Darwin-L Message Log 8:67 (April 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<8:67>From LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU  Mon Apr 18 16:04:34 1994

Date: Mon, 18 Apr 1994 16:04:34 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: mating

Responding to Asia:

[me:]> Then there are
> 	males who are not playing a reproductive strategy at all-- just out for
> 	pleasure.

[Asia:]>  This is a mix up in levels - everybody is out for pleasure, of one
> kind or another, the question is whether the pleasure-reward mechanism is
> orchestrated, presumably by NS, in a way that it evokes a "maximum
> reproductive efficiency" behaviour.

I assume that pleasure evolved long ago as a positive feedback for
fitness-enhancing behavior, such as copulation. [How long ago? Certainly at
least early vertebrate ancestry.] I assume you assume this too. Pleasure has
now taken on a life of its own, so to speak. What happens when an individual
finds a way to satisfy the pleasure program than circumvents normal

It would not necessarily be maladaptive, but it is likely to be non-adaptive.
Take an easy example, male masturbation. Several individuals (e.g., Smith;
Baker & Bellis) have interpreted this as adaptive in ridding the male
reproductive tract of old and less viable sperm and the like. Could it not be
equally interpreted as a short cut to the pleasure center? It may not be as
gratifying as the real thing, but it is simpler and safer. It is not even very
expensive if the male isn't copulating but the testes are generating sperm
anyway. Which explanation is more parsimonious?

Apply this to non-conceptive sex in bonobos. Female chimps can offer pleasure
to the males in return for temporary rise in status, social reassurance, food,
or what-have-you. We suppose the males don't know whether they are being turned
on by sex or by reproduction, and I suppose it does not matter.

Apply this to promiscuous human sex-- prostitution, adulterous flings,
one-night-stands, etc. Yes these are driven by pleasure and may result in
offspring; thus the adaptive value of the pleasure mechanism is confirmed. The
important point, however, is that if we recognize pleasure as a "common
currency" (as one writer put it) for a wide variety of actions, then it becomes
fruitless to perform an adaptive analysis of each of those actions as though
they evolved independently. If one or more of the behaviors appears to be
non-adaptive or worse, we don't need to seek a just-so-story to explain it. On
the basis of parsimony, I think it is better to describe much of human
sexuality as merely pleasure-seeking rather than a reproductive strategy.

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