Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Speculation on Beauty.

A week or so ago, Roissy linked to another series of female facial composites. Here, beautiful actresses were paired together over several iterations to produce a final result. ( See below)

Looking at the pictures, I get the impression that while the final facial composite is attractive, she is not as attractive as nearly all of the originals. I suppose what I'm getting at is that true beauty is perhaps some  ideal proportion combined with some unique markers of identity. These unique markers i.e. shape of nose, eyes, lips etc may be the finishing touches which make a woman exceptionally beautiful rather than just pretty.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Homophily and Psychological Entropy.

Following up on the previous post I thought I would link a few studies on the subject of homophily.

(I've decided not to provide an exhaustive list of references because this is a blog post and not a formal paper. People interested in pursuing the subject in more detail can try putting the term homophily into Google Scholar and more than enough references can be found)

Homophily is the preference for things which are similar to ourselves. Sociological studies looking at how humans form relationship networks show that humans, nearly always, prefer to associate with people who are similar to themselves. Be that in race, class or custom. Furthermore this preference is observed from a very early age and across all races, well before the affects of socialisation kick in.

An interesting review paper, Childrens Developemental Understanding of Ethnicity and Race is long but worthwhile reading. Paralleling their cognitive development from concrete to more abstract, it appears that children become aware of the differences between individuals from as young as three years of age, and as they mature they become more specific with their understanding of differences. With further cognitive maturity they are able to abstract and  generalise these differences upon groups. It appears that this process is natural, in that it is not the result of parental education or socialisation but rather something that is innate. Attempts to try to thwart this process by trying to de-emphasise the differences only seems to exert a paradoxical effect, in that it results in a greater awareness of them.

McPherson et al, performed a rather large review of the subject, and their findings indicated that:
Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.
It therefore appears that when we compare other individuals to ourselves we compare them against some predetermined hierarchy of values. It seems that we seem more attuned to racial differences than we do to educational ones and the fact that differential traits can be stratified in their importance is intself an interesting fact. I imagine that evolutionary biologists would invent some explanation to account for the phenomenon. I myself, prefer to acknowledge its existence and leave unto others speculations as to why it exists.

It appears that we are genetically biased to prefer "similars" overs "differents" and whatever the mechanism involved, there must be some form of cognitive/biochemical imperative that drives this: The selection is favoured by "psychological entropy", in other words, there is some psychological benefit for these choices.
This does not mean that this psychological imperative cannot be overcome. Other studies have demonstrated that in small groups, where there is limited choice in friendship formation, there is less homophily than in large groups. In other words, given a small group of people, a fellow similar person may possess traits which are in the net repulsive, and hence the individuals repulsion may overcome any homophillic tendency towards them, while a different may posses multiple attractive traits which overcomes the homophillic bias.  

I'm white but Halle Berry possess more than enough positive traits for me to choose her over Meryl Streep: always.

However in large groups, where there are more homophillic "choices" available, statistical probability prevails and people tend to gravitate towards similar individuals

An anonymous commentator sent me a fascinating link to a "turtle and frog experiment";
The social implications of this model are easier to see than the zoological ones. And the most interesting observation to come out of it is that even a moderate preference for living among your own kind can give rise to a dramatic pattern of segregation. What starts out as a salt-and-pepper mixture gradually evolves, over a few hundred iterations, into large blobs of almost uniform composition. Even though none of the individuals insist on racial purity, most of them wind up living with a very high percentage of neighbors like themselves.

It is a human tendency to extrapolate from the particular to the universal, thinking what works locally will work globally, and I think this is source of many of the problems in the West. Because Bill (the Black man) is very good friends with Peter (the Asian) whom he met at work( where there is a limited pool of homophilic choices), we generalise from this particular instance to assume that Asians and Blacks will naturally want to live together.  But this generalisation is flawed because given more choices, Bill and Peter will as a group, chose similars over differents en masse. The natural psychic energy works towards differentiation, even though there may be local areas of mixing.
What these latter processes have in common is that they tend to minimize surface area (or the area of interface between phases). It's not implausible that racial segregation also shares this tendency, and the discovery of a connection between a social process and certain physical systems would be illuminating.

The minimisation of surface area is an attempt to minimise the "energy" of the system. Now I think that there is this analogous "psychological energy" in human beings and it affects human behaviour in such a way that humans drift towards the lowest energy state (Happiness, calmness, etc) I imagine that when people are grouped with other similars,  it results in a low psychological energy state and are hence happy, while when grouped with differents (all other things being held constant) they exist at a higher energy state. There being a psychological imperative towards a lower state which results in happiness and less anxiety.

Now while relationships with similars results in a lower energy state. a similar who has other disagreeable features may may result in a higher "psychological energy state" than a different with lots of agreeable features. In this instance, a relationship with a different is relatively favoured. But this relationship would be at a higher energy state than a relationship between two compatible similars and hence still more prone to separation. This is confirmed in the studies which show that mixed groups have higher rates of dissolution than similar groups. The worker and the capitalist may join forces against the Nazi, but once the Nazi threat disappears they separate into their " entropically favoured" groups.

Now dissimilar groups can be bought together, but it comes at a cost. Since the psychic energy required to live amongst similars is lower than with differents, there is a natural tendency of dissimilar groups of people to seperate and self-identify, the only way to bring differents together is by pushing them together. An overriding power has to push against their natural inclinations and furthermore, the greather the dissimilarity between the two groups, the greater the overriding power that needs to be applied. Take away that power and the groups will seperate again.

Contrary to popular belief, the Serbs and the Croats do not have a long history of bloodshed with each other. Nearly all of it happening in the 20th Century, when they were joined together as a result of a variety of cultural and political forces. Within the former Yugoslavia, the differences between the two groups became more marked as the result of a bloody history and it required the repressive communist state to keep the country together by the application of extremely harsh penalties. When the Communist Government failed and this force was removed, the society reverted to its "least psychic energy" state, it broke apart. Paradoxically, the "ethnic cleansing" may have contributed to some of the stability of the region by separating the dissimilar groups. The only area of the former Yugoslavia that is still relatively "tense" is Bosnia where the groups have been forced to live together.

A multicultural state will only survive as long as it is strong enough to overcome the natural tendency of its constituent members to seperate, the more diversity the stronger the government needs to be to "keep it all together". Should the government fail, the state fractures.

Conservative thinkers have for too long been looking at multiculturalism as a racial issue instead of a human nature one. Pitting race against race instead of the realities of human nature against the fantasy of Leftist thought. People are homophillc in the same way that women are hypergamic, it's a fact of life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Apologies and Commentary.

Apologies to my readers in not getting back to you earlier. Let's just say its been an incredibly hectic few weeks and jet lag has not helped.

The first thing that I want to say is that after putting up the post I realised that I had made an error. As some of the commentators correctly pointed out, Sammy Davis Jr was sitting down when compared to the others, this therefore biased the experiment, as he is both black and sitting down, therefore he was more likely to be picked, biasing the result.

There was no correct answer for this experiment. The purpose of the experiment was to see who people identified as different when asked to make a choice. From the comments section, it appears that some individuals differentiated people by their prior knowledge of them. As some commentators mentioned, Peter Lawford was born in England and the rest of group were born in the U.S., and yet, there is no way you could tell that just by looking at the picture. In other words, people were differentiating on the basis of their pre-concieved knowledge of the subject material. They weren't differentiating on what they saw they were differentiating on what they knew.

What's interesting to see is who wasn't picked as different:  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Peter Lawford.  Dean Martin appears the tallest standing member and yet he was least likely picked. Why?
Frank Sinatra is the shortest guy standing so one would suppose that at least a few votes would have gone his way.

Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr were the most likely to be picked. Clearly Sammy Davis Jr. is black and the only guy sitting down. While Joey Bishop doesn't have a tie.

As I said, this experiment was biased and therefore it's difficult to draw many conclusions from it but perhaps we could say that stature is less of a discriminating factor than clothing and skin colour.


The reason I put this post up was because of reflection upon the events in the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.  It was set up as a refugee center and it soon became apparent that people who were complete strangers associated on the basis of skin color. Colin Powell, who has probably been America's best and most dignified Secretary of State recalled that that during his time as a national security advisor:
KING: Were you ever racially profiled?

POWELL: Yes, many times.

KING: And didn't you ever bring anger to it?

POWELL: Of course. But, you know, anger is best controlled. And sure I got mad.
I got mad when I, as a national security adviser to the president of the United States, I went down to meet somebody at Reagan National Airport and nobody recognized -- nobody thought I could possibly be the national security adviser to the president. I was just a black guy at Reagan National Airport.
And it was only when I went up to the counter and said, "Is my guest here who's waiting for me?" did somebody say, "Oh, you're General Powell." It was inconceivable to him that a black guy could be the national security adviser.

KING: How do you deal with things like that?

POWELL: You just suck it up. What are you going to do? It was a teaching point for him. Yes, I'm the national security adviser, I'm black. And watch, I can do the job. So, you have this kind of -- there is no African-American in this country who has not been exposed to this kind of situation.
Do you get angry? Yes. Do you manifest that anger? You protest, you try to get things fixed, but it's kind of a better course of action to take it easy and don't let your anger make the current situation worse.

 My point here is not to get into the rights or wrongs of racism but to try and understand the phenomenon. It would appear that tallness and shortness is less of a discriminating factor than clothing or skin colour. And why, in the Superdome, where people were complete strangers, did people divide  themselves spontaneously according to skin colour? I have difficulty believing that all the Blacks in the Superdome were bad and that all the Whites good.

What I'm getting at is that our brains may be wired to weight certain differences more than others  and that there may be default associative behaviours based solely upon appearances. Racism may be more about appearances than genetics. In much the same way females are wired to respond sexually to alpha traits, perhaps people are wired to respond positively to people who appear similar to themselves and negatively to people who look different. That is not say that this attraction/repulsion cannot be overcome, rather it's a force that may be ever present in the human psyche that needs to be taken account of by any student of human nature.

These maps of U.S. cities are stark illustration of how racially divided the country is, and yet I image many people have friends from different races. Here is an interesting map of London. These maps may not necessarily be reflections of a deliberate policy of racial segregation, rather they may be the natural effect of human beings wanting to associate with similar individuals because it is psychically beneficial.  Prolonged personal contact with individuals of different races may be able to overcome our wired genetic bias, but it is a bias that remains each time we are confronted with an unknown individual/s. What this means is that while we may like and feel comfortable around a  particular example of a people who look different,  we may still be uncomfortable with the rest.

Friday, April 08, 2011


I want to perform a little experiment.

Pick the odd man out from the picture below. It's not meant to be a trick question and spend less than 20 seconds on your answer. (Click on the polling widget in the right sidebar)


Commentary in two days.