Monday, August 03, 2009

Love and Neoteny

There is a connection between neoteny -- the retention of infant traits in adults -- and adult human love. The most obvious evidence for the connection between an adult’s love for its infant and the transfer of such feelings to adults is our use of baby-talk with those whom we love. The infant’s love for its mother would have resulted in neotenous males continuing to feel love toward females, and would have resulted in a feedback loop in females, strengthening female love-bonds. This would explain our need for touching and cuddling with those we love, a holdover from the infant ape’s need for touch and cuddling (as the famous baby monkey - cloth “mother” without food vs. wire “mother” with food experiment showed). Nietzsche also understood this connection, before the evolutionary evidence we have now existed: “The instincts of morality: maternal love – gradually turning into love in general. Sexual love likewise. I recognize transferences everywhere” (PT, 6).

The extension of the infant-mother bond to adults would create a greater tendency to create pair bonds in a species formerly polygamous, as this love-bond was created between adults. At the same time, our polygamous nature would still be there, an inheritance from our ape ancestors, driving us toward mild polygamy, though with an increasing drive toward monogamy, especially as notions of justice among men (an extension of the love–social-bond) and equality between men and women (another form of the notion of justice) developed and expanded. This expansion of the infant-mother bond into adulthood would also suggest Freud was tapping into something deep and fundamental in his Oedipus complex, though it is clear now that this is overridden by the Westermarck effect, already weakly expressed in chimpanzees, which creates a deep, gut-felt repulsion for having sex with those one was raised with from infancy. This would have resulted in more outbreeding, meaning fewer birth defects, and the behavior being passed on to more offspring. This would have counteracted the confusion created by the infant-mother bond becoming associated with sex in adults – though not perfectly, as the continued problem of incest shows. This neotenous retention of the love bond between infant and mother and its application to a sexually mature adult would explain both the sexual selection for youthful traits, driving neoteny, and the existence of pedophilia.

A pedophile is one whose brain has applied the infant-parent-sex bond to individuals who look even more like infants. This is a prime example of why we should not make the mistake of associating the “natural” with the good, Rousseau as does. Neoteny explains pedophilia – it does not excuse it. While tragedy shows us what happens when we attempt to push ourselves beyond our physis-bound natures, morality is how we keep in check the overextension of elements of our nature. We live in a delicate balance between the two. The overapplication of the connection between infant-mother love and adult sex results in pedophilia. The underapplication of it results in loveless sex, often resulting in children abandoned by their fathers. Each is immoral. The median application of such behaviors creates stronger social bonds within a community of adults, and the creation of children loved by fathers and mothers. The first is perversion, the second is antisocial. Between the two is the kind of love that creates strong families and strong communities, as that love is extended to more and more people.


John said...

I'm surprised more people don't make the connection between neoteny and paedophilia. It seems fairly straightforward.

Speaking of neoteny, have you seen the studies of Russian fur foxes F.T. was talking about in Natural Religion, and/or do you know a good source that treats neoteny, heterochrony, etc?

Troy Camplin said...

Of course. I learned about the foxes from Fred, and I also read about them here. More, it seems that the ancestors of humans and bonobos were the first species to use domestication – on themselves.

I learned about the neoteny argument from Gribbin, John & Jeremy Cherfas' "The Monkey Puzzle"

I also found discussion about it in Bonner's "The Evolution of Culture in Animals."
Geoffrey Miller talks about it in "The Mating Mind", as does Matt Ridley in "The Red Queen," though he expresses doubt about the idea.

There's not as much about it as one would think. I read an argument against it somewhere objecting to it on the grounds that it meant we are a "retarded ape." Which only went to show the author didn't understand neoteny. Are vertebrates as a whole nothing more than "retarded sea squirts"? Seems more like a step back to get a running start.

John said...

"...those foxes that approached an experimenter lived to breed for another generation; those that snarled at humans or showed aggression toward them were turned into fur coats."

Now that's a system. A Czech biochemist friend told me of a dog breeder she knew that was punished for euthanizing hundreds of canine offspring she deemed unprofitable to her breeding efforts. It makes me wonder if the Dawkins-esque rhetorical notion that organisms are no more than throwaway vehicles for more important genes owes as much or more to the peculiar temperament of certain biologists as to their scientific insight.

(I'd love to try to breed a tame raccoon. Maybe I'll start a haberdashery.)

Thanks for the research tips, BTW. It's a fascinating topic.

Troy Camplin said...

Wouldn't a spotted, curly-tailed raccoon be a bit of a failure, though? ;-)

Be careful, too. Raccoons have thumbs. Neotenize raccoons and you might end up creating a real competitor against humans!