, and the like. Yes, it could be that the remaining percentage is due to some form of discrimination, but in reality this has yet to be confirmed, so anyone arguing that it is has the same burden of proof as those arguing otherwise. Up until now I’ve not seen it addressed, but given that the stupidly named “heightism” sees even shorter males earning less than their taller counterparts, I have to wonder if a part of this left-over mystery gap can’t be explained by the obvious fact that women are also, on average, shorter than men, in which case gender has little, if anything, to do with it at all.

As long as the writers at Jezebel and The Huffington Post still think that “slut shaming” is some patriarchal double-standard, though, then it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot what anyone says about the wage gap, because it’s quite obvious that many of these inane ramblers are operating within a nonsensical framework that violates the very nature of most human beings. Imagine, if you can, the psychological harm that could potentially befall those who are forced into the Procrustean bed of gender feminism, which really is far more than a hideous annoyance. It is, in fact, a sinister threat that should have no place among a population that claims enlightenment and scientific literacy.

Thoughts in the Wake of Eric Harris’s Death

If I were to imagine a police sting gone wrong, an operation wherein the victim was accidentally killed by one of the officers on duty, it would probably unfold in a manner almost identical to what we’ve seen in the Eric Harris footage that’s been in the news lately and making rounds on social media. You might speculate that racial motivations lay behind the execution of Walter Scott or, to invoke namesakes, the strangling of Eric Garner, no matter how much and how deeply I hope to the contrary; but as far as I can tell, everything in this most recent travesty points to an unfortunate, though honest, mistake, plain and simple, albeit the kind of mistake one would expect to see when some geriatric rent-a-cop (actually, I think it’s called “pay-to-play”) is given permission to handle a deadly weapon that looks all too much like a taser.

Perhaps I should be a bit kinder to Mr. Bates as the immediate disposal of the still smoking gun and concomitant apology strikes my eyes and ears as nothing less than a sincere expression of shock and disbelief at what had just happened, while the aggression, brutality, and callous disregard exhibited by the accompanying patrolmen bring to mind a passage from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

David Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel and the author of On Killing, argues that the optimal state of “arousal” — the range in which stress improves performance — is when our heart rate is between 115 and 145 beats per minute . . .

“After 145,” Grossman says, “bad things begin to happen. Complex motor skills start to break down. Doing something with one hand and not the other becomes very difficult . . . At 175, we being to see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing . . . The forebrain shuts down, and the mid-brain — the part of your brain that is the same as your dog’s (all mammals have that part of the brain) — reaches up and hijacks the forebrain. Have you ever tried to have a discussion with an angry or frightened human being? You can’t do it . . . You might as well try to argue with your dog.” Vision becomes even more restricted. Behavior becomes inappropriately aggressive . . . [emphasis mine]

This is precisely the reason that many police departments in recent years have banned high-speed chases. It’s not just because of the dangers of hitting some innocent bystander during the chase, although that is clearly part of the worry, since about three hundred Americans are killed accidentally every year during chases. It’s also because of what happens after the chase, since pursuing a suspect at high speed is precisely the kind of activity that pushes police officers into this dangerous high arousal. “The L.A. riot was started by what cops did to Rodney King at the end of the high-speed chase,” says James Fyfe, head of training for the NYPD, who has testified in many brutality cases.

However one feels about the previous law enforcement encounters that have made headlines over the past couple years (and weeks), I find it remarkably difficult to interpret this one as anything more than a mishap of the most tragic kind, fueled by the incompetence and poor judgement of whoever decided it would be a good idea to send an elderly reserve officer into a high pressure and volatile situation. Robert Bates deserves the conviction of second-degree manslaughter since “culpable negligence” is precisely how his behavior ought to be defined. The real responsibility, though, lies with the Tulsa County Police Department who should have never allowed this situation to happen and should have been far more diligent in assessing the type of work Officer Bates was being assigned.

More on Depression, the Limbic System, and My Own Struggles with Psychiatric Illness.

Yet another write-up on Nature suggesting that an overactive limbic system may causally contribute to a dampened prefrontal cortex, presumably leading to anxiety, depression, and even cases of ADD in some folks. Unfortunately this is a pay-to-read article, and I’m not a subscriber, but the abstract and this available box of information ought to do the trick. Here are the most relevant excerpts:

“Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites.”

“Under conditions of psychological stress the amygdala activates stress pathways in the hypothalamus and brainstem, which evokes high levels of noradrenaline (NA) and dopamine (DA) release. This impairs PFC regulation but strengthens amygdala function, thus setting up a ‘vicious cycle’. For example, high levels of catecholamines, such as occur during stress, strengthen fear conditioning mediated by the amygdala. By contrast, stress impairs higher-order PFC abilities such as working memory and attention regulation. Thus, attention regulation switches from thoughtful ‘top-down’ control by the PFC that is based on what is most relevant to the task at hand to ‘bottom-up’ control by the sensory cortices, whereby the salience of the stimulus (for example, whether it is brightly coloured, loud or moving) captures our attention. [emphasis mine]”

What’s particularly interesting for me is comparing my own neural SPECT scans from the Amen Clinic to these statements. I know. I know. Most psychiatrists are critical of Dr. Amen’s methods, which is fine. I’m neither making a plug for him nor am I criticizing him. The reader can decide his/her own opinion on the matter. One of the complaints, however, is that SPECT scans aren’t very good at actually tracing neurotransmitters, which have been implicated in most mental illnesses, since they primarily focus on blood flow, thereby making their relevance to psychiatric diagnosis quite limited. Sure, you can get a good overview of one’s brain function, detecting tumors, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, etc., but there seems to be no analysis of the chemicals themselves or the receptors that metabolize them, which means those with such issues won’t find any real benefit.

Despite all of this, however, we can be certain of the simple fact that my own scans showed, among other things, increased blood flow to my limbic area and slightly decreased blood flow to my dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, which seems to me highly suggestive of the aforementioned scenario and perfectly in sync with my own subjective perception of symptoms, e.g. depression, inattention, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, etc. Likewise, it fits fairly well with my own history since my younger years, in retrospect, seemed to have roughly followed the progression of nervous tics, full-blown anxiety/depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, then ADD. I purposely write ADD, by the way, and not ADHD since I was never hyperactive, and it just makes more sense to use the old terminology for my experience rather than ADHD-PI. At any rate, I’m only aware of the nervous tics beginning first because I’ve been told by my parents of the incessant cough that the pediatrician chalked-up to anxiety as opposed to some sort of illness. Unfortunately, I was always so quiet, introverted, and well-behaved that I probably never gave anyone a reason to think something was wrong, and it’s only now that the pieces can be put together more accurately.

In fourth grade I very clearly recall one of the earliest manifestations of textbook OCD during an incident in which I felt compelled to hold the left side metal support of my desk with my right hand so that my fingers touched, prompting the girl next to me to ask what I was doing. (I wonder if she remembers too) During those years I also began to stop swallowing my saliva from time to time for fear of being poisoned, which I hid well by either spitting when outside or wiping it on my sleeve when inside, always hiding it as best as I could because hey, I may have been a mentally ill kid, but even I knew that stuff was crazy. It was around that time, also, that teachers began telling my parents that I would daydream a lot, spacing out during lessons and such, though no one really knew what the story was, assuming I was just lazy and unmotivated — a perfectly reasonable conclusion based on the external data. From there it only got worse, prompting me to eventually seek treatment, which helped immensely in various ways and to varying degrees, but never permanently as one would like. I’ve had numerous relapses over the years, one in particular being the result of my foolish decision to totally ween myself off of a medication without the doctor’s knowledge. Helpful hint: don’t do it.

From what I’ve gathered, however, it all seems perfectly reasonable to suspect that a fiery limbic system somehow caused these issues and still continues to do so to this day. The good news, however, is that a variety of cognitive and behavioral techniques have shown serious promise is reversing many of these tendencies, as I pointed out in my last entry, so I may not be as doomed as I once thought.

Depression and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

As one who has struggled for years with psychiatric disorders of various kinds, I find the inner-workings of the human brain remarkably fascinating. Of particular interest to me is the notion that retraining one’s thought processes can potentially alleviate, if not cure, such maladies as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder — two illnesses I’ve battled to varying extents. Lately I’ve been thinking of the possibility that some of my issues arise from a kind of neural resource allocation in which certain overactive brain functions take up more energy than is necessary, thus draining the potential supply for other portions. This piece by Emily Anthes helps to confirm and explain such a possibility, while offering the comfort that maybe these problems aren’t necessarily permanent.

GRE/MAT and IQ Correlation

LeCarrefour de la Sagesse had an entry a few years back purporting to convert GRE verbal scores to IQ, which I was delighted to find, though perhaps a bit skeptical of from the outset. Granted, I’m no mathematical whiz myself, so my initial reservations were based not so much on methodology as on the feeling that my own score correlated with an IQ that was likely too high . . . much to my chagrin. That’s not some kind of false humility, mind you, but an honest assessment, based on what I know about myself and my past achievements. In fact, I once took the Mensa home test to see how I would do; and from what I was told by admissions, the estimated IQ range given in the results is fairly accurate, which means that indeed the correlation most likely was slightly off, even if by only a few points. To satisfy my own curiosity, however, I decided to plot a linear regression based on some of the numbers I could find, particularly the correlation between the Miller Analogies Test, which is accepted by various high-IQ societies, and the GRE verbal section of 2012-2013, which is unfortunately no longer accepted by any high-IQ societies at all. Assuming that these two tests do match up well enough, and assuming that the Miller Analogies Test is a fairly accurate assessment of IQ, it would seem reasonable that one should be able to take both scores and translate them into a rough IQ estimate that might be more accurate than some of the other attempts that are out there.

If we begin by looking at the MAT scores accepted by various organizations, we find that Mensa accepts those in the 95th percentile and above, which comes out to be a 437, which further translates into a WAIS number of 130. On the higher end, the Triple-Nine Society accepts a scaled MAT score of 472 and a WAIS score of 146, leading us once again to infer a rough correlation between the two as before, while the International Society for Philosophical Inquiry correlates an MAT score of 471 with a 146 on WAIS — pretty much the same as Triple-Nine for all intents and purposes. Intertel sits between Mensa and these other groups, taking a raw score of 74, which comes to a scaled score of 452 and a WAIS IQ of 135.

So far, so good; but we would do well to find some numbers lower down on the scale. This has proven to be rather difficult since I’m not confident enough in much of the data that I’ve found to actually use it for this project, though, surprisingly, librarians appear to be a useful group for this purpose as both their Wonderlic and WORDSUM scores bring them to the higher end of average at 114 which seems intuitively reasonable for someone in that occupation, while we can easily access their average GRE scores through the ETS, thus providing us with the necessary data. At a 157, we can take this number and convert it into the equivalent MAT score of 415 and infer that this 415 loosely coincides with an IQ of 114 finally giving us something that isn’t restricted to the top 2% of the population.

What would be wonderful is finding out the overall average IQ of the GRE test-taking population, though the best we can really do is guess since I don’t think that kind of information exists. Accepting, then, that the average IQ of a college graduate is roughly 105 and assuming that those who attempt the GRE found college tolerable enough that they were willing to potentially pursue more education, we could take a stab and say that the average test-taker has an IQ of about 110, meaning that the 50th percentile on the GRE verbal test would correlate with this number, which once again we can turn into an MAT score, this time 399.

With the help of livephysics.com I was able to construct a linear regression giving a very basic visual of what this all looks like.

Screen shot 2015-01-18 at 12.07.05 AM

On the left are the IQ scores, while on the bottom are the MAT scores, which can be converted into GRE scores using the link that I provided above. (And so as not to forget those who took the test before the most recent revision) For example, then, if you were an English major and scored a 169 on the verbal section, you could look at the chart, find that it coincides with a 449-450, and then consult the graph to see that your IQ falls somewhere within the 132-135 range. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of detail here, but given the uncertainties involved, I don’t think I would recommend accepting total precision from these numbers anyway, only the broader generalities. I do, however, think that this regression is more accurate than the one I mentioned earlier, because remember I said that I had taken the Mensa home test? Well, I won’t tell you the estimated IQ range they provided me, but I will tell you that these estimates come much closer.

Automatism, Sleepwalking, and Philosophical Zombies

If, as Chalmers and others argue, the conceivable existence of philosophical zombies entails a total, or at least partial, rejection of physicalist monism, then the next and most reasonable step would be to substantiate the central idea of such a hypothetical world, in which humans lack conscious awareness yet resemble ordinary humans in every way. For my part, I have a difficult time imagining how this is even possible, since it seems highly unlikely that our ordinary course of action can be separated from the sense perception which so strongly influences our everyday behavior.

Even so, as I was considering this problem throughout the course of the work day it struck me that certain forms of automatism, such as sleepwalking, potentially provide real-life examples of situations in which ostensibly conscious humans act and speak as their truly aware counterparts without experiencing any significant form of consciousness themselves. Why this line of reasoning isn’t more common I don’t know, though I must grant that the possibility of being entirely off-base may be a reason that more philosophers haven’t brought this point up. Nevertheless, if the more extreme forms of automatic conditions are taken in their entirety (such as sleep driving, somniloquy, sexsomnia, etc.), then it would seem that the plausibility of the dualistic arguments based on philosophical zombiism is at least somewhat strengthened.