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Self-Deception, Trivers, and Sexual Selection

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 1 month ago


     Self Deception    


"What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves." - Robert Anton Wilson

As a primer, an abstract of Trivers:

An evolutionary theory of self-deception-the active misrepresentation of reality to the conscious mind-suggests that there may be multiple sources of self-deception in our own species, with important interactions between them. Self-deception (along with internal conflict and fragmentation) may serve to improve deception of others; this may include denial of ongoing deception, self-inflation, ego-biased social theory, false narratives of intention, and a conscious mind that operates via denial and projection to create a self-serving world. Self-deception may also result from internal representations of the voices of significant others, including parents, and may come from internal genetic conflict, the most important for our species arising from differentially imprinted maternal and paternal genes. Selection also favors suppressing negative phenotypic traits. Finally, a positive form of self-deception may serve to orient the organism favorably toward the future. 


Does it work?  Jeff Kurland and Chris Byrne, of PSU's Anthrology and Mathematics departments (respectively), provide support in game theory:

Self-deception in an Evolutionary Game



Trivers provides the evolutionary model for a reality tunnel: that self-deception could have selection benefits to the organism.  How can we apply this logic to processes of Sexual Selection?  In a conversation between Trivers and Noam Chomsky, we see that self-deception comes into play in both male-male competition (Darwin's Law of Battle) and in courtship (Law of Charm?).


RT: There's an analogy here to individual self-deception. Information is often somewhere in the organism; it's just well-hidden. It's well down in the unconscious. And it's often inaccessible because you build up firewalls against it.

NC: Are there any animal analogs to this?

RT: Well, I don't know. I believe that self-deception has evolved in two situations at least in other creatures, and that it can be studied. I've suggested a way to do it, but so far nobody's done it.

For example, when you make an evaluation of another animal in a combat situation—let's say male/male conflict—the other organism's sense of self-confidence is a relevant factor in your evaluation.

NC: And that's shown by its behavior.

RT: Exactly—through its suppressing signs of fear and not giving anything away, and so forth. So you can imagine selection for overconfidence—

NC: —for showing overconfidence, even if it's not real.

RT: Yes. Likewise in situations of courtship, where females are evaluating males. Again, the organism's sense of self is relevant. We all know that low self-esteem is a sexual romantic turn-off.

So again, you can have selection—without language it seems to me—for biased kinds of information flow within the organism in order to keep up a false front.

NC: And it may be that the animal that's putting up a false front knows it's a false front.

RT: Yes, but it may benefit from not knowing—

NC: —because it's easier.

RT: Easier to do it and perhaps more convincing because you're not giving away evidence.

NC: Secondary signs.

RT: Exactly.


Self-deception, seemingly maladaptive and destructive to their organism's fitness, actually provides cerain benefits in both survival and courtship.

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