[ExI] Left Behind

Harvey Newstrom mail at HarveyNewstrom.com
Sat May 23 21:18:16 UTC 2009

"Jef Allbright" <jef at jefallbright.net> wrote,
> The first was a post by Robin Hanson to LessWrong, raising the
> question among the experts (nerds) there of why masturbation is so
> frequent when its evolutionary signaling power is impaired by its not
> being public.

Ack!  I always cringe when people ask anthropomorphic questions about 

Evolution is not a conscious process that tries to increase reproduction 
rates and the survival of genes.  Evolution is a random mutation process 
with no goals.  It is merely a statistical side-effect that random mutations 
increasing reproductive rates tend to out-complete less reproductive 
mutations.  Therefore, it is a mistake to ask why evolution did something or 
didn't do something.  These things happen randomly.  The real question we 
should ask is if a particular mutation increases or decreases reproduction 
rates.  Rephrasing the question to a non-anthropomorphic form usual 
clarifies the situation.

In this case, we shouldn't ask why masturbation evolved to feel good.  It 
simply was a random mutation that caused genitals to feel pleasure when 
stimulated.  From that starting point, it is obvious why this mutation would 
lead to both increased reproduction and increased masturbation, since both 
feel good.

A related question, that Robin may have been implying, is why didn't 
evolution produce genitals that feel pleasure during reproductive sex but do 
not feel pleasure during nonreproductive sex.  This would have required a 
much more complex mutation to detect and distinguish between fertile and not 
fertile stimulation of the genitals.  Statistically speaking, the simpler 
mutation that leads to both reproduction and masturbation would likely have 
evolved first.  Since most animals will not choose masturbation over a 
chance sexual encounter, the later mutation would probably not have 
increased reproductive rates anyway.  It would have required more complexity 
for no added reproductive rate.

Harvey Newstrom <www.HarveyNewstrom.com>

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