Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weak polygyny and Formula One

Weak asymmetries are responsible for just about everything we experience.

Most of the universe we observe, all the galaxies and the stars and the planets, is composed of matter rather than anti-matter, yet the universe should have started with equal amounts of the two. If all the processes in particle physics were exactly symmetric, then most of the matter and anti-matter should have mutually annihilated, yielding a universe containing almost nothing but photon radiation.

What we actually observe is approximately two billion photons for every proton or neutron of matter, and in effect, this figure expresses the exact asymmetry between matter and anti-matter. It's thought that as a result of a small asymmetry in certain high-energy processes, the early universe developed slightly more quarks than anti-quarks. To be more precise, there were a billion-and-one quarks for every billion anti-quarks. Two photons were produced for each annihilation event between a quark and an anti-quark, and the remaining quarks were bound into protons and neutrons, hence the current universe possesses approximately two billion photons for every proton or neutron of matter.

So the weak asymmetry between quarks and anti-quarks is necessary to explain the existence of all the stars and planets. But what about human culture and civilization, all its cities and technologies and literature? How do these emerge from evolutionary biology?

One suggestion is that the weak polygyny of human society is a necessary condition. Polygyny is a sexual asymmetry in which some of the males in a species possess stable reproductive relationships with multiple females in so-called harems, leaving the remaining males as bachelors. This leads to varying forms of intense competition between the males, which often manifests itself in sexual dimorphism, the existence of different male/female sizes or capacities.

Human polygyny is less than that of gorillas, where there is correspondingly a large difference between the size of the males and females, but greater than that of gibbons, who are monogamous, and where the males and females are duly of comparable size.

The evidence for human polygyny is rather strong. G.P.Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas, for example, lists 849 human societies, and finds that 83% are polygynous. And as Richard Dawkins points out in The Ancestor's Tale, research conducted by Laura Betzig indicates that "overtly monogamous societies like ancient Rome and medieval Europe were really polygynous under the surface. A rich nobleman, or Lord of the Manor, may have had only one legal wife but he had a de facto harem of female slaves, or housemaids and tenants' wives and daughters."

This weak polygyny is reflected in human sexual dimorphism, but because humans are an intelligent species, it has a physical and a cultural component. Men are, on average, larger and stronger than women, but men also seek to gain access to harems, not by direct competition, but by seeking power, wealth and status. As a by-product of this, virtually all of human culture, the philosophy, the politics, the science, the technology, the art, the business, and the sport, has been produced by men.

And where else in the world can you find an activity which combines sport, business, politics and technology, in such a tightly integrated package, than Formula One? In essence, then, Formula One is a by-product of the human male desire to gain access to female harems. Small asymmetries matter.


cinndave said...

Clever. But the only example I can think of is that Max Mosley scandal.

Gordon McCabe said...

Polygyny means that the males maintain sexual relationships with multiple females, but not necessarily all in the same place at the same time! Polygyny is not necessarily orgiastic.

My understanding is that many racing drivers, and associated businessmen, have, over the history of the sport, maintained sexual relationships with multiple females.