Sciencey beauty

The beautiful people,

the beautiful people…


It’s a lovely article, but such odd framing. It didn’t take 150 years to rediscover sexual selection.

Also, the book by Mike Ryan mentioned in there is excellent. The Tungara frog, his main study system is a real trip.


I think that’s the point.

Evolution is what real evolution is. Algorithmically undesigned, not directed but having these strange nodes of oh that’s weird that defy a couple hundred years of attempted reduction.


I’m not sure. Particularly because sexual selection was put forward by Darwin. Alfred Russel Wallace tried to kill it - he wasn’t just forgotten by the textbooks for being lower class - he was also a loon. It was demonstrated very thoroughly under a hundred years later, and debated in the literature fairly constantly between those time points. There weren’t a couple hundred years of attempted reduction.

Now, nearly 150 years later, a new generation of biologists is reviving Darwin’s neglected brainchild.


These biologists are not only rewriting the standard explanation for how beauty evolves; they are also changing the way we think about evolution itself.

I dunno, I’m probably overly sensitive to all this. I work in a field of evolutionary biology that is even more prone to misinterpretation than the whole of evolutionary biology. Which is already prone to misinterpretation. And I think quotes like the above give folks a somewhat misleading impression about how well we understand evolution. Same with the types of “Humans found 100k years earlier in this part of the world - rocks evolutionary biology”, when the finding is really just a confirmation of something we expected to find if we could just sample enough.


I think this whole “mystery” is not such a mystery.

  • The brains of the beasts preferring certain aspects are themselves products of evolution
  • They are both changing in tandem; thus it’s a positive feedback mechanism
  • Positive feedback can lead to wider and wider oscillations, even chaos.

You’ve just describe Ronald Fischer’s (yes, the same RA Fischer from Fischer’s exact test in your high school stats class) ~1930 writing on sexual selection. He also described the third bullet point, often termed runaway sexual selection and did some of the earliest work on how sexual selection may oppose survival, even to the point of death. Molly Cummings and Mike Ryan, mentioned in the article did a lot of experimental work on the second bullet point in molly and swordtail fish.


One of the nicest experiments of runaway positive feedback was Michael Jackson.


Evolution is about what doesn’t fail more than anything else.


Quite a definition of high art.