Home » Darwinism » Uncommon Descent Contest Question 5: Darwinian fairy tales: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 5: Darwinian fairy tales: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

Here at Robert Murphy’s “Free Advice” blog, a post called – advisedly – Just-So Darwinism:

“Art and hairlessness co-evolved because they fed off each other. The girl whose skin was least hairy could paint it, tattoo it, decorate it and clothe it more adventurously than could her furry sisters. So she got more and better men. And in consequence her children – even the males, though to a lesser degree – lost their hair too. We had become the naked ape.”

OK, you got that? Remember, the whole point of this story is to explain why older men with thinning hair are actually attractive to young women (despite the myths that Rogaine and others would have you believe, and despite all those male models with full heads of hair). So to do that, the story starts out with why evolution made women lose their (body) hair, which then caused their male offspring to lose their (body and scalp?) hair, even though the original motivation (sexual selection a la the peacock) never caused female baldness to become prevalent.

Hat tip: Darwinian Tales (by “Vox Day”), one of whose friends kindly wrote to say, “Knowing of your intense interest in the “big bazooms” theory [of evolution], I think you’ll enjoy this.”

Yes, it is true. I collect stupid theories (like the “sexy baldy” and the “big bazooms”) theory of evolution, the way some people collect ceramic busts of Elvis Presley, not because they admire them but because they are intrigued by the fact that anyone, anywhere would actually admire them. More:

The biology of baldness is complex. Some theorists believe that it renders older men so unattractive that – rather than sowing additional wild oats – they are forced to spend more time with their families and so help their children to survive. But the myriad Becky Sharps [gold digggers] in literature and history help to disprove that theory.

[ ... ]

Terence Kealey is vice-chancellor of Buckingham University

It is a bad sign when an educated person emits this rubbish.

Years ago, I listened to a gynecologist explain during a panel discussion that hair provides sexual excitement, hence “evolution” retains pubic hair. Was she right? Wrong? Who cares?*

This much I know: Pop Darwinism is vastly more ridiculous than the real kind. What is interesting is that so few serious Darwinists wish to cut the pop science loose.

So, for a year’s free subscription to Salvo (decidedly not yer granny’s explanation of why younger Christians are getting tired of all this materialist rubbish, but a more plausible one) plus free, fun back issues, here’s the contest question:

What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

Truth in Advertising: I write the Deprogram column for Salvo. I do not write only about design; I deprogram people from many health nut moments as well.

Get writing and have fun!

*Fact (that will save you thousands of dollars of therapy, medical treatments, and/or legal fees): If you are a guy and want a girl to be nice to you, just try being consistently nice to her. If that doesn’t work, move on. Keep being consistently nice to girls until you find one who really appreciates that, and chances are you have found your match. Okay, maybe not – but your chances with her are waaaaaay better than they are with the girl who wants a guy to be in a big fight with.

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28 Responses to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 5: Darwinian fairy tales: Why middle-aged men have shiny scalps

  1. The only problem is that that is neither what the quoted paragraph above was trying to explain nor is it evolutionary theory’s explanation for why balding older men are attractive to women. The real explanation is that older men in general are attractive because they tend to have more resources that can support offspring. Plus, they have already proven that they have the genetic whiles to make it to an older age in a dangerous world. Balding, then, is an outward sign of age, and thus might actually attract younger women. I know, it’s a “just-so story,” as is everything else that needs to be dismissed because it conflicts with someone’s preordained religious viewpoint.

  2. well said Mr Legendary1, your a, umm, Legend!

  3. Shiny heads evolution?
    Easy. A no brainer.
    Bald makes you look brighter!

    The opposite sex cannot help but notice the resemblance to a light bulb which is symbolic of brilliance.

    Didn’t have light bulbs back in the day? Well the concept must have been front-loaded. ;-)

  4. Considering that the original article is a guest commentary (not a scholarly piece) and written by someone who isn’t an evolutionary biologist, the conclusion seems clear to me: Terence Kealey, a bald man, is making fun of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s recent hair transplant. It is precisely a “just-so story” because it is nothing more than a joke. A gentle teasing. Dr. Kealey is doing nothing more than laying out a ridiculous (literally!) justification for telling Berlusconi that the hair transplant was a mistake.

    But the question is still interesting:

    What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

    There is none. In fact, many (if not most) evolutionary biologists don’t seem to take evolutionary psychology very seriously, in part because even if they could avoid the ethical problems surrounding direct experiments on evopsych hypotheses, those hypotheses would still be exceedingly difficult to test well. Confounding factors abound. So it seems to me that the unwritten premise of the question – that “serious Darwinists” have (in general) jumped on board the evolutionary psychology bandwagon – is false. Instead, I think we could count, on just a few hands, the number of evolutionary biologists who take evopsych seriously. And Dr. Kealey is, rather obviously, not among their number.

  5. “The real explanation is that older men in general are attractive because they tend to have more resources that can support offspring. Plus, they have already proven that they have the genetic whiles to make it to an older age in a dangerous world. Balding, then, is an outward sign of age, and thus might actually attract younger women. I know, it’s a “just-so story,” as is everything else that needs to be dismissed because it conflicts with someone’s preordained religious viewpoint.”

    I’m curious. Does Legendary1 actually believe this?

    One of the oldest stories in popular literature is the girl trying to get OUT of marrying the ancient pantaloon her dad chose (’cause Pantaloon’s loaded*, see?).

    But the girl wants the poor young hunk who wails and plunks a guitar under her window. And she’ll get her way, too, probably.

    From the storyteller’s point of view, the story (1) has instant popular appeal with both sexes (2) can be either a comedy (cf The Doctor of Seville) or a tragedy (cf. Tristan and Isolde), depending on how the storyteller plays it.

    Did “evolution” program this outcome too? (All outcomes programmed; select desired outcome.)

    People, don’t forget to actually enter the contest. The mag on offer free for a year is actually fun!

    *The best hope for Pantaloon is that the young hunk causes the girl to, um, infanticipate and then beggars off – and in that case, P’loon thinks carefully, swallows his pride, and … now THERE is a theory of evolution that makes at least some sense to me.**

    (**= How she ended up with both a baby AND an income, which would not have otherwise occurred together. So her selfish genes continue. But only in relatively tolerant societies, right?)

  6. It’s not even a “just-so” story, Legendary. This is just asinine.

  7. What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

    It would lose its status as a meta-narrative and no longer have enough explanatory power to be the modern man’s religion. In order to compete with traditional religious outlooks, it has to be able to explain the deeper realities of life — who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose. Evolutionary psychology is their attempt at answering these questions. It’s a poor showing, for sure, but it’s the only thing they’ve got.

  8. 8

    Dave W.,

    ——”There is none. In fact, many (if not most) evolutionary biologists don’t seem to take evolutionary psychology very seriously, in part because even if they could avoid the ethical problems surrounding direct experiments on evopsych hypotheses, those hypotheses would still be exceedingly difficult to test well. Confounding factors abound. So it seems to me that the unwritten premise of the question – that “serious Darwinists” have (in general) jumped on board the evolutionary psychology bandwagon – is false. Instead, I think we could count, on just a few hands, the number of evolutionary biologists who take evopsych seriously.”

    Our friend Allen MacNeill was certainly among the number of people who take evolutionary psychology seriously. You can put him on one of your hands.

  9. What’s the downside? Take some unhappy creature that desires to fly as an example: can’t fly…wants to fly…certainly would be a very advantageous situation for it to be a flier…but just can’t fly. Still hopes to fly though. Tells everyone who will listen how confident they are that flight is imminent. But what if this creature were to really examine the notion that all this desire could produce flight and concentrate on- oh I don’t know- deciding how the information to construct itself was encoded into the double helix, then miraculously decoded upon construction. Well, a serious exercise like this might just eliminate the hope of flying completely, given that the re-scrambling of all their parts just right for wings and such would then appear to be out of the question.

    But even worse than the loss of their dream, they take a chance that no one will hang around under the tree with them anymore. Could they really replace stories like
    “your leg can become a wing” with “how different my leg is from a wing” and still pull in a big crowd of mates and food sources? Instead of being known as someone with great stories and who will fly one day, they would just be “someone who walks”. So just from an evolutionary survival standpoint (i.e. book writing) it’s better to keep telling some really entertaining (although totally off the subject) stories to the more gullible creatures that wander by.

  10. For what it is worth:

    “Baldie”/Pantaloon should realize that “evolution” – assuming it occurs – doesn’t care about him when he is old.

    He should forget evolution and find a retired/retiring nurse to act as his nurse and housekeeper, and leave her a generous share of his estate. (In many countries her share is fixed by law in any event, if she is his lawful wife – typically about half. On those terms, it shouldn’t be difficult to recruit a trustworthy person.)

    Theoretically, she might murder him – but that happens far more often in movies than in life.

    For one thing, a couple is a far more socially desirable unit for entertainment purposes than an elderly widow (or spinster or divorcee).

    Older people depend a great deal on getting invited to events, and – given that aged women considerably outnumber aged men in many demographic categories – Pantaloon’s older middle-aged wife would need to hate him a lot to do him in. Assuming she got away with it, she would enter the world of widows who get together to play a lot of rubbers of bridge ….

    Note: “pantaloon” – loose trousers, formerly worn by older men in ill health

  11. 11

    I can just see the poor young ape-man scraping the hair from his scalp with a sharp rock because he can’t get a date. “Don’t worry,” his mother tells him, “it will fall out one day.”

  12. Clive @8:

    Our friend Allen MacNeill was certainly among the number of people who take evolutionary psychology seriously.

    Well, that’s one, and the count is off and running.

    We can also count PZ Myers and Stephen J. Gould as opponents of evolutionary psychology. Hey, that’ll be cool: for every person you come up with who is serious about evopsych, I’ll name two who were/are on the other side.

  13. 13

    Dave W.

    ——”Hey, that’ll be cool: for every person you come up with who is serious about evopsych, I’ll name two who were/are on the other side.”

    And that will show everyone the dissension in the ranks, which I’m all for. Give me some time to find those who are giving evo. psych. merit and get back with you. This is an article to read in the meantime:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....women.html

  14. Clive @13:

    And that will show everyone the dissension in the ranks, which I’m all for.

    Hey, we’ve got something in common: science (and evolutionary biology) thrives on disagreement among experts, so I’m in favor of it, as well.

    Give me some time to find those who are giving evo. psych. merit and get back with you.

    But I think you’re missing the point, as is anyone else who’s answering the contest question in the OP as if its premise is true.

    This is an article to read in the meantime:…

    Well, if you’re going to pick just anyone to be a “Darwinist,” instead of just evolutionary biologists, then I’ll go ahead and preemptively pick all Scientologists as being opposed to evolutionary psychology, since they’re opposed to psychology in general. So you’ll need to come up with four million (and one) pro-evopsych folks as the totals now stand for me to be in danger of losing the challenge.

    If you can come up with 15 more names of evolutionary biologists who take evopsych seriously, I’ll at least revise my earlier assessment of being able to count them “on a few hands.”

  15. The downside is Darwinists would have absolutely nothing to say scientifically.

    Here’s my take on the balding issue. A bald spot at the top of the skull lets the sun’s UV rays heat up the brain slightly. That increases the blood flow thus allowing middle aged men to ‘wisen’ up.

    I’m a bit worried though, that some Darwinist will grab this one and take off running.

    :)

    What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

  16. 16

    I’ll post my response soon, as I’d love to win that magazine subscription. I tried ordering one long ago and it never arrived; probably some problem with my mom’s credit card and their records.

  17. Instead of asking a “why” question about balding, try asking a “how” question: how do some men become bald (i.e. what is the physiology of male pattern baldness)?

    Now the question becomes much more interesting: male pattern baldness is caused by a genetic (i.e. “familial”) predisposition triggered by increasing testosterone. This is why men are much more likely to go bald than women (except, notoriously, for women who inject themselves with anabolic steroids – women bodybuilders, like these: http://www.odditycentral.com/p.....lders.html , and women with androgen-producing tumors).

    Much research has gone into the genetic component of male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia (AGA). Research indicates that susceptibility to premature male pattern baldness is largely X-linked. Other genes, that aren’t sex linked, are also involved.

    Large studies in 2005 and 2007 stress the importance of the maternal line in the inheritance of male pattern baldness. German researchers name the androgen receptor gene as the cardinal prerequisite for balding. They conclude that a certain variant of the androgen receptor is needed for AGA to develop. In the same year the results of this study were confirmed by other researchers. This gene is recessive and a female would need two X chromosomes with the defect to show typical male pattern alopecia. Seeing that androgens and their interaction with the androgen receptor are the cause of AGA it seems logical that the androgen receptor gene plays an important part in its development.

    Other research in 2007 suggests another gene on the X chromosome, that lies close to the androgen receptor gene, is an important gene in male pattern baldness. They found the region Xq11-q12 on the X-chromosome to be strongly associated with AGA in males. They point at the EDA2R gene as the gene that is mostly associated with AGA.

    Other genes involved with hair loss have been found. One of them being a gene on chromosome 3. The gene is located at 3q26. This gene is recessive .

    Another gene that might be involved in hair loss is the P2RY5. This gene is linked to hair structure. Certain variants can lead to baldness at birth, while another variant causes “wooly hair.”

    In May 2009, researchers in Japan identified a gene, Sox21, that appears to be responsible for hair loss in people.

    Men with androgenic alopecia typically have lower levels of total testosterone, higher levels of unbound/free testosterone, and higher levels of total free androgens including DHT.

    5-alpha-reductase is responsible for converting free testosterone into DHT. The genes for 5alpha-reductase are known. The enzymes are present predominantly in the scalp and prostate. Levels of 5alpha-reductase are one factor in determining levels of DHT in the scalp and drugs which interfere with 5alpha-reductase (such as finasteride, which inhibits the predominant type 2 isoform ) have been approved by the FDA as treatments for hair loss.

    Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which is responsible for binding testosterone and preventing its bioavailability and conversion to DHT, is typically lower in individuals with high DHT. SHBG is downregulated by insulin.

    Increased levels of Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) have been correlated to vertex balding.

    High insulin levels seem the likely link between metabolic syndrome and baldness. Low levels of SHBG in men and non-pregnant women are also correlated with glucose intolerance and diabetes risk, though this correlation disappears during pregnancy.

    So, there are multiple genetic and metabolic correlates with male pattern baldness. Which gets us to the “why” question: why do these correlations exist?

    There are, as usual, at least three possibilities for these correlations:

    1) they are part of an evolutionary adaptation, either directly (i.e. the “point” of the satirical article at the head of this thread), or indirectly (i.e. they are a side-effect of some other adaptation, as suggested by the link with “metabolic syndrome”);

    2) they are purely accidental;

    3) they are the result of “intelligent design” (i.e. the Intelligent Designer wanted it all this way).

    Which of these three possibilities sound the most interesting to you? Which one suggests possible empirical tests? And which one(s) seem(s) completely uninteresting and, indeed, pointless?

  18. BTW, another interesting question is why some religions (most notably some sects within Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism) prescribe specific haircuts for the members of their monastic orders. Such haircuts (called “tonsures”; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonsure ) are surprisingly similar to classic male pattern baldness. What are the members of such monastic communities trying to communicate by shaving their heads in this way?

  19. Whoops. I was wrong in #14 about the four-million-and-one people you’ll need to find, Clive, in the “anyone is a Darwinist” version of the challenge.

    So far, you can include:

    Dr. Terence Kealey,
    Mr. Allen MacNeill, and
    Dr. David Holmes

    Meanwhile, I’ve got:

    Dr. Stephen Jay Gould,
    Dr. PZ Myers, and
    8,000,000 Scientologists

    So really, you only need another 3,999,998 people for the tie, and 3,999,999 for the win.

  20. 20

    @ Alan_MacNeil:

    What are the members of such monastic communities trying to communicate by shaving their heads in this way?

    The tonsure was meant to communicate holiness, a set-apart-ness, and meant to reflect the halo as depicted in classic art.

    //officially entering contest, with trumpet announcements and all\\

    What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

    1) fewer dates for the balding members of the community, obviously, since we can so clearly see that natural processes (whether we invent them or no is irrelevant to the question) have a distinct design in mind. You know, like a hurricane had designed to rip up New Orleans so Bush would have bad press? Smart hurricane. It’s like that: evolution (materialistic process) has a way of simply knowing these things. It always acts in the greater good, it’s such a smart natural process.

    2) In the vacuum of God’s demise, there must arise a sufficient replacement in order to make sense of things. If evolution couldn’t provide reasons sufficient for psychology (the study of the soul or “psyche”), it wouldn’t be a valid worldview, which is what it must be to its adherents. The impoverished explanation that this universe and we are simply a lucky throw of the dice is an ax at our tree root: for what is man if only a grown-up, accidental germ?

    The disintegration of their worldview would prove fatal to their cause: autonomy from God.

    3) The socialist agenda (“good of the species”) wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

  21. Re #20″

    “The tonsure was meant to communicate holiness, a set-apart-ness, and meant to reflect the halo as depicted in classic art.”

    With the exception of the “Roman” tonsure, this was quite clearly not the case:

    1) The “Roman” tonsure was, indeed, a shaving pattern which left a ring of hair around the crown of the head;

    2) However, the Celtic tonsure was a “lens-shaped” shaved band stretching across to the top of the head from ear to ear;

    3) An alternative version of the Celtic tonsure was to shave the front portion of the head (from a line drawn from ear to ear), leaving the back portion long (similar to the tonsure of the Druids);

    4) The Buddhist tonsure cannot possibly have any relationship with the iconography of haloes, as such do not exist in Buddhist art or tradition; and

    5) The same is the case for the Hindu tonsure (haloes are also not common in Hindu religious art).

    Ergo, brazenlady’s “explanation” for the Christian (i.e. “Roman”) tonsure is clearly a post hoc rationalization, rather than an explanation for the origin of the tonsure.

    It also does not address the clear fact that almost all of the various tonsures mimic male pattern baldness. Therefore, a first approximation to a hypothesis for the evolution of male pattern baldness (assuming that it is either a direct adaptation or a side-effect of a related adaptation) is that it communicates something to conspecifics. What might that “something” be, and how would communicating it be related to differential reproductive success?

  22. 22

    DaveScot: The book Species of Origins has a scientist in it who gives credence to evolutionary psychology. Now, I’m not sure if that counts as a Darwinist.

  23. PhilosophyFan @22:

    DaveScot:

    I though he was banned.

    The book Species of Origins has a scientist in it who gives credence to evolutionary psychology. Now, I’m not sure if that counts as a Darwinist.

    Never heard of Species of Origins before. The authors are Karl W. Giberson (not an evolutionary biologist) and Donald A. Yerxa (ditto). Is there another scientist in it who is an evolutionary biologist who “gives credence” to evopsych? If so, you’ll have to let me know which page, so I can go look it up in the library (not going to pay over $80 for the book).

    Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0742507645

  24. @ Allen MacNeil,

    FYI, Buddhists don’t shave their heads in the ‘design’ of pattern baldness.

    They shave the totality of the hair on their heads.

    If you are curious, I can ask them directly why they shave their heads and get back to you.

    Jus’ let me know.

  25. 25

    Hi Oramus,

    FYI, Buddhists don’t shave their heads in the ‘design’ of pattern baldness.

    They shave the totality of the hair on their heads.

    Allen said “almost all” of the tonsures mimicked male pattern baldness, in #21.


  26. What is the down side for serious Darwinists to just cutting the “evolutionary psychology” psychodrama loose, and focusing on what real science can say about evolution?

    The down side to cutting “evolutionary psychology” loose is that Darwinism would then no longer be a comprehensive theory of all features of organisms, in the same way that atomic theory is a comprehensive theory of all substances and all states of matter in chemistry. A Darwinism which placed psychology outside its explanatory ambit might still be able to account for the entire gamut of organisms’ biological characteristics, but it would no longer be a satisfactory theory of their behavior.

    This should not be a problem to science as such. However, contemporary science is profoundly reductionistic in its outlook. In the current intellectual milieu, irreducible higher-level properties (such as mental states) are likely to be just as annoying to scientists as surds were to the Greeks, who threw into the sea the man who first proved that the square root of two was irrational.

    There is one way in which today’s scientists might be persuaded to cut “evolutionary psychology” loose, and that would be if psychology itself came to be regarded as a pseudo-science. A few philosophers and scientists, such as Paul and Patricia Churchland, deny the existence of mental states altogether and regard talk of mental states as a “folk theory,” which will eventually be superseded by a theory that explains human behavior in terms of brain states. If these views ever gained scientific acceptance, then evolutionary psychology would vanish as a discipline.

  27. 27

    I haven’t read all the other posts, so forgive me if my idea has already appeared earlier. No plagiarism is intended, and if the idea is a winner, I will happily relinquish any claim to the prize in favor of the prior post. Anyway, here goes (please start my 400 word counter from this point forward):

    Darwinists aren’t actually interested in what real science can say about evolution. The reason is that to them, Darwinism is fact. Since it is a fact, all of nature, including us humans in all our glorious, contradictory behavioral complexity, must have some explanation that fits within the paradigm. In order to maintain a united front and the illusion that there is no controversy regarding Darwinism, Darwinists must allow the evolutionary psychologists to keep proposing their explanations, because if Darwinism is true, then there must be SOME explanation within that paradigm for every bit of human behavior. “Cutting them loose” would be tantamount to admitting that there is some area of “nature” (we humans) that is beyond the capacity of evolutionary theory to explain, thus opening the door to all manner of undesirable ideas like a soul or, dare I say it, God.

  28. 28

    To Allen_MacNeill: I must say, for a Darwinist, your posts are very good–thoughtful and not at all polemical. Number 17 was particularly good, and really made me sit down and think.

    Let me offer a possibility for why an intelligent designer might actually have designed male pattern baldness into the human genome:

    This earthly experience is not fundamental reality. It is a place where we souls come (and return to many times) to experience a wide variety of situations and circumstances from which we grow spiritually. As such, it includes innumerable possibilities for the bodies we can inhabit in any given incarnation. Male pattern baldness is just one of the many variations we can choose–a somewhat minor disappointment to help us learn acceptance, perhaps.

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