Trump morphing into ClintonThis week the blog tackles the biological relevance of infidelity, apparently the next big campaign issue.

First, in order to stay focused on the blog’s contribution to this wide-ranging topic we must narrow it down to just a categorical analysis of extramarital sex (while married), disregarding judgements about how it was conducted (discretion, hurtfulness and the like).

This blog’s perspective is the biological evolution of motivations. In this case we examine the evolutionary relationship between motivations to maintain monogamy in the first place, and then the inclination to have extramarital affairs.

exploitive mariage The default explanation for infidelity follows the current paradigm that the individual is the sole source of human motivation; extramarital affairs result from the naturally selected motivation of each individual to get as many of their own genes as possible into the subsequent generation. For a man, extramarital affairs offer an opportunity to increase the quantity of his genes going forward (with the added “benefit” of having other males help raise the children). For a woman, affairs offer the possibility of increasing the quality of her offspring (in comparison to the sorry specimen that is her husband). Affairs are “ultimately” motivated by this kind of cynical biological calculus and the soap-operatic emotional accompaniments are our genes’ clever ways of manipulating us to procreate strategically.

The blog has a much less cynical take on human nature.

We consider that a “mind” is a collection of motivations usually focused on the survival of individuals.  The blog claims that humans uniquely don’t just have one mind that is manipulating each of us to advance our own genes, but that we all have an additional  collective mind in common that is comprised of motivations focused not on individuals but on the survival of the relationships between us. Because we all are submerged within this collective mind we are not aware of it.

Global Temperature ChartChimp collapse






The short explanation is that 6-million years ago our hominin tribe, pushed by harsh climates and the threat of extinction (low birth rates), quite suddenly changed strategy from selecting the fittest individuals over to selecting the most productive (fecund) relationships.

The focus of natural selection shifted from the dominance of individuals over to the productivity of relationships.

urmensch+swimmersFinalThis shift produced a communal mind in which we were (and still are) swimming together like fish in a sea. Pre-modern hominin species spent their entire lives immersed in an ocean of collective consciousness. This communal mind was the result of a “reconfiguration” of the fundamental dominance-submission relationship between individual apes over to the uniquely human interaction of obedience to the collective authority of all varieties of groups; this entity of collective authority evolved motivations to obey relational rules (e.g.: the Ten Commandants) that were naturally selected on account of the productive fecundity resulting from the harmony engendered by them.

Of course, the prototype of this kind of relationship is the pair-bond (marriage)

ScienceSome monogamy facts: 85 percent of birds, 3 to 9 percent of mammals—but fully a quarter of mammals’ primate component—are classed as monogamous. Selected species of primates began evolving monogamous social systems about 16 million years ago, relatively late in their 52-million-year history of group living. In each case, monogamy grew out of a promiscuous mating system. Once a monogamous social system was established, it rarely reverted to promiscuity.

MonogamyWhy is monogamy the cornerstone of human evolution? Because it is the molecule upon which all further human evolution has been built. In order to extend the survival benefits of synchronizing childcare beyond a monogamous group of two, the fatal disruption of mate competition had to be decisively suppressed. When you think about it, the rules needed in order to live successfully in a closely bonded monogamous group com­prise a good model for morality. It is natural for us to think of monogamy as being the result of high levels of morality in both individuals and societies, but consider the possibility that it was the inherent productivity of monogamy that caused evolution of the commandments of morality. Hominins evolved away from the sterility of individual dominance in apes towards justice-wielding group authority, naturally selected due to the substantial productive benefits to all right from its beginning.

Cordination of divided labor

The most important hominin adaptation eventually leading to our success has been the capacity to coordinate our divided labor.

The human spiritYes, the birth of our soaring hominin lineage was initiated by the social extension of the benefits of marriage—collective obedience to the authority of justice was naturally selected to extend the bounty of monogamy. The source of the “intention” of this collective authority dwells not within individuals, but rather emanates from a spiritual, group space; indeed, this collective intention took on, and still possesses, an evolving life of its own.

Of course, we continue to possess promiscuous sexual strivings intrinsically rooted in the ape-will to procreate through domination, and, in addition, our own PeacockHomo sapiens species has acquired a relentless appetite for self-display in order to be admired by others, naturally selected for the overall benefits of drawing us together into ever larger more productive groups. However, during this particularly chaotic stage of our gradual approach to an evolutionary equilibrium, promiscuity has reemerged in our species, and at a steep price:

Blaming the victim

if crime statistics are vigorously pursued with respect to root motivation, and the deepest subjective of roots of war excavated, sexual competition/exploitation would emerge as the ultimate cause of most human violence (as opposed to the struggle for scarce resources).

In hominins, unlike the monogamous bonds in non-human animals, marriage has the timeless spiritual component that characterizes the the emotions and motivation contained in our collective mind. Listen to the spiritual intensity of Shakespeare’s Juliet:

Spiritual side of loveCome, gentle night; come, loving, black-browed night,

Give me my Romeo; and when I shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with the night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.



Two of my teachers:

Darwin into Tulip
                            Darwin & Tulip




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2 Comments on “An Evolutionary Analysis of Infidelity”

  1. John, Your concept of a collective mind that is focused on preserving relationships between individuals (and I presume groups of individuals) is sensible. I do not see how purely biological mechanisms could create a collective mind. Nor do I see how cognitions (or, in a Freudian sense, our egos) could create a collective mind as a natural outcome of simple observation (e.g., seeing what types of relationships lead to survival). To me, the collective mind is like an invention. Some gifted hominid put two and two together, and developed the insight that certain types of group behavior (e.g., monogamy) have adaptive value. Even our evolution in the last few thousand years depended on the innovations (e.g., math) of gifted individuals.

    1. Thanks so much Mark for the excellent comment.
      Yes there is truly magic in Darwin’s idea of natural selection! Nature is not choosy as to what she selects. She selects what works, whether it is an individual or relationships between individuals. At points in evolutionary history, circumstances have conspired to make the “jump” from selecting individuals to selecting relationships between individuals. This was the case during the “Cambrian explosion” when nature started to select the relationships between cells over the cells themselves, resulting in multi-cellular organisms. The cells in these organisms developed a collective consciousness, which organized into a nervous system in order to coordinate the “collective’s” evolved intentions to survive. In a similar manner, I propose that 6 million years ago, nature started selecting hominin relations over ape individuals (because individual ape competition had become too costly in harsh climates). The “neurological system” that then developed to coordinate the resulting multi-organism “super-organism” was/is the communication system called language, which is designed to coordinate the divided labor of individuals in the same way. This communication system is based on constant sharing of not just information but the current goals (and sub-goals, etc.), all of which has resulted over millions of years the evolution of a biologically derived collective consciousness. The reason that it is so difficult to perceive is not that it is repressed like the Freudian (ape)-id, but because it forms an “existential medium” for all of us. We cannot perceive it for the same reason that fish do not perceive the sea in which they swim.
      I believe that much of our thinking is determined by the assumption that the individual has to be the principle target of evolution.
      Thanks again, John

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