I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Fleischman and Geoffrey Miller at the NYC Rationality meetup. Diana and Geoffrey are professors of evolutionary psychology, Effective Altruists, thoughtful polyamorists, and fearless thinkers. We talked about everything that’s important in life: gems, sex, morality, kids, shit-testing, jealousy, and why women are smart.
Congratulations on your engagement! Geoffrey designed a special moissanite engagement ring for Diana, and moissanite is something my wife and I believe in very much as well. Can you tell everyone about moissanite so that no one here buys a diamond ever again?
Geoffrey: In my book Spent I did a multi-page critique of the DeBeers diamond cartel and diamonds as costly signals of commitment. And maybe it’s fine to spend a lot of money on a signal, money that goes to a cartel.
Diana: But cocaine is more fun!
Geoffrey: Yes, or get a college degree — that’s a cartel too. But there are better and cheaper stones, like moissanite which is a silicon carbide gem and costs 1/10 to 1/50 of a diamond depending on the carat. But I think it’s a better stone, it has superior ‘fire’ and ‘brilliance’, as they say. Of course, once moissanite was invented and it became colorless and clear enough, the diamond cartel dissed it by saying “these are just disco balls”. Basically – it’s too flashy, and no self-respecting person who cares about the subtlety of a diamond will buy a moissy. Whereas for the previous 100 years, diamonds were sold as the flashiest, highest brilliance, and highest fire gemstone. So: hypocrites.
Moissies are getting better and better, and they just went off-patent four years ago so there are multiple manufacturers making them now and prices are dropping. So I’d rather put the effort into the design and personalization. I’m using a CAD system for the design and manufacture, you can now design it in collaboration with a jeweler who will cast it and make it.
Diana: It’s about a 9 mm stone. How much would a diamond that size cost?
Geoffrey: It’s a 3-carat moissy so it costs about $2,000, and an equivalent diamond would cost $120,000.
Geoffrey wrote the book Mate with Tucker Max with dating advice for men and in 2015 they had a podcast called The Mating Grounds that Diana went on before she was dating Geoffrey…
Diana: Actually, I was already dating him. When I was on the podcast it was the end of a two-day visit, the first time I visited Geoffrey. But then on the podcast, Tucker didn’t want to make that obvious.
Geoffrey: So we were in the afterglow of the first blush of romance, and Tucker wanted a very serious podcast about dating advice for young men.
Diana: I actively pursued Geoffrey which is good, because the women that Geoffrey pursues are all mentally ill.
Geoffrey: That’s largely a true statement.
Diana: Yeah, it’s practically diagnostic.
I tried to chat Geoffrey up in 2012, soon after his divorce. And my trick at the time for chatting up people who are introverted and quiet was to disclose more and more embarrassing things about myself until I got a reaction. So I was trying to draw him out, and he was like a clam in his shell. So I said, “Well, you must have plenty of other people to talk to, I’ll let you be.” And he answered, “No, no. This is fine.”
Geoffrey: I was scared you would go away at that point. Being aspie and introverted I thought I was giving lots of signals of interest.
Diana: You were not giving me signals of interest. You weren’t even properly facing me.
Anyway, after that point, I was messaging a lot and I arranged that visit to Austin to see him.
Then I told Geoffrey I lived a long way away and I had another boyfriend, who by the way was very supportive of me dating Geoffrey because he likes Geoffrey’s books. This is something only poly people understand — the great networking opportunities you get when you suggest hanging out with someone because you both like the same girl.
That was also Geoffrey’s first foray into poly and he was a bit confused why he’s hanging out with this woman with her boyfriend.
Geoffrey: I just assumed, based on the evolutionary psychology I had learned to that point, that we would meet for brunch and then fisticuffs would ensue. Maybe he would bring sabers to defend your honor.
Diana: And after that, I told Geoffrey that he should get a local girlfriend and helped him get on OkCupid. And then after a couple of years, we became more heavily involved. I didn’t really want a long-distance relationship, and now I’m moving to Albuquerque in July [where Geoffrey lives].
You mentioned somewhere that you first fell in love with Geoffrey after reading his book, The Mating Mind.
Diana: That’s true.
I have a question to Geoffrey here. According to evolutionary psychology, a lot of what we do, including intellectual things like writing a book, is deep down motivated by trying to get laid. And after studying evolutionary psychology I’ve noticed it in myself, that every blog post I write or meetup I organize is in some small part about how attractive women will look at me. Do you enjoy having this as a motivation or are you trying to fight it and do things for other reasons?
Geoffrey: I sort of embrace it. It’s important especially for young people to understand that an awful lot of their behavior — self-improvement, moralizing, politics, and ideology — is covert mating effort to some degree. But the superordinate category is trait signaling – signaling something to someone. It’s not the case that all human creativity is just mating effort. A lot of it is status seeking, trying to impress other people like your parents, friends, and neighbors. The signaling principles are the same: doing something difficult that’s intellectually demanding, artistic, musical or funny tends to work for mating and also the other social signaling functions.
I think, like Robin Hanson and others, that if you’re tuned into signaling that’s really helpful. And when I accuse people on Twitter of woke virtue-signaling or SJW signaling I’m being derogatory not because I think that virtue-signaling itself is bad but doing it in a certain way, or unselfconsciously, is bad. If you do signaling with a lot of self-awareness that’s totally fine and it’s at the root of a lot of human progress and creativity.
Diana: I think it’s good that men do so many things to impress women. Geoffrey’s thesis in The Mating Mind is that we’re a lot smarter than what we need for survival, and the human mind is a lot like the peacock’s tail. It’s a result of runaway selection, and we’re showing off ostentatiously how smart we are. And women are smart to be able to evaluate intelligence and men’s creativity, so they became as sophisticated.
Geoffrey: That’s actually the wrong model, which I rejected.
Diana: No you did not, I just reread your book!
Geoffrey: You may want to reread it again. [smiles]
To be clear, the question is: why are women smart? That’s a great question.
Geoffrey: I do consider, in chapter 3 I think, whether it’s just a standard runaway process like the peacock’s tail with females doing all the choice and males doing all the display. I ended up saying, because the difference in brain size is actually very small and the difference in general intelligence between the sexes is negligible, and there are no major differences in domains like language, art, and music ability — both men and women can sing and paint and do comedy — I ended up with a model of mutual mate choice. Both sexes are displaying to some degree, sometimes men display harder and sometimes women, especially once in a relationship that they want to maintain. That’s the model I ended up with, that both sexes choose and both sexes display, and that is why there’s low dimorphism between the sexes in human mental traits.
Diana: In terms of status signaling, it’s good that in different subcultures and places around the world status can be gained in different ways. Otherwise, men would just be doing what gets the most female attention. You’re writing blogs and hosting rationalist meetups where the sex ratio of your audience probably skews quite male, and it’s good that men are doing things to impress not just mates.
To be fair, I haven’t actually gotten even one date as a result of my blog. But deep in my animal brain, every time I submit a post I’m thinking, “This is the one that’s going to do it!”
Diana: Women are attracted to status, it’s called hypergamy, and luckily the signal is noisy otherwise we would be doing a more circumscribed version of what we do to get laid. But now there’s a huge variety in the things we do to seek status and signal status.
One thing we do to impress people is altruism. Now Bret Weinstein talks about how once we understand how things like terrorism and genocide are evolved adaptive behaviors, we could overcome them and stop killing the outgroup or whatever. So I’m worried about how that applies to altruism. Spencer Greenberg gave a talk at EAG about introspecting to find our intrinsic values. But I worry that if I introspect I’ll find that I donate to GiveDirectly because there are attractive women and cool people at Effective Altruism meetups.
You wrote an article about how our evolved moral intuitions stand in the way of a “higher morality”. So where does that higher morality come from?
Diana: I’m unabashedly utilitarian. It comes from my experience with pleasure and pain, and then just extending that out with rationality and computation. But that still needs to be leveraged.
In 2014 I went to my first Effective Altruism conference and I’ve been hearing a lot about existential risk and how important it was to protect the future of humanity. I saw a talk by Eliezer Yudkowsky about this topic and how many trillions of lives there could be in the future. But I didn’t get it, and I didn’t like it.
And then I did a circling exercise, where you look into someone’s eyes and think of them as a person that you know and love. Then you circle again and think of them as a person on the other side of the world who is very poor, and then again where it’s a person in the far future who would like to exist. And then everything synced up and I became an advocate for working on existential risk.
So there are ways to leverage rationality to get to morality but in that particular case, I had to get my scope-insensitivity turned off by making eye contact with a particular person to care about that issue.
We should do this exercise at a meetup!
Going back to relationships. I just finished reading The State of Affairs by Esther Perel. She talks about how if you want to get good at business or sport or any skill or craft there are a million mentors and role models you can learn from. But it’s very hard to find role models for relationships.
Most people don’t know many others who have great relationships, and even those that seem to have great relationships aren’t as open about what they do as athletes are about their training regime, for example. Fiction could be another source, but what people are watching are shows like Game of Thrones which isn’t really full of healthy marriage advice.
Who are your relationship role models, and do you consider yourselves fit to be relationship role models?
Geoffrey: The second answer is that we aspire to be good role models for managing relationships. We don’t divulge every last detail of what we do, but we do share our tips and tactics and we’re both working on books on how we manage things even in high stress situations like being long distance for five years. Or being poly and open.
In terms of role models, I grew up with a lot of respect for my parents who got along really well 80-90% of the time. I didn’t see how they managed their conflict resolution but they seemed capable of a fairly high degree of rationality and they got over tension fairly quickly, in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. So I saw that it’s possible to at least have a reasonably successful marriage. My mom and dad also cooperated effectively not just on raising kids but also on local political issues and jointly managing a business so I also saw them as a team.
I asked people about good relationship role models on TV and the only one I came up with was Madam Secretary. Tea Leoni plays a high-powered CIA operative turned Secretary of State and her husband is a professor of moral philosophy and ex-marine who helps raise their three kids. And the screenwriters can afford to make their relationship work because all the drama is external to the marriage. It’s either tension with Iraq or tension with their teenage kids, not between the spouses.
This was the only example of screenwriting that had a good marriage with efficient communication that was also still hot and sexy. So if anyone has other ideas, email me.
What about House of Cards?
Diana: Those people are psychopaths. They’re a poly couple, but they also kill people.
Killing together really binds a couple.
Diana: It really does, murder and threesomes are the keys to marital success. In Breaking Bad there are also periods where their marriage worked really well, like when the wife breaks bad with him.
I was also trying to think of lesbian and gay relationships because the media is very lefty so they may be more inclined to represent a gay couple as better functioning. But I couldn’t even think of one there.
For my part, I’m incredibly cynical about my own motivations. Geoffrey and I just got back together yesterday after not seeing each other for five weeks. A couple of interesting things happen because of being long-distance that I perceive through an evolutionary lens. Right before I leave there’s some mutual punishment happening for the imminent departure of the other person. Slights and any signs of emotional withdrawal are taken much more seriously. And then when we see each other I’m really happy to see him but there are also a couple of days of ‘shit testing’. Shit testing is the red-pill idea that women are being difficult in order to test the status, fortitude, and commitment of their partner. So I’m giving him shit to re-test how well we get along after a hiatus.
In some sense, I’m making fun of myself, but today I got really angry about a tiny thing where he didn’t hear me properly. And I was calling him names even as I was laughing about it. It takes a kind of cynicism about yourself and your motivations to have a good relationship. You have to realize these evolutionary things, and also to really want to make the relationship work. That’s what I hope to bring in the book I’m writing: if you can accept that as a woman you want to completely control and monopolize a man, that you have these desires that are selfish and destructive, you can achieve better outcomes.
So the secret to relationships is either to commit crimes together or commit crimes against each other but laugh about it.
Geoffrey: I’ve been teaching a course on human emotions for 10 years, and it’s really important to get each group of undergrads to look at their emotions at arm’s length. To think: what are the origins of each emotion, what are its adaptive functions? And in a modern context – which residual functions are still relevant and which aren’t. You can do this with disgust, jealousy, anger, shame, guilt, pride, awe, everything.
And the students start to realize they don’t have to take their emotions that seriously. If you combine the evolutionary perspective with a mindfulness perspective you can take your thoughts and feelings as passing events that come and go, like Sam Harris talks about. Then it’s much easier to have good relationships.
Diana: It’s very hard to do with many emotions in relationships. For example, the jealousy or outrage you feel when you get a sense that your mate is divesting from you — ancestrally this was such a matter of life and death that anyone who could hold these emotions at arm’s length was at a serious disadvantage. And so today it’s hard for us to do so, compared to holding at arm’s length being angry with an acquaintance, for example.
But we know that smart people have better self-control and are also less likely to get divorced, they’re better able to negotiate ways to support each other. And you don’t see geniuses at relationships on television.
I want to ask how you think about jealousy. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, it seems like jealousy is somewhat obsolete. If it was meant to protect men from raising other men’s children and women being left without resources to survive, but we now have condoms, paternity testing, alimony, etc.
In the US, jealousy is taboo. Even people who get cheated on are supposed to be angry but not admit or talk about jealousy. But in Latin America, jealousy is embraced as a component of romantic relationships. Diana, you were born in Brazil and grew up in the US. What do you make of jealousy?
Diana: It’s unclear when jealousy comes online for children. David Buss has a paper arguing that potentially young men don’t really understand jealousy until their first romantic relationship. I didn’t understand it as a child. I remember my mom with her friends talking about what somebody was going to name their baby, and I suggested naming them after ex-partners because of how important they are. And I didn’t understand why everyone said it’s a terrible idea. And then I dated a guy who wanted to name his daughter Genevieve and I freaked out because I thought people would shorten it to Jenna which is his ex-girlfriend’s name.
It’s true that people see jealousy as a signal of your investment and passion for somebody. Certainly, my mother who is Portuguese thought that lack of jealousy means that two people aren’t right for each other. Whereas people from Scandinavia see it as something that just happens, not a signal of one’s love or commitment.
And I never saw my dad jealous about my mother. When I was 16 and we were at a Mexican resort and some guy groped me, my dad just said that it’s a thing that happens. I think that parents’ protectiveness of their children is also part of the same thing. As kids these days say, it’s the same energy.
Related to that, I just saw an article about bonobo mothers do everything to get their children laid including beating away other males when their sons are having sex. But humans seem to have a tendency to suppress the sexual activity of their siblings and children, instead of teaching them seduction techniques for example. This seems quite maladaptive. Why don’t humans encourage the sexuality of their relatives?
Diana: I think they do, but it’s oblique. In Latin cultures you do see that; I was dating a Colombian guy who had other women too, and when I was with him his mother was fielding calls from his other women. Likewise with my Portuguese cousin, whose mother lied to the four women he dated on the phone about his whereabouts so that he could keep having sex with them all. You do see this in Latin so-called “macho” cultures.
In terms of seduction techniques, people are weird about talking about the sexuality of children but this happens all the time. Someone could be ready to slap their kid and the child says, “Mommy, you look so pretty today” and it works. This is teaching children how to get someone out of a bad mood or get on someone’s good side with compliments, which is basically seduction. It’s a very useful skill.
I did a paper in graduate school about daughter-guarding. Parents are much more careful about watching their daughters, more likely to have curfews, tell them what to wear, etc. We also asked parents how upset they would be if they found their child was having sex; boy’s parents said on average they would be only slightly upset, -0.7 on a scale from -3 to 3. And girl’s parents would be very upset, basically -2.
But it seems like bonobo parents would say +3 for boys!
Diana: We also asked parents if they care who their child is dating. Fathers only care about their daughters’ mate choices, but mothers care about both.
There is a big difference between bonobos, chimps, and humans. Humans care about having a reputation for fidelity, and men want to monopolize a woman’s full reproductive potential rather than just focusing on whether she is fertile right now. Chimps prefer a female who has offspring already because that’s proof of her fertility, whereas humans, cultural differences aside, often want to monopolize someone before she has had any children.
Geoffrey: This is a fundamental thing that Sigmund Freud got wrong. It’s not that daughters actually want to sleep with their fathers, but each child wants to practice courtship and signaling on the opposite-sex parent to figure out what works. Or practice on the opposite-sex sibling. So when kids are being cute or funny or showing off, they’re not actually trying to sleep with their mom or step-sister but rather using their feedback to calibrate and develop courtship skills they’ll use later as adults.
But it is a weird thing that in America dads aren’t usually giving explicit courtship advice to sons. Sons miss it and resent not getting it.
Diana: Obviously there are no studies of this courtship hypothesis, you can’t get approval for studies that involve children and sexuality. But I did hear a talk a while back that said that the best indication of how good a kid is at lying is whether or not their parents use corporal punishment. There’s a genetic component there, parents who hit children may also have some Dark Triad traits themselves, but kids learn to lie really well if they get physically assaulted otherwise.
So when parents hit their kids, they’re training the kids to be better at deceiving the parents, and other people too. So perhaps they’re not trying to get their kids to be obedient but to make their kids better at fooling people.
Speaking of interesting parenting techniques: as two evolutionary psychologists who fight against the blank slate theory and know about signaling, how will you raise your kids? Most of us in this room know the basic stuff that modern parenting gets wrong, like Baby Mozart being useless and helicopter parenting being harmful. What’s the galaxy brain stuff on raising kids?
Diana: I like Bryan Caplan’s book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. But I’ll let Geoffrey speak since he has actually raised kids.
Geoffrey: I have a daughter who is 23, and I also helped raise two stepchildren when they were teenagers.
The most important part of raising kids is to choose a good mate with good genes and then your kids will probably turn out fine. Most people don’t seem to do that very thoughtfully, or to integrate the information from all their extended family to estimate what the kids are likely to be like. It’s important when you meet the parents on Thanksgiving to ask questions and really listen because a lot of things that are heritable won’t necessarily show up in your mate but will show up in a sibling or uncle.
What else? There seems to be a two-generation lag in the skills parents train their kids to do because they were in turn trained by their own parents. There’s not much future orientation. We often talk about how the future is in China and it’s important to learn about China and learn the language…
Diana: We’re talking 15 minutes of Duolingo a day, let’s not get carried away.
Geoffrey: We’re thinking about what the future might be like, technologically and socially. My ambition is to train kids who will, in turn, have kids who will do well on Mars colonies.
Diana: This is literally the first time I’ve heard this. Sending our children to Mars? So they don’t ask us for money?
I saw a study that kids tend to die on the same planet as their biological parents. There’s a perfect correlation, so you shouldn’t worry too much about Geoffrey sending your kids to Mars.
Geoffrey: The third thing is, and I tell my students that, is that there’s too much focus on teaching the things that contribute to status and getting paid and there’s not enough focus on courtship skills. Helping your kids develop things that will be attractive to both friends and the opposite sex, including simple things like singing, drawing, telling jokes and interesting stories — these don’t require much practice but most Gen Z students suck at all those things. They can barely even speak one-on-one, in class or on dates. That seems like an insane handicap to have. Your job as a parent is to help your child hone those courtship skills in addition to skills that are economically relevant.
Are Gen Zers disproportionately worse than previous generations?
Geoffrey: They’re worse. I’ve noticed a gradient over the 30 years I’ve been teaching, kids used to be able to speak in class and to each other more articulately.
Diana: I have a cynical view of children, the same as I do of everything else. I saw a parent bouncing a child up and down to calm them. It’s a very reassuring motion because it’s all-encompassing. It’s very hard for a parent to do that while doing anything else, it signals total attention. Kids like to be rocked in that way precisely because it’s the most costly way to move them.
I don’t know if all the cynicism about children is going to melt away when I become a parent myself. But certainly, when I see my toddler niece have a meltdown, her father reacts in a way that he wouldn’t if he knew she was behaving in a manipulative way. The idea that I have about women training their men, I think similarly about children training their parents.
In terms of galaxy brain parenting, if you never reinforce behaviors like whining, even though some things are genetically determined, you would see less of that behavior. My upbringing gave me some degree of stoicism because my father would just ignore me completely if I was whining or crying. And he was the parent who was most important to me. This idea that you should cater to kids, or that you will cause a child trauma if you let them cry for more than 5 minutes, is I think totally misguided.
Geoffrey: A lot of this is an artifact of family sizes being so small today compared to 100 years ago. My mother was raised in a family of 12 kids. She got by with a remarkably low level of individualized attention from her parents, and she turned out OK. The kids basically attended to each other, the older ones helped take care of the younger ones. And there was no coddling. If one of the teenagers was heartbroken after a breakup, a parent would hear about it a couple of weeks later from one of the older siblings. “Oh, that’s why she was so mopey and didn’t want to practice the violin!”
Kids are very resilient but you wouldn’t know that in a small family.
I have a question about dating. Geoffrey wrote in “Mate” that things like money and status are worthwhile if they ultimately lead to romantic success. If someone is willing to move cities for a job they should certainly be willing to do so for a better mating market, like moving to Manhattan if you’re a young man. And yet, very few people seem to do that.
I’ve spoken to many people who say that romance is as important as their career but they spend 50 hours each week working, 20 hours watching TV, but don’t have a single hour to spare to write a good OKCupid profile. Or people who are better writers than they are good-looking, but are only on Tinder because it’s less work. I know people who won’t commute to the neighboring borough for a date.
How come, if dating is so important, people are so fucking lazy about dating?
Geoffrey: It’s literally tragic, because it’s a lose-lose situation. Good relationships bring happiness to both people. It’s tragic that people suck at mate search in modern societies even though it’s very easy to find awesome partners.
If you have a soulmate model, in which there’s one person out there for you and you’re destined to meet them sooner or later, you’re going to be lazy about trying to meet them. That’s what happens in romantic comedies, where you just end up together in the same elevator that gets stuck and now you’re in love. But that doesn’t work.
Some of the fatalism comes from our ancestors living in tiny societies where there wasn’t really much choice. You probably already knew everyone who might be a potential mate who isn’t your cousin. You knew the tribes over the other hills and who might be in those tribes who is worth raiding or trying to seduce. I think we’re very maladapted to do sustained, rational mate search in these huge mating markets, even though there’s a huge upside to doing that.
Diana: I think you’re talking about rationalists when you’re saying that people don’t spend a lot of effort on mating. I was at a restaurant the other day, one of the waiters chatted up the two women at the table next to me, they left, and then he tried to chat me up even though I just heard him fail with the two women. I already knew his name and his story about the girl he had sex with and the rest of it! And even when I told him that, he was not deterred at all.
I think you’re talking about people who have the self-control to develop rationality and get advanced degrees and good jobs. And perhaps people do those things in order to get the highest status mate, but people get obsessed with all the trappings and lose sight of the final goal.
Regarding Tinder: everyone says that humans are so much more sophisticated than other animals. But on Tinder, all you know is how somebody’s face looks like and how far away they are. You may as well be a raccoon.
Raccoons know each other’s smell, Tinder doesn’t even give you that.
Diana: There’s so little information. Although people say that Tinder provides evidence for physiognomy, that you can tell some things about someone’s personality just from their face.
I do think Tinder is a shame, that people think so little about what they actually want. Although throughout history, if someone lived in proximity to you and was the same age as you, you would often end up together. People with a lot in common ending up together is quite a new thing. Part of why it’s so difficult now is that we know so much about each other, and are trying to find someone we have so much in common with. It’s a new thing. What used to happen is that people would meet, fall in love, and then grow similar to each other over time.
Certainly, the first time I was in love with someone I wanted to do all the things he liked to do, learn about all his interests, etc. At this stage of my life, I probably wouldn’t even have a conversation with him. But back then it was just that I met him and had sex with him. Do you know about voles? Voles have sex and then they just want to be around each other all the time, it’s just primal. I was 16, we had sex, and that was basically it.
What people don’t talk about enough is that as you get older you can assort and think of the characteristics that you like in a potential partner because you don’t fall in love as easily. But this idea that you get less “sticky” each time you have sex with a new person, that you get less attached, it’s a message promoted by Christians. They say you’re like a piece of tape that becomes less sticky each time. But I don’t want to be sticky, thank you very much.
This room is full of young and smart people who are interested in how minds work. Would you advise them to go into academic evolutionary psychology? If not, what should they do instead? And if they do enter it, what questions will evolutionary psychology grapple with in the next couple of decades?
Geoffrey: For the love of God, don’t try to become an evolutionary psychologist. The job market sucks. It really sucks. It would be really hard to get a tenure track job. There are maybe 5 positions a year globally in ev psych versus hundreds in social psych or developmental psych. It’s probably not a viable career path.
But, I think reading ev psych can be enormously helpful for understanding yourself, your social life, mating, jobs, consumerism, money, all kinds of things. It’s one of those fields where it can offer a lot of value to the amateur who reads the better books and journals and blogs.
Do you have recommendations?
I have some suggested reading on my site, but that needs to be updated. There’s also everything in my syllabi. The people I know who have taken the time to study this stuff all say it was totally worth it.
Diana: It took me a couple of years to get a job when I was getting into the field, and I was up against 7 or 8 people. The fact I got it had more to do with how I was in the interview; they made all the classic mistakes when they hired me. I think that it can be a very interesting field but what I did was branching out to something else, I did two postdocs. I marketed myself as an evolutionary and health psychologist because all the jobs were in health psychology at the time, and that’s how I got my job. If you stick only to evolutionary psychology you’re very unlikely to get a job.
Talk to someone who does the research now, it’s a lot more rigorous. You can’t just come up with an idea, sample 50 undergrads, and publish something. There are really good discoveries to be made but it’s going to be hard for someone who comes along because a lot of those discoveries are things people don’t want to know. We were just talking about ideas like people manipulating each other, selfish gene ideas, these are not the ideas that people enjoy.
So you don’t want competition.
My department actually has an ev psych job coming up this year, for the first time since my colleague Marco del Giudice was hired about 8 years ago.
In terms of the future we are going to see gradual theoretical developments. The more important thing is that ev psych is going to spread globally and enter other countries. It’s pretty strong at the moment in the US, Canada, England, with pockets in Europe, Korea, Japan, and Australia. The real action is going to happen when India and/or China start taking it seriously and develop it.
My superforecaster prediction is that the Chinese government will realize that evolutionary psychology is really important to fix their mating market which is currently really sex-biased. They know that this will result in social instability because tens of millions of young men will not be able to find girlfriends or wives. They know that’s a huge political danger, so they have to do something. It could be free sex bots for everybody, or re-engineering the mating market so that more people are polyamorous, or something. The Chinese government has the capability to do big data analysis of their citizens in a way that we couldn’t possibly do.
In general, I think it’s easier to do large-scale analysis of human behavior if you work for a social media company than if you work in academia. There are 2.4 billion people on Facebook, so the Facebook behavioral sciences team has much richer data than I could ever imagine. But they’re not telling anybody outside what they’re doing, it’s a very siloed kind of science.
The other extreme is that I can run a Twitter poll to my 70k followers and get 4,000 replies in 12 hours. It’s a much bigger scale than I could ever acquire in a lab study, and I don’t need IRB approval for a Twitter poll. I can’t publish the data in a journal, but I and everybody else can learn from it.
There is going to be a bifurcation between official science that gets published in reputable journals, that pre-registered with careful analysis and takes two years to get published. And then fly-by-night informal social media polling on the other hand.
Diana: What I hope to see in the future is rather than universities doing studies with ridiculous ethics boards and so many obstacles, I hope to see more private individuals willing to become patrons of research that falls outside the mainstream. Some of it is happening right now, and it’s something I’m excited about. I hope to see more things privately funded with ethics done in-house according to a set of guidelines — this is going to work much faster and be much more efficient. Doing research through universities can be very onerous.
That’s how we get to CRISPR babies too.
Diana: And what’s wrong with that?