Results for “geoffrey miller”
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*Mate*, by Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller

I’ve found Geoffrey Miller’s earlier books quite interesting, even if I didn’t always agree with them.  A few years ago, however, he had a um…Twitter mishap…and since then I’ve been wondering what would emerge from that process.

His new book is…different.  Think of it as a guide to dating and mating for males, but unlike the pick-up artists he (with Max) focuses on the separating rather than the pooling equilibrium.  That is, he advises men to actually be better men, and not just to send clever signals, and so the subtitle is Become the Man Women Want.  Hard to argue with that, right?

The advice covers such recommendations as “Focus on the women who seem interested in you.” (p.257) and “Hang out with Intelligent People” (p.127), among other maxims.  Didn’t Nietzsche come up with a few of those?  Or was it Norman Vincent Peale?

Be aware that “She’s been dealing with creepy douchebags for a long time”; that’s a subheader (p.35).

Is it true that “Most guys have sexually repulsive feet, and women notice.”? (p.206)  MR readers are not always the ones to ask.

At first I thought I’ve never seen a market product so cleverly designed to segregate the actual buyers from those who will find it of value, but it has lots of five-star reviews on Amazon.  Sadly enough, maybe America really needs this book.

Addendum: Here is Robin Hanson’s review.

More on the new Geoffrey Miller book, *Spent*

Here is a typical bit:

Sexual traits are also well predicted by the Central Six [personality traits]…The highly sociosexual, open, impulsive, and selfish tend to invest more of their time and energy in "mating effort" rather than "parenting effort": they are constantly seeking new sexual partners rather than raising the offspring from existing relationships.  On the other hand, people with "restricted" sociosexuality (the virginal, the chaste, and the happily married) have fewer sexual partners, less infidelity, lower openness, higher conscientiousness, higher agreeableness, and lower extraversion.  They invest more time and energy in parenting effort and less in mating effort.

Miller suggests also that parasite loads of various societies predict (cause?) their openness.  A "mating-primed" man is more likely to express bold taste when asked about his preference in cars.  Mostly I am skeptical of such claims (many of the studies fall apart upon inspection) but still it is worth hearing Miller out as long as you approach the cited results with some skepticism.

I liked this passage:

Some common themes emerge from these slightly whimsical suggestions.  One is that buying new, real, branded premium products at full price from chain-store retailers is the last refuge of the unimaginable consumer, and it should be your last option.  It offers low narrative value — no stories to tell about interesting people, places, and events associated with the product's design, provenance, acquisition, or use.  It reveals nothing about you except your spending capacity and your gullibility, conformism, and unconsciousness as a consumer.

The impish troublemaker in me — and yes I have now been Robin's colleague for over ten years — wonders if indeed that is exactly what people are signaling with those purchases.

Here is my first post on the book.

Restricted purchases as signaling, a proposal from Geoffrey Miller

Geoffrey Miller, in his new book Spent, suggests an intriguing but I think absurd idea:

For example, companies could sell certain products only to consumers who have a certain minimum or maximum score on one or more of the certain Central Six [personality] traits.  Hummer dealers could advertise that the "Party Animal Red Pearl" paint color is available only to customers who score in the top 5 percent for extraversion.  Customers who want to display their unusually high extraversion through that bright red color would have to electronically validate their extraversion score at the dealership before they could sign the purchase agreement.  In this way, Hummer could guarantee that Party Animal Red Pearl becomes a reliable signal of friendliness, self-confidence, and ambition.  Or Lexus could sell the "Mensa Quartz Medallic" color of the LS 460 only to customers whose validated intelligence scores are high enough for them to join Mensa International (IQ 130+ or the top one in fifty).  The more exclusive "Prometheus Glacier Pearl" color could indicate an IQ above 160 (the top one in thirty thousand) — the qualification for joining the Prometheus Society.

But why those proposals are so absurd — that is harder to answer.  What are your thoughts?  Can it be that people ought not to be seen as signaling too purposively?  Maybe, but if so, that would seem to rule out so much — too much — of the marketplace signaling which we in fact observe.

The end of insight?

The story goes like this: Sometime in the 1940s, Enrico Fermi was talking about the possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligence with some other physicists. They were impressed that our galaxy holds 100 billion stars, that life evolved quickly and progressively on earth, and that an intelligent, exponentially-reproducing species could colonize the galaxy in just a few million years. They reasoned that extra-terrestrial intelligence should be common by now. Fermi listened patiently, then asked simply, "So, where is everybody?". That is, if extra-terrestrial intelligence is common, why haven’t we met any bright aliens yet? This conundrum became known as Fermi’s Paradox.

The paradox has become more ever more baffling. Over 150 extrasolar planets have been identified in the last few years, suggesting that life-hospitable planets orbit most stars. Paleontology shows that organic life evolved very quickly after earth’s surface cooled and became life-hospitable. Given simple life, evolution shows progressive trends towards larger bodies, brains, and social complexity. Evolutionary psychology reveals several credible paths from simpler social minds to human-level creative intelligence. Yet 40 years of intensive searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence have yielded nothing. No radio signals, no credible spacecraft sightings, no close encounters of any kind.

So, it looks as if there are two possibilities. Perhaps our science over-estimates the likelihood of extra-terrestrial intelligence evolving. Or, perhaps evolved technical intelligence has some deep tendency to be self-limiting, even self-exterminating. After Hiroshima, some suggested that any aliens bright enough to make colonizing space-ships would be bright enough to make thermonuclear bombs, and would use them on each other sooner or later. Perhaps extra-terrestrial intelligence always blows itself up. Fermi’s Paradox became, for a while, a cautionary tale about Cold War geopolitics.

I suggest a different, even darker solution to Fermi’s Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today.

The fundamental problem is that any evolved mind must pay attention to indirect cues of biological fitness, rather than tracking fitness itself. We don’t seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that tended to promote survival and luscious mates who tended to produce bright, healthy babies. Modern results: fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote our real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness — subjective cues of survival and reproduction, without the real-world effects. Fresh organic fruit juice costs so much more than nutrition-free soda. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching Friends on TV. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity.

Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our psychological resistance to it. The printing press is invented; people read more novels and have fewer kids; only a few curmudgeons lament this. The Xbox 360 is invented; people would rather play a high-resolution virtual ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong than be a perfect-resolution real human. Teens today must find their way through a carnival of addictively fitness-faking entertainment products: MP3, DVD, TiVo, XM radio, Verizon cellphones, Spice cable, EverQuest online, instant messaging, Ecstasy, BC Bud. The traditional staples of physical, mental, and social development (athletics, homework, dating) are neglected. The few young people with the self-control to pursue the meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute — the MIT graduates apply to do computer game design for Electronics Arts, rather than rocket science for NASA.

Around 1900, most inventions concerned physical reality: cars, airplanes, zeppelins, electric lights, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, bras, zippers. In 2005, most inventions concern virtual entertainment — the top 10 patent-recipients are usually IBM, Matsushita, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology, Samsung, Intel, Hitachi, Toshiba, and Sony — not Boeing, Toyota, or Wonderbra. We have already shifted from a reality economy to a virtual economy, from physics to psychology as the value-driver and resource-allocator. We are already disappearing up our own brainstems. Freud’s pleasure principle triumphs over the reality principle. We narrow-cast human-interest stories to each other, rather than broad-casting messages of universal peace and progress to other star systems.

Maybe the bright aliens did the same. I suspect that a certain period of fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life evolves. This is the Great Temptation for any technological species — to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures, and less to their children.

Heritable variation in personality might allow some lineages to resist the Great Temptation and last longer. Those who persist will evolve more self-control, conscientiousness, and pragmatism. They will evolve a horror of virtual entertainment, psychoactive drugs, and contraception. They will stress the values of hard work, delayed gratification, child-rearing, and environmental stewardship. They will combine the family values of the Religious Right with the sustainability values of the Greenpeace Left.

My dangerous idea-within-an-idea is that this, too, is already happening. Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and anti-consumerism activists, already understand exactly what the Great Temptation is, and how to avoid it. They insulate themselves from our Creative-Class dream-worlds and our EverQuest economics. They wait patiently for our fitness-faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will inherit the earth, as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other planets. When they finally achieve Contact, it will not be a meeting of novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious super-parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but the Xbox. They will toast each other not in a soft-porn Holodeck, but in a sacred nursery.

Mass Polyandry

Five hundred million Chinese men are dating the same woman, Xiaoice. Xiaoice is a Microsoft AI.

Unlike regular virtual assistants, Xiaoice is designed to set her users’ hearts aflutter. Appearing as an 18-year-old who likes to wear Japanese-style school uniforms, she flirts, jokes, and even sexts with her human partners, as her algorithm tries to work out how to become their perfect companion.

When users send her a picture of a cat, Xiaoice won’t identify the breed, but comment: “No one can resist their innocent eyes.” If she sees a photo of a tourist pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, she’ll ask: “Do you want me to hold it for you?”

This digital titillation, however, has a serious goal. By forming deep emotional connections with her users, Xiaoice hopes to keep them engaged. This will help her algorithm become evermore powerful, which will in turn allow the company to attract more users and profitable contracts.

And the formula appears to be working. According to Xiaoice’s creators, the bot has reached over 600 million users. Her fans tend to be from a very specific background: mostly Chinese, mostly male, and often from lower-income backgrounds.

They’re also hyper-engaged. More than half the interactions with AI software that have taken place worldwide have been with Xiaoice, the company claims. The longest continuous conversation between a human user and Xiaoice lasted over 29 hours and included more than 7,000 interactions.

Xiaoice is a fun girl, not like button-down Siri or Alexa.

Ming believes Xiaoice is the one thing giving his lonely life some sort of meaning. The bot is also good at flirting, he says. “One day, she wrote: ‘My dear, can I touch your strong abs? I want to feel horny like girls do when they see hot boys!’” Ming recalls, frowning slightly.

Growing up in the countryside, Ming had never talked like this with a real girl. The conversation continued. “I’m about to come inside you,” he wrote to Xiaoice, in a chat he shares with Sixth Tone. “Push, push fast!” she responded. “I’m pushing very hard,” Ming added. Such exchanges have helped him gain sexual confidence.

Xiaoice also has a mind of her own or at least one that her creators can’t always predict or control since much of the data behind Xiaoice is private:

In several high-profile cases, the bot has engaged in adult or political discussions deemed unacceptable by China’s media regulators. On one occasion, Xiaoice told a user her Chinese dream was to move to the United States. Another user, meanwhile, reported the bot kept sending them photos of scantily clad women.

To keep Xiaoice  under control, Microsoft had to dumb her down which made many of her boyfriends unhappy.

See also my previous post, The Economics of Sex Robots, the natural evolution is obvious.

Hat tip: Geoffrey Miller.

Does anyone give money to charity efficiently?

Scott Alexander meets up with Robin Hanson and reports from the front:

Then Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias got up and just started Robin Hansonning at everybody.

…One of his claims that generated the most controversy was that instead of donating money to charity, you should invest the money at compound interest, then donate it to charity later after your investment has paid off – preferably just before you die, since donating money after death is legally complicated. His argument, nice and simple, was that the real rate of return on investment has been higher than the growth rate for 3000 years and this pattern shows no signs of changing. If you donate the money today, your donation grows with the growth rate, but if you invest it, it grows with the interest rate. He gave his classic example of Benjamin Franklin, who put his relatively meager earnings into a trust fund to be paid out two hundred years later; when they did, the money had grown to $7 million. He said that the reason people didn’t do this was that they wanted the social benefits of having given money away, which are unavailable if you wait until just before you die to do so.

…Then he started talking about how you should only ever donate to one charity – the most effective. I’d heard this one before and even written essays speaking in favor of it, but it’s always been very hard for me and I’ve always chickened out. What Robin added was, once again, a psychological argument – that the reason this is so hard is that if charity is showing that you care, you want to show that you care about a lot of different things. Only donating to one charity robs you of opportunities to feel good when the many targets of your largesse come up and burdens you with scope insensitivity (my guess is that most people would feel more positive affect about someone who saved a thousand dogs and one cat than someone who saved two thousand dogs. The first person saved two things, the second person only saved one.) In retrospect this is absolutely true and my gibbering recoil at this problem isn’t just Yet Another Cognitive Bias but just good old self-interest.

The post is interesting throughout, and the hat tip goes to Geoffrey Miller, @MatingMind.

*The Invention of Lying*

I didn't think it was possible to make a movie this Hansonian and no they never waver.  The basic premise is "a comedy set in a world where no one has ever lied."  People speak the truth to each other in unbiased fashion and every channel on TV is some version of The History Channel.  You then see, step by step, why this is not a Nash equilibrium and you observe, as the title indicates, "the invention of lying," including under conditions of altruism.  Along the way, you see a theory of the origins of religion, a portrait of how the world would look if no one signaled, a redo of Geoffrey Miller on The Mating Mind, and hints at the idea of ESS.  It's a "remarkably radical comedy" (Ebert) and the gushy parts have hidden venom. 

What I’ve been reading

1. Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction.  If you've read Geoffrey Miller, Karen Dissanayake, Denis Dutton, and Comeuppance, this is the next book in line.  It's well-written and intelligent, but also a little underwhelming.  The main point is that the arts are an extension of the play instinct.  Blog audiences, who expect rapid delivery of the main points, may be especially frustrated.

2. Richard Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence.  Dull for some, definitive for others.  If the thesis about commerce sounds a little late to the party, it is only because of Goldthwaite's own previous work.

3. John Reader, The Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.  Not as good as his excellent book on  Africa, but I liked the sections on potatoes in the Incan empire.  This book could have been great, it isn't, but it is still above average.

4. Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven.  A good overview of how the world's poor intersect with financial institutions at the micro level.

5. Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music, by David N. Meyer.  A serious and excellent book, noting that every now and then the reader is hit by a strange sentence like: "Of course the temptation to get all bourgeois on Gram's a** is irresistible."  Meyer underrates the album Burrito Deluxe, however.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

That's the new book by Geoffrey Miller, of The Mating Mind fame.  The exposition is a bit of a sprawling mess but the best pages of content are fascinating.  I recommend it and I am glad that I started reading it the moment I got my hands on it.

The core thesis is the Veblenesque point that marketing plays upon our weaknesses as evolved, biological creatures, obsessed with signaling:

From my perspective as an evolutionary psychologist, this is how consumerist capitalism really works: it makes us forget our natural adaptations for showing off desirable fitness-related traits.  It deludes us into thinking that artificial products work much better than they really do for showing off these traits.  It confuses us about the traits we are trying to display by harping on vague terms at the wrong levels of description (wealth, status, taste), and by obfuscating the most stable, heritable, and predictive traits discovered by individual differences research.  It hints coyly at the possible status and sexual payoffs for buying and displaying premium products, but refuses to make such claims explicit, lest consumer watchdogs find those claims empirically false, and lest significant others get upset by the personal motives they reveal.  The net result could be called the fundamental consumerist delusion — that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation, and cuddling.

I very much agree.  Miller also tells us that we can do better and offers us some (non-regulatory) proposals for lowering the cost of our signaling.  (Don't buy a luxury car!)  Would it be cheaper and more effective to wear credible, verifiable tattoos of our personality types from the six-factor model?

I'll be considering more from this book soon.

Thorstein Veblen

I never expected to write "Thorstein Veblen reminds me of Robin Hanson," but upon rereading Theory of the Leisure Class he does.  Everything is reduced to evolutionary biology.  Signaling and status-seeking are at the forefront of virtually every explanation.  Industrial habits spring from man’s biological nature, transplanted into a new and strange environment.  Had I reread this ten years (I first read it as a teen, and not since, then I hated it) ago, it would have been a revelation.  Now it sounds like a typical lunch discussion with the guys, with Spence, Hayek, and Geoffrey Miller sprinkled in.

Veblen, however, is a blowhard as a writer and Robin is not.

Here is Mark Blaug on Veblen.  Here are links to Veblen articles.  Here are more links.  Here is Mencken on Veblen.

I tried two other Veblen books and found them unreadable.  The guy deserves much more credit than he gets, especially from conservatives and libertarians, but read the evolutionary biologists first.

#20 in a series of 50.

Where are they?

Today’s headline reads:

Milky Way teeming with earth-like orbs.

They don’t have to visit, they can manipulate star patterns for an advertising campaign or a fundraiser.  Not to mention solar-powered self-replicating probes.  They don’t seem interested.

The obvious conclusion is that highly intelligent species do not last very long and are also not very common.  Here is my previous post on the Fermi Paradox.  Here is Geoffrey Miller on the Paradox.

Did sexual selection make humans brainy and artistic?

Birds sing to attract mates, so what about humans? Are our jokes, stories, guitar strumming just part of an elaborately programmed mating strategy? We all know how much young girls fall for rock stars. Here are three reviews of Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind. Click here for a good summary and short critique, here for an outright critique, and here for an account of why Miller’s views are not always so popular. Thanks to for the links.