Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Modern sub-fertility may be a pathologically slow life history, triggered by a supernormal stimulus of modernity

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The universal pattern of chosen sub-fertility in all Western societies (except among the devoutly, traditionally-religious) could be conceptualized as being a consequence of an extreme 'supernormal' stimulus operating on the speed of life history.
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A supernormal stimulus is a maladaptively exaggerated  consequence of evolved behaviour, triggered by a super-powerful stimulus that has not been encountered in evolutionary history.
So a seagull may nurture a fake plastic egg with garish colours in preference to its own fertilized natural egg, or a male butterfly mate with a crude cardboard mimic of a female with unnaturally well-defined wing patterning.

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Life history speed refers to the reproductive strategy on a scale from FASTER - with rapid maturation, focus on mating effort, and a priority of achieving earlier and more frequent reproduction with less individual care (resources) per child; to SLOWER - with delayed sexual maturation, a long-termist socio-economic plan taking priority over reproduction, fewer offspring, and each child provided with more parental resources. 
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The decision between faster or slower life history strategy is probably 'set'  in childhood in response to environmental stimuli which (under ancestral conditions) have signaled what was likely to be the most adaptive reproductive strategy (that which is most likely to lead to the greatest number of viable offspring). 

Signals of instability (perhaps experiences of starvation or disease, absent father, chaotic environment) lead to a perceived risk of earlier death; and therefore more rapid sexual maturation and early mating efforts implicitly aimed at parenting a larger number of offspring - on the expectation that not children all will survive to adulthood.   
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In contrast, signals of a stable environment trigger a slower life history, because under stable conditions a slow maturing individual with higher parental care can build the ability to exploit specialized niches in a situation of high competition. 
(For example, delaying reproductive effort and instead embarking on a long apprenticeship to become a high status and economically secure specialist craftsman; or delaying sexual maturation to 'build' a more beautiful and long-lastingly attractive face and body.)
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It is possible that extreme prosperity/ comfort/ lack of hunger/ lack of disease stress/ unprecedented security and stability (or some other aspect of modernity) is acting as a supernormal stimulus to the 'mechanism' of life history calibration in early childhood.
So that an environmental signal (of a type unprecedented in human evolutionary history) may be triggering such a slow life history that (in the real world) it is incapable of replacing the current population - and is therefore maladaptive.
Because the supernormal signal (whatever it is) is unprecedented in evolutionary history, humans behaviour in response to that signal is not adaptive - and as it turns out the response is actively maladaptive, or counter-productive: a response which necessarily harms reproductive success by leading to chosen sterility (or sub-fertility).
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The failure to reproduce can perhaps be conceptualized as an extreme, pathological lack of urgency concerning reproduction; when people are giving reproduction such a low priority that in practice reproduction is sub-replacement or indeed never actually happens - they run out of time.
(About a third of women college graduates in Western Europe currently choose to have zero children.)
...Rather as if each child implicitly responded to the ultra-secure, supernormal stimuli of modern childhood with a built-in but subliminal expectation that she will live for 200 years with more than a century of youthful fecundity and vigour - and delays reproductive effort accordingly.
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So that a twenty year old women who is planning a successful career for which the training period extends perhaps into post-reproductive age, may nonetheless express a desire to have a large family... at some point, eventually - maybe in about fifty years time... 
(or so it feels at a subliminal level, so her instincts may be saying unconsciously - in response to the supernormal stimuli of childhood).
Of course, in theory, individuals can choose otherwise - can choose to make marriage and family an early and urgent priority.
But this choice by an individual is unlikely when reproduction does not feel like an urgent priority - except when this feeling is over-ridden by social factors: specifically when there is cohesive and psychologically-effective support-for early marriage and family (and/or sanctions-against delayed reproduction); and this only happens in devout, cohesive traditionally religious groups.

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It is interesting to speculate on the specific identity of this putative supernormal stimulus which (I speculate) is sabotaging human life history; but with science in its current, diabolical, state the specific identity probably will never be known.
(Or if the supernormal stimulus is indeed discovered, the finding would probably never be accepted generally, because it will no doubt conflict with Leftism. After all, most true things do conflict with Leftism...)
Either way, natural selection will deal with the problem by (at the individual selection level) replacing the population who are vulnerable to the life history delaying effects of the supernormal stimulus with individuals who are immune to its effects - leading to a selection pressure for faster life history; and also (at the group selection level) by differential growth of devoutly, traditionally religious groups in which individual choice is shaped-by or subordinated-to the social norms.
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So the prediction/ prophecy (supported by other lines of evidence) is for most people in most places an unstable and chaotic, low-complexity social world - consisting of short-termist, fast life history, cognitive generalists; and another very different   higher-complexity system, consisting of of slower life history 'communitarian' religious groups, with lower mortality and longer life expectancy and fewer offspring per women, with higher levels of specialized skills - and in which above-replacement fertility is encouraged/ maintained/ enforced by socially-regulated marriage and family fertility. Probably, the slower life history system will be the stronger of the two.
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NOTE ADDED 21 Feb 2013: I would tend to go with nutrition; not so much 'good' nutrition as the absence of periods of starvation stress (from famine, or from serious illnesses lasting a week or more - e.g. long illnesses with with nausea, vomiting, anorexia, hypercatabolism etc). In other words, few periods of starvation stress triggers slower life history - while a *complete absence* of periods of childhood starvation might be the supernormal stimulus that triggers a pathologically slow life history. This hypothesis would be testable.

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